While life whizzes by, the city wants traffic to slow down. On April 13, all speed limit signs from 109th to 162nd avenues along Southeast Stark Street were replaced and reduced from 35 mph to 30 mph. Stark is not the first (and won’t be the last) to see emergency speed reductions as part of the city’s Vision Zero. 

In a nutshell, Vision Zero is Portland’s answer to reducing traffic deaths and injuries substantially by the year 2025. Vision Zero targets roads that make up a “High-Crash Network,” which is comprised of the 8 percent of Portland streets that account for more than half of deadly crashes. 

There were 190 recorded traffic deaths in Portland between 2013 and 2017. Overall deaths on the road, which include deaths by driving, walking, motorcycling or biking, have increased each year since 2012.

The strip of Southeast Stark that saw its speed limits reduced last month was listed as part of the High-Crash Network in the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s (PBOT) Vision Zero Action Plan of 2016. 

So far this year, there have been two fatalities on the street. A 53-year-old woman died while walking on Southeast Stark and 148th Avenue on Feb. 1, while a 34-year-old man died while driving on Southeast Stark at 122nd Avenue on Feb. 11. A request to alter Stark’s speed limit in the form of a letter written to Mayor Ted Wheeler and Commissioner Dan Saltzman from Oregon Walks and Rosewood Initiative is a direct result of these tragedies. “We started working on getting it on the agenda the third week of March, and the date [for the Stark Street speed reduction] was confirmed in early April,” says Dylan Rivera, PBOT’s public information officer. 

Memorably, on Jan. 17, the Portland City Council passed a sweeping ordinance that reduced speed limits on all residential streets to 20 mph. This reform also took effect last month on April 1. 

“Excessive speed contributes to more than half of the fatal and serious crashes on our streets,” says Commissioner Dan Saltzman. “If we can get people to slow down, we can save lives. For example, by reducing speeds by just 10 miles an hour from 40 to 30 mph, we increase a person’s chance of surviving a crash by 100 percent. That is why I have brought this proposal to City Council to use the authority granted to us by the state to set an emergency speed limit on Outer Stark.”

The emergency speed limit was put in place in days, but it’s still temporary pending approval from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT). PBOT can’t set permanent Portland speed limits on arterial (or busy) streets on its own past 120 days. City Council was able to enact the 20-mph speed limit on residential streets earlier this year due to the legislature changing state law in 2017, allowing the city to make that decision for itself. “We will be pursuing a permanent reduction through ODOT, but this process will take time,” says Leah Treat, PBOT director. “This is the same process that we followed last year to support a safer posted speed on Division Street. Since the Council’s action, ODOT agreed to make the speed reduction on Division permanent.”

Other quick fixes could be coming to Southeast Stark Street from 109th to 162nd avenues that would directly combat its notoriety. PBOT vows to install speed safety cameras on Outer Stark in coming months. This summer, PBOT will target three crossings on Stark for safety improvements. Those crossings will be at Southeast Stark and 146th, 151st and 160th avenues. “We have initiated a safety redesign of Outer Stark,” adds Rivera. “Our first step is to engage the community and hear their safety needs and ideas, so that we can have a plan in place by the end of next year and to start construction soon after. Lower speeds, better street design, improved infrastructure and community education––these are the tools we are using and will continue to use to reach our Vision Zero goals.” 

Read up on Vision Zero at www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/40390. You can also request materials and sign the Vision Zero pledge by following the provided link.