Signs posting a lower speed limit along the commercial section of Northeast Halsey and Weidler streets might appear by this time next year, if the Halsey-Weidler work group gets its way.
When the citizen work group wrote a wish list of changes for the corridor during its meetings last spring and summer, near the top was a request for a consistent speed of 30 miles per hour along both streets from Northeast 102nd to 122nd Avenues. “The whole concept of changing the speed limit is slowing people down through that corridor both for safety and for making it more of a livable street because we really want to encourage pedestrians there,” said Tom Badrick, a member of the Halsey-Weidler work group. “If we’re trying to make this a more improved, livable business community and have people doing more walking, which is what we all want to do, we really have to do something. And changing the speed is one of the tools to do that.”
For many years, the current speed along Northeast Weidler Street between Northeast 102nd and 122nd avenues has been 35 miles per hour. While Northeast Halsey Street starts out at 25 miles an hour around 101st Avenue, jumps to 35 miles per hour between 104th and 106th Avenue at the intersection where the city plans to place a flashing crosswalk by the new Gateway Park and Urban Plaza.
“It’s less about what speed it is than having a consistent speed because it really doesn’t make sense to have it go from 25 to 35 where it does,” Badrick said. “I’m sure some day years ago there was a rational explanation for it. There’s nothing there that says, hey, the speed should change here. It’s exactly the same on one side of the street as at the other.”
The Portland Bureau of Transportation has assigned Scott Batson, a traffic engineer with the bureau, to study the Halsey-Weidler couplet, conduct traffic and speed counts, as well as other studies, and make recommendations about speed limits.
“We’ll be evaluating all of those issues when we look at it,” Batson said referring to the work group’s concerns. “It’s more common that we would have a uniform speed along the corridor than a speed that goes up and down.”
Part of his investigation will involve reviewing the history of the speed limits along the corridor. However, Batson said the corridor’s current speed zone order might have been created so many years ago that the city will not be able to determine the reasons for the sudden speed increase along Northeast Halsey Street.
Although Northeast Halsey and Weidler streets are owned by the city, the final decision about setting speed limits rests with the Oregon Department of Transportation. “We believe Mr. Badrick is raising a valid concern and PBOT is going to study this couplet, how it’s functioning, and we think some change is probably in order,” said Dylan Rivera, a spokesperson for the bureau. “It’s going to take a few months for us to come up with a specific recommendation and then it could take a year to get action from the state.”
After Batson investigates the traffic and collects data about the corridor, PBOT will decide if a speed change is “the best call,” according to Carl Snyder, traffic operations manager at PBOT. “If it’s a change, we would submit a request to ODOT with our recommended speed and then they do their own independent study going through their criteria,” Snyder said. “Then they’ll come back to us and say, here’s our finding and here’s the speed that we recommend.”
If PBOT agrees with the state’s findings, they write a work order and change the speed signs, Snyder said.
On Dec. 2, Batson conducted his first study along the Halsey- Weidler corridor, counting the number of cars and their speed of travel along the two streets over a 24-hour period. That study was designed originally to gain information on how the speed of traffic affects the crossing safety at Northeast 108th Avenue where a future bike way might be placed. However, the same data will also be used to determine if a speed change is warranted along the streets.
At least two more traffic speed studies will be conducted at different points along the corridor, Batson said. In addition, other studies might involve bike counts and operational changes at busier intersections.
The volume and speed count along the corridor produces a result called the average daily traffic, which shows the number of vehicles that use the roadway in a typical day. To determine the appropriate speed in a zone ODOT looks at the 85th percentile speed, which is the speed 85 percent of the drivers are traveling at or below. That is one of the purposes of the speed and volume study along the corridor. “But we also get the percentages of vehicles traveling 10 miles or more over the speed limit and different speed percentiles,” Snyder said. “So there’s quite a bit of data there. The real problem speeders are the ones going 10 miles per hour or more above the posted speed limit. But we look at a lot of things to determine what the posted speed should be.”
Other factors considered when assigning appropriate speed include the number of driveways in an area, the amount of on-street parking, the number of bicyclists and intersections, and any obstacles that could interrupt the flow of traffic.
During Halsey-Weidler work meetings over the past eight months, opinions of participants sometimes differed on what the ideal speed should be along the corridor. Some members of the work group requested an even lower speed of 25 miles per hour along the corridor, but PBOT representative, Ross Swanson, who attended one of their meetings last summer, suggested that lowering the limit by 5 miles—to 30 miles per hour—was a more reasonable request.
“If you’re trying to do a bunch of storefront stuff, you want traffic to go slower so they can see your store,” Badrick said. “But the rational point of view is this is a corridor that people use to get home, so 25 is going to just drive them somewhere else.”
The most likely alternate route motorists would choose is Northeast Glisan Street, which has fewer businesses along it.
“I would argue that Glisan is better suited for commuter traffic,” Badrick said. “I’m not saying Glisan should be stuck with a bunch of traffic but if you go over to Glisan there are very, very few businesses and that’s where the freeway entrance is that lots of people are heading for anyway.”
Nevertheless, Badrick is not suggesting all commuters should switch over to Northeast Glisan Street. “That’s just one option,” he pointed out.
One suggestion from PBOT engineers, which Badrick liked, was to place a small sign below the 35 mph sign on Northeast Halsey, which would read “Begins Here.”
“It’s a very creative way, not spending a lot of money, to educate people,” Badrick said. “I don’t think a lot of people know that it’s 25 where it is 25. As much as we all want to not like people who are speeding, sometimes the road is just set up so you don’t know you’re speeding.”
Historically, Northeast Weidler was marked at a high speed because there were not as many businesses along it. However, many businesses have sprung up there in recent years, justifying the need to slow down its speed limit, Badrick said.
Changing the speed limit along both streets is an inexpensive way to accomplish the group’s business-friendly goals, but might not be as effective as the other changes their plan envisions: for example, the proposed curb extensions and crosswalks that will all “slow people down,” Badrick said.
The biggest driving safety concern for Badrick is actually Northeast 114th Avenue, slightly outside the corridor project, which ended at 112th Avenue.
“During the day it’s like the wide open freeway out there,” he said. “I’ve had neighbors contact me asking for help on how do you get across because there’s a bus stop on both sides of 114th … and it’s really very difficult as a pedestrian to get across there. Frankly, anything east of the island is hard to get across.”
The five-year-old East Portland in Motion Plan has proposed a pedestrian light or a full signal light at that intersection but so far, nothing is implemented, he said.