Lower speed limits coming to Burnside Bridge and Hawthorne Bridge viaducts

Posted by on November 3rd, 2021 at 3:10 pm

Multnomah County staff engineer A. Lee (upper left) and ODOT State Traffic Roadway Engineer Mike Kimlinger (lower left) with Oregon Speed Zone Review Panel members at today’s meeting.

The State of Oregon Speed Zone Review Panel unanimously supported a request by Multnomah County to lower speed limits on the Burnside Bridge and two sections of the Hawthorne Bridge viaduct today.

As we reported last month, the county and City of Portland Bureau of Transportation both support lower speed limits on the Burnside and two sections of the Hawthorne viaducts between the Willamette River and Southeast Grand Avenue from 35 to 30 mph.

The County sees the current 35 mph limits as unnecessary and inconsistent, since the short sections are bookended by lower speeds. The county owns and operates five downtown bridges and has a goal to make all of them 30 mph or less. They also want to support PBOT’s Vision Zero goals and the city’s ongoing efforts to reduce speed limits at every opportunity.

The Oregon Department of Transportation has final say on speed limit reduction requests. When a jurisdiction requests a change, ODOT looks to the speed zone review process laid out in the Oregon Administrative Rules (734-20-0014, 734-20-0015 and 734-20-0016). ODOT State Traffic Roadway Engineer Michael Kimlinger told BikePortland that their initial investigation into the county’s request showed that it fell outside ODOT’s authority, so they weren’t able to grant the change (note that Kimlinger supported the lower speeds, but wasn’t able to grant the request without an appeal by the County). The County therefore opted to appeal to the state’s Speed Zone Review Panel.

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At the panel’s meeting today, Multnomah County civil engineer A. Lee presented their case for the Burnside Bridge. The safety of bicycle riders figured prominently in her presentations.

After hearing her rationale for a lower speed on the Burnside, panel member (and Washington County traffic engineer) Stacy Shetler pointed out that the 85th percentile speed (the speed at or below which 85 percent of all vehicles are observed to travel under free-flowing conditions) is 42 mph. He then asked what the County planned to do — beyond lowering the speed limit — to ensure that people actually slow down. Lee explained that enforcement isn’t their responsibility. A PBOT rep at the meeting said they could request enforcement from the Police Bureau but there would be no guarantees.

PBOT staffer Matt Kelly then joined the meeting to say while the City doesn’t have plans to install speed cameras on the Burnside Bridge, the mere existence of a growing speed camera program, might result in people slowing down. “As time goes on, there’s going to be more and more cameras across the city. So our hope would be that to some extent, people start to have some expectancy around enforcement. Because as we get more cameras, it’s going to be a little bit harder for folks to know exactly where each camera is.”

In the discussion among panel members that followed, they all supported the lower speed request, even with concerns that it might not change behaviors without infrastructure or enforcement-related measures.

A similar discussion ensued about the two sections of the Hawthorne viaducts. Since it’s currently posted as 35 mph for just a short stretch that’s sandwiched between lower speed sections, it seemed reasonable to panel members to lower it to 30 mph.

Both requests were granted with full support from the panel.

Learn more about the panel and Oregon speed zone policies here.

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Bjorn
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Bjorn

Today I was driving in a car at the posted 30 mph speed limit and had another motorist pass me in a very dangerous way using the center lane and then run a red light. Automated enforcement can help some but we need far more hardened traffic calming devices, like concrete islands in turn lanes making things like using them for passing impossible. The form of the street has to start playing a bigger hand in controlling dangerous driver behavior.

eawriste
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eawriste

Agreed about hardened infrastructure. But my guess is that people who tend to do dangerous things, also speed quite often. Ubiquitous, automated enforcement would likely send sizable bills to these people. That’s the case in NY at least. So, while they might not be penalized for doing stupid shit per se, they would likely get caught soon thereafter/before.

Watts
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Watts

I absolutely agree. Rebuilding the streets is a long-term project. Until we get that done, and our automated policing is incomplete, we probably also need enough analog enforcement that folks know there is a chance of getting punished when they do stuff like what you described.

Doug Hecker
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Doug Hecker

Being handed a ticket that is at a percentage of your resources is a great way to calm traffic. Adding speed bumps with cutouts for emergency vehicles isn’t.

FDUP
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FDUP

I completely disagree, a lot of the hardened infra is very hazardous to cyclists, and I don’t trust PBOT engineers to get it right!

hamiramani
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Glad they lowered the speed limit (very slightly). But, as most people reading this know, the infrastructure is dangerous by design and encourages speeding. The lanes on the Hawthorne viaduct are huge so in some ways it’s hard to blame people for driving fast. Vision zero will remain an empty promise if PBOT, the county, ODOT, et al refuse to design the roads/streets for the desired speed. Posted signs will NOT discourage brazen and reckless drivers.

ivan
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ivan

The Hawthorne EB viaduct also has that completely unnecessary and dangerous slip-lane offramp to MLK/99, which crosses the bike lane and sidewalk. There’s zero reason this needs to exist — drivers can use the Morrison bridge if they’re coming from downtown and want “fast” access to MLK/99, or they can turn left at Hawthorne and Grand and go 2 blocks around to MLK.

In the near term PBOT should immediately put barriers up blocking off this offramp, and in the longer term it should be demolished and/or replaced with a pedestrian ramp.

THAT would make the Hawthorne EB viaduct safer
, far beyond what this speed reduction will accomplish.

FDUP
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FDUP

what Ivan said!

cct
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cct

Why not 25? Is there some reason they could not have been lowered to match speeds posted on streets on either side of these bridges??

maxD
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maxD

st johns bridge next, please!

Hotrodder
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Hotrodder

Will it matter? Riding home from forest park the other day I watched the sheriff fly across the bridge, just keeping up with everyone else doing 40 or 45 mph – along with the occasional miscreant really hauling ass.

Boyd
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Boyd

Seems that the police that we have today have very little integrity. Maybe that won’t always be the case if they can be held accountable. Also, it would be nice if we could widely deploy speed cameras, including on bridges, and have normal civilians review the footage to determine when a ticket should be issued, rather than a cop.

Watts
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Watts

Seems that the police that we have today have very little integrity.

That is a very sweeping and probably counter-productive statement.

J_R
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J_R

This will be a really great opportunity to see if a different posted speed results in a lower travel speed. Because of the speed study conducted to support this request, we have the data for the “before” condition. They can do another next year and see if there is any change. That would be interesting.

Evan Manvel
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Evan Manvel

As hopefully you’re aware, we already have data demonstrating it does – particularly with high-end speeding.

See Jonathan’s coverage of this from last December.

But it would be good to have another set of data on that.

J_R
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J_R

You should be aware that study was exclusively on the reduction from 25 to 20 on local residential streets. This situation is different and the results will likely be different, too.

Mike Quigley
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Mike Quigley

Okay. Here we go again. Lower speed limits with no enforcement. But it’s not only Portland. The rule of law is breaking down across America. Plea deals are almost guaranteed even if arrested for outright murder (especially if you’re white). Heck, stop the constant complaining and make it work for you while you still can.

ivan
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ivan

Make…murder work for you while you can? What even is this comment?

squareman
Subscriber

Histrionics. Cats and dogs living together.

Doug Hecker
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Doug Hecker

Would be nice to see other places receive speed camera enforce since SE seems to be the place the city wants to place the majority of them. As if people don’t speed elsewhere….

Watts
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Watts

This is great news. It’s another safety item one of the adjacent neighborhood associations asked for repeatedly.