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Beyond ‘bikes vs cars’: Four secrets buried in the new Census stats

Posted by on October 1st, 2010 at 12:17 pm

This guest post is by Michael Andersen of Portland Afoot, a new “10-minute newsmagazine” and wiki about low-car life in Portland.

The Joy of Sects Ride - Pedalpalooza 09-9
Photos © J. Maus)

The official U.S. Census numbers for 2009 came out Tuesday, and as BikePortland reported, they held the latest evidence that the phenomenal growth of local biking has been leveling off.

The Census estimates also show that despite tax benefits for TriMet commuters and our ever-growing number of MAX and frequent service bus lines, TriMet ridership isn’t keeping pace with either bikes or cars.

But these vehicle-vs.-vehicle statistics are like the GDP or unemployment rate: they don’t tell the story the way families actually live it. In the 50,000+ Portland households with more adults than autos — “low-car” is the phrase I like to use — we don’t usually think of ourselves as “bikers,” “drivers” or “riders.”

We just think of ourselves as people who gotta get around.

And that’s exactly what I see after spending a few hours peeling into these numbers. Here are four of the most interesting things I found.

(Disclaimer: As sharp reader Malex points out, some of these figures aren’t statistically significant, meaning there’s a 10 percent chance that trend #1, for example, is just an ongoing sampling error. Because these trends look fairly durable and better numbers are unavailable, I think it’s fair to report these figures, but I should have included a clear disclaimer about this up front. You can see her critique in comment #9 and my response in #19.)

Trend 1: More Portland families are choosing to own cars.

The chance that a random Portland household doesn’t own a car is down 6 percent from 2008. It’s down 9 percent from 2006. Zero-car households are getting rarer in every measurable household size and every combination of workers except one: non-employed singles.

Nationwide, it’s just the opposite. Across the USA, more families of every household size are getting by without a car — willingly or not — in 2009.

Portland however, at least according to the Census numbers, is being weird. If you’re an activist hoping to entirely liberate local families from cars someday, you’re losing.

Trend 2: More than ever, Portlanders who ride bikes or TriMet keep a car or three at home.

Thanks in part to trend 1, the old-fashioned stereotype that bikers and transit riders don’t own cars has never been less true. In 2006, 77 percent of our bike/motorcycle commuters and 71 percent of our bus/MAX riders owned cars. By 2009, that had leaped to 89 percent in the bike group and 77 percent in the bus group.

Why? Based on the numbers, I think it’s mostly because of the 10,000 Portland workers who voluntarily took up bike or transit in 2008 to save money during the gas spike. Once they tried it, looks like a lot of them liked it.

And in case you were wondering — yes, 14 percent of Portland’s bike/transit/motorcycle commuters now hail from households with three or more cars or trucks.

Trend 3: Hot new demographic – two adults, one car.

It’s true almost everywhere you look: Portland, Seattle, Austin, Pittsburgh, NYC, nationwide. Two-person households (especially two-worker households) are the biggest source of growth in today’s low-car culture. Some of these families are trading up from zero cars to one; some are empty-nesters and double-income-no-kids types. Whoever these families are, Portland grabbed 2,200 more of them in 2009, and they’re surely using a combination of vehicles to get around.

Trend 4: Who’s going without cars in the Great Recession? High schoolers.

The share of Portland families that own 4 or more autos is down 28 percent since 2008. Welcome to BikePortland, kids! This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Cross Crusade #4-73
Cars are a popular way to get to bike races.

Here’s what all these trends tell me: More and more, Portlanders are using different vehicles for what each vehicle does best. For a few blocks, walking (on the rise in 2009!) can’t be beat. Neighborhood trips? Bikes. Crosstown? MAX. Job in the suburbs? Obviously most Portlanders still prefer cars for that.

Those of us who believe in safe, clean, active and social transportation are trying to change some of these trends. But as Jonathan often points out here on BikePortland, trying to divide ourselves into “bikers” and “drivers” simply isn’t accurate these days.

— The cover story of Portland Afoot’s October issue is about downtown Portland’s transit mall. BikePortland readers in the metro area can subscribe for $10 a year with coupon code “bikeportland.” Email Michael at michael@portlandafoot.org.

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  • Steve B. October 1, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Awesome reporting, Michael!

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  • April October 1, 2010 at 1:02 pm

    I’m hoping that if we build more bike infrastructure, the percentage of bike trips will start going up again.

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  • ecohuman October 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    I’m hoping that if we build more bike infrastructure, the percentage of bike trips will start going up again.

    Amsterdam, the oft-quoted example of bicycle nirvana, has both (a)an ongoing increase in auto use, and (b)an increase in air and water pollution. And Amsterdam government is more friendly to bike riders than almost anywhere.

    The same is true of New York City: an increase in both bike infrastructure and bike use, yet a tremendous increase in auto traffic (and use), pollution, infrastructure breakdowns, and a predicted 24-hour gridlock within 20 years (at conservative estimations of trends).

    Again I say, readers–if you’re focused only on bicycles, you’re missing the larger point (and larger problem). You’ve painted yourself into an ideological corner, instead, of tackling the larger problem with minds open to a range of ideas and practices.

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  • fredlf October 1, 2010 at 1:31 pm

    I really like the concept of “low car.” It describes our lifestyle to a tee. We mostly walk and bike around town and use our car only for long trips or big loads of stuff like mulch or dogs. Since moving to Portland, I’ve put fewer than 9,000 miles on the car annually and usually go weeks without starting it up. But when I need it, I need it and I’m fortunate I’m in a position to afford it.

    One thing I wonder about that’s not mentioned is the impact of telecommuting and work-from-home.

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  • Spiffy October 1, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    sorry for skewing the stats…

    in 2008 I bought a project car that’s never seen the street, but it brought our total up to 3 cars…

    at the beginning of this year I got rid of my daily driver car, bringing us down to 2 cars, although 1 has still never seen the street…

    the wife has cut her driving dramatically and usually only drives a couple days a week now instead of daily…

    once the project car is on the road (next year?) we’ll be selling the wife’s car and buying a cargo bike so she will rarely be driving at all…

    we want to be one of those multi-modal families that uses the transport that best fits the situation… luckily that’s usually a bike or bus/max since we’re still in the city… trying to move more inner since it sucks being way out here on 99th but houses cost a lot…

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  • spare_wheel October 1, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    “Again I say, readers–if you’re focused only on bicycles, you’re missing the larger point (and larger problem).”

    I agree but I don’t think anyone here is suggesting that a single transit mode is a panacea.

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  • Michael Andersen (Contributor) October 1, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    One more factoid that didn’t fit in the post: Despite some of the gloomy talk, bike commuting in Portland is still up 40 percent (!!) since 2006. And even more interestingly, even though male bike commuters moved to cars, motorcycles and walking in 2009, biking among women kept on growing.

    In 2006, bike commuting was 70/30 male; in 2009, 60/40 male. That’s a lot of progress towards transportation equality in just 3 years.

    #4 FredLF: Great question about working from home, which paid the bills for 17,000 Portlanders (about 6 percent of us) in 2009. Some numbers I saw earlier this year showed Portland as one of the top work-from-home cities in the US, but I don’t know if that’s true by other measures. Work-from-home dipped 8 percent as a share of Portland workers in 2009. Maybe it’s all that cheap office space…?

    #1 SteveB: Thanks!

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  • Michael Andersen (Contributor) October 1, 2010 at 2:21 pm

    Oh, and #5 Spiffy: that’s an interesting look into that 3+ figure. I bet a lot of bike folks are DIY with their autos, too.

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  • Malex October 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    These are interesting topics, thanks for bringing them up, Jonathan and Michael. However, I think the way you present the numbers should be improved. Currently, at least in Trend 1, your presentation skews towards making changes seem larger than they are. This is especially problematic because the changes you note may not be statistically significant.

    If I were you, I would extend the analysis back a few years, to the 2005-07 three-year estimates. The margins of error on those estimates will certainly be smaller. In addition, if the apparent trend extends back to 2005, the difference between the 2005-07 average and the 2009 data will be bigger than the 2006 to 2009 difference. A bigger difference and a smaller margin of error means the change will be more statistically significant.

    Nerdy details about this:

    A) “The chance that a random Portland household doesn’t own a car is down 6 percent from 2008. It’s down 9 percent from 2006.”
    I think your use of “percent” here, while technically correct, could be misleading. I initially interpreted it as “percentage points,” because it’s in the context of chance. That made it sound like a much bigger change than it really is. Why not just say, “The chance that a random Portland household doesn’t own a car is down from 15.2 percent in 2006 to 13.9 percent in 2009. While that doesn’t sound like a lot, it means that while 4,000 more households live in Portland, 2,500 fewer own cars.”

    B) Both the “6 percent” and the “9 percent” decreases are not statistically significant. This is going to get a little technical here. Feel free to email me at malexreed@gmail.com with any questions.

    I’m just going to do the 2006 to 2009 difference here. What I want to know is, do we know that the number of households with no (motor) vehicles went down from 2006 to 2009? The way I’m going to statistically ask that question is, “How likely is it that the difference between the 2009 estimate and the 2006 estimate is less than zero?” The Census uses 90 percent confidence bounds. This means that using their methodology, if we get a statistically significant result, there’s less than a 10 percent chance that the difference is equal to or greater than zero.

    Unfortunately, we can’t say this. If you google “Census ACS statistically significant difference”, you get a PDF called ACS_2008_Statistical_Testing. In that PDF, it says that to get the margin of error on a difference, you square the margins of error for the first thing you’re subtracting, square it, and add it to the squared margin of error for the second thing you’re subtracting. Then you take the square root of that sum. In this case, it evaluates to 3,623 (the formula that I put in the 2009 sheet in Excel is =SQRT(BP212^2+’2006′!BP212^2) ).

    The difference itself is only 2,490. Since the margin of error is bigger than the difference, the difference is not statistically significant at the 90% level. That means that there’s more than a 10% chance that there has been no decrease since 2006.

    OK, that was involved. Sorry, people who weren’t interested. But it not being statistically significant means you really shouldn’t report it as a known “change.” See my recommendations at the top for how to hopefully get a statistically significant change to report.

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  • Rebecca October 1, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    “More and more, Portlanders are using different vehicles for what each vehicle does best.”

    I think that’s a very inspiring statement. If we’ve created a system where people can choose from a variety of reasonable options instead of defaulting to car driving for each trip, then we’re on the right track.

    Nice article, Michael!

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  • Matt October 1, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    I do not have a car here in Portland, I do not need one to get around in the city. I need one to GET OUT of the city. Oregon is beautiful and there is so much to see out there. Yes you can ride a bike, but unless you have a 5 day weekend, you only have about a 200 mile radius. Sure, you can combo a train or bus ride then bike and you can see a tremendous amount of Oregon. But once you’ve had the car and the freedom to throw your bike on the rack, drive 3 hours from Portland, set up camp, and then ride the next morning 100 miiles. You begin to understand why people want a car sooo bad. Maybe if we lived in an industrial area with little scenery, it would be different…

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  • ecohuman October 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    Malex,

    I’m sure you enjoy math, but…why so much effort for so little useful information? The rest of the Census data helps tell a story which begs a much larger and more interesting question:

    If children living in poverty and health insurance-less is rising, if poverty in general is rising, if the middle class is rapidly disappearing (mostly downward), if afordable housing is drying up, if elderly in poverty is rising…then who gives a shit how many bicycles and cars are on the road?

    All of *those* stats, by the way, are in that Census data.

    Folks, if you think less cars and more bicycles is making the city a better place, you’re mostly delusional. It might feel good when we ride a bike, but it’s not making the local area even one tiny bit healthier, more well fed, more insured, more cared for, more able to find an affordable place to live, or less likely to need a food box from the Oregon Food Bank (another local stat that’s exploding upward).

    So given all that–why are you intent on demanding that the City spend upwards of a billion or more dollars on bicycle infrastructure when kids all around you need food, health care, and a decent place to live (and more so every day), for example? What’s “inspiring” about bicycles in light of all of this?

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  • April October 1, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Ecohuman:

    Do you mean we just need to have less people, period? If that’s the case, I totally agree with you.

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  • April October 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Matt:

    I find that there are plenty of places to visit within a hundred miles of Portland–enough to keep me busy for a while.

    I save the farther stuff for actual vacations/holiday weekends.

    Do I miss being able to get places easily? Sure! Do I sometimes go places out of town by car with friends? Sure!

    But now that I’ve proven myself able to ride to the Oregon Coast in a day, I don’t miss having a car nearly as much as I used to.

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  • Anonymous October 1, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    My family of 4 owns 2 cars, a truck, an RV, 2 commuter bikes, a mountain bike, a cruiser, a recumbent trike, and a carbon race bike. They are all tools with very specific uses,and yes the commuter bikes have the most miles on the odometer!

    I like the stat about 89% of cyclists owning vehicles and 14% of us owning more than 3. Shoots a big hole in the “cyclists don’t pay road taxes” arguments…no matter how false the road taxes pay for roads misconception is itself!

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  • jv October 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Wow, this is great info Michael! I am happy to be part of the 14% who own 3 or more cars (and yet bike to work almost every day). Really what we want is a reduction in single occupant vehicle miles travelled and fuels consumed, not neccessarily a reduction in the total number of motor vehicles. And you are correct, I fit your demographic profile stated in #8 – DIY with both bikes and cars. I think it is in many ways more socially responsible to own a few older efficient cars and bikes (whose energy and mineral extraction happened decades ago) – than to purchase new consumer goods. I think in general the average vintage of vehicles registed in Portland is older than in the suburbs or other major metropolitan areas.

    BTW – that Harlequin Golf is a rare vehicle indeed!

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  • Charlie B October 1, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    I need motorized transport to leave the city to ride my mountain bike.

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  • CaptainKarma October 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    While not totally giving up a car, I try to make as many car-free days in a row as I can. Like, how many days in a row can I NOT start it up. That means often catching rides (carpooling), using the bus/max or biking/walking or even sometimes just staying home. Whatever works. Ours is not really just a binary world.

    You might be surprised how many trips are B.S. trips, like I just have to go to Powell’s and see if that book is in, or I “need” a double mocha frappacinno right now! Use the phone, go online, wait a day or two and combine trips (from grocery to library to errand etc). Learn to make your own coffee drinks.

    Maybe the explosive biking growth is over, but I don’t think growth at some slower rate will stop for a long time. Plus wait ’till gas goes up again, eh? Inevitable.

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  • Michael Andersen (Contributor) October 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    #9 Malex, it’s a totally fair point. I did think quite a bit about how to present this data fairly. You and I know the difference between “percent” and “percentage points,” but I know a lot of readers won’t catch that — that’s why I settled on the “random household” phrase. Hopefully more intuitive.

    On the statistical significance issue, you’re quite right that these numbers wouldn’t stand up in an academic article. That’s why I was careful to look at trends that seemed to have been in place for several years (trends 1, 2 and 4) or were in place in many different geographies (trend 3). I also avoided trends with relatively bigger margins of error — I didn’t get into changes in different racial populations, for example.

    That said, I didn’t do that statistical significance calculation myself, and I’m grateful that you did and pointed it out. I’ll see if we can insert a disclaimer in the post.

    Finally, here’s the reason I decided to use these numbers: they’re a lot better than nothing. The next five-year ACS estimates are due in December; they’ll be super-accurate but almost useless for anybody trying to track the obviously rapid changes in Portland transportation since 2005.

    That said, I can see the argument that all numbers should be off-limits to journalists until they’re statistically significant. I’ll defer to Jonathan’s judgment on this.

    Again, thanks for being such a careful and skeptical reader.

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  • April October 1, 2010 at 4:32 pm

    ecohuman:

    You’re assuming, first of all, that none of us care about those other things as well.

    This is a blog about riding a bicycle in Portland. Not about child poverty, or health care, or anything else. Just bicycling in Portland, and things tangentially related to bicycling in Portland.

    I think that getting more people on bicycles *does* make the city healthier, seeing as most people don’t exercise enough. And I think it helps the local economy because it’s less money spent on gas, less need for more roads/wider roads/road repairs.

    It’s been said repeatedly, but the entire bike plan, something that’s supposed to happen over twenty years, costs the same as one mile of urban freeway.

    I really resent the idea that because I care about bicycles, I don’t care about anything else. And saying “we can’t spend money on ______ until we solve [some other social problem]” is a red herring, in my opinion.

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  • Malex October 1, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Michael Andersen (Contributor) #19:

    I’m glad you thought about how to present the numbers. Numbers are difficult things to talk about in a responsible yet interesting way.

    I sometimes think about statistical significance this way: “What if this weren’t a number?” To use a silly example:

    If I were a journalist, and I were 85 percent sure that George Clooney is actually a snow leopard in disguise, and I had no way of becoming more sure, would I nonetheless report it? Yes!

    But I would ALSO report that there’s a 15 percent chance that he’s actually a human.

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  • ecohuman October 1, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    You’re assuming, first of all, that none of us care about those other things as well.

    No, you’re assuming that I was talking to you. Saying “commenters” means I’m talking to those that frequently–and prolifically–do those very things. If you’re not one of them–why respond?

    I think that getting more people on bicycles *does* make the city healthier, seeing as most people don’t exercise enough.

    Based on lots of those statistics that readers here seem to love, you’re wrong. Amsterdam’s a reasonable example–despite having an incredibly high percentage of ridership, it’s people die at about the same age as Portlanders, die from the same diseases (including heart disease), and have about the same amount of health care consumption and prescription drug consumption (for health conditions). What’s your assumption based on? How much people weigh?

    It’s been said repeatedly, but the entire bike plan, something that’s supposed to happen over twenty years, costs the same as one mile of urban freeway.

    It probably cost the same as fur million Oscar Mayer hot dogs, too, but that doesn’t change anything–and doesn’t mean that I think the money should be spent on “urban freeway”. If you’d read my post, that’d be painfully clear.

    And I think it helps the local economy because it’s less money spent on gas, less need for more roads/wider roads/road repairs.

    Really? You think that the more bicycles there are, the less money is spent on those things? You mean, like the more vegetables there are, the less meat will be eaten? Are you serious? And, you seem unwilling to notice that despite bicycling going *up* “exponentially” or “dramatically” in Portland, spending on those things you listed are going up too? You do understand why, right?

    And saying “we can’t spend money on ______ until we solve [some other social problem]” is a red herring, in my opinion.

    That’s nonsensical. And you’re entirely wrong, for one simple reason–if those other “social problems” aren’t dealt with, spending money on bicycle infrastructure will not only be a moot point, it’ll be one of the stupidest, most bizarre case of misplaced priorities that the city’s ever had.

    Bt let me guess–you think I wouldn’t object to similar fnds being spent on roads, right? Wrong.

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  • wsbob October 1, 2010 at 5:55 pm

    “…Folks, if you think less cars and more bicycles is making the city a better place, you’re mostly delusional. …” ecohuman #12

    So what are you suggesting would make the city a better place? More cars and less bikes?

    Malex #9 …statistics are easy to get buried in, and are often a popular tool used by certain people to bury other people with. I’m glad they work for you (they don’t very well for me), but ‘seat of the pants’ is a worthwhile fall back resource to keep in mind, just in case the calculations don’t seem quite right.

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  • Red Five October 1, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    How come hippies love one of the stinkiest most polluting cars on the earth….an old air cooled VW Beetle?

    I’ve never been behind a single one of those that didn’t make my eyes burn with pollution.

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  • Malex October 1, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    wsbob #22:

    I guess I should first say that I’m not trying to bury Michael. For one thing, he’s doing important work. For another, He did a way better job with these numbers than most news sources do. The reason I chose to comment on this story rather than one somewhere else is that I know BikePortland takes reader feedback seriously.

    Next, I’ll say that I think numbers are unfairly privileged as bearers of truth in today’s culture. Things that can be quantified get more weight, and that’s not right.

    Last, I’ll say that, given that numbers have such weight in our society, we should at least demand that they be pretty good numbers.

    I don’t know about you, but I would be mad if someone I trusted to give me important information were wrong 15 or 20 percent of the time. Yet if our information sources don’t do their statistics, they WILL be wrong on these kinds of “facts” at least that often.

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  • ecohuman October 1, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    So what are you suggesting would make the city a better place? More cars and less bikes?

    Right on cue.

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  • 9watts October 1, 2010 at 9:31 pm

    Does anyone know how the sampling works for the ACS? On my 2010 decennial census form we weren’t asked anything interesting this time around. In 2000 we got the long form with all sorts of good stuff. But these numbers we’re discussing here aren’t from the decennial census.

    We’re a three-person household: two adults and one kindergardner. Four bikes, three bike trailers, no car. Haven’t owned a car for thirteen years, with a brief six-month exception when we were living in three different places at once. I’ve been curious to see whether the rate of car ownership in Multnomah Co. will have fallen between the 2000 and 2010 census. Based on my acquaintances I thought it was possible that it would be higher, but of course my acquaintances aren’t a good sample of the county.

    In 2000, 18.5% of all Multnomah Co. households were carfree. Among homeowners the percentage was 5.6%. The variation between census tracts in this parameter is huge. Lots of fun statistics there. If anyone wants to dig deeper, I wrote a little guide to how to drill down into these data. >9watts at gmail<

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  • Spencer October 1, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    I think breaking down the ‘bikers’ ‘drivers’ idea is one of the most important things about this article. Thanks. Recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of all of our transportation options is essential for a comprehensive transportation system in a city. (in my humble inexperienced opinion of course :-)

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  • Floyd October 1, 2010 at 11:14 pm

    ecohuman,

    From where I stand, it seems like you post (prolifically) on a blog devoted to bikes and livability in order to disparage enthusiasm for bikes and livability.

    Your vehicle of choice, does it run on bitterness?

    Also, where did you get this business about, “demanding that the City spend upwards of a billion or more dollars”? I can’t remember seeing anything like that here. I do know of a transportation plan that’s expected to cost $613 million (over 20 years). Is that what you’re talking about? Did you just round that number up to get a billion?

    And I could only find one instance of the word, “commenters” on this page. (Now there’s two.)

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  • Michael Andersen (Contributor) October 1, 2010 at 11:59 pm

    #25 Malex: After getting home tonight I ran the car-free numbers again using the 05-07 estimates, per your recommendation. The trend continues to hold (the chance that a Portland household is car-free is down 7 percent from the average of ’05-’07) but the margin of error is still bigger than the difference, so we still can’t say for sure where things are moving.

    Again, I’d argue that when a trend keeps appearing in various venues, it becomes more reliable even if none has statistical significance. But you’re right to point out that there’s some chance George Clooney is a secret snow leopard.

    #27 9watts: ACS sampling takes place throughout the year, and from what I can tell it works entirely from mail-in forms, just like the decennial.

    The decennial long form was actually eliminated completely from the 2010 census, in favor of a 5-year ACS estimate that measures all the stuff the long form used to.

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  • wsbob October 2, 2010 at 1:15 am

    Malex #25, I realize you weren’t trying to bury anyone with the numbers. Sorry if it seemed I was implying that you were. Statistics are just tough for me and I think a lot of people in general, to understand and trust. I’ll work a little harder at trying to make sense of them.

    To part of his comment #12, I posed to ecohuman, the following question:

    “So what are you suggesting would make the city a better place? More cars and less bikes? wsbob #23″

    ecohuman’s answer to that question in comment #26 was:

    “So what are you suggesting would make the city a better place? More cars and less bikes?

    Right on cue.” ecohuman #26

    I’m sorry to have to say this, but that answer doesn’t sound like anything more than what a simple minded, spoiled brat, would come up with.

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  • wsbob October 2, 2010 at 1:38 am

    “How come hippies love one of the stinkiest most polluting cars on the earth….an old air cooled VW Beetle?

    I’ve never been behind a single one of those that didn’t make my eyes burn with pollution.” Red Five

    Have you been behind one with a newly rebuilt, well adjusted motor? VW bugs are fine when the motors are in good shape and maintained properly, although no vintage car’s exhaust is going to smell as clean as modern cars with state of the art emission control equipment do.

    Even brand new, cars from any decade through at least the seventies would smell like major polluters compared to cars of today. Go to a hot rod cruise where they parade down the street for an amazing example of what life with motor vehicles pre-emission control gear was like.

    Motor emissions aside, I’ll have to admit I love VW bugs’ curvy body. It’s a beautiful car design.

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  • Merckxrider October 2, 2010 at 8:50 am

    However you slice or parse the data, fewer high school-aged kids driving cars is a good thing; I can’t see any ambiguity to that!

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  • jim October 2, 2010 at 9:36 am

    I think this article should be re-posted in a month, after it is cold and rainy. How many people are bike comuting then? Right now it’s really beautiful weather and the streets are packed with bikes. Later on that bike train will be much smaller…

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  • April October 2, 2010 at 10:15 am

    ecohuman:

    If people are repeatedly misunderstanding you, perhaps the problem is on your end? In any case, you seem to enjoy writing in an adversarial tone, which for me is unpleasant for any kind of productive discussion. Can you take the antagonistic tone down a few notches? Or at least assume I have good intentions?

    Based on lots of those statistics that readers here seem to love, you’re wrong. Amsterdam’s a reasonable example–despite having an incredibly high percentage of ridership, it’s people die at about the same age as Portlanders, die from the same diseases (including heart disease), and have about the same amount of health care consumption and prescription drug consumption (for health conditions). What’s your assumption based on? How much people weigh?

    I wasn’t aware of that. That’s interesting. I wonder what other lifestyle factors might be involved. It doesn’t change the simple idea that exercise is good for you.

    It probably cost the same as fur million Oscar Mayer hot dogs, too, but that doesn’t change anything–and doesn’t mean that I think the money should be spent on “urban freeway”. If you’d read my post, that’d be painfully clear.

    I never said you wanted to build freeways. It’s a commonly-used price comparison, is all.

    Really? You think that the more bicycles there are, the less money is spent on those things? You mean, like the more vegetables there are, the less meat will be eaten? Are you serious? And, you seem unwilling to notice that despite bicycling going *up* “exponentially” or “dramatically” in Portland, spending on those things you listed are going up too? You do understand why, right?

    Because there’s more of us? Rather than assume I know what you’re talking about, why not just say it?

    I personally have more money to spend on other things because I don’t own a car. At my income level, I can afford rent or a car but not both.

    And again: What’s with the antagonistic tone?

    That’s nonsensical. And you’re entirely wrong, for one simple reason–if those other “social problems” aren’t dealt with, spending money on bicycle infrastructure will not only be a moot point, it’ll be one of the stupidest, most bizarre case of misplaced priorities that the city’s ever had.

    I didn’t say that it was one or the other. That’s why I think it’s a red herring. I think it’s possible to invest money both in bike infrastructure, and social services. The city already spends money on roads, if only for maintenance, and putting more bike facilities on the road is often (as in the case of sharrows) no more expensive than putting down some paint.

    Bt let me guess–you think I wouldn’t object to similar fnds being spent on roads, right? Wrong.

    Did I ever say that?

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  • eljefe October 2, 2010 at 11:58 am

    There is an obvious point here that is being missed: while the recession has reduced incomes nationally, gentrification in Portland is replacing poor people (can’t afford a a car) with wealthier people (can afford one or more cars, even if they just sit in the driveway). In my neighborhood, there are many 4-8 unit apartments with no off-street parking. There is no off-street parking because these buildings were built when cars were a luxury good and they weren’t/aren’t necessary because good sidewalks and nearby services. Ten years ago, these buildings might have a handful of cars associated with them and many car-free residents (who probably didn’t bike either). Now there are at least as many cars as units because wealthier people live there. Where did the poor people (can’t afford a car) go? Now they are car free in Gresham or Beaverton. Now my neighborhood has many more cars than it was designed for, owned by people with an attitude of entitlement about parking wherever they want, in a city that doesn’t take parking enforcement seriously. Now a neighborhood with good pedestrian infrastructure isn’t walkable unless you climb over cars all the time.

    What the data don’t capture is whether people are changing their habits or the city is changing its people.

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  • wsbob October 2, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    “… What the data don’t capture is whether people are changing their habits or the city is changing its people.” eljefe #36

    I think continuing efforts need to be made to design and redesign the city in ways that will allow people to change their habits.

    “… Here’s what all these trends tell me: More and more, Portlanders are using different vehicles for what each vehicle does best. For a few blocks, walking (on the rise in 2009!) can’t be beat. Neighborhood trips? Bikes. Crosstown? MAX. Job in the suburbs? Obviously most Portlanders still prefer cars for that. …” Michael Anderson, guest writer

    When the design of residential and business areas, the streets that connect them and the traffic that travel the streets is managed to maximize safety and enjoyment, people like to walk and bike. They’ll develop habits of walking and biking where those means of travel can be a safe and comfortable experience. If the walk they face…to for example, the grocery store from their house…is like an urban war zone of noise and filth amidst an obstacle course of madly careening vehicle traffic…of course they’ll choose to drive.

    It’s unfortunate if people are continuing to find light rail and bus to be a less enjoyable and convenient means of commuting to a job in the suburbs than the car is. Light rail and bus service should be improved to the point where it’s more enjoyable and convenient than car travel is. When that happens, greater numbers of people will use light rail and bus service.

    It’s no great fun being in a car, stuck in traffic on Hwy 26 into and out of Portland for the daily commute. It often is though, more comfortable and enjoyable being in the car than it is on light rail or the bus; seats are better, music is better, traveling company is often far, far better. Plus…car owners can drive right to their job or home.

    The bigger issue, is that not enough effort is probably being made to negate the need for the daily city to suburb job commute. Greater efforts need to be made to have employees live closer to where they work. Certainly there are some industries that aren’t appealing to live next to, but people should be able to comfortably live next those that aren’t noisy or produce foul emissions.

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  • She October 2, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Is there a distinction between internal combustion engine vehicles and electric cars? If not that is a distinction that might be interesting.

    We used to have two ICE cars, now we have on ICE and one all electric vehicle. We have reduced the use of our ICE vehicle by 75% with biking and the use of an electric neighborhood vehicle (this is a perfect town for one). So when we need to haul more than a bike can handle but do not want to drive the ICE we have another choice.

    As electric cars become more of an option, this could become more of a significant piece of data to have in the equation.

    We are a family of four with one ICE vehicle, one electric vehicle and a fleet of bikes that are used daily.

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  • Joe Adamski October 2, 2010 at 10:35 pm

    Jim#34… as we have relatively mild winters, there should be little ‘down time’ riding. One simply needs to put the weather forecast in context, that the forecast for a chance of showers does not mean solid rain all day. We have few days that riding at least for shorter (5 miles or less) isn’t feasible or practical.

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  • jim October 3, 2010 at 12:27 am

    Joe-
    Your quite right about that. I remember walking to high school everyday 3+ miles, I only got rained on a couple of times despite it being cloudy most of the time.

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  • Trek 3900 October 3, 2010 at 1:59 am

    Declining price of gas from the $4+ of 2008 may play a part.

    Don’t despair: coming collapse of US economy will make almost everyone a walker. Mathematically there is no escape from it – our debt is too great – all it will take is an uptick in interest rates and the US will be toast. Stock up on necessities, like bulk food, that you can use (so they don’t spoil). You might use it in a magnitude 9 earthquake if the highway/rail bridge failures cut off the food supply for a couple of months.

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  • Trek 3900 October 3, 2010 at 2:11 am

    ecohuman wrote: “….Folks, if you think less cars and more bicycles is making the city a better place, you’re mostly delusional. It might feel good when we ride a bike, but it’s not making the local area even one tiny bit healthier,…..”

    eco is probably about right. the rest of his post is correct – a collapsing economy is a more pressing concern than bike ridership in PDX. It’s going to take a large rapidly rotating 2×4 across the eyes of some folks in city goobermint to get the picture, but the collapsing US economy is going to provide that 2×4 real soon.

    I do admire those who ride every day. I only commute occasionally. My commute is 15 miles and it’s a pain in the butt to have to pack your clothes, shower at work, take your bike apart so there’s nothing on it to steal while you are in working, etc, etc. ALSO I wonder if riding with all the cars is detrimental to my health – I’m breathing a lot of diesel fumes in that 15 miles (diesels should be outlawed except for industrial vehicles like 18 wheelers). IMHO.

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  • Brad October 3, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    I see two factors at work here.

    First, Portland is still growing which means both more cars and more bike riders on the same overtaxed infrastructure that has not appreciably changed since the 1990′s. It is more crowded.

    I also wonder where the influx of population is coming from? Bay Area? SoCal? Other major metros like Chicago, NYC, Seattle? Perhaps those drivers have no problems with our roadway congestion. If you are used to two hours commute each way in the Los Angeles area, then 45 minutes to and from Beaverton, Wilsonville, Vancouver, or Gresham seems like a dream. If you have “gained” hours each week after coming to PDX, what’s your incentive to ditch the car for a bike?

    Second, the bike “movement” has harvested all of the easily picked low hanging fruit. Now the hard work begins – how do you convince another 3-5% of the population to convert? That’s a realistic number of new bike users that can be added over the next 5-10 years. Short of oil supply chain disruption or government enacted policies to curtail auto usage, what incentive gets more than 8-10% of commuters out of their cars?

    Not trying to be negative but, we have to think beyond folksy soft sales and liberal guilt tripping or 8% bike share is the best we’ll ever get.

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  • wsbob October 3, 2010 at 10:23 pm

    “ecohuman wrote: “….Folks, if you think less cars and more bicycles is making the city a better place, you’re mostly delusional. It might feel good when we ride a bike, but it’s not making the local area even one tiny bit healthier,……”

    eco is probably about right. …” Trek 3900 #42

    Please explain what you think this person is correct about. People using bikes for transportation is not making the ” …local area even one tiny bit healthier…”? Explain how such a contention is anything but patently absurd.

    What does eco think would be a better thing to do than choosing a bike for transportation rather than a car? Previous comments eco has posted suggests eco don’t want to, or can’t say.

    Increasingly, we may be able to say that ‘a bike trip chosen, represents a car trip not chosen.’. The additional space made available on the road by a person choosing to meet their transportation needs with a bike instead of a car, may be filled by somebody else that decides to drive a car. In that scenario, the fact remains never the less, that one person’s travel means have been met without the use of a car.

    Brad #43, I’d say you have a point about out-of-staters experience with 2 hr commutes dropping to 45 minutes possibly aggravating our traffic congestion problems. In a somewhat different context, this phenomena is familiar: out-of-staters finding housing prices in our area rock bottom deals compared to the housing prices in the areas out of state that they moved from.

    “… My commute is 15 miles and it’s a pain in the butt to have to pack your clothes, shower at work, take your bike apart so there’s nothing on it to steal while you are in working, etc, etc. …” Trek 3900 #42

    With allowances made for steep terrain, people that live 5 miles away from work could have a manageable commute. Instead of vast acres of huge asphalt wasteland for parking cars, employers could more efficiently use land by providing compact, efficient, secure lockers for bikes. If you lived 5 miles away from your job, via a pleasant, safe bike route, and had a nice locker to stow your bike and gear in, would you still be driving to work? Still might need a shower.

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  • Eileen October 3, 2010 at 10:52 pm

    I think I get eco-human’s point. He’s not saying you are making a bad choice for riding a bike, he just means that when the cycling community demands millions of dollars while children are going hungry IN OUR CITY, not in some far off land, perhaps our priorities are a bit off. I doubt there are many of you who would spend your grocery money on a new bike. I believe that if you are opting to ride a bike for environmental reasons, you already hold the value that we’re all in this together. So are we all in this together?

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  • wsbob October 4, 2010 at 12:35 am

    Eileen, certainly it’s worthy and honorable to be prioritizing the needs of hungry people before certain other needs of the community as a whole, though, as that need is being responded to, it’s not realistic to drop taking on other vital tasks, such as doing work that enables all the various bits of transportation infrastructure to be a functioning system.

    Over stressed, congested transportation infrastructure is a pressing community problem. Having transportation infrastructure work well is key to being able to feed and provide for not just children that are hungry, but everyone.

    As to the cycling community…so to speak…demanding millions of dollars…I expect you mean asking for money to build bike lanes and what not. Hey…I ask, who is really demanding that money be spent for such things? Indirectly, it’s people that drive motor vehicles. Those drivers could be cool…choosing to slow down to the pace people on bikes travel, letting them ride right along with all the motor vehicle traffic in the main travel lanes.

    If this became standard procedure on the part of motor vehicle operators, communities wouldn’t have to spend a dime on bicycle lanes and other street improvements designed to increase motor vehicle handling capacity of streets. Money saved could be diverted to pressing humanitarian needs.

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  • Red Five October 4, 2010 at 4:58 am

    Please…show me all the “hungry children” in Portland. More often then not when I go shopping I see some welfare mom with a fist full of food stamps and two or three kids, ALL of them fat and healthy, and a cart PACKED with groceries which I cannot afford to do myself.

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  • Pete October 4, 2010 at 10:51 am

    Trek 3900 (#42): “ALSO I wonder if riding with all the cars is detrimental to my health – I’m breathing a lot of diesel fumes in that 15 miles (diesels should be outlawed except for industrial vehicles like 18 wheelers). IMHO.”

    This was addressed in Jeff Mapes’ book pedal power. IIRC the conclusion was there is a slightly higher risk while biking around cars, but people in cars breathe more pollution than they think, especially if they’re idling in traffic and not able to keep moving like a cyclist can.

    My car has a HEPA cabin filter which is supposed to help, but I don’t know cuz I never drive the thing. ;)

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  • April October 4, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Red Five:

    So far this the most ignorant comment I’ve seen on this thread so far.

    First of all: No one carries a “handful of food stamps” anymore. It’s on a debit-style card. So either you’re lying or you’re still thinking of something you saw twenty years ago.

    Secondly: Food stamps don’t give you that much money. As a single person I get $160 or so. If I’m super careful I can make it stretch for the whole month…but most months they don’t last until my next payment.

    If you can’t afford to get groceries, you should apply for food stamps yourself. It’s a fairly easy process.

    And just because that family is doing well on their benefits, doesn’t mean there’s another family that isn’t. Try asking the Oregon Food Bank how things are going…

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  • SteveG October 4, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    There’s a new option coming…. Check this out:

    “Today, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a historic piece of legislation that will — for the first time — clarify insurance so individuals can have their cars become carshare vehicles without invalidating their own insurance.

    That makes personal carsharing scalable and relatively easy to do in California. It’s a revolution in the way we think about the automobile as we move from transportation products to transportation services.”

    http://spride.us2.list-manage.com/track/click?u=f077b55528994c4f765e98495&id=1f7618eab5&e=24e22569cc

    Spride, http://www.gettaround.com and http://www.relayrides.com, are basically Zipcar 2.0: they let private vehicle owners (you and me) “rent out” their cars to people who need occasional access to, but don’t want to own, a car.

    These firms will likely accelerate the growth of car-sharing, thereby letting more families live “car free” or “car lite”.

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  • Matt October 4, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    @ April

    Remember, most people only get two weeks of vocation a year… There is a whole lot of Oregon to see, a life time’s worth!!

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  • Red Five October 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    April, maybe less time riding and more time dedicated to a better paying job and you would not need to depend on public assistance.

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  • April October 4, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Matt: True!

    Red Five: Um….you do know it’s insanely hard to get a job right now, don’t you? I’m actually unemployed, and the only thing I have experience doing (working in medical records) is disappearing as medical offices move to electronic records.

    I must point out as well, that even if I get a good-paying job, there will always be jobs that don’t pay well, and someone has to do those jobs, which means some of them will be on public assistance.

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  • Matt October 4, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    @ April

    keep on looking, I imagine you’ll find something! And if I may, I suggest putting down on your resume that you’re an avid cyclist capable of riding very long distances. Shows determination, dedication, and commitment to something.

    @ Red Five

    Go pick some flowers…

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  • Eileen October 4, 2010 at 8:54 pm

    Red five, I will let you do your own research – may I suggest you start at the Oregon Food Bank’s website. Then if you’re interested in the issue of hunger globally, check out the Oxfam website. If you can read the info provided on those sites and not come away with a sense of how urgent the issue of hunger is, far above and beyond an issue of nicer bike paths, … I can’t even finish that sentence.

    I’m not exactly sure what the right way to run the world is and there are too many issues that feel urgent. I guess if I were the supreme dictator, I’d make a list and prioritize. And making sure everyone has food, clean water and safe places to live would be where I’d start. Then I’d make the soldiers put down their guns and make nice. Making better bike paths would be something like number 12 I think. But if I were the supreme dictator, number 10 would be making everyone park their cars outside the city limits, then voila, miles and miles of nice bike paths. What can I say, you should probably elect me to be supreme dictator.

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  • wsbob October 4, 2010 at 10:38 pm

    There is that phrase: ‘benevolent dictator’. Better to let people effect the course of their own destiny, but our elected officials often have an uncanny way of distancing people from doing things that way. Cities seem to like to spend money.

    Lombard bike lanes. Here’s a project that should have been super simple (well, at least providing for unobstructed bike travel on the street should have been), because no widening of the street was required to provide for them. At least initially, all that really was necessary, was to put up some more ‘No Parking’ signs on the street. Maybe a half day’s work for a couple people.

    Word of mouth, I heard figures of $50,000 and…I believe $29,000…to get the bike lanes installed. Never saw a cost accounting for the bike lanes installation, so I can’t say with much certainty, what the costs were and if it was that amount of money that was spent, what it was all spent on.

    $50,000 could have payed for quite a few meals.

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  • q`Tzal October 5, 2010 at 12:20 pm

    Eileen:
    “… make the soldiers put down their guns and make nice.”

    As soon as you figure out a repeatable and consistant way to disarm an armed belligerent force without arming otherwise peaceful people that will have to, and have consistantly done so throughout history, kill to impose that pease I think you will have everyone’s vote.

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