Portland, Oregon Considers 20 MPH Speed Limit For Most Roads

The Portland city council will consider dropping the speed limit from 25 to 20 on 70 percent of city streets.

“Speed kills” is a familiar refrain. The Portland, Oregon city council is taking that to heart and will consider a proposal on Wednesday to drop the speed limit on the city’s 25 mph streets to 20 mph, reports the Portland Tribune. Seventy percent of Portland’s roads would be affected by this change.

This is part of Portland’s Vision Zero Action Plan, which seeks to eliminate all fatal and serious injury crashes in the city by 2025. This relatively minor speed reduction is expected to cut in half the chance of pedestrian injury or death based on a study on this subject.

“Fatality and serious injuries go up almost exponentially when the speeds in crashes increase from 20 to 25 miles an hour,” Mike Crebs, captain of the Portland Police Bureau’s Traffic Division, told the Portland Tribune. “Driving just a little bit slower might add a few seconds to your drive, but it could save a life.” Crebs says he already drives 20 miles an hour in these neighborhoods where the speed limit is 25.

Saving lives is a worthy cause, but dropping speed limits alone may not help. People already tend to drive an average speed at which they feel safe regardless of speed limits. Reducing the limits doesn’t necessarily slow down traffic, only increasing fines for those who are ticketed. 

According to Crebs, the vast majority of fatal crashes take place on streets with higher speed limits. Officially classified as “high crash corridors,” they include such major thoroughfares as Martin Luther King and Powell boulevards, Division and Stark streets, and Marine Drive, reports the Portland Tribune.

While the Oregon state legislature changed the law in 2017 to allow municipalities to reduce speed limits on residential streets without state approval, these major highways are not covered under that law and remain unchanged.

The city council will decide on Wednesday whether to reduce these speed limits or not. If they do, the change can take effect immediately as an emergency safety provision.