Gary A. Warner
The Bulletin

SALEM — The city of Bend is backing legislation that would allow it to lower speed limits in some residential areas below what is currently allowed by state law.

Senate Bill 558 is before the Senate for approval. It advanced Monday from the Joint Committee on Transportation on an 11-1 vote.

The legislation would allow a city to reduce speed on some highways by 5 mph lower than the state-mandated speed. The reduction is limited to streets that are located in residential districts and that are not an arterial highway. Cities would be required to put up new speed limit signs where the maximum speed is reduced.

Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, submitted an amendment to make more streets in Bend eligible under the proposed law. The committee approved the amendment before the final vote to send the bill to the Senate.

Erik Kancler, lobbyist for the city of Bend, filed testimony in support of the change.

“The definition of ‘residence district’ doesn’t include certain neighborhood streets where the residences are served by back-alley access rather than driveways in the front,” Kancler wrote. “These streets are ideal candidates for speed reductions, as they are often lined on either side by cars and have a lot of front yard family activity. Many streets in Bend are built like this, and more and more back-alley access homes are being built every day.”

The issue was laid out in written testimony submitted by Bend resident Al ­Johnson, an attorney. He pointed out that under state statute, Oregon cities can set their own speed limits only within “residence districts.” Johnson wrote that would exclude streets in neighborhoods with alley-access garages instead of front-yard driveways.

“These are neighborhoods where sidewalks, landscaping, and yards are uninterrupted by curb cuts, driveways, and the vehicles that use them,” Johnson wrote. “These are neighborhoods with high scores for walking and pedestrian use. Examples include historic neighborhoods like Ladd’s Addition in Portland and prizewinning neighborhoods like Northwest Crossing in Bend. Oregon’s cities need to be able to encourage and support this kind of development with lowered speed limits, not be penalized by outdated state definitions prioritizing through-traffic on residential streets.”

Quinn Burket, Helt’s chief of staff, said Helt hoped her colleagues in the Senate will support an expansion of the definition of streets that can be regulated under the bill. The amendment was a key goal.

“A slight tweak, but it makes kids and families in Bend a lot safer since those streets would have otherwise been excluded from speed reduction eligibility,” Burket said.

If approved by the Senate, the bill would go to the House, then on to Gov. Kate Brown for her signature.

— Reporter: 541-640-2750,