New speed limiting process could slow major streets

A new Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) process for determining speed limits might result in some slight speed limit reductions in the outer reaches of the Keizer. 

Doug Bish, traffic services engineer for ODOT, gave a briefing to the Keizer Traffic Safety, Bikeways and Pedestrian Committee at its meeting Aug. 8. 

“It is a big change because we have a lot of urban roadways that are 40 or 45,” Bish said.

Bish said the new process could result in lower speed limits on River Road North and Wheatland Road North if it is approved without major changes next year. 

“We’re looking at speeds lower then 40 (mph) in urban areas. In urban areas, we try to keep it lower for safety’s sake,” Bish said. “That would exclude highways and expressways like the Salem-Keizer Parkway.” 

He added that even dropping the speed limit by 5 mph realistically only decreases the average rate of travel by 1-2 mph. If new speed limits are in order under the new process, it won’t trigger a “blanket” change throughout the state. New speed limits will be rolled gradually. 

The new speed limiting process would still allow any jurisdiction to set speed limits below 35 mph and above 55 mph by statue. Speed limits between 35 and 55 are set based on road-specific engineering investigations.

Bish said ODOT hoped to get approval from the Oregon Legislature to allow counties and cities to perform their own investigations based on guidelines established by ODOT, but the proposal didn’t make it through the recent session. 

Most cyclist and pedestrian fatalities occur on arterials and “it’s probably a good idea to invest money in arterials,” he added. 

The current draft of the new process would establish five different potential zones: rural, rural town, suburban, urban and urban core. Rural and rural town zones would focus on vehicle traffic and begin to include a greater mix of bicycle and pedestrian designs – and slower speed limits – the closer travelers get to an urban core. In an urban core, the primary focus of design would be on pedestrians. 

Given that city officials are considering how River Road’s commercial areas will be redeveloped, Mike DeBlasi, president of the TBP committee, asked how River Road might be re-engineered to signal to drivers to slow down when they reach the business area. 

“You have to start designing things like curb bulb-outs or pedestrian islands that would signal to drivers that they are entering into a different zone,” Bish said. 

Bish said a final draft of the new process will be made available in September with public meetings on the subject held in December. If it makes it through the grinder, the new speed limiting process could be approved in early 2020. 

Eric Howald, [email protected]