Portlanders disagree on bike infrastructure much less than you think

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).

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.

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