Multnomah County and City of Portland push ODOT for lower speed limits on Hawthorne and Burnside bridges

The city and county want a 30 mph speed limit on this section of the Hawthorne Bridge.
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

Multnomah County transportation officials and the Portland Bureau of Transportation are working together to reduce speed limits on several Willamette River bridges. The county owns and operates five bridges on the river that are within Portland city limits and the two agencies agree that lower speed limits are necessary to reach Vision Zero safety goals and to create a more welcoming environment for non-drivers.

PBOT and the County want speed limits on all five of the their downtown bridges — the Broadway, Burnside, Hawthorne, Morrison and Sellwood — to not exceed 30 mph.

But the Oregon Department of Transportation has so far not granted them permission to do this on two key spans, the Burnside and the (westbound) Madison Street viaduct of the Hawthorne. Now Multnomah County plans to appeal ODOT’s decision at a meeting of the state’s Speed Zone Review Panel next month.

While ODOT has ceded some authority to set speed limits to local governments over the years (thanks to arm-twisting by the City of Portland), they still have final say on county bridges.

According to sources at Multnomah County, ODOT has so far recommended that the speed limits on the Burnside Bridge and SE Madison viaduct of the Hawthorne remain at 35 mph (I’m working to learn more about their rationale).


The Madison viaduct is about 34-feet wide and has three travel lanes: two general purpose lanes and one unprotected bike lane. The Burnside Bridge is 53-feet wide and has seven vehicle lanes and sidewalks on both sides. Bike lanes in both directions are protected by plastic wands. The speed limit on both these sections of roadway is currently 35 mph.

The speed limits were on the agenda of the Multnomah County Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee Wednesday night and members agreed to write a letter in support of the county’s appeal.

In the letter dated October 14th and signed by MCBPAC Chair Andrew Holtz, the committee says they “strongly support” a reduction of the speed limits from 35 to 30 mph. “The speed limit reduction is in coordination with the PBOT Vision Zero program, which has a goal to reduce all speeds in the Central City area, including the County-owned bridges,” the letter reads.

“Both the SE Madison viaduct and the Burnside Bridge have unprotected bicycle lanes marked only by flexible delineator separators,” the letter continues. “It is important for the safety of bicycle lane users to reduce the speed differential with motor vehicle traffic. Both areas, particularly the west end of the Burnside Bridge, host vulnerable populations. As bridge operator logs document, conflicts between pedestrians and motor vehicle drivers are common occurrences here. The people who use these areas deserve to have slower, safer motor vehicle traffic.”

Beyond safety, the letter says speed limits should be consistent on all downtown bridges.

Stay tuned for more details and updates as this issue develops.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and
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