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Surprise! Typical Portland bike commute is shorter than driving

Posted by on January 24th, 2014 at 9:39 am

Bike traffic on NW Broadway-3

Crossing the Broadway Bridge.

“I’d love to bike to work, but it takes too long.”

Actually, nope. Well, depending on how you look at it.

Census data released last fall shows, for the first time, that the median Portland bike commuter is on the road for 23 minutes before each work shift — one minute less than the median Portland drive-alone commuter.

That means that half of Portland bike commuters reported commutes of 23 minutes or fewer, and half reported longer ones.

This data is new because in all previous Census reports, bike commuters had been lumped in with “motorcycle and other” for questions about travel time. The new data gets more precision by combining survey results from the years 2006 to 2010.

The same data showed that the median carpool to a Portland job took 27 minutes (bigger carpools took as many as 37), the median transit commute 41 minutes, and the median walking commute 12 minutes.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that the typical car or transit commuter could shave time by switching to a bike. The reason Portland bike commutes tend to be faster than car commutes is that the closer you live to work, the more likely you are to bike (or, if you’re really close, to walk).

But in another sense, this factoid means exactly what it seems to. Because as most bike users know, one of the best things about biking is that it makes it easier to live close to work or school or wherever else you want to go frequently. The low-car lifestyles that bikes make possible save money that can be spent on rent, of course. They also reduce the hassle of parking in the central city and the frustration of crawling through congested streets. New research even suggests that when we’re on bikes (or on foot, or in a bus) we perceive the people we see in a city as being nicer and less threatening.

As the chart above shows, biking enables proximity, and proximity enables biking.

This won’t come as a surprise, of course, to those of us who’ve known for years that bikes always move faster than cars — if you count all the time you spent earning the money to drive the car.

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

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Lorelei
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Lorelei

I live around SE 50th and Hawthorne and work at SW 5th and Madison – so pretty straight shot.

Cycling takes 20 minutes.
Bus takes 25-30 minutes.
And Car2Go takes 30+ minutes.

I rarely use that third option, but when I have I find myself just crawling around SE 7th and Madison watching the bikes fly by.

Not to mention, with cycling I don’t have to search for parking or wait at a bus stop – I get to just get on and off my bike whenever I’m ready.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

My morning bike commute gives me a little cardio and some mental peace so I can focus throughout the day. Even though the last few blocks are the cycling hellhole of the 12th Ave bridge and Lloyd Boulevard, I still enjoy it.

Eric
Guest
Eric

Yes and the time almost never changes. I never show up late because of unexpected traffic. It’s never “on a good day, I get here in 30 minutes,” it’s everyday.

Reza
Guest
Reza

Well, you could get stuck behind a mile-long freight train. Or get stuck behind a bridge lift. My old Pearl to Lloyd District commute was notoriously volatile because of those two barriers. Just depends where your commute is, I guess.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

I got stuck on Front Street by a stopped train once on my commute so I just went back to the Broadway Bridge and carried my bike up the stairs and pedaled on across the river that way…

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

i work on pill hill and my bus commute takes 50-80 minutes. riding ~5 miles up to work takes 20-25 min and riding down 16-21. needless to say i ride my bike 320+ days a year. ironically, the longest bus rides are when it takes me the least time to bike hope (e.g. after 8 pm).

davemess
Guest
davemess

I have been at OHSU for almost 4 years now, and have only heard the term “pill hill” used by some older folks on a message board. Is it still that common? Of all the people I know, no one uses it. We just call it “the hill”.

I assume you’re not taking the tram?

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

pill hill is used by patients (mostly). i enjoy the ride up the hill so no tram for me.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

I live near 39th (Cesar Chavez) and work downtown. I can get to work in 10-11 min if riding hard, 12-14 if taking my time. The biggest cause of variability in my bike commute time is flats, fortunately not a frequent occurrence.

Greg
Guest
Greg

I used to get 2-3 flats per year. With my current bike and it’s Schwalbe Marathons, I’ve not had a flat in 6 years. I have replaced the rear tire once. I don’t carry flat changing gear anymore.

RH
Guest
RH

I bike from NoPo to Pioneer Square because it’s faster than taking the yellow line. Takes 14 minutes…and I’m on a heavy slow bike.

dan
Guest
dan

“Lies, damn lies, and statistics”.

I agree that close-in commutes can be faster by bicycle, depending on specific routes. But, that data probably also includes people with more substantial commutes (10 miles+) who are more or less forced to travel by car because they don’t see cycling as an option.

(Cue a chorus of people humble bragging about bike commuting 10+ miles.)

If you have a 50-mile commute and it takes you an hour by car, biking would not be faster. This data would be much more telling if we could limit the analysis to respondents with commutes of, say, 5 miles or less.

Criss Cross Crusade
Guest
Criss Cross Crusade

10.5 miles… 35th and Clinton to the Mormon Temple… 42ish minutes.

deborah schultz
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deborah schultz

dan
“Lies, damn lies, and statistics”.
I agree that close-in commutes can be faster by bicycle, depending on specific routes. But, that data probably also includes people with more substantial commutes (10 miles+) who are more or less forced to travel by car because they don’t see cycling as an option.
(Cue a chorus of people humble bragging about bike commuting 10+ miles.)
If you have a 50-mile commute and it takes you an hour by car, biking would not be faster. This data would be much more telling if we could limit the analysis to respondents with commutes of, say, 5 miles or less.
Recommended 2

I’ve lived in 4 different neighborhoods in Portland, and have always made a point to be within bike or walking commute from my work. It’s a quality of life issue for me that is worth the cost.

Car maintenance, insurance, gas and car payments (at the minimum) are normally 200 a month, per car in the household. If you take the money spent on cars and put it into rent or mortgage, living closer to your work so a bike commute of 20-40 minutes is possible, the cost of living closer in is pretty much awash. Additionally chances are you have less healthcare costs because exercising 40-80 minutes a day is nothing to scoff at. Not to mention the cost of your time. Quality of life and neighborhood enhancements are perks too.

dan
Guest
dan

Preaching to the choir, Deborah 🙂 Bike commuting saves me somewhere north of $1,000 / year on parking. My point was that the statistics cited can’t necessarily be taken as ironclad proof of the point they are intended to support.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

If you use AAA stats on average auto costs per year (sure it varies person to person). Over a 40 year span (if those costs were static – which they aren’t – it goes up every year – and if they continue as they have the national average will hit nearly 10k a year) it comes to nearly 300k spent on your car.

With how the prices increase each year I’d say that a 16 year old now looking to drive is making a 1/2 million dollar decision. Not a small chunk of change when the average lifetime earning of the average Portlander is a little over 2 million.

If that sum (nearly 300k)was invested and returned a mear 4% interest -many conservite AAA bonds are this rate of return – it would add nearly 700k to lifetime earnings of that individual. That 700k doesn’t include the nearly 300k that was saved/invested.

And I should add that wages -unlike the cost of automobile ownership- have remianed fairly flat for the last 30 years or so.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

if you have a 50 mile commute then you need to change where you work or live…

James Sherbondy
Guest
James Sherbondy

My uncle in Virgina used to commute 90 miles, ONE WAY, to work! He’s no longer with use due to, surprise surprise, heart disease.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

12.5 miles in, 14 miles out.

Driving: Takes 20 – 35 minutes in, 20 – 40 minutes out
Riding: Takes 54 – 58 minutes in, 68 – 74 minutes out

Longer time to ride; much less variability. Saves gym membership/time.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Criss Cross Crusade
10.5 miles… 35th and Clinton to the Mormon Temple… 42ish minutes.
Recommended 0

You mean the LDS temple out between LkOs and Tualatin? Bravo!

Criss Cross Crusade
Guest
Criss Cross Crusade

Yes… and thank you. 38 minutes home is my record.

Joe
Guest
Joe

This is only true for people who can afford to live close enough to bike.

Tim
Guest
Tim

This may be true if you want a nice house and work downtown, but most of the areas jobs and afordable housing are not near downtown.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

Read the whole article?

davemess
Guest
davemess

These numbers are skewed a little though, as they’re only covering people who both live in Portland AND work in Portland (unless I’m reading this wrong). We all know that doesn’t cover everyone. And it does put some limits on massive commute distances.

PorterStout
Guest
PorterStout

This is a convenient excuse, but I suspect if gasoline was priced like it is in most of the rest of the world people would find it much more “affordable” to live closer in. I’ve known people that commuted in from Hood River. Really? Heck, every time I see I-5 backed up at the Broadway entrance I wonder if these commuters realize how much it’s REALLY costing them.

Paul Souders
Guest

This hits close to home for me because we were looking to move closer to our family’s school in inner SE (we live in outer SW). The housing market on the inner east side is making this pretty tough, even when we’re looking to essentially halve our living space.

I won’t go into the math but the short version is: we can’t save enough money from going car-free to offset the increase in rent/mortgage.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Paul, I think there are MANY in the same boat as you.

Paul H
Guest
Paul H

My commute is 12.5 miles in each direction. The ride and subsequent shower take about as long, 55-60 minutes, as walking to the bus stop and taking the bus. Driving is almost always faster during my commute hours, often dramatically so — but riding+showering take less time than driving+gym, and I’d need the trip to the gym if I weren’t riding.

Criss Cross Crusade
Guest
Criss Cross Crusade

I minus the shower time because I would have taken a longer one at home anyways.

Paul H
Guest
Paul H

The reason I included showering as part of my biking time is that, when I driving, I typically counted showering as part of my gym time. If I neither biked nor went to the gym, I’d probably count the shower against my physical therapy, which I’d need if I didn’t exercise regularly. 🙂

Tim
Guest
Tim

I have noticed my average drive time is shorter than my bike commute time, but I hate it, and I hate it even more on those days where the drive time takes forever.

Bike 20 to 25 min.
Drive 15 to 45 Min.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

there have been times where I drove half way to work and hit a wall of traffic, turned around, got the bicycle and commuted that way instead…

Dan
Guest
Dan

My commute is 7.5 miles, and it generally takes me a little longer to bike to work in the morning than it does to drive. But in the evening, biking home usually is faster – I can fly past the slow traffic on Interstate/Greeley on my bike instead of creeping along inch by inch in my truck.

Being able to bike to work is not a marker of affluence. I don’t live in a big house, or in a fashionable neighborhood close-in to downtown.

Mick O
Guest
Mick O

So you’re saying we should all ditch our bikes and walk?

pdx2wheeler
Guest
pdx2wheeler

IMHO… Commuting by bike takes no time at all actually. Every minute spent pedalling to work is returned in-full with a longer and healthier life.

Tim
Guest
Tim

and happier

JV
Guest
JV

and more intreresting

Paul Souders
Guest

I feel the same way. Somehow my commute by bike ADDS time to my day.

RH
Guest
RH

Back in the day, driving to work – then the gym – then home was about one hour and 30 minutes. Now I moved closer, ditched the car, and bike to and from work at 30 min…I am saving a hour a day (and $10K/yr) and my bike is my new gym.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I have a commute of about 12 miles, and don’t have the luxury of being able to live near work: our lives, my wife’s job and my kids’ schools are in Portland, but my job will continue to be in Beaverton for the foreseeable future. I just have to live with that, and I remind myself that in most big cities mine would be considered a short commute. Here are my options:

Strictly speaking, driving is probably fastest overall, at about 30 minutes in the morning and 40-60+ minutes in the evening. But it’s so maddeningly variable in the evening (most of which is due to Ross Island Bridge queueing) that I absolutely hate doing it. At the other end of the spectrum, taking TriMet all the way involves a bus/MAX transfer downtown, and takes 65-80 minutes, so I don’t do it often.

Bike+MAX, though, at 45-50 minutes flat, is for me the best combination of speed and reliability. If the weather is really lousy or I just feel lazy I may take my folding bike and do bike+MAX both ways, but my more usual mode is to do bike+MAX in the morning and bike all the way home (55-70 minutes) in the evening.

This takes longer than driving, but (not even counting the $6-8 day cost of driving to work, at 30-35 cents/mi, or the environmental and social costs of driving), the time savings of driving is a false one.

Every minute spent in the car is wasted, unproductive time. Whereas when I’m on my bike I’m getting needed exercise (without which I would be paying for membership in a gym I would DRIVE to – ugh!), and when I’m on the train I’m either getting in my reading, catching up with emails or working on my laptop. None of which I can (or at least should) do while driving.

davemess
Guest
davemess

How much time does all bike take?

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

see above: “bike all the way home (55-70 minutes) in the evening.”

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

I used to have the same problem where my job was on the west side of the tunnel… I hated it so I got a new job… start looking…

Mindful Cyclist
Guest
Mindful Cyclist

I have a very similar situation. I have about a 11-12 mile commute and driving is usually the fastest way for me to get to work. But, with driving there are more variables. For example, if there is fender bender somewhere, traffic is going to get backed up and it will potentially make my car commute longer. On a “good day”, I am looking at 30 minutes in the car versus bike to downtown/max or bus the entire trip which both take about 45 minutes (little walking as I have essentially door to door service).

Coming home I bike all the way and it is about 50-55 minutes on average and the bus/max is about the same. Car will take on a good day around 40 minutes.

But, I agree that it is wasted time in a car. Other than listen to music, I cannot read or send emails. And, I do enjoy lifting weights and do have a gym membership, but the cardio part is so much better when it is built in to do something that I have to do anything (ie commute) than running no where on a treadmill.

I would like to get a job closer to home and really thought I had a shot at getting transferred to the closer location this summer, but it didn’t happen.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Joe
This is only true for people who can afford to live close enough to bike.
Recommended 3

This is why someday we must wise up and legislate limits on both rents and the absolute value of property–a free market in real estate is an equity issue and an energy-use issue. We don’t need for Longview to become a commuter suburb of Portland due to housing costs!

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

word.

Paul Souders
Guest

Something like this, yes.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Price controls won’t work. The way to keep housing from becoming indecently priced is to ensure a decent supply of it.
1. Stop NIMBY-style opposition to increased density in our neighborhoods.
2. Make sure all neighborhoods, not just the close-in ones that are getting too expensive for a lot of people, get decent transportation options.
3. Within the UGB, tax land at higher rates than buildings.
4. Nationally, implement policy changes to stop the radical redistribution of wealth to the top. Housing and food prices continue to skyrocket while median wages remain stagnant. Too many people are struggling against a declining standard of living.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

price controls work fine. in fact, many of densest large cities in OECD nations have rent control.

Steve Hoyt-McBeth (PBOT)
Guest

Back in 2008, PBOT asked the Widmer Brothers to race each other from the Lloyd District to City Hall to kick off National Bike Month. Rob biked and Kurt drove. Rob won by five minutes: http://blog.oregonlive.com/thebeerhere/2008/05/rob_widmer_bicycle_win_commute.html

Kyle
Guest
Kyle

I have a 2.0 mile commute from inner SE to downtown. Cycling to work takes me 8.5-9 minutes depending on a couple of traffic lights, and driving is easily 10 minutes on a good morning. I often walk as well, taking about 35-40 minutes depending on how fast.

Trikeguy
Guest
Trikeguy

In Nov. of 2012 my GF and I were looking for a new apartment. When we looked at a place out by Gateway Transit I rode my trike there from work (close in SE) and on leaving she hopped the MAX and I rode home to our place near Jeld-wen field. Guess who won?

These days I commute from next to Beaverton Transit center over the hill and across the Hawthrone bridge – and I still beat my best time on the MAX+#15 bus. (most days – this morning the wind barreling down on me over Sylvan slowed me down a smidge :))

So, not only do I save $5/day on bus fare, I save time *and* I get my workout in all in one go!

scott
Guest
scott

While I probably agree with most of the statistics in this article and that I can bike to work as fast as I can drive, I did not read it. I skipped straight to the comments because that picture is representational of maybe, MAYBE, 30% of the days of year round commuting in Portland.

I get it. Dress up the turd of a season (just one) we bike in the rest of the time. Still, I can’t get behind it.

davemess
Guest
davemess

Scott, what are you actually saying here?

scott
Guest
scott

That the picture is not representational of a typical Portland commute and that turns me off from the rest of the article.

I mean, how many times have you hit that intersection and there isn’t even any debris around? That is maybe one week out of the year.

Humongous Ed
Guest
Humongous Ed

What about the time we spend reading bike news online?

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

What about it? Unlike traveling to the workplace, looking at bike news online isn’t a requisite to earning money.

Joe Adamski
Guest
Joe Adamski

Parsing commutes is all fine, I guess. The overarching thing I hear is I like my bike or walking commute ( for whichever reason) better than other modes. Even if it took twice as long, its more enjoyable. I cannot think of ever hearing “I love driving on my commute,it makes me peaceful and relaxed, I feel I get a lot out of it”.

9watts
Guest
9watts

“This is only true for people who can afford to live close enough to bike.”

You really think that biking to work is a rich person’s privilege? Hilarious.

Our own Michael Anderson suggests otherwise:
http://www.peopleforbikes.org/blog/entry/rich-poor-both-know-good-biking-when-they-see-it-new-data-shows

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

From all the input above, what is the commute distance in Portland where bicycling takes about the same time as driving – let’s say, within 5 to 10 minutes? I picked 5-10 minutes because almost everyone has that much extra time in the morning – at worst, just get up 10 minutes earlier.

I’m thinking that distance is somewhere between 3 and 4 miles, absent unusually bad car traffic (longer) or significant hills (shorter). So look at a map of Portland, whereever your job is, draw a circle of radius 3 to 4 miles, and see what sorts of neighborhoods it includes.

That is a big radius – for example, from downtown, 4 miles east takes you nearly to 82nd, 4 miles north takes you nearly to Lombard, and so on. A wide variety of neighborhoods will be included, from quite expensive to quite inexpensive.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Clarification – I mean, where biking takes at most 5 o 10 minutes longer than driving. So for example, if it takes 20 minutes to drive to work, I’m saying a 30 minute biking time is close enough that “bicycling takes too long” isn’t a good reason to not ride.

9watts
Guest
9watts

I’d note parenthetically that if you type your in-town route (start and destination) into googlemaps, and toggle between bike mode and car mode, you may discover that the smart folks at google are of the opinion that biking is faster. Haha.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I would put that radius at more like 4-5 miles, as long as the terrain is reasonably flat. That’s also about the distance at which some though not all people will want to consider showering at work in the morning, which for some people starts to complicate things quite a bit.

Still, 4-5 miles is a great radius for those who live and work within the city limits. It ignores that a huge chunk of our good-paying job base is out in the western suburbs, separated from the city population by monster hills with lousy connectivity through them.

(For the record, prior to my current employment on the westside, my previous two jobs were in the city limits of Portland .. BUT both were 8-9 miles away, so I’ve never been fortunate to enjoy that little radius myself).

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

This shows the high price of cheap housing in the suburbs, and a big reason why I live downtown.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Well, actually since there are more good-paying jobs in the suburbs than the city now, it’s those of us who live in the city who are paying the price.

A price I’ve been willing to pay for well over 20 years, but I’m not going to kid myself. If I were willing to live with a westside lifestyle and move away from all our friends in the city (and uproot our kids and my wife’s business to the ‘burbs), we could have saved a shitload of time and money.

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

As far as money savings go, I added up the numbers once and figured out that biking to work instead of driving saves me about $280/mo in parking, gasoline, and mileage-dependent maintenance on the car (service, tires). My car gets low mpg, especially when cold, and parking in my building is expensive, so that raises my number some. If your parking is free and you drive a high-mpg car, your number would be lower. But if you could go zero-car or share-car, your number would go higher. So in that 3-4 mile radius, when looking for affordable neighborhoods, consider the effect of having an additional whatever-your-saving-will-be: $200 to $300/mo maybe? That widens the scope of “affordable”, I think.

Terry Nobbe
Guest

I often see the same motor vehicles pass me again and again as I ride home from Hillsboro to my SW Beaverton home weekly from my volunteer bike mechanic job at the Washco Community Bike Center. I catch up with many of them at the next traffic light since I have my lane pretty much to my self compared to the motorized traffic lanes that rarely allow speed limit travel after 4:30pm or so.

Jonathan R
Guest
Jonathan R

Median walking commute is 12 minutes, half the duration of the median biking commute, but nobody is asserting that they can walk faster than they can bike. What is the percentage per mode of commuters with less than a 30-minute commute?

Paul in the 'Couve
Guest
Paul in the 'Couve

2 thoughts.

First, if I can walk in 12 minutes or less, I won’t bother with a bike and I love bikes. Even if walking isn’t faster it is VERY simple.

Second, it occurs to me that what these stats measure is probably largely what kinds of commutes people are WILLING to do as well as what kinds of time commute modes take. So, basically, people who bike are willing to use that mode for commutes that average out to a median time of 25 minutes. In fact, across modes, it seems people are willing to commute for a median time of roughly 25 to 30 minutes by any mode. Transit is the exception. Some possible factors there are the ability to do something else while in transit, and that transit riders as a demographic may have fewer alternatives.

chris balduc
Guest
chris balduc

My commute to east Vancouver from Milwaukie takes 1.5 hours by bike. Taking the bus/train route takes 2 hours. Even longer commutes can save time on a bike.

VTRC
Guest
VTRC

Milwaukie to NW Portland. 8.7 miles, by bike ~40 minutes. Car is usually around that but varies really wildly(20 minutes to 1 hour) depending on traffic. Since I HAVE to budget an hour to drive, it doesn’t save me any time.

I really hate driving when traffic is bad, parking adds $8 a day to the budget. Really the commute by bike is just nicer.