Editor’s Note: This guest article was authored by Brett Yost, who is a local activist and Math Instructor at Central Oregon Community College.
On April 1, 2018, Portland reduced the speed limit on over 3,000 miles of residential streets from 25 to 20 mph. This change was the result of several years of work by street safety advocates, the City of Portland and State Representative Rob Nosse (D – Portland). But, the law that made that change possible only impacted the City of Portland. Here’s some backstory on how that bill became law, as well as some pending legislation that would make this the rule statewide.
How we got here
The Oregon Department of Transportation controls speed limits on all Oregon roadways, even local city streets it does not manage. In conjunction with Portland city officials, Rep Nosse introduced legislation to allow local jurisdiction of speed limits by all Oregon cities. However, in order to get support for passage, an amendment at the last minute changed the law to apply only to Portland. Less than a year after passage, Portland made the official change to residential speed limits throughout the city with unanimous support of city council.
Track record of increased safety
While it is early to know the effectiveness of the new speed limits, the reasons Portland pushed for the change are clear. Portland is a city that prides itself on having robust transportation options which are safe for people walking, biking, connecting to transit or simply engaging socially in their neighborhoods. 20 mph speeds markedly reduce numbers of collisions versus 25 mph speeds. Further, the chance of a collision resulting in a fatality is cut by half.
There is reason to believe the law will reduce speeds even without additional enforcement or changes to physical infrastructure. Boston reduced default limits from 30 mph to 25 mph citywide in January 2017 and found a 30% reduction in vehicles exceeding 35 mph, 9% reduction in vehicles exceeding 30 mph and 3% reduction over 25 mph. This is a relatively significant result for such a simple and inexpensive fix. Many people who are apparently comfortable with a little speeding aren’t comfortable at 10 mph over. Further gains can be expected as safety features in modern cars come into play. Europe just mandated automatic speed limit compliance in all new vehicles.
Take action soon
Could Bend benefit from a ‘20 is plenty’ safety campaign? Neighborhood speeding has been a consistent concern among neighborhood associations here for at least the last decade. Lack of local control has been cited by the city as a reason for inability to take action. However, in the current legislative session, SB 558 proposes to give all Oregon cities authority to set residential speed limits to 20 mph. At this time, the City of Bend has taken no position on this bill. We have a brief window to submit comments. You can reach the state Joint Committee on Transportation at [email protected] prior to their March 6th meeting where they’ll discuss the bill.