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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
Guest

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…

Aaronf
Guest
Aaronf

http://m.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/07/the-ipad-is-your-new-bicycle/278084/

“…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.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

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.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

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.

Elliot
Guest
Elliot

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%.

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

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

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

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.

Craig Harlow
Guest
Craig Harlow

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?

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

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.

Paul in the 'couve
Guest
Paul in the 'couve

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.

i ride my bike
Guest
i ride my bike

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.

Steve Durrant
Guest
Steve Durrant

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.

Mindful Cyclist
Guest
Mindful Cyclist

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.

Joe Adamski
Guest
Joe Adamski

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.

Reza
Guest
Reza

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?

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

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.
and
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…..

Jim Labbe
Guest
Jim Labbe

“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.

Jim

Titov
Guest
Titov

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.

peejay
Guest
peejay

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!

Montyp
Guest
Montyp

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 🙂

source: http://climate.umn.edu/text/historical/mspsnow.txt

Jayson
Guest
Jayson

Michael,

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.

Thanks..

mikeybikey
Guest
mikeybikey

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?

Terry D
Guest
Terry D

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.

http://a.tiles.mapbox.com/v3/coping-with-bikes.map-ulm0j2y9/page.html

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.

BobBobberson
Guest
BobBobberson

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.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

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.

Hillsons
Guest
Hillsons

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.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

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?

Terry Nobbe
Guest

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.