Unsafe speeds are a factor in about half of deadly crashes in Portland. This is why speed is a focus of the Portland's Vision Zero Action Plan, which aims to eliminate deaths and serious injuries from Portland streets.
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Everyone wants to reach their travel destination safely. Safe travel speeds support this goal in two ways:
- Safe speeds lower the risk of crashes
- When crashes occur, safe speeds make it less likely that people are killed or seriously injured
Small changes in speed have big impacts
As people travel faster, the risk of death or serious injury rises dramatically. The diagram below show that a pedestrian struck by a person driving 40 mph is eight times more likely to die than one struck by a person driving at 20 mph.
What makes a 'safe speed'
In urban places such as Portland, safe speeds must account for people traveling in different ways: walking, driving, using mobility devices, biking, skateboarding, and so on.
It is important to consider people traveling outside of motor vehicles because they are not protected from the impact of crashes.
PBOT uses the following principles to identify safe speed limits:
- Less physical separation between people driving and vulnerable users requires a lower speed limit. Sidewalks and protected bike lanes are examples of physical separation (see photo below).
- Injury crashes are an indicator that speed limits may be too high
- PBOT may request speed limit reductions even when street design stays the same. While street design can help people drive at safe speeds, studies (such as this one) indicate that adjustments to speed limits alone can still support safety.
- Setting urban speed limits based on 85th percentile speeds is not supported by evidence and is not part of PBOT practice. The 85th percentile is the speed at which 85 percent of people drive at or below on a street.
Streets with speed limits specified by law (statutory)
ORS 811.111 describes speed limits deemed appropriate for streets in particular land use areas, such as near a school.
Many streets in Portland have speed limits that are different than statutory speed limits because they have speed zone orders. PBOT must request that a speed zone order be rescinded in order for a statutory speed limit to take effect on an eligible street.
Residential speed limit reduction
Portland City Council approved an ordinance on January 17, 2018, reducing the speed limit on all residential streets to 20 miles per hour. The new speed limit took effect on April 1, 2018.
Residential streets make up around 70 percent of Portland’s street network and a large proportion of the city’s total public space. Reducing residential speeds is part of a broader citywide effort to support safe speeds on many types of streets. 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 20 mph residential speed limit is part of Portland’s Vision Zero work to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries. Slower driving speeds help prevent crashes and, when crashes occur, reduce the harm that results. A pedestrian hit by a driver at 25 mph is nearly twice as likely to die compared to someone hit at 20 mph (Tefft, 2013, Impact Speed and a Pedestrian’s Risk of Severe Injury or Death).
In addition to updating speed limit signs, PBOT distributed more than 7,000 "20 is plenty" yard signs to raise awareness of the 20 mph residential speed limit.
How to view federally classified arterial streets
- Visit the Oregon Department of Transportation's online map
- Select "classifications" In the layer catalog on the left
- Select "Federal Functional Class - State" and "Federal Functional Class - Non-State"
- Click "apply"
- Zoom to Portland. Click "legend." Streets that must use the traditional ODOT speed limit request process include all interstates and arterials, except for segments located in business districts.