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.
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.