Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Portlanders disagree on bike infrastructure much less than you think

Posted by on February 18th, 2014 at 10:13 am

As we wrote when it came out two weeks ago, the City of Portland’s recent poll of public attitudes about its coming transportation package has many interesting details.

Here’s one: despite what you might have heard or assumed, Portlanders of almost every stripe support better bike infrastructure by huge margins.

Graphic by BikePortland. Source: January 2014 telephone poll by DHM Research. Click here for the bike-related numbers and here for the poll’s full 92-page demographic breakdown.

In all, 64 percent of all Portlanders surveyed said they’d be more likely to support a city transportation package that included protected bike lanes and/or off-street paths.

For comparison’s sake, the last time President Obama’s national approval rating was that high was the third week of his first term.

But what’s especially interesting about this data, released by the city’s pollster last week at our request, is how much consensus there is among Portlanders that the city should prioritize building more of the most advanced type of bike infrastructure.

As you can see, the only demographic group that really sticks out as a strong supporter of separated bikeways is adults under 35, with 78 percent support. Also particularly high is the support among people of color (73 percent), political independents (72 percent) and people who make less than $30,000 a year (72 percent).

Montgomery St Bike Garage at PSU

One of Portland State University’s bike parking garages, in 2010.
(Photo by J.Maus/BikePortland)

Take a grain of salt with some of these fine-tuned categories, especially race and income. The base margin of error in the 800-person survey was 3.5 percent, but it rises to high single digits for many of the narrower categories. Also, this poll seems to have been conducted only in English; 19 percent of Portlanders speak some other language at home. Latinos represented only 2 percent of respondents to this poll, even though 9 percent of Portlanders are Latino.

The language barrier is a pretty big shortcoming in the poll, especially for active transportation advocates, because non-English speakers tend to have lower incomes and the poll shows that lower-income people tend to be more supportive of measures like slowing auto traffic and improving biking, walking and public transit.

That said, of the demographic groups measured here, there’s only one that would actually be less likely to vote for a package if it included top-notch bike routes: Republicans (43 percent). Which, as all the other numbers show, are not a very numerous group around here.

The groups of Portlanders posting the narrowest majorities in support for biking are people who make $75,000 to $100,000 per year (55 percent), people who live east of Interstate 205 (58 percent) and people over age 55 (58 percent).

I’ll share another number for context: the last time President Obama’s approval rating was above 55 percent was five months into his first term.

What matters in a multifaceted issue like transportation, of course, isn’t just whether you support something but how much you support it. And it might be easy to assume that, for example, people who live west of Interstate 205 are far more likely to feel very intensely about good biking than those who live in East Portland.


Above is a different question from the poll, one that basically tests for safer-biking superfans: the percentage of people in each group who rated safer bikeways in the top two categories of importance on a 1-7 scale.

As you can see, 37 percent of Portlanders put safer bike routes at or near the very top of their priority list.

The demographic differences, meanwhile, are basically the same: almost no matter what category of Portlander you look at, at least one third think “safer bike routes” is a top local transportation need. The one exception is Republicans, in which case it’s one in five.

This doesn’t mean Portlanders don’t value other transportation priorities like public transit, freeways, pothole repairs and crosswalks. They do, in some cases with substantial regional and demographic differences.

But last month’s poll shows beyond a doubt something that the city should remember in the coming months: Portlanders of almost every demographic care a lot about good bicycling.

OK, maybe that wasn’t actually so surprising after all.

The scientific telephone poll is over, but the city continues to gather information about residents’ information in a multilingual online poll.

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. Thank you — Jonathan

  • meh February 18, 2014 at 10:19 am

    The big negative with protected bike lanes is that drivers then start thinking that bikes should never be on the road. How many times do we now get told to get off the road, use the sidewalk etc.?

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    • Scott H February 18, 2014 at 11:08 am

      Not that often. And usually it’s drivers that have never seen a bicycle on a road before.

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      • meh February 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm

        When you offer up an option that sounds like restricting bikes to other than the roadways then many of the yes votes are for just that, getting bikes off the roads.

        And I’ve had plenty of drivers make comments about where I should be riding, even when riding in marked bike lanes.

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    • nuovorecord February 18, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      I think the concerns over that possibility are overwhelmed by the fact that the “Interested but Concerned” group indicates that they would be likely to ride much more than they do if there were more protected bike lanes.

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      • Dave Thomson February 18, 2014 at 2:26 pm

        The mythical “interested but concerned”, better known as the “I’ve got lots of other reasons not to ride, but that one sounds the best on a survey”.

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  • BIKELEPTIC February 18, 2014 at 10:19 am

    I find it interesting that the two lowest lines are in the republican and the nouveau-riche. (75k-100k) (I’m not saying there’s any correlation between the two.)

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    • Justin February 18, 2014 at 10:33 am

      The survey didn’t actually ask how new the respondents riches were.

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      • BIKELEPTIC February 18, 2014 at 12:24 pm

        Income inequality has grown significantly since the early 1970s – many of the people in the upper middle class have earned their income within this generation – hence being nouveau. Most of the growth in the US has been between the middle class and the top earners over the last 10 years. So while the 100k+ are going to be generally where the trust funds are, attorneys, physicians, public administrators, moving down to brokerages, management, real estate, financial services, insurance, auditing/accounts, tech, therapy – then moving down to teachers, cashiers, hairdressers. . . yada yada yada.

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    • was carless February 18, 2014 at 11:06 am

      75-100k is considered upper middle class.

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      • 9watts February 18, 2014 at 11:26 am

        Class has almost nothing to do with income, even though we often hear otherwise. Nouveau Riche have lots of (recently acquired) money but it says nothing about their social class, what they believe, how they hold their fork, what magazines they subscribe to.

        For fun I recommend Paul Fussell’s Class: A Guide Through the American Status System

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        • Oregon Mamacita February 18, 2014 at 1:53 pm

          I love “Class” by Paul Fussell! Have you read The Eleven Nations by Colin Woodard? It explains regional differences, and why New York is different
          from Houston. Definitely implications for the kinds of debates on this blog.

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    • ConcordiaCyclist February 18, 2014 at 6:36 pm

      I wonder if that second category is mostly made up of two-income middle class families with children. That group certainly isn’t nouveau-riche by today’s standards (when you consider each parent earning $50K or less) and probably consider cycling only for recreational purposes (and, therefore, a secondary concern.)

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  • Peter Michaelson February 18, 2014 at 10:29 am

    That nearly 80% number for the 18-34 age group is a very good sign for the future. If only I could live long enough to enjoy the results!

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    • Todd Boulanger February 18, 2014 at 12:42 pm

      yes it is….assuming they can hold onto their “biking as transportation” habit through the early family years with all the kid shuttling and two income household commuting.

      [Separated bikeways and all the “new” family transportation bikes is making this an easier option to hold onto now vs. 10 or 15 years ago.]

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      • 9watts February 18, 2014 at 12:44 pm

        maybe they won’t need two full time incomes if they eschew the car(s)?

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        • ConcordiaCyclist February 18, 2014 at 6:38 pm

          That would help, but there remain a whole lot of other costs that make kids very expensive these days. Case in point:


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        • Caleb February 18, 2014 at 9:38 pm

          …or eschew the kids or even family. 🙂

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          • Oregon Mamacita February 19, 2014 at 11:25 am

            That was rude, Caleb. Pretty prejudiced, actually.

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            • 9watts February 19, 2014 at 11:04 pm

              How so? I took him to mean they didn’t need to necessarily follow the mom+dad+two kids thing. In any case that trend is already well underway. Over 60% of US households are one- and two-person affairs.

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            • Caleb February 19, 2014 at 11:30 pm

              As 9watts was getting at, I only meant some people (such as myself) might not at all be interested in having children, and that others might not be interested in having any kind of family. I was only responding to Todd’s comment, basically saying that if the young people like myself are determined to use bicycles as their primary transportation, they might avoid the potential barriers he pointed out.

              I aim to never be prejudiced or rude, so if you still think that’s prejudiced or rude, please let me know how.

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  • kiel johnson
    kiel johnson February 18, 2014 at 10:32 am

    The Oregonian isn’t doing its job! This is really a call for them to pick up the slack. They could probably do a headline “Only 22% of Job Creators Prioritize Safe Bike Routes” by taking their editorial right of switching “Republican” with “Job Creator”.

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  • Anne Hawley February 18, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Proud to be a member of the over-55 demographic who is 100% in favor of safer bike infrastructure. Of course, they didn’t ask me.

    This is some encouraging data!

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  • JerryW February 18, 2014 at 10:41 am

    So, older, rich, white Republicans don’t favor bike infrastructure. Look also at viewers of right wing TV and talk radio, coincidence? 😉 Good article, let’s look to the future, not to the past!

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  • Todd Hudson February 18, 2014 at 10:52 am

    They identified Republicans?

    Today I learned there are Republicans in Portland.

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    • nuovorecord February 18, 2014 at 12:12 pm

      And they both think cycling infrastructure is a waste of taxpayer dollars. 😉

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      • ConcordiaCyclist February 18, 2014 at 6:41 pm

        Let me fix that for you –

        And they both think…infrastructure is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

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    • Mossby Pomegranate February 18, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      By golly not everybody rides a unicorn here.

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  • Champs February 18, 2014 at 11:11 am

    Do the respondents understand what “separat[ing] people on bikes from cars and freight traffic” actually means? It’s not clear that this means protected bike lanes instead of funneling bicycles off of the streets and onto trails. Let’s test specifics like that first.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) February 18, 2014 at 11:37 am

      You’re right – I’ll rephrase “lanes” to “routes” above where appropriate.

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      • Oregon Mamacita February 18, 2014 at 2:08 pm

        Michael, I think that the writers have to describe “protected bike lanes”
        so that the average person on the street is clear on the definition. Say
        “those green bike boxes” “bike lanes with the white striping.” Please imagine someone you know who does not bike or read this blog. What language would work for that person?

        Also, the word “safety” is not desirable in a question. No one ever answers “no” to safety questions. Also, an in-depth look at trade-offs is important. I would love all infrastructure to be awesome.

        Agreed that there is probably support out there- but once again the
        question is flawed. I really don’ t get why the transportation & planning communities have such a hard time with survey questions. There are a few basic rules. Here- we have jargon and a loaded word (safety). In business or social science, that question would have been better written.

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  • Joe February 18, 2014 at 11:29 am

    meh yes too true, I really don’t know if this poll is 100% correct.
    its all about really sharing the road and autos not bullying other modes around. *** look at ” other ” hmmm

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  • joel February 18, 2014 at 11:36 am

    “a city transportation package that included protected bike lanes.” or “better bike infrastructure” is likely something different than “safer bike routes that separated people riding bicycles from car and freight traffic” to many respondents to this survey. this survey question is just as easily framed as “do i want cyclists off the damn roads? hell yeah!” as anything else.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) February 18, 2014 at 11:39 am

      I considered this too, but if that’s the case why do the numbers track so closely with the demographics that rate “safer bike routes” in general as an extremely high priority? I’m sure the sentiment you describe is part of it but I don’t think that’s most of what’s going on here.

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  • Joe February 18, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    joel true when you have a major news paper bashing 2 wheel riders not a good thing. 🙁 also lotta local news stations almost do nothing to help.

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  • Terry D February 18, 2014 at 12:37 pm

    These results mesh with all the qualitative data we have received over the past six months in our neighborhood surveys, visioning and outreach. People seem to understand also that safer bike routes mean slower streets and upgraded crossings that help evreyone.

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  • Joe February 18, 2014 at 2:09 pm

    you can create all the bike infra ya want but getting some drivers behind the wheel to understand driving is not the only mode is the biggest struggle.

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  • Oregon Mamacita February 18, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Please describe the data you got from “visioning.” If you can point me to a neighborhood survey from BPS or another agency that you think is competent, let me know. The surveys I have seen have mostly been
    sub-standard and their results so vague as to support anything. Part of my cynicism about city gov’t comes from what looks like “pretend” public input.

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    • davemess February 19, 2014 at 12:17 pm

      In reality though the only true public input is at the polls.

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  • Jim Labbe February 18, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    Don’t write off the Republicans. We got over 40% of Republicans who appear to understand that investing in bike infrastructure increases individual transportation choices and is the most cost-effective, fiscally responsible transportation investment we can make. We need to recruit them as our messengers!

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  • GlowBoy February 18, 2014 at 6:08 pm

    No surprise the biggest split is on Democrats vs Republicans (though followed closely by age, which is heartening), but the D-vs-R split is not quite as big as I would have expected.

    This is good news, and also highlights the bOregonian’s apparent anti-bike agenda.

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  • Lazy Spinner February 18, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    Good golly gosh! Another poll/survey/study that says bikes and the idea of bike lanes are popular and A-OK with the peeps of Portland. Until I see a real plan with real dollars and political clout behind it, this is just BikePortland article #45,622 to get folks all amped up about what about what might happen someday. How long are we going to study this? How many more trial balloons need to be launched? Quick, round up the council and some staffers for another two week fact finding trip to Copenhagen! This is all great stuff to put in the upcoming Master Bike Plan of 2060.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
      Michael Andersen (News Editor) February 18, 2014 at 11:35 pm

      I agree, Lazy Spinner — it’s almost as if the stated interests of the public aren’t entirely being served by Portland’s transportation priorities. Sounds newsworthy. 🙂

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      • AndyC of Linnton February 19, 2014 at 9:15 am

        Lazy Spinner and Michael Anderson: THIS is what I always take away from these things. Sigh.
        The one good thing from this kind of poll is that I feel like most of my fellow road users at least acknowledge that I belong on the road.

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      • davemess February 19, 2014 at 12:22 pm

        See, I disagree Michael. This poll is not definitely the will of the people. you admit yourself that is is misrepresented and underpowered. And it has generalities and vagueness. People can state the have an interest in cycling or bike infrastructure, but when you put in front of them a choice of “spend money on cycling or deprive autos of funding” not as many of them are as enthusiastic about the bike projects.

        I consider if similar to “Are you in favor of charities?” vs. “Do you REALLY favor charities by donating time and/or money?”

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  • q`Tzal February 19, 2014 at 9:48 am

    This “scientific telephone poll” (Michael Anderson: subtle but funny) doesn’t tell the bicycle using community anything it doesn’t already know.

    This poll is a public opinion positioning tool.
    It does this by attempting to make the general public aware that their opinions are shared by others. It is easy in the presence of a minority of bombastic, ignorant hate filled demagogues to believe that you are the only person in the room that thinks sanely. No one wants to waste their energy or time arguing with someone so detached from reality so everyone nods and quietly agrees.
    Only when everyone realizes that the raving demagogue is alone when will he be confronted.

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    • davemess February 19, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      I agree.
      Most of this doesn’t matter until people have to make the tough decisions though. Then the questions become a little more specific, like “Do you want an extra highway lane OR do you want miles and miles of more bikeways”. That’s when people’s real opinions start to come out.

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      • q`Tzal February 19, 2014 at 12:28 pm

        It has taken decades to get as far as we have in rectifying the average white American’s attitude towards African-Americans; there is definitely still bigotry but it is at least socially unacceptable. Given time the dead wood falls away as a healthy society grows in its place.
        So too with bicycle hatred or “car head”. Patience and education or authoritarian hardassery seem to be the only way to attack this particular problem as it isn’t a case of a law being violated but toxic world views being expressed. In this country we have the right to believe in whatever lamebrain idea we want; tis the price of freedom that some choose to be savage animals.

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  • Ted L February 19, 2014 at 10:47 am

    Thanks for covering this Michael. BikePortland needs to do more coverage of the PBOT budget process. Yes it is wonky but we need to do a better job of building a constituency of folks advocating for bike ped improvements in the City. Too few folks probably realize that PBOT has zeroed out City money for building new Neighborhood Greenways. They have some outside grants to build some, but they are not on track to build 15 miles of NG per year, so that they can realize their goal of having 85% of Portlanders within 1/2 mile of a NG in 5 years. More folks need to know about this and take action!

    INSTEAD OF ONLINE OUTRAGE about by PBOT designers did and did not include adequate bike-ped improvements along high profile corridors like N Williams, SW Barbur, 28th, etc. WE NEED TO TURN FOLKS OUT TO UPCOMING COMMUNITY FORUMS ON THE BUDGET!!!

    Please see more on this opportunity at ourstreetspdx.com



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