Esplanade closure begins February 1st

Census: Portland biking stalls for fifth year while other cities climb

Posted by on September 19th, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Source: Census American Community Survey. Image by BikePortland.

Portland’s hard-won status as “America’s bike capital” hasn’t looked less secure since it claimed the title in 2005.

The number of Portlanders who get to work primarily by bike was statistically unchanged in 2012, ticking from 6.3 percent to 6.1 percent of the city’s working population. Across the whole Portland metro area, bike use held at 2.3 percent.

Of the 25,000 net new workers in the metro area last year, the number of bike commuters only grew by 376, according to Census estimates. Inside city limits, the estimated number of bike commuters actually fell by 65, to 18,912.

Those figures are far within the Census survey’s margin of error. But the rises in biking last year in Minneapolis and Seattle, the country’s No. 2 and No. 3 large bike cities, weren’t.

Minneapolis’ bike mode share jumped from 3.4 to 4.5 percent, the sort of increase Portland hasn’t seen since the 2007 gas spike. Seattle’s rose from 3.5 to 4.1 percent. In each of those cities, the bike-commuting population grew by about 3,000 workers. If that absolute growth continued this year, Seattle — a somewhat larger city — may already have more total bike commuters than Portland does.

Scenes from the streets in Seattle-3.jpg

A green lane in downtown Seattle.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Some details: The Census’ American Community Survey measures self-reported commuting modes in April of each year. People are asked only to select only the mode with which they traveled the furthest distance in the previous week. And none of these figures reflects how people get around for non-work trips.

That said, Census figures are the best available measure of how well our city is performing compared to others, and there’s no question that work trips and non-work trips tend to move in concert.

Public transit use in Portland dropped relatively sharply last year, from 13 percent to 11.1 percent of workers in the city limits. These figures didn’t yet reflect the impact of TriMet’s big fall 2012 fare hike on most Portland-to-Portland trips, including the end of its downtown Free Rail Zone. It’s the lowest Census-estimated public transit mode share since at least 2000.

At the metro-area level, the transit drop was more modest, from 6.3 percent to 6 percent.

To the extent that Portland’s travel shifts last year were meaningfully large — and in most cases they weren’t — people seem to be slightly more likely to drive alone (the ratio ticked up from 57.9 to 58.5 percent) and significantly more likely to walk to work (from 4.9 percent to 6.9 percent, the highest walking mode share on record and the first time since 2007 that walking to work has been more popular among Portlanders than biking).

Walking seems to be up in similar cities, too: from 9 percent to 9.9 percent in Seattle and from 5.8 to 7 percent in Minneapolis.

Nationally, commuting patterns were essentially unchanged last year for biking (0.6 percent), walking (4.4 2.8 percent), riding transit (5 percent) and driving alone (76.3 percent).

You can explore Portland’s trends more here. There’s a wealth of more detailed Census data than this, so stay tuned for more insights over the next few months.

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  • Spiffy September 19, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    look, we hate to be sore winners, so we’re going to let you guys catch up a little before we blow you out of the water again… that way it looks like a close race and you can say that you almost beat us…

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    • Anne Hawley September 19, 2013 at 3:59 pm

      Hah! I want that to be true.

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  • Aaronf September 19, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    “…just about a third of Americans had a bicycle (~90 million bikes, for some 285 million people). And we all know why: Most people don’t see the need. They have a car; they prefer walking and transit; they don’t feel it’s safe. For those who are bikers, and I am one of them, their bicycle is a beloved possession. But for pretty much everyone else, bikes (and other bike-trajectory goods such as video-game consoles, stand-mixers, hair-dryers, etc.) just aren’t their thing.”

    The whole article is worth a read, IMHO. Good luck on the 20-30% mode share target, pdx, but don’t be discouraged away from continued improvements for the folks on the plateau… that is still a pretty worthwhile effort.

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  • AndyC of Linnton September 19, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    I had some suspicions, but FIFTH year? ai yi yi. I’d also not be any too surprised if when the figures are tallied after the fall 2012 TRIMET cuts, that that mode falls even more. It’s not just the fare-hike and end of fare-less square, but also the reduction of lines.

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  • AndyC of Linnton September 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    And in the last five years how much paint has been used to adopt those “neighborhood greenway” routes? It seems like that tactic isn’t really getting many more people on bikes.

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    • Alex Reed September 20, 2013 at 9:27 am

      I would aver that there hasn’t been enough paint, nor enough signalized crossings for greenways. I live in mid-SE, and there are no N-S greenways south of mount tabor between SE 42nd and SE 87th. That is a really long stretch with no City-supported bike connectivity. Plus there are no E-W greenways that I know of south of Center/Gladstone and there is a large chunk of the city south of there. I think the mid-SE and mid-NE could be Portland’s next big bike areas if the City would plan and implement greenways every 10-15 blocks or so.

      Plus, sometimes even on the new greenways, you get dumped at a large street with no help to cross it. Sorry, but that kind of treatment is not going to inspire a lot of new bike riders. The greenways have to be done right.

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      • Chainwhipped September 20, 2013 at 11:04 am

        How about greenways alongside all the main transportation routes? Kind of like that one on N Williams?

        What do they call it? A Bike Lane? Remember those?

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      • Terry D September 20, 2013 at 12:16 pm

        It would be very affordible to build Raymond-Mitchel, Bybee-ogdon and the 60s with very little investment. The big east west crossing expenses would be the traffic light upgtades on 82nd at Raymond and Bybee. Mitchel and Foster can be inetgrated into that project if we think ahead. 64th from Division to Woodward, 65th to Center and 67th the Sringwater would also be cheap as all the most troublesome crossings are already signalized.

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  • Elliot September 19, 2013 at 4:30 pm

    Hi Michael, small correction for national walking mode share: I think you mean walking mode share was relatively unchanged at 2.8%, not 4.4%.

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  • Granpa September 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    I wonder if it has anything to do with the economy. Portland’s percentage of bike ridership was climbing fast during the boom just before the crash, and it leveled off right at the same time the economy tanked. My company has managed to maintain incentives to ride to work, but I imagine many companies found bicycle commuting incentives to be low hanging fruit in cost cutting. I can’t recall, to compare, but has Portland’s spending on bike infrastructure leveled off after the crash? It seems we paint stripes, but new construction on infrastructure seems to take place in small chunks that don’t result in connectivity

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    • Gregg September 20, 2013 at 7:13 am

      I’m curious what types of incentives your workplace provides to get folks to ride to work. I’d also love to hear from others besides Grandpa.

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      • rainbike September 20, 2013 at 7:42 am

        OHSU’s bike incentive program pays $20 every 20 days of bike commuting. People who run or walk to work don’t get the same financial incentive. Some argue that isn’t fair and I have to agree. But more importantly, bike commuters and runners/walkers avoid having to pay for car parking. The prospect of having to pay your employer to park a car at work is incentive enough to leave the car at home.

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        • Dances with Buses September 20, 2013 at 8:45 am

          I hadn’t heard of OHSU’s program. I’d love to offer an incentive in my small office but I can’t think of a way to do it fairly. I have employees who can’t ride because of medical conditions, child care logistics, reside in a place that makes biking very difficult, etc. It seems that one way or another, I would be discriminating or, at the very least, begging for a morale problem among staff who think I am favoring cyclists because, y’ know, they’re as cool as the boss who also happens to ride.

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          • rainbike September 20, 2013 at 9:21 am

            It’s meant to be a reimbursement for the costs of commuting, not just a bonus for being cool. More info here:

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          • spare_wheel September 20, 2013 at 10:12 am

            The OHSU incentive is subsidized by a federal tax credit that enables all employers to reimburse bike commuters.


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            • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) September 20, 2013 at 10:26 am

              Here’s more on OHSU’s cash incentives program

              And more OHSU biking coverage at our OHSU story tag.

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              • davemess September 22, 2013 at 11:35 am

                I should note that OHSU just changed the bike commuting policy a couple of months ago. It used to be $50/30 trips (which was taxable), and now has dropped to the $20/20 trips (which I think isn’t taxable). You used to also have the incentive pay towards either a transit pass or parking permit (which I never understood), but I’m not sure if you can do that any more.
                Should be noted that OHSU’s only read requirement is that you’re biking at least 2 miles for a portion of your commute (and this can included riding Trimet or using the tram). It is all computerized and based on the honor system of logging in your commutes each day.

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          • Schrauf September 20, 2013 at 12:00 pm

            It’s not any different than transit pass or parking reimbursements, in the fairness realm. Some employees can’t drive due to a medical condition. Some can’t take the bus because they live too far off the line. So what?

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          • Easy September 21, 2013 at 12:29 am

            My company offers a cash donation to a charity of your choice for every day you commute by bike or foot. It’s also declining (e.g., $10 the first tie you do it in a month, $5 the second day, $2, $1, $0.50, etc.), I think to encourage people to try it even just a few times.

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      • boneshaker September 20, 2013 at 10:30 am

        My work provides a bike cage 1/2 mile away from my building that is unmonitored and next to shipping. I also heard that the HR department has a floor pump, which is pretty rad.

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      • Granpa September 20, 2013 at 10:53 am

        My company has secure bike parking inside a locking cage inside the parking garage. We have locker rooms with showers. The company will provide monthly bus/transit passes to people who will use them. For people who car pool $1per trip (two trips per day). And for persons who walk or bicycle ride it is $2 per trip ($4 per bike commute day!). All of this is monitored by the honor system. We think it is a pretty good deal.
        The program has been in place for about 10 years, established long before we gained infamy on this blog. My employer? David Evans and Associates.

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      • Dances with Buses September 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm

        I’ll look into the The Bicycle Commuter Act, thanks for the links! We’re a nonprofit so a tax credit may not mean anything, but I’ll check with our accountants.

        As for other benefits we give everyone an all-zone Tri-Met pass but no parking incentive. Our building has a bike locker and a shower. I just renewed our lease and rejected any offices that did not have both. Many “have” those facilities but when you look you see the shower is either disgusting or being used for storage, and the “bike locker” is a metal pipe that can be reached by walking down five flights of stairs. It seems more landlords are coming around though.

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  • Todd Boulanger September 19, 2013 at 4:44 pm

    Wow!…yes it has been a long time…that near 10 year period has gone fast…perhaps the reign of Adams was not the dynamic bikevanna for capital facilities that we dreamed of when we walked through Amsterdam together and what many worked for when he was elected…history will tell.

    The next question in the collective mind is what unexpected moonshot will Portland launch in order to NOT be the first City to slip from platinum to … plastic. That must be high pressure at PBoT and City Hall.

    It’s better to try and fail vs. coast to the finish…as my gran-pappy used to say.

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  • Craig Harlow September 19, 2013 at 4:46 pm

    Fareless Square (bus and MAX) ended in January 2010. Neil McFarlane became TriMet’s general manager on July 1, 2010.

    Not saying that correlation is causation, but these factoids are not minor and are coincident with the onset of the current plateau.

    I’m also curious to know the updated opinion of the Tourism Bureau (aka “Travel Portland”) now thinks of the elmination of Fareless Square, which they supported? And I wonder how many other civic vital statistics went flat or down after January 2010?

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  • GlowBoy September 19, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Yikes, and the cities gaining on us have significant topographical (Seattle) and meteorological (DC, Minneapolis) challenges compared to Portland.

    I think one of the problems we’ll need to seriously deal with in order to get the numbers climbing again is poor connectivity. Some recent examples:
    – Barbur. Duh.
    – Earlier this month Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway got restriped with buffered bike lanes and narrower car lanes, from Hillsdale all the way out to the county line. (Not reported yet on BikePortland, BTW). Yay! But once you hit WashCo, the bike lane narrows, and then disappears altogether a couple hundred yards further at the Scholls Ferry/Oleson mess.
    – This one’s not in Portland, but in Beaverton, probably our most bike-friendly suburb. Just LAST WEEK, a new eastbound bike lane was added to a stretch of Canyon Road next to Beaverton Honda. Great, right? But it’s a short stretch of bike lane, bordered on both ends by stretches without bike lanes, and both ends of it are bracketed by brand-new curb bulb-outs that lock in its isolation pretty permanently. So almost no one will ever use it.

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  • Paul in the 'couve September 19, 2013 at 6:12 pm

    I think there are many others who read/comment here that already know and make these points but I’ll start the discussion:

    The mode share stagnation doesn’t necessarily mean that cycling hasn’t been growing. It does indicate that cycling has not increased mode share for commutes in being the longest part of the commute. It seems to me that many other kinds of cycling are increasing. Errand running, and entertainment riding could be increasing substantially and not reflected in these numbers. I believe that is likely the case.

    Further, the stagnation in mode share is probably partly affected by people work choices in this (so called) economic recovery. There may be a number of factors here that may be particularly significant in PDX with a young and dynamic work force. 1) Arranging work and living within walking distance. 2) working from home more 3) living somewhere more convenient for cycling in the neighborhood but having to work further away and driving for the commute overall perhaps using the car for the same number of trips but no longer commuting by bicycle.

    IMO the study is far to simple to draw much useful information about what is going on in PDX or why.

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  • i ride my bike September 19, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    Maybe because the bike infrastructure in this city is actually bad, and in important places like downtown practically non-existant. We need to face it some places arent bikeable and others are bikeable and therefore spend the money on infrastructure where they will be used. What we do have now is only adequate for people who really like to ride.

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    • sd September 20, 2013 at 10:45 am

      Totally agree. Downtown is relatively inaccessible to bike commuters during peak commuting times. It is crazy that there is no northbound bike lane through downtown. The best way to increase these numbers is build key infrastructure where there is density. On the other hand, the amount of space dedicated to the street car exceeds its utility. If that much space was carved out for dedicated bike use dowtown commuting and recreational levels would jump.

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      • Reza September 20, 2013 at 10:48 am

        I used to think we didn’t need a bike lane going north because all northbound streets run downhill and the signals are timed perfectly for bikes. Then I got stuck in car traffic one too many times on SW 4th and now I totally agree….put in a bike lane!

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    • Scott September 20, 2013 at 2:23 pm

      Have you actually lived or ridden a bike anywhere else? Your comment borders on fantasy.

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      • Scott September 20, 2013 at 2:25 pm

        This was directed to “i ride my bike”‘s original comment, if it is not clear.

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  • Steve Durrant September 19, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Somehow bike-friendly mayors in Minneapolis (RT Rybak), Chicago (Rahm Emanuel) have made great progress and not been the victim of the us vs them media. But Seattle and Portland, with equally BF mayors (in their election campaigns), have laid low for their whole term. As a Seattlite for many years and now repatriated here, Seattle does not deserve its BF reputation – yet. If they start to implement even 1/4 of the wish list on the new bike master plan it will truly shine. Portland: start scheduling your study visits to Seattle. Rahm was right: today your reputation, tomorrow your jobs.

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  • Mindful Cyclist September 19, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    There is a very common misconception by many posters on this site that if I have a college education that I get to live a very short distance to work. While having a college education certainly does not hurt, I have a Masters degree and I do not live an easy stroll to work.

    I tried to find statistics, but was really only able to find stats before the crash about how Portland did have the shortest commute of 33 major cities. Anyone know if that has changed much?

    I do wonder if part of the reason that the biking rate (to work, remember) has leveled off because more people have longer commutes and do not seem to have luxury of taking the job closest to them. People have to take what is being offered even if it is a very long commute that is going to be hard to do on a bicycle.

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    • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 10:19 am

      I get the feeling that the kind of specific data we need really is missing.
      I would love to have an anthropologist interview a statistically valid sample all over the city and figure out who commutes by bike, who rides for pleasure, whose driving license was revoked, who is too poor for etc.

      As the study of air pollution shows, the benefits & consequences of biking
      are complex. I wish Steven Levitt (Freakonomics) would look at the issue- maybe he has. Will search for it. Beware unintended consequences.

      I love to bike as much as anyone on this blog. I began as a kid and never gave it up even when there was no bike culture around me. But be careful of monkeying around with complex systems. Be mindful (like Mindful!) of the complexity of culture and the possibility that a change here could screw up something over there. Be mindful that we are the 6% and that the 94% is something of a mystery when it comes to bikes and cars.

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  • Joe Adamski September 19, 2013 at 8:04 pm

    Until safety concerns are adequately met, those 50% of Portlanders who fall in the “interested but concerned” category won’t get on their bikes for less than 5 miles trips.
    One question I have is ‘ where do you learn to ride safely in traffic in the Portland area’? I believe that is one obstacle to ridership increases. Unless you are fairly brave, it can be daunting to try to learn on the fly.

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    • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 10:22 am

      “interested but concerned” may be the answer for people who don’t want to answer. People want to look good in a survey, so I wonder what that answer really says about someone’s real feelings and situation.

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  • Reza September 19, 2013 at 9:37 pm

    Here’s the sad truth: It’s just too easy and cheap to own a car here, unless you live in an older NW PDX apartment with no off-street parking. And there’s plenty of parking in downtown. Combine that with our pitiful lack of investment in our core (bus) transit system, and there’s no wonder that Portland stagnates in non-SOV mode split.

    When will we finally gain the political will to install a downtown cordon?

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    • Panda September 20, 2013 at 7:14 am

      I to totally agree! Transit prices go up while service drops? Yet parking remains cheap/free and super easy! Could the city start taxing surface lots to subsidize transit and bike/ped infrastructure?

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    • RJ September 20, 2013 at 7:56 am

      It is way too easy and cheap to own a car here. Look at the list of eight U.S. urbanized areas that beat Portland on transit mode split — NY, SF, DC, Bos, Chi, Phi, Bal, and Sea. In every single one of these cities, it’s more expensive to own a car, and frankly, it’s a much bigger hassle. All of these cities have much bigger congestion and parking problems than Portland, and frankly, they are all much bigger metro areas (if you consider Baltimore as part of the Washington-Baltimore statistical area).

      It’s amazing we have as high a non-SOV mode split as we do here when you consider how little disincentive (naturally occurring or regulated) there is to drive everywhere. I wouldn’t fault TriMet…I mean, what city of Portland’s size is doing it better?

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    • Terry D September 20, 2013 at 11:42 am

      It was more expensive and more difficult for me to own a car for the short time I did in Madison wisconsin in the early 1990s that it is here. We should meter all congested commercial corridors west of mount Tabor and require permit parking within a certain number of blocks. I have never been in a city where long term residents feel more entitlement to free parking directly in front of their house than in Portland.

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    • Andrew Seger September 20, 2013 at 12:04 pm

      One of the more maddening things about TriMet and Portland is their unwillingness to put funding for public transit and bike infrastructure in front of voters. They both have literally nothing to lose. Voters shoot down both initiatives? Oh well we’re back to exactly where we are right now. Niel McFarlane sez it would only take $9 million or so to restore the frequent service to, y’know, frequency. In the grand scheme of things that’s not a terribly large amount of money. Ditto the grand schemes for Sullivan’s Gulch. Why not ask for $50 or $60 million to build all of it? I see zero downside to TriMet putting some sort of funding mechanism on every ballot until one is approved. Offer Portland metro voters something worth their while and they’ll vote for it.

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      • Reza September 20, 2013 at 1:26 pm

        100% YES

        And there’s got to be a way to install a transit funding mechanism that is less volatile than the payroll tax…

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    • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 10:24 am

      When people forget how Eugene killed its downtown that way in the nineties.

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      • Dave Thomson September 23, 2013 at 2:35 pm

        The Eugene downtown mall was actually created in the 70’s.

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  • gutterbunnybikes September 19, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    What are we talking Portland Maine or Oregon? Lack of buses? More bike development downtown? Are you people serious? We still have one of the best public transportation systems in the country. And Downtown is easy, just take the lane -exeptions Naito and Broadway. It’s only dangerous if you do two things

    1) drive far enough to the right that drivers can pass you in the lane.
    2) Pass cars on their right on streets where they can turn right.

    F’ downtown, and the “central core”.

    Truth is that the reason it’s stagnate is too much focus on Downtown and the areas from NE/SE 12 to the Willamette. How many paths do Ladds and Buckman neighborhoods need? You do realize they aren’t that large of a part of the cities population. Most of the area from Powell to Fremont West of 12th (which isn’t highway) to the river is commercial and industrial. But it continues to get all the improvements. A new off ramp for the Hawthorn on the west side? 7th street improvements? Enough already…

    They (the cities core) get it all – while about 170 blocks of Portlands east side get little stick men painted on meandering, poorly lit and maintained neighborhood roadways every couple blocks, if you’re really lucky you might get to share an on demand pedestrian flashing yellow signal across a major arterial. After 39th you seldom even see a greenway direction signs. And lets not forget all the people in SW, I don’t ride there but I’m sure there is much more that can be done than just Barber.

    Sure we got Springwater and the 205, but they really don’t go anywhere (Sorry Sellwood but I got cool antique and boutique stores much closer to home, and Gresham I also got lots of box stores on 82nd and Gateway too).

    You can bring up all the statistical anomalies you want to, but that isn’t the problem. It’s the cities focus of a very small geographic area at the expense of the greater whole.

    It’s almost like they don’t want to ride more than 3 miles for the photo op of them in front of the latest greatest project. Not sure they would even know how to find say the 50’s bike highway, especially since the direction signs dry up before 39th…..

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    • Oregon Mamacita September 20, 2013 at 7:32 am

      It will all get better once the tax-payer funded Alta bike share racks are installed right outside of Nordstrom’s.

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    • spare_wheel September 20, 2013 at 8:33 am

      Cycling mode share in PDX is very concentrated in close in neighborhoods. In fact, some of these neighborhoods have approached 25% mode share. These “people who bike” are, for the most part, commuting to other close-in areas The constant demands from these wealthier infrastructure-rich PDXers for more, more, MORE while less-advantaged larger neighborhoods get nothing is infuriating. Maybe we can help solve our mode share conundrum by just de-annexing these problematic areas. I propose a new smaller PDX with an eastern boundary at 60th, a northern boundary at Ainsworth, a western boundary at 23rd , and southern boundary at SE woodstrock.

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      • gutterbunnybikes September 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm

        Easy talk of a 20% mode share when your actual population in those areas is so small in population.

        Hosford-Abernethy population 6932
        Buckman population 7923
        Kerns Popultaion Population 5095
        Sullivans Gulch Population 3043
        Irvington Population 6,684
        Downtown Population 9,965
        Pearl District: 5,997
        Northwest: 11,455

        Total 57,094

        Montavilla Population: 15,987
        Lents : 20,156
        Hazelwood: 19,916
        Centennial: 20,587

        Total: 76,646

        So four of the outer east side neighborhoods out populate the inner core by 19,552.

        In a city of roughly 583,000 most (easily the core get 75% of the infrastructure funds) the improvements are aimed at just over 10% of the population.

        The numbers for improvement are not in the core, and if some of those close in neighborhoods are nearly 20% then obviously they don’t need more improvements.

        All you people that want improvements to Downtown obvioulsy only want them for selfish reasons in that you ride there. We’ll so do I.

        And I live in the South Tabor neighborhood. And I admit that my part of town is getting a lot of attention lately. And I like it. But the real number shift will happen the facilities take up a larger geographic area. Why shouldn’t people be able to ride from Downtown to the Gresham boarder without taking the scenic route of the Springwater? How many people have been hit coming off the Hawthorn (whose numbers are going to drop dramatically come the light rail bridge) compared to 145 and Division, Stark, Powell.

        But really I’m interested in getting more butts on bikes. And it’s not going to happen with more improvements to the core. It will happen with improvements in the areas that have little to none of them where people actually live.

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        • was carless September 22, 2013 at 10:12 am

          Portland’s population is now 603,106. 2012 census. Just thought I’d nitpick.

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      • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 10:26 am

        Love that smaller PDX idea except it still leaves me in PDX ;(

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    • David McEachern September 20, 2013 at 9:01 am

      Amen Brother (or sister, can’t tell from your username), I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of the situation. Way too much focus on central Portland.

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      • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 8:45 am

        Amen to your Amen, David.

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    • Reza September 20, 2013 at 10:45 am

      More open contempt for Downtown on this blog, I see. Sorry, but the central core still has a lot of needs. Why do we not have a single neighborhood greenway in NW? Why is it so difficult to get across I-84 and I-405 on a bike or as a pedestrian? Why doesn’t Naito have much more robust infrastructure?

      People from all over the city visit Downtown everyday for work and on the weekends to shop. And people live here too. That’s as good a reason as any to keep investing in all neighborhoods, not to pit us against each other needlessly.

      And I think you meant to include West Burnside as one of the streets where you shouldn’t take the lane. Broadway is perfectly fine.

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      • spare_wheel September 20, 2013 at 12:06 pm

        Debate about equity is not contempt.

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        • Reza September 20, 2013 at 1:11 pm

          Oh no? I think he/she said the following:

          “F’ downtown, and the “central core”.”

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          • gutterbunnybikes September 20, 2013 at 5:03 pm

            I did and still do.

            And I’m just showing the same contempt for downtown that the planners (who mostly live I suspect in the core) have for the rest of the city.

            Perhaps contempt on their part isn’t the right term. Perhaps indifferent, elitism, or even racism is better. I’m not entirely sure take your pick, there isn’t really an adequate excuse for the poor planning and favoritism that the city and many of the advocates have for anything but the “core”.

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            • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 10:29 am

              What I have observed is intellectual dishonesty, a bias against neighborhood level democracy, denial about the class consequences of their actions and “meh” taste in architecture.

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            • was carless September 22, 2013 at 10:17 am

              If you want equity, the city concentrates the homeless population in downtown and then denies then adequate cycle infrastructure, which many homeless utilize extensively, and courtesy of places like the CCC and other organizations that donate cycling equipment to them and low income residents.

              Anyways, its a PITA to ride through downtown Portland, NW and the Pearl during rush hour M-F. A through route that goes all the way through downtown N/S & E/W would help a lot of people, IMO. And, since the central city has the densest concentration of human beings in Oregon… it would affect the most people.

              Not saying that the rest of the city doesn’t need love, thats obviously a false dichotomy. I’d love to see continuous bike lanes & n’hood greenways to connect all the way to Gresham and NoPo, bike lanes on 11/12/Milwaukie, etc.

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      • gutterbunnybikes September 20, 2013 at 5:17 pm

        You really can’t get past the 405? Lets see, just about every East/West street from Goose Hallow to NW Raleigh crosses the 405. Some go east, and some go west, and if you ride slow you can even ride east on the sidewalks of the westbound streets and vica versa.

        Lets see off the top my head 1-84. MLK/Grand, 7th, 9th, 20th, 33rd, 42nd, 57th—- need I continue. I doubt you ever ride out that far if you think any of those streets are as bad as most the streets east of 60th

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        • Reza September 21, 2013 at 3:06 am

          Clearly you don’t ever really get around on a bike or as a pedestrian across these major barriers. Just because streets connect across I-405 or I-84 on a map doesn’t mean they are safe or comfortable connections.

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        • Reza September 21, 2013 at 3:48 am

          I frequently ride well past 60th, thanks for the assumption. And the conditions that far out are terrible in many places, so I want them to be improved! We need to increase the overall piece of the funding pie for cycling, and not fight for the scraps we get now.

          But since you seem to have trouble naming the I-84 crossings, here’s the list out to I-205:

          Cesar Chavez
          42nd (bike/ped only)

          How many of those are truly comfortable for cyclists? 21st and 28th have bike lanes but quickly end beyond the bridge. 12th and 47th have pretty continuous bike lanes. 42nd, 53rd and 74th are pretty quiet routes but notice how the Central City lacks such a route (which NE 7th would be perfect for!). Forget about the rest.

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          • gutterbunnybikes September 21, 2013 at 12:28 pm

            All that there is are scraps for fighting over. Unfortunately, those scraps don’t fall off very far off the table.

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      • i ride my bike September 21, 2013 at 8:05 am

        Amen, Reza. Saying that downtown is fine for biking is laughable and shows how out of touch they are. BS on the equity claim… the avid, fearless and fit young white males who are wedded to their bikes feel fine taking a lane downtown but everyone else doesnt, hence they dont ride. We need to start building bike infrastructure for people of all ages and abilities. Downtown is the one place people who almost never ride would actually ride if it actually had decent, safe, comfortable infrastructure.

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        • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 8:49 am

          I respectfully disagree. Most Portlanders are going to use bikes for recreation. Bike trails like the Springwater Corridor are key to making biking a welcoming, fun option. Remember that some people like to dress up to go downtown, or they are there for evening activities, like
          getting totally faced at the Dixie Tavern.

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        • spare_wheel September 21, 2013 at 10:04 am

          BS on the equity claim? When was the last time you rode your bike in parkrose?

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          • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 10:32 am

            Saying “BS” or advocating “trickle down” infrastructure improvements
            is easier than sharing tax dollars.

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    • Terry D September 20, 2013 at 12:08 pm

      I absolutely agree. $35 a person, over four years would build this. I live on the “edge of the abyss” west the infrastructue is good…east it breaks down. Everyone should have equitable access. That is the only long term way to increase mode share…make neighrhood trips safe, easy and convienient no matter what direction you are heading.

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    • confident but concerned September 20, 2013 at 12:11 pm

      I disagree that there is too much focus on downtown. Downtown should be our showpiece for bike infrastructure. It should prove to residents and visitors that we are serious about being a great biking city for everyone, not just the minority who are comfortable taking the lane and riding in traffic. I switched from TriMet to biking as my primary transportation mode a few years ago, and still find downtown a stressful and confusing place to ride. I’m relatively experienced, but if the Alta bike share works out, we’re going to have an influx of inexperienced riders, many of them from out of town. We need a “bike transit mall” like the bus transit mall used to be — a safe, welcoming, low-stress zone that helps you orient yourself when you feel a little lost. One going north-south and one going east-west. That would transform downtown.

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      • Mindful Cyclist September 20, 2013 at 3:24 pm

        But, how do people get to downtown if there is not a safe way to get there? How do people that live in more suburban SW get there when they either have to climb a lot of hills (remember, we are assuming they are not already riding) by taking Terwillerger or deal with speeding cars on a busy highway called Barbur?

        Downtown is a very simple grid and I think sharrows are a very easy thing to start adding while PBOT “talks” about all the fancy “showpiece” stuff in the close-in areas.

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      • gutterbunnybikes September 20, 2013 at 7:22 pm

        Bike share will be a touted as a success for a year or two…In the long run it will fail. Public transportation in this town is too cheap, and the city isn’t spread out with a large enough geographical foot print to make it worth while for most. Couple that with the price of a year membership and active use and you could easily afford a nice Bike Friday, Brompton, or old Raleigh 20 and stow your bike in an unassuming corner of you condo, studio apartment or cubicle.

        And no offence, but you can “show off” all you want for the tourists, but you wont be fooling any of the locals. We already know it’s all for show, but many of us aren’t in it for show. We want to ride, we want our kids and spouses to ride. And can we really fault them if they don’t want to because they feel it isn’t safe?

        I got 35 years of urban riding experience to draw on, they don’t. And no amount of pleading or stat busting is going to get them on two wheels if they don’t feel safe when they do hop on. And “showing off” Downtown isn’t going to get them there.

        Showing off isn’t going to help the people who would benefit the most from cycling as transportation option. The lower economic levels have the most to gain from better cycling infrastructure. Removing the automobile bills for them can be a game changer for their economic status and they don’t live in “the Core” they mostly live in the outer rings of town, where services are the worst.

        For those that live in “the core” it’s a psychological decision. Most can afford to drive but they either want to feel good about saving the earth from pollution, want to live healthier lifestyle, or jumped on the “cool” bandwagon or some combination of the three. For those not as economically well off ditching the car will free up 15-25% of their income. And that is life changing money, it’s college funds, retirement plans, insurance, houses bought off, surgeries paid for – kind of money.

        But hey, lets not try to improve any ones life, lets “look good”. Because that is what is important…..

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        • Reza September 21, 2013 at 3:18 am

          Yeah! Because we’re all wealthy in the central city… Or none of us living here are truly “locals”…

          Seriously dude, it’s like one strawman argument after another with you.

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          • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 10:34 am

            In your dreams. Gutter Bunny’s nailing it. And don’t say “dude.”
            It just doesn’t work for you.

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          • Terry D September 21, 2013 at 7:15 pm

            It is the sentiment created because of the hundred of millions dt has received including the tram and streetcar. I lived in DT for five years and bike commuted up Barbur for a few years before that….so I rode through DT regularly for 7 years. Both sides have good points, but just ride Clinton. By 2015 there will be this massive bridge leading to a wonderful path leading to a wonderful greenway (which needs many diverters). Then pass 46th and poof…everything falls apart. The city by this point should at least be PLANNING to connect the Greenway to the I 205 MUP through some “East Clinton Promenade” so both ends have equity…..but it is not even being talked about. If there was a plan….at the rate PBOT funds residential plans it should be ready by 2025. Foster streetscape was promised in 2003…this DT retrofit popped up last year.

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      • spare_wheel September 20, 2013 at 9:34 pm

        “Downtown should be our showpiece…”

        Richard Florida, wealthy developers, and our political establishment approve of this message.

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      • confident but concerned September 21, 2013 at 12:14 am

        I agree that we need to make real changes that improve the biking experience for everyone — residents and visitors alike. I used the term “showpiece” in the context of the original post about cities competing to be the best place for biking. In my opinion, transforming the biking experience downtown would make a profound statement — to visitors , to residents who already bike here and find downtown difficult to navigate, and to residents who are afraid to bike at all.

        I don’t believe adding sharrows downtown will do much to help people feel safer biking in that sort of thick, impatient traffic.

        Please don’t assume that people who advocate for downtown don’t care about other parts of the city, or don’t care about equity. Downtown includes many people with low income. And of course other areas of Portland deserve attention in addition to downtown. It’s frustrating that we struggle to fund every one of these projects, heatedly debating priorities with the sinking feeling that if one project wins, another one has to lose.

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      • Terry D September 21, 2013 at 11:40 am

        Downtown should be a showcase for the city. The SW Multnomah buffered bike lanes were 50% paid for through business community funding. As long as we are fighting for scraps as far as transportation funding goes we should use this as an example and get a private sector buy in for the dowtown multi-modal facelift. That was one sugestion I made at the august public meeting. I could tell though from the way the $6 million was framed they had already made the decision to fund it. Public comments I think were more for show. I also pointed out the resentment the outer neighborhoods have. In our outreach at ‘COPINGwithBikes” we hear the same story over and over again…why does it all go to Downtown?

        Until we start charging for public automobile access to dowtown and for storage on public street we will never fix our funding problem and this resentent will only build. Luckily, at least East Portland in Motion is funde as well as hopefully Foster. That will help once some projects get off the ground.

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  • Jim Labbe September 19, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    “People are asked only to select only the mode with which they traveled the furthest distance in the previous week.”

    This means the Census data could be masking the degree to which commuters might be driving light by mixing the alternatives (walking, biking, transit) with automobile commuting for part of their commute or for part of their work week.


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    • Justin September 20, 2013 at 10:43 am

      There’s also the issue that a lot of Portland’s population growth has come from people working nontraditional jobs – e.g. freelancers. Commuting numbers are going to look weird for people who predominantly work from home, or from a nearby coffeeshop. Or for people that commute a couple times a week to a distant office, but predominantly work remote.

      This is not to say I disagree with many of the infrastructure points here; just that it’s hard to compare broad demographic data against cities like Chicago and DC.

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  • Titov September 20, 2013 at 8:13 am

    Paul is right, other types of cycling might be up. I never will be a bike commuter because I sweat like a glass of iced tea in the Atlanta summer, even if it’s 55 degrees out. I just can’t handle that to work….even if work had a shower (that would mean waking up earlier).

    But for other trips? Sure.

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  • peejay September 20, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Our smugness caught up with us. And, while we ride around with our friends to various inner-east neighborhoods on our neighborhood greenways and lock our bikes up in bike corrals outside of the new brewpub (that serve cleverly punned bikey beer names), people who ride in the rest of the city struggle along in narrow debris-strewn bike lanes that arbitrarily stop, and look for a pole or a tree to lock up to amidst a sea of cars. Even downtown, usually a no-brainer for adding proper bike infrastructure, is full of poorly thought out half-measures. ODOT prioritizes a couple of minutes of car commute time over peoples lives, the new PBOT director worries about drawing the ire of an irrational anti-bike minority, and our mayor goes on and on about pavement.

    It’s time for BOLD MOVES!

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  • Montyp September 20, 2013 at 8:50 am

    2013 numbers for Minneapolis most likely fall. In 2012 we (I’m in MPLS) had 22 inches of snow *all winter*. Whereas in 2013 we had 18 inches just in April. I think you guys are safe for another year 🙂


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  • Jayson September 20, 2013 at 10:32 am


    If this is American Community Survey (ACS) data, the data should be used as 5-year rolling averages. It’s not valid to compare data from one year to the next because the samples are so small. Remember that ACS data is the Census Bureau’s new way of tracking demographic trends. For example, the transit data has gone up and down depending on the year of the survey, likely due to sampling error, but five-year averages are more apt to show trends. Please check the Census Bureau’s website and confer with how they expect the data to be used.


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    • Alex Reed September 20, 2013 at 11:00 am

      Hi Jayson,

      I posted similar questions on a version of this post a few years ago by Michael. Michael has added quite a bit of language about margins of error, etc. to the posts he writes using Census stats since then, which I think is laudable.

      You are right that the changes (or lack thereof) from any given year in any city to the next year in that city are not statistically significant. However, personally, I suspect that there’s enough data here to indicate that the Portland trend has been more or less flat over the past few years while other cities’ trends have been upward.

      I’d be interested in what statistical tests could be run using the multi-year data to confirm or deny that suspicion. Probably not enough data to run a regression on it – maybe ANOVA with year as a cardinal group variable? Thoughts, fellow nerds?

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      • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
        Michael Andersen (News Editor) September 20, 2013 at 12:30 pm

        Thanks for jumping in, Alex. Yes, I agree with both of you that five-year rolling estimates would be more accurate/precise than these year-on-year estimates, and I’m glad that at Alex’s urging I’ve been including more caveats about margins of error when I write about these numbers. In this case, unfortunately, the five-year rolling data just isn’t very meaningful, because we’ve only got two cycles of it (soon three): 2006-2010 and 2007-2011 since ACS upped its data collection.

        In lieu of that, what I’m doing is tracking one-year estimates over time and focusing only on the ones that show what seems to be a clear trend year after year. The lack of precision here is also the reason the chart above has wavy lines rather than bars or sharp angles, for what it’s worth.

        Please, take this data with a fat grain of salt. But year-on-year ACS figures are widely used by media organizations, governments, advocacy groups, etc. — the city actually issued a press release yesterday about these same numbers, though this report wasn’t based on theirs. I disagree that widely used and respected data should be off-limits for reporting when the reporting is careful about its claims. In my mind, it’d be worse for our city to use the increasingly remote possibility that this is a four-time statistical anomaly to disregard a situation that’s staring it in the face.

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  • mikeybikey September 20, 2013 at 11:11 am

    We probably won’t leave 6-7% until we make using a bike for some trips convenient, pleasant and safe for every single household in Portland. Why doesn’t bicycle infrastructure and the accessibility it provides get the same thought, planning and redundancy as the automobile network?

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  • Terry D September 20, 2013 at 12:03 pm

    These numbers should increase again when some projects coming “down the pike” are completed including “the 50’s” and “20’s” bikeways and probably Foster. There will be an extensive east portland greenway network to augement thier paths and scary bike lanes as part of their $47 million East Portland in Motion initiative. The new bridges and connections will open including the Sellwood and the downtown will recieve its $6.6 million facelift. In the meantime, 325,000 residents live between I 205 and Downtown. For $45 million we could build a greenway half-mile grid like this one. That would bring equity to all neighborhoods east of the river….which would really incease the mode share. This would boil down to $35 a year per resident if built over four years.

    After the Regional Active Transportation plan comes out we are going to have to fight for some road diets to connect the commuter network with buffered bike lanes as well. Holgate I 205 to SE 17th, Killingsworth 41st to the Bluff, 20th/21st Clinton north, Burnside 71st-41st. Then there will be the results of SWIM (Southwest in Motion). As activists, we have some work to do if we want to build some more momentum.

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    • Chris Anderson September 20, 2013 at 2:00 pm

      I’d like to see some more coverage here about Terry’s project. It’s well thought out and “shovel ready.”

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      • Terry D September 20, 2013 at 6:57 pm

        In theorey I get my hard drive back from the shop on Monday. Then we can work on programming an actual website instead of just maps and facebook. I have been posting everything from mobile lately and it has been…frustrating.

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  • BobBobberson September 20, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Also I would caution people about the stats. I looked and the Margin of Error was much lower comparatively for cars (3%) vs bikes (14%). It’s much easier to get a solid sample size for car commuters vs bike commuters. Since % of bike commuters is based on many different sized margin of errors it’s a more volatile metric.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu September 20, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    Interesting reading the different perspectives.

    I tend to agree that biking conditions in the downtown core and the very close-in neighborhoods are “fairly okay”, while as you get further out the biking gets less safe and more intimidating.

    For example, how many bike commute from out west (Forest Grove and points west) into downtown? Cornell or Burnside over the hill – those are hairy rides, hugging the fog line and a few inches of pavement while cars fly past at 50 mph or bunch up behind you at 12 mph. Or who comes in from the east on Sandy or Foster, Powell or Glisan? Major arterials with high auto speeds and no bike lanes. There are alternate bike routes on side roads, but not everyone knows them and often they are riddled with stop signs and cross traffic. Ditto those bike commuters coming up from the Southwest, the problem with those roads get plenty of coverage here.

    We need to do is to create the best bike lanes possible on those arterials, so that more people can ride in from 4 and 8 miles outside the core.

    Converting an entire car lane to bike lanes on several-mile lengths of our major arterial streets will be harder, politically and in budget terms, than the bike infrastructure projects to date. But the low-hanging opportunities of the close-in bike commutes are increasingly being picked bare.

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  • Hillsons September 20, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    This shouldn’t come as any surprise. The frequency and affordability of our public transit system fell off a cliff. Our bike infrastructure is …. okay / better than some, but I would consider it stagnant.

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  • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
    Michael Andersen (News Editor) September 20, 2013 at 8:17 pm

    Without discounting the powerful argument that decent biking in outlying neighborhoods may be a higher priority than excellent biking in the central city, I’ve got a question for all the haters of $6 million in downtown bike improvements: Do you oppose with equal fervor the tens of millions of dollars constantly being spent on highway projects around the metro area and the state?

    Again, I think arguments about priority are good and healthy and I’m glad they’re happening, and the folks arguing for outlying investment are very likely right (like Jonathan, I’m in favor of bike improvements everywhere in Portland). And based in part on this thread and other recent ones I’m setting a personal goal of covering more bike issues west of the hills and east of 205.

    But it also seems to me that firing squads are sort of a waste when the enemy is right there at the gates.

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    • Oregon Mamacita September 21, 2013 at 9:09 am

      Michael, I understand that many people on this blog have “good intentions”
      towards equity. Unfortunately, good intentions are worthless when the
      repetitive behaviors continue. By repetitive behaviors, I mean putting almost all the funds for bike infrastructure downtown and inner SE/NE, to benefit a certain class. Project after project, year after year.

      I could make a good argument that you are practicing “trickle down” infrastructure improvements, similar to Reagan’s “trickle down” economics.

      Part of the coming push-back against density (and it started with parking minimums) has to do with a total lack of shared sacrifice. Developers
      and the 6% who commute by bike get what they want. Neighbors lose sunlight (close-in) and my neighbors to the East have to tally 3 deaths to get a sidewalk.

      If you are for equity, stop advocating for tax-payer funded bike share
      outside of Nordstroms. Back up your words. Or make Homer Williams and
      David Evans pay for it. They’ve sucked up enough of my tax dollars and made huge profits.

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    • spare_wheel September 21, 2013 at 11:04 am

      Hi Michael, I am probably tied with 9watts and a few others for being the most anti-SOV commenter on this blog.

      In the 70s Dutch cycling mode share was around 25%. The Dutch had not yet built the multi-billion euro/guilder infrastructure network that Jonathan recently observed, but they did have a network of utilitarian lanes and paths. IMO, spending a large sum ($6 million) of our active transport budget on a “showpiece” is short sighted. I strongly believe that in order to make biking for transportation competitive it needs to compete with the convenience of motoring. I also believe that the recent focus on showpieces instead of facilitating direct routes is one of the reasons cycling in PDX is stagnating.

      Rex Burkholder said it even better:

      When I helped found and led the BTA in the 1990s, I thought it would take twenty years to get to Dutch cycling levels and preached patience. Well, twenty years have passed and we’re not even close. For example, if I want to ride from downtown to the Hawthorne district, I lose my lane and am encouraged to detour a half mile out of direction to a bike boulevard. Going straight, like the cars get to, is to share a 10 foot travel lane with buses and all the other traffic. Ditto NE Broadway, E and W Burnside and the list goes on.

      The simple act of turning four lane roads into three lanes with bike lanes would improve travel for everyone, even car traffic but is seen as an insufferable loss by the traffic engineers and the motorists. This is why Minneapolis took our “Best Cycling City” crown away. The Minne Mayor is committed to using the ROW better, not kowtowing to old paradigms.

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      • GlowBoy September 22, 2013 at 2:31 pm

        “This is why Minneapolis took our “Best Cycling City” crown away. The Minne Mayor is committed to using the ROW better, not kowtowing to old paradigms.”

        I’m one of the first to call out Portland’s complacency and point out where Minneapolis is gaining on us, but this seems a bit of an exaggeration to me. I visit Minneapolis at least a couple times a year and biked all over town back in June, and I think that dedicated ROW on the streets is probably the main bike-friendliness criterion where they’re still well behind us.

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    • Terry D September 21, 2013 at 11:13 am

      I spoke up against funding downtown in August not becuase it is a bad idea, but because it was placed as a choice between downtown OR investing in the outlying neighborhoods. That and PBOT’s track record for downtown projects.

      There currently is no specific plan. The last time PBOT decided to put one road on a diet in DT , the 8 blocks on SW 12th to logically connect PSU with Stark, the west end businesses voiced objection and..poof…the project disappeared. Hopefully, between Novick and Treat the change in leadership includes standing up to the old guard businesses. I have not yet seen evidense of it. Until then, DT have received hundreds of millions in investment if you include rail over the past generation. Funding neighborhood plans that have been collecting dust in the outer neighborhoods is more important.

      Now, the fact that this was framed as a choice should not have happened. We are only talking about $6 milliom out of hundreds of millions of city transportation money. The fact that PBOT even had to apply for the $300,000 or so for SWIM shows that PBOT is critically under funded. That is the true issue.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu September 21, 2013 at 8:02 am

    No, the downtown core still needs improvement. Visible bike infrastructure in the core, used by plenty of cyclists, is great advertising for bike commuting, and gets people thinking “hmm, I could save money” “. . . get in shape” “. . . have fun” etc. Then on their drive home, they need to see big, safe-looking bike infrastructure on their route, and realize “hey, that looks doable”.

    Question: what is the realistic radius for mainstream bike commuting? Maybe 6+ miles? At average commuter speed, with stops, of maybe 12 mph, that is 30+ minutes. Maybe less if hills are crossed ? Anyone know what percent of workers live within that radius of their workplace?

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    • Psyfalcon September 22, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      True, although I think you will find some go longer, maybe 10 mi, but that will could tend to be a younger demographic.

      Census wise like this, yes, the best way to bring up the numbers would pour everything into the inner core. Livability wise however, bikes can be used for so much more than commuting. Shopping, school, recreation, so we can’t forget the routes that don’t end up downtown.

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  • Terry Nobbe September 23, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    John Liu: How many hills to you “cross” on your commute?
    I would tend to agree more with Psyfalcon, that bikes aught to be much more than just commuting vehicles.
    I cycle commute to two different volunteer jobs each week, one is 21.1 miles round trip, the other is 25.3. In addition to these trips, I also bike to shop, dine out occasionally and get to my doctor and dentist visits wherever in the area they might be.
    I’m only 67 and I ride 50-100 miles a week pretty much year round. There’s nothing special about me other than I’m slender, fit and quite healthy.

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