Twenty is Plenty: Our latest victory for safe streets

Portland’s streets are about to get a whole lot safer. Last Wednesday, in response to the Oregon Legislature passing H.B. 2682, Portland City Council unanimously approved an ordinance lowering speed limits from 25 to 20 miles per hour on residential streets — a welcome change to our traffic laws which will help reduce crashes and save lives for decades to come.

“At The Street Trust, we’re committed to the principle of Vision Zero, which is reducing our serious injuries and fatalities on our streets to zero,” said policy director Gerik Kransky in his testimony to City Hall on Wednesday morning. “We’ve been working with community groups on a pilot program as far back as 2011, so we’ve been thrilled to see the evolution the city has taken in its approach to making our streets safe.” For those who get around on foot, by bike, or via public transit, Kransky added, “these are essential life changes that can make our community much more approachable and accessible for people as they get around to meet their daily needs.”

Policy Director Gerik Kransky testifying before Portland City Hall on January 17, 2018.

City councilors’ unanimous vote reflects widespread popular support for reducing residential speed limits. In the nine days leading up to the vote, hundreds of community members signed on to our petition calling on City Council to pass the ordinance and explore ways to expand on this approach. This made clear that Portland residents not only vocally support the new 20 miles per hour speed limits, but also count on city leaders to take further steps to reduce serious injuries and fatalities on our roads.

More than 600 people added their name to our petition calling on Portland City Council to lower residential speed limits.

Lowering residential speed limits from 25 to 20 miles per hour may seem like a small change, but it goes a long way in making our streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists, and others affected by dangerous driving. According to the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), research suggests that the speed at which a vehicle moves when it hits a pedestrian can significantly influence the risk for fatality or serious injury. A car traveling at 40 miles per hour, for example, has an 80% to kill or seriously injure a pedestrian upon impact, while a car traveling at 30 miles per hour has a 40% of doing so. At 20 miles per hour, the likelihood for fatalities and serious injuries drops to 10%.

A slide from PBOT’s testimony to Portland City Council shows the impact of vehicle speed on risk of fatality or serious injury.

The new ordinance takes effect this spring and lowers speed limits on more than 70% of the city’s grid. This is welcome news for Portlanders concerned about the risks of dangerous driving. Last year, 50 people were killed by dangerous driving on Portland’s roads and streets — that’s six more than the number of traffic fatalities for the previous year. This ordinance is an important step in the right direction, but we can and must do more as a society to make our streets safe for everyone and make it clear that no death or serious injury is acceptable on our roads.

A slide from PBOT’s testimony to Portland City Council shows the streets which will see their speed limits lowered.

To reach Vision Zero, we must expand on this approach beyond residential streets and explore similar solutions for those outside of Portland. The places where people are getting killed and seriously injured still have speed limits well in excess of 25 miles per hour, and we must renew our commitment to fixing the streets that make up Portland’s high-crash network. This victory for safe streets will save lives and should be celebrated, but there’s also plenty of work ahead of us. The Street Trust will be there every step of the way to hold public officials and agencies accountable and to keep up the fight for safe and easy walking, bicycling, and transit.

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Comments (2)

  1. sw person Permalink  | Jan 26, 2018 01:03pm

    I’m shocked that both SW Hewett Blvd and SW Fairmount Blvd are not on the 20 mph list. They are not clogged with cut-through car traffic like other streets, but they are among the last streets in an urban area of Oregon to ever get a sidewalk.

  2. This is dumb Permalink  | Apr 02, 2018 03:24pm

    – people who run over pedestrians will still speed down streets at 40mph. The rest of us have to drive like grandma because of those jerks? 20 mph is too slow – 25 is fine. Anyone with an ounce of sense slows down when it is needed due to weather, poor visibility, etc – to make us all drive 20 mph all the time will result in road rage and worse traffic – more congestion, more car emissions, etc….