Support BikePortland

Census: Portland and Oregon lead nation in biking to work

Posted by on September 28th, 2011 at 11:41 am

Summer bike traffic-14-14

(Photo © J. Maus)

New data released by the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that the state of Oregon is a national leader in the number of people who ride a bicycle to work.

According to the new “Journey to Work” numbers, 6 percent of people in the city of Portland use a bicycle as their main mode of transportation to work. That’s the highest number of the top 70 largest cities in the country. Oregon also led the way in metro areas of all sizes with the Corvallis and Eugene areas taking the top two spots with 9.3 and 6 percent respectively.

Portland’s numbers represent a 0.2 percent jump from last year. According to analysis by the League of American Bicyclists, Census results show that the amount of people biking to work in Portland has increased 71 percent since 2005 and 231 percent since 2000.

The Census data also showed that 59 percent of Portlanders drive alone to work and 12 percent take public transportation. (That drive alone number is 2 percent lower than 2009.)

Statewide, the Census found that the 2.2 percent of Oregonians primarily bike to work while 4.2 percent take public transit and 72 percent drive.

Nationally, just a paltry 0.6 percent of workers use a bike as their primary way to get to work. “While this number represents nearly 40 percent growth since 2000,” says the League, “it also shows that we still have a lot of work to do in making our communities truly welcoming to bicyclists.”

Um yeah. I’ll say.

For another look at the numbers, check out the graph below created by Bikes Belong. It compares trends in bike commuting nationwide:

Interestingly, The Oregonian reported this morning that the Census numbers reflect how the Portland Metro-area is “car-dependent” and that commuters “love their cars… despite a big push to build bicycle lanes and light-rail lines in recent years.”

That framing of the data has, not surprisingly, led some predictable reactions both in the story comments and from local car advocates.

For more on this year’s numbers, including spreadsheets with data from other cities and an explanation of caution about Census data, see the League’s blog post.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Joe September 28, 2011 at 11:59 am

    Awesome: Oh and its turns into a race for some at 5pm.. LOL 😉

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • q`Tzal September 28, 2011 at 12:11 pm

    “Get up and tell us your name.’

    “Hi, I’m Portland and… and .. I’m addicted to cars!”
    {Sob} “I thought I kicked the habit: UGB, good transit, bike lanes every where. Just yeseterday I drove my SUV less than a ten of a mile to the post office and then just kept driving aimlessly … I don’t know why!” {Sob}

    Recommended Thumb up 9

  • andycigarettes September 28, 2011 at 12:25 pm

    Yeah! Good news to see use is still on the rise. As far as the OREGONIAN article. Um. I absolutely HATE driving around in a car, especially downtown and try to do it as little as possible. Maybe they meant Portland, Maine?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Rainfish Umbrella September 28, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Oregon has adopted a more aggressive aproach to alternate forms of transportation in the last 20 yrs and it will take another 20 yrs to get to where city planners envisioned it would be today.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • NF September 28, 2011 at 12:51 pm

      And they should be even more aggressive for the next 20 than they were for the last.

      Recommended Thumb up 8

  • Katie A. September 28, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    Yeah, Eugene!!!

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Rainfish Umbrella September 28, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    And they should be even more aggressive for the next 20 than they were for the last.
    Recommended 0

    Hard to cut through all of that red tape, when commuters “love their cars”

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • 9watts September 28, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks for reporting this, Jonathan. I couldn’t get your last link to work.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • 9watts September 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    growth in use of bikes not everywhere: Fort Collins, CO sees drop:

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Editz September 28, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Lots of folks in Eugene/Springfield riding…when they’ve not getting their bikes stolen.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • BBrock September 28, 2011 at 2:12 pm

    What happened to Davis, CA at 22%? The League list shows them leading the country, with Boulder second and more than 9%. . . .

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Joseph E September 28, 2011 at 2:17 pm

      Davis is part of the Sacramento metro area, so it disappears in the data. If we could get data by city (unlikely, because this is a limited survey) I think Davis and a few other college towns like Goleta (UC Santa Barbara) would be way up there.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

  • esther c September 28, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    My bike is my main transportation except to work. I work 2 days a week. the other 5 my bike is it for about 80 or 90% of trips.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • craig September 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    link to report

    I’m confused. For this article, are you drawing from another source for the 6-percent Portland bike commute figure? Or can you help me find it in the report? I didn’t find a Portland-alone figure in the report, but did find, “Portland-
    Vancouver-Beaverton, OR-WA Metro
    Area, with a bicycle commuting
    rate of 2.3 percent”.

    If, as this article says,…

    6 percent of people in the city of Portland use a bicycle as their main mode of transportation to work…

    …then I would expect Portland to appear in the first snapshot above, “Top Ten Metro Areas for Commutes to Work by Bicycle” (report, table #3, page 10).

    Also, this article says that…

    The Census data also showed that […] 12 percent [of Portlanders] take public transportation…

    …but the graph on page 8 of the reports shows only a figure for “Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton” with a transit commute rate of about 6%.

    The article also says…

    That drive alone number is 2 percent lower than 2009.

    …but the report’s title Commuting in the
    United States: 2009
    indicates that this is 2009 data.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 28, 2011 at 2:48 pm


      I used mostly the Portland city numbers, not the Portland-Beaverton-Vancouver metro area numbers.

      as for the other confusion. not sure. But this stuff is always a bit confusing. i’ll try to clear it up asap.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • craig September 28, 2011 at 3:00 pm

        OK, thanks Jonathan. I was unable to find Portland city numbers in the report.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Chuck September 28, 2011 at 3:20 pm

      I noticed the same thing. To get a real, accurate depiction of commuting in Portland, you HAVE to include the surrounding areas, considering a large percentage of commuters are commuting to/from the suburbs. It’s not all that helpful to pull just the Portland numbers unless you’re looking for a predetermined outcome.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • are September 29, 2011 at 7:57 am

        eventually that becomes a somewhat circular argument. people live in suburbs because the private automobile has made the commute seem practical. people who live in the urban core have made a different choice, and it is not meaningless to pull separate data to reflect that. in the not very distant future, it may become necessary for the suburbs to depopulate, or to develop their own economic centers, and in either case alternative transportation will likely increase as a mode share.

        Recommended Thumb up 2

  • J-R September 28, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    You do need to be careful about these data sets. As others have pointed out, some of the data is for the entire metro region. Specific city data will follow. Even here you need to select the correct tables from the Census; they provide data for both the place of work and separately for the place of residence. The Portland percentages quoted are from a different source. Finally, don’t forget that work trips represent only about one quarter of the total regional trips. To complicate things even more, some measures exclude truck trips and through trips.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 28, 2011 at 4:04 pm

      Thanks J-R,

      I am sure that I drilled into the current data to get the Portland city numbers… But yes, the numbers are quite confusing… which I why folks just take them with a grain of salt to begin with.

      Let’s wait for the City of Portland’s bike counts which should be coming out soon.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • q`Tzal September 28, 2011 at 7:34 pm

    From the “car advocate” website JM linked to in the article:
    “And it seems that Portlanders like driving more than their LA counterparts.”

    Her reasoning from that factoid seems to be:
    ) LA is the car capitol of the west coast,
    ) LA drivers enjoy driving less than we Portland auto drivers: we need MORE cars!

    Perhaps LA drivers have so many automobiles crammed in to a limited road network that every trip is more odious than here. So the solution would be LESS cars not more.

    Try selling that to the Consumer Generation.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • middle of the road guy September 30, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      Or the solution would be greater capacity.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • esther c September 28, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    I think it would be significant if 6% of actual Portlanders commuted by bike, even if it doesn’t include the surrounding communities. If we’re talking about Portland proper I see no reason to water down the actual cities number with the surrounding metro areas count.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • craig September 29, 2011 at 10:42 am

      Agreed. Just trying to make sense of the census bureau’s report, at it is being discussed in this article

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Rob Inerfeld September 29, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Jonathan — It’s really not that confusing. You reported metro-wide numbers for Eugene-Springfield and Corvallis and citywide numbers for Portland. The City of Eugene numbers are available on the online spreadsheet to which the League of American Bicyclists provides a link from their blog. According to the ACS, the percentage of people biking to work in Eugene is 8.6% which is third in the country after Davis and Boulder and tops in the nation for a city over 100,000 in population. Eugene also has significantly lower household median income than Boulder and Davis and a considerably lower percentage of college students as part of its overall population.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Dan O September 29, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Cool! I used to live in Corvallis. I delivered papers by bike and rode to school in the ’70s there, and rode the streets to work in the ’80s (before bike lanes).

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Ted Buehler September 30, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    I can’t seem to find the info for Davis, CA. It was at 14% in 1990, the highest of any city in the US. Except maybe Key West, FL. It was probably still at that level, maybe a bit higher, in 2010.

    While Davis has “gone downhill” — it was 28% in the 1980 census — it’s still the bikiest city in the US. Much bikier than Corvallis or Eugene.

    Ted Buehler

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Ted Buehler September 30, 2011 at 7:55 pm

    Ah, here it is, on the LAB spreadsheet page. 22% for Davis, CA.

    That’s up 50% from 2000.

    Nicely done Davis!

    Recommended Thumb up 1