Portland Now Contains What Might Be the Largest “Slow Zone” of Any U.S. City

Most of Northwest Portland is a 20 miles-per-hour zone.

A crosswalk in Northwest Portland. (Justin Katigbak)

Driving through Northwest Portland? Slow down.

Earlier this month, the Portland Bureau of Transportation finished installing 20 mph signs along major surface streets in the Northwest quadrant, making the 1.6-square-mile area one of the largest "slow zones" of any U.S. city.

PBOT spokesman John Brady says the bureau "lowered speed limits on streets where it knew it could make a real safety difference"—and adds the bureau may do more. "We're looking at this across the city," he says, "and have lowered speeds across the city."

The 20 mph zone stretches from Northwest Couch to Upshur streets and west of Naito Parkway to Pittock Mansion. Portland personal injury lawyer Scott Kocher says Portland's slow zone is now larger than any in New York City, where such zones are typically five by five blocks in size, or Seattle, where the largest slow zone covers about 1.5 square miles.

20 MPH slow zone (WW staff)

The historic slow zone's creation is thanks in part to the advocacy of Kocher. This summer, WW reported on his demand that Portland lower the speed limit on what are known as "collector" streets—wider, more heavily trafficked streets that travel through residential neighborhoods ("Blindsided," WW, Aug. 21, 2019). Local streets, which have less traffic, are already subject to the 20 mph limit.

Kocher says he advocated for months that PBOT lower speed limits on collectors in Northwest from 25 to 20 mph, in compliance with a 2017 city ordinance that gave the bureau authority to slow down traffic. The bureau agreed to start by lowering speeds on thoroughfares like Glisan, Lovejoy and Thurman streets. (Brady says he doesn't know how much of a role Kocher's advocacy played in bringing about the change, but that PBOT "talks with many organizations and individuals in Portland who are concerned with safety like we are.")

Kocher announced his success in the Northwest quadrant last week in an op-ed on the website BikePortland.org. He now wants to see the same speed limit applied citywide.

"I believe that anyone who lives on a collector street in a residential district should be asking PBOT why they don't have a 20 mph limit outside of Northwest, because it's what they are entitled to," Kocher tells WW. "We can now [go to PBOT] and say, 'We've done Northwest Portland and the sky hasn't fallen—what next?'"

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