Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on December 16th, 2009 at 12:27 pm
[UPDATE: The Oregonian’s Hard Drive blog has an update on this story]
The Willamette Week has gotten their hands on a preliminary report of this year’s bike counts from the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation that shows a decrease in bicycle ridership for 2009.
Here’s a snip from Willamette Week reporter Beth Slovic’s story (emphasis mine):
“That preliminary report, the 2009 “Portland Bicycle Counts,” shows the number of bicycle trips across Portland bridges (and at more than 100 other locations citywide) has fallen a combined average of 6 percent compared with the same time period in 2008.”
The Willamette Week points out that the the decrease “comes at an inopportune time for city officials, who are just now launching their most ambitious plan yet to upgrade the city’s bicycle infrastructure to meet what they say is strong demand.” They’re of course referring to the Portland Bicycle Plan for 2030.
PBOT usually releases their bike count numbers in November, but this year we were told the numbers wouldn’t be ready until January. On November 19th, one PBOT staffer told us that we couldn’t see the numbers yet because they needed to, “Closely examine the numbers to adequately explain the findings.”
We’ve been told by PBOT staffers that work on the Bicycle Plan has taken time away from analyzing the bike counts. But this news from the Willamette Week could suggest that PBOT was merely stalling once they realized the decrease.
There are obviously several reasons that can help explain a decrease in ridership — from the unprecedented gas prices in 2008 to the currently high unemployment rates — but no matter how it’s sliced and diced, a decrease in bike usage in Portland would put City officials in a peculiar position (and, as Slovic reports, other cities did not experience a decrease).
A drop in bike use could also be awkward PR-wise for bike advocates. If the rallying cry has been “Our numbers are skyrocketing, we need more money” than anti-bike interests could potentially say that the opposite should happen when the numbers go down.
We’ll have more on the bike counts as we hear back from PBOT and other insiders. For now, read more analysis on this story over at the Willamette Week.