Earlier this month the Portland City Council voted to approve “reducing the speed limit on all residential streets to 20 mph,” according to a statement issued by the city’s Bureau of Transportation. Street signs – and with them the speed limit street by street – will begin changing next month. The PBOT statement says it expects “to complete the process by April 1.”
Lest you think this is a minor thing, by the PBOT’s own reckoning “residential streets make up around 70 percent of Portland’s street network and a large proportion of the city’s total space… Most residential streets in Portland are narrow, have few marked crosswalks, and no bike lanes; given the tight space and lack of protection for people walking, using mobility devices, and biking it is important that people drive slowly on residential streets.”
The new lower speed limit is the latest element of the city’s “Vision Zero” plan – a series of initiatives launched in Portland and other cities around the country with the goal of eliminating pedestrian traffic deaths.
Considering the problem that Portland continues to have with issues like reckless driving, DUII and distracted driving it is important to see the city taking proactive measures to lower the toll of deaths and injuries on our streets and roads.
Over the years I have written numerous times about Portland’s experiments with things like bike boxes at intersections, the problems that arise from poorly marked – and poorly enforced – crosswalks, and the surprisingly consistent issues we have had with unsafe drivers of local buses. Each of these things needs to be addressed individually, but lowering the overall speed limit in residential areas is one of the best ways to enforce better conduct across the board.
Combined with sections of the state legal code, notably ORS 811.140 which deals with reckless driving, the lower speed limit will be a powerful tool for lowering pedestrian deaths and injuries. The PBOT website (see link below) provides excellent additional information, including comprehensive maps of this and other Vision Zero-related projects.
According to The Oregonian, between 2008 and 2014 “198 pedestrians and cyclists died on Portland-area streets.” That is an average of more than 28 people per year – more than two per month. As a Portland attorney committed to helping and promoting our pedestrian and cycling communities I enthusiastically support Vision Zero and other initiatives designed to bring those numbers down.
SmartCities Dive: Portland, OR to lower speed limits as part of Vision Zero push
City of Portland Bureau of Transportation: Residential Speed Limit Reduction
ORS 813.010: Driving Under the Influence of Intoxicants
The Oregonian: Pedestrian and cyclist deaths by year 2008-2014