Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Portland bike traffic up 28% over last year

Posted by on October 30th, 2008 at 3:52 pm

Bike Back the Night-16.jpg

Bike traffic in Portland.
(Photo J. Maus)

The City of Portland is sitting on loads of interesting and important data about bike ridership. Full reports on summer bike counts at locations throughout the city and survey results from the City Auditor’s Office are all due out in the coming weeks.

However, a few numbers have trickled out of PDOT in recent days.

I’ll share a full look at the numbers once the reports are ready, but some of the early numbers I’ve gleaned from various sources are very exciting.

An annual survey compiled by the City of Portland Auditor’s Office (the Service Efforts and Accomplishments Survey) is set to reveal that 8% of Portlanders (citywide) now say that the bicycle is the mode of transportation they use to get to and from work.

Sneak peek at 2008 bike counts:

  • 16,711 ave. daily bridge trips
  • 8% bike commute mode share
  • 28% one-year increase in bike
    traffic citywide

That’s up from 6% in the 2007 survey and up from 3% in 1997, when they first asked the question.

10% of those surveyed said the bicycle was their secondary mode of transportation to work. This means that a bicycle is used to get to work by 18% of Portlanders (either as a primary or secondary vehicle) citywide.

Also, according to numbers revealed in a presentation given by PDOT bike coordinator Roger Geller in Seattle last week, in 2008, there were 16,711 average daily bike trips across the four main downtown bridges (Hawthorne, Burnside, Steel and Broadway) — a 15% increase over last year’s number.

Portland’s one-year increase in non-bridge traffic (based on counts from 68 locations city-wide) has jumped 32% (for a combined bridge and non-bridge increase of 28%).

Based on counts from 25 locations city-wide, Portland’s bike traffic has increased 190% since 2000/2001.

These numbers are impressive and I’m looking forward to seeing the full reports, which should be released in the coming weeks.

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  • K'Tesh October 30, 2008 at 4:14 pm


    Now if we can only get the rest of them out of their steel boxes!


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  • velo October 30, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    8% Rocks! I see this increase in traffic every morning as I pedal from SE to Downtown. Some times I have to remind myself to revel in the bike congestion crossing the Hawthorne bridge! A slow down because of so many bikes? That is actually wonderful in a really happy way.

    Lets keep this conversion rate up and we might see 20% of Portlanders using bikes as primary transit in not too long.

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  • Todd Boulanger October 30, 2008 at 4:41 pm

    Congrats Portland! Way to Go!

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  • Jessica Roberts October 30, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    I called 30% and I wasn’t that far off!!!

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  • PdxMark October 30, 2008 at 5:02 pm

    Have we crossed the Rubicon?

    (How often do you get to use that cliche?)

    Bike traffic has noticeably increased in the past year. Today for the first time I didn’t get through a full cycle of the westbound bike light at the west end of the Broadway bridge because there were so many cyclists. It will be interesting to see if the increases in ridership maintain this pace or have “gone viral” and will accelerate in the next years. (Hence the Rubicon reference.)

    Oh, and hi Jessica. What’s your call for next year? Have we gone viral?

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  • PdxMark October 30, 2008 at 5:05 pm

    PS The primary and secondary modes question is an important insight. It gives a better sense of the extent of folks who are biking some of the time…

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  • joel October 30, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    i am not surprised at these numbers at all – even on my fairly early morning ride in (usually crossing the broadway at about 720-730), ive encountered way more bike traffic than i did at any time last year. ive sat for a second cycle of the westbound bike signal on more than a few instances this year. the amount of bike traffic that backs up on the hawthorne when they lift it, at *any* time of day, is truly impressive.

    theres still a ways to go before we hit the level of 15 bikes stopped at every light that i remember encountering in copenhagen, but were obviously headed in the right direction!

    now if we can just get funding equal to our mode share…

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  • Kurt Runzler October 30, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    The proposition that 8 percent of all commute trips in Portland are by bike is absurd. Look at the BCC numbers for 2008 – which are arguably the best measure of actual bike commutes over the course of a month – they are nowhere near 8 percent on average. Look at the numbers for the over 500 employee companies in Portland, both public and private; I recall the numbers being around 2 to 3 percent on average. And this is during the month when commuters are being actively encouraged to ride and tally their rides. First 6 percent,now 8 percent – it looks like an exercise in propaganda. I wonder why. I hope to find out.

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  • Ethan October 30, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    I have been wondering, thanks for the sneak peek. Did these surveys pre-date the worst of the high gas prices?

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  • not counted October 30, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    I am happy to say I bunny-hop over the counter strip every time I ride over the Hawthorne Bridge. I will never stand up and be counted!

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  • Liz October 30, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Kurt, I would guess the percentage of people biking to jobs at small businesses is a much higher percentage than those who work at companies with >500 employees.

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  • primative screw head October 30, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    Propaganda, by definition, is ideas deliberately spread to help or harm a person or group. If people start believing that biking is the right thing to do because a survey says everybody’s doing it; well why not. “Cycling is Peace” is better than “War is Peace” … is it not?
    Not Counted…
    Being counted for something you believe in is better than not being counted for something you don’t.

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  • Joe October 30, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    lets work on all off Oregon! steel boxes
    whatever? we need to free the people!
    THEY are trapped..

    driving is out! when will people get the
    clue? are they lost? gas stinks!

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  • Bike Messenger October 31, 2008 at 12:04 am

    It has got so busy that I either have to take the lane across the Broadway, or ride to the Steel, via Interstate, to the north side of the bridge, to avoid you commuters. Where in the hell did you all come from?

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  • Streetsblog » Today’s Headlines October 31, 2008 at 6:02 am

    […] Portland Sees 28 Percent Rise in Cycling; Bike Commute Mode Share Now at 8 Percent (Bike Portland) […]

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  • […] fueling what could become a heated intercity rivalry, bike counts just came out of Portland touting a 28 percent increase in cycling this year, bringing bike commute mode share up to eight […]

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  • Roger Geller October 31, 2008 at 8:07 am


    The data is from the City Auditor’s Office. It is an annual survey that asks Porltanders across the city their primary and secondary means of transportation to work. Last year six percent of Portlanders said that the bicycle was their primary means of transportation to work. This year eight percent said so.

    The data is contained in the Auditor’s Service, Efforts and Accomplishments report (SEA).

    The Office of Transportation does not state that we have an eight percent mode split. We simply report that eight percent of Portlanders, in a citywide survey conducted by the Auditor’s Office, identified the bicycle as their primary means of transportation to work, and that another ten percent identified the bicycle as their secondary means of transportation to work.

    This data is one of several measures–including data from the American Community Survey and US Census (US Department of Commerce) and our own annual bicycle counts (conducted this year at more than 130 locations)–that helps us paint a picture of cycling activity in Portland. All measures continue to show annual increases. While we do not necessarily know the absolute mode split for bicycling, we do know that bicycle use is increasing dramatically in Portland.

    As for the Bicycle Commute Challenge. It provides good data about those who participate in it. But, if most workplaces are like mine, there are many daily bicycle commuters who participate by riding, but then do not bother to register their trips, so I wouldn’t rely on it too much as a source of mode split data.

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  • ambrown October 31, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Alright Portland! Now if only we could get 8% of our transportation funding to go towards bikes…

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  • bahueh October 31, 2008 at 12:34 pm

    I would really have to believe that the survey was tilted…8% I don’t see playing out in reality..8% of the people who took the survey reported that…I HIGHLY doubt it was 8% of all Portlanders are using bikes to get to work…

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  • ME 2 October 31, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    I can’t believe some of you people are quibbling over a static 8% figure. The bigger story is the 190% increase. What other mode of transport has grown by almost 25% per year on average? To me that is the story that policymakers should hone in on. What brought about that increase and what can be done to make it continue to grow?

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  • zilfondel October 31, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    ^ gots to love the exponential growth rate of cycling…!

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  • […] 0.4% in 2004 and has nearly doubled since then to almost 1%.On the other side of the United States, 8% of Portlanders say they commute by bike, with preliminary reports showing a 28% increase in bike commuters over the previous year.San […]

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  • […] Portland bike traffic up 28% over last year Data Confirms Cycling On the Rise in New York City Urban Cyclists: Stick Together, Don’t Inhale? […]

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  • Kurt Runzler October 31, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    Thanks, Roger. If PDOT is neither agreeing nor disagreeing with the 8 percent auditor’s number, does PDOT have its own number? I think its probably fair to conclude the mainstream media isn’t going to either understand or communicate the subtle distinction you are making between what the auditor’s survey reports and what COP (via PDOT) really believes – its just going to be “PDX commutes by bike at 8 percent city says . . ”

    I agree commuting by bike is increasing -I think the anecdotal evidence of that alone is compelling – and you may recall I started to point that out several years ago. But if that is the story, then that is what it should be – the 8 percent number is, in my view, extremely suspect in view of other available evidence. I think you are too quickly dismissing the BCC numbers – it seems like a very robust sample at worst, but even if you increase the results by 50 percent, it looks like you are still at maybe 4-5 percent maximum, and even then can you really conclude that level of bike commuting is maintained over a 12-month period?

    Four to 5 percent is an outstanding number – based on what I’m seeing so far 8 percent is a gross exaggeration when all the available evidence is taken into account, and weighted appropriately. I’m concerned that, absent some strong caveats, if the city or the bike community begin to cite this number, at some point its going to lead to a loss of credibility.

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  • Jessica Roberts November 1, 2008 at 12:37 pm

    8% feels about right based on the number of bikes vs. cars I see on the roads.

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  • Roger Geller November 1, 2008 at 1:19 pm


    PDOT looks at a number of different sources for indications as to what bicycle mode split might be. We look to the annual American Community Survey (which is leveled out over the course of the year) and which had us at just under 4.5% for the bicycle being people’s primary means of transportation to work last year. We look to the auditor’s report, which, despite its flaws, is still one of the better tools for estimating local means of transportation to work that I’ve seen in any city. Finally, we look to the results of our annual counts, which do not provide any information about mode split, per se, but which do show trends in ridership.

    We also look back to the decennial US Census. In 2000 there were already some census tracts in Portland that were showing relatively high bicycle mode splits. You can see the chart comparing 1990 to 2000 Census data <here. As it shows, there were a number of tracts where 5-8%, 8-10% and more than 10% of people identified the bicycle as their primary commute vehicle (in the census week–more on that in a bit). That was at a time when 1.6% of Portlanders identified the bicycle as their primary commute vehicle in the census week.

    The question posed by both the Census and the American Community survey is: “What was your primary means of transportation to work in the last week.” The question is asked during the census week, sometime in March/April (or monthly, in the case of the ACS). Not necessarily the best time for bicycle commuting. In addition, if you drove to work 3 days that week and biked two days, or one day, your answer had to be “drove alone” as your primary means of transportation to work.

    Since 2000 our counts indicate that bicycle use has approximately tripled in Portland. Recognizing that the Census is not about mode split, but is instead reporting the primary commute vehicle of individuals during the census week, and is thus undercounting “second choice” commuting, given that the auditor’s report annually surveys thousands of people in neighborhoods across Portland, and given the increases in bicycling we’ve seen across Portland over the past few years, I am comfortable stating that Portland’s bicycle commute mode share is somewhere between 4-8%, if not higher, as this also takes into account people who do not use the bicycle as their primary vehicle, but may bicycle commute 1-2 days per week.

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  • Anonymous November 3, 2008 at 3:15 pm

    So what I am getting here is that 8% of people who answered a survey say they ride a bike as their primary form of transportation.

    How many people answered the survey? Sure its city wide but how many people actually answered? How does that number correlate to the actual population?

    Sounds like they used very simple math to come up with this number instead of the correct statistical calculations needed.

    You have to figure that bicycle commuters are more likely to answer this type of survey over a driver.

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  • Sarah O November 3, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    “You have to figure that bicycle commuters are more likely to answer this type of survey over a driver.”

    I agree – who is more likely to take a little extra time and effort to make a contribution to their city and society, cyclists or drivers? 😉

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  • Anonymous November 4, 2008 at 8:57 am

    Sarah O,

    Don’t put words in my mouth, I only stated they were more likely to answer a survey on modes of transportation, I didn’t say they make a better contribution to the city and society over non-cyclists.

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  • Roger Geller November 4, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Anonymous #27:

    You can find here the methodology the Auditor’s Office used for the survey in 2007. As they haven’t yet officially published the results of the 2008 survey they haven’t yet published their methodology for this year, but I doubt it varies from that of previous years.

    You can find information about the Auditor’s Office 2007 survey here.

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  • Roger Geller November 4, 2008 at 12:16 pm

    To add to my previous post a bit:

    First an assumption: that the methodology followed by the Auditor’s Office in 2008 is going to be similar to that in 2007, as it is the 2007 methodology that is posted on line (see post #30).

    In 2007 the City Auditor’s Office mailed a total of 64,302 surveys and received back 20,400 for a 33% response rate. Their level of accuracy city-wide at the 95% confidence level is +/- 1%.

    The Auditor’s Office followed up with non-respondents as follows (from the Auditor Office’s web site (link in Post #30):

    Representativeness of respondents
    We compared demographic information supplied by the respondents to Census data in order to assess how closely our sample matches official census demographics. On a citywide level, our survey respondents are somewhat more educated and older than the entire population. We found that females are over-represented and minorities are under-represented. Analysis in prior years has shown that adjustments to give more weight to the less educated
    respondents would make very little, if any, difference in the results. We have not determined the impact of the other factors on our results. We did not repeat these comparisons for the individual neighborhoods.

    The majority of respondents reported having resided in the same residence for five or more years. While nearly 43 percent lived in their current residence for 10 or more years.

    Previous follow-up on non-respondents
    We have not done any recent follow-up with non-respondents. When we began the annual resident survey, we conducted a follow-up telephone survey of 400 non-respondents to address possible bias in the results caused by major attitude differences between those who returned the survey and those who did not. We asked nine questions from the mailed survey, as well as the demographic questions, and a general question on why the survey was not returned. We concluded from our analysis that there were no major differences between our
    sample and those who did not respond.

    The demographic characteristics of the non-respondents contacted by telephone matched those of the total City population better than the respondents to the mail survey. More minorities were interviewed in the phone follow-up. In addition, younger people and more people without any college education were contacted. The answers from the respondents and non-respondents were compared. There was no significant difference between the two groups on feelings of safety or the number of burglaries. The non-respondents had visited a park slightly less often than respondents. Only one question showed a marked difference in opinions – the non-respondents were more positive on how well the City provided government services overall.

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  • skeptical reader November 7, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    It does seem possible that 8 percent of survey respondents indicated that the bicycle was their primary mode of transportation to work, but remember that could be based on riding to work three days in a week and driving the other two. Three out of five still counts as “primary,” right? Also, commuting to work represents something like one-quarter of the trips made in an average day by a household. Lots of the other trips, like shopping trips and taking kids to school are not as likely to be taken by bicycle. Yeah, I know some people do it, but not as many as ride to work.

    As for the traffic counts, did anyone notice that most of those counts were made for only two hours and “extrapolated” to daily counts? Do we know the basis for that?

    From looking at the map, it also appears that the places selected for counts were the places where bicyclists were expected. What percentage of the vehicles on the Marquam, Fremont, Ross Island and Sellwood were bicycles?

    That said, I’m impressed by the number of riders out there. I, for one, am riding to work every day rather than 3 or 4 days per week like I did last winter, but I can see already that ridership has dropped off due to rain, cold, and darkness.

    Let’s hope it keeps up, but let’s be skeptical and careful with our conclusions.

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  • Roger Geller November 9, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    skeptical reader #32:

    Extrapolating two-hour peak hour counts is a fairly standard traffic engineering algorithm that provides an approximate total for average daily traffic. Our bridge counts, which are round-the-clock multiple day automated counts using pneumatic hoses, provide us a good calibration of this methodology. Our hose counts this year showed that the two-hour peak represented between 19-20% of the overall daily total bicycle traffic. That’s not always the case, but it’s always pretty close to 20%–giving us some assurance that this method is valid.

    As for the locations: we almost exclusively count on the city’s developed bikeway network. Those are the facilities where we’ve made investments to make them work well for bicycling. While we recognize that ridership is not limited to those locations, that’s where it tends to concentrate. This was also shown in research conducted by Professor Jennifer Dill at Portland State University’s Center for Transportation Studies. Her research found that bicycle use is disproportionately higher on developed bikeways compared to other roadways, and that people are willing to go out of their ways in order to ride on bikeways rather than roadways lacking bicycle facilities. Since our strategy is “build it and they will come” in terms of building bikeways to increase ridership, we count on those bikeways to see if they’re successful in attracting people on bicycles.

    It’s kind of like counting cars: you count them on the primary motor vehicle infrastructure. While cars certainly can go off-road, it doesn’t make much sense to count them there if you’re trying to get an overall sense of car use, as we are with bicycle use.

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  • […] citation putting Portland at 6 percent mode share; BikePortland.org cites 8 percent in this post last fall). My home base of Seattle isn’t too shabby in the commute department btw. Cascade […]

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  • […] ridership and better infrastructure that we’ve also seen in other bridge cities, like Portland for example. And as the Vancouver example shows, you don’t have to spend oodles of cash to make bridges […]

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