Splendid Cycles Big Sale

‘Day without the bicycle’ follow-up: How to make 1/3 of Portland’s bikers vanish

Posted by on August 7th, 2014 at 9:46 pm

bike count decline

The other day I did a fun post with some back-of-the-envelope math to estimate what it might look like if every Portland bike commuter switched to a car for one day. Here’s a tidbit I didn’t have room to include: massive temporary shifts from bike to other modes already happen regularly.

They happen every time it rains. Rain eliminates about one in three bike trips citywide, to be precise.

Two weeks ago, we had a rare rainy spell on Tuesday and Wednesday. The Hawthorne Bridge bike counter showed a drop of 37 percent from the July average for those days.

Not all of those trips switched to cars, of course — it’s likely that a lot of them switched to public transit or (especially with non-work errands) were just skipped or delayed until the rain stopped.

Advertisement

This isn’t just something that happens in the summer. Last November, city traffic count expert Tom Jensen sent BikePortland a chart that used “some more or less random samples” of bike counts to find a similar drop in bike traffic population that week:

jensen bike counts

So there’s both a seasonal variation in local bike traffic, and day-by-day variation.

Aside from the trivia about how many bike trips go away in the rain, we’ve got two quick takeaways from this:

No, this is not because Portlanders are wimps, etc. It’s because people find it more pleasant to bike when it is not raining than when it is raining. Generally mild weather is a big reason why a lot of people bike in Portland, San Francisco and Seattle (not to mention Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Copenhagen) in the first place.

Portland’s transportation system absorbs all these trips without much trouble. There’s definitely a slowdown in traffic when it rains, but some of that is due to the weather itself. On the other hand, rush hours are also noticeably more crowded on TriMet in heavy rain. Go figure.

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

41
Leave a Reply

avatar
18 Comment threads
23 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
30 Comment authors
El BicicleroGlowBoywsbob9wattsMindful Cyclist Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

rain always causes major traffic in Portland… it must be because it’s such a rare thing…

johnny
Guest
johnny

“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just soft people.”
― Bill Bowerman

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Then where was everyone when I biked to work 3-5 winters ago when Portland got +6″ of snow?

I mean, sure: I have deep lugged 2.5″ wide carbide studded bicycle tires and 5 years of riding experience with them from Nebraska.

But in my ride from 185th to the Beaverton MAX station and from downtown through Pearl and out to the NW industrial rail yard area (about an hour, definitely slower going) I never saw another bicycle rider. What made this day safe-ish is I saw very very few automobiles either; mostly chained up buses.

I’m a doughy, lazy bum. I am by no consideration “fearless”.
By your supplied quote however I should assume that all should bow at my feet because I’m the toughest.

Please leave your testosterone at the door. We don’t need the “Self Worth Olympics” here. Everyone has their own reasons for what they do and we don’t need sanctimonious judginess.

Champs
Guest
Champs

I’ve ridden in weather you could describe as “dishwasher” or “ice planet Hoth” myself, and used a similar mantra: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.”

It’s only a mantra, though. You don’t have to take it literally. It is motivation, not an absolute.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Any time a city is going to be empty or nearly so in the middle of the day…
<valley girl affect>
I simply HAVE to be there.
<valley girl affect>
A good old fashioned blizzard is one of the few remaining stand-ins for what also used to happen Thanksgiving & Christmas days. Streets would be empty enough you could hear timed traffic lights clicking through cycles from blocks away. Wind twisting through metal & glass canyons. Bird calls spreading through perfect echo chambers. Not a rude, impatient, self absorbed zombie anywhere in sight.

It’s a riding or walking experience that holds pleasant memories where I get the impression it just creeps everyone else out.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

I made excuses to commute every day. i hope we have more of that this winter!

Granpa
Guest
Granpa

No such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing”

There, fixed.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Wool. Wool, wool, wool.
Like spicy food it was something I couldn’t appreciate the magnificence of until I was older

This message brought to by The Council of Wool Fanatics.

Alan 1.0
Guest
Alan 1.0

“They possess and enjoy early, and it does something to them, makes them soft where we are hard, and cynical where we are trustful…” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald

My Magic Hat
Guest
My Magic Hat

“There are no stupid questions, only stupid people, mmkay?”
– Mr. Mackey

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

No surprise that there’s a big drop in numbers of people riding when it rains. It’s generally less pleasant to ride in the rain, particularly if the temperature is cold. Rain calls for more gear for riding. And, the danger level for riding, increases with rain.

70 degrees and rain isn’t such a big deal, but when the temp drops to 50 and less with rain, it takes some very serious effort at enthusiasm to keep it fun. Much more comfortable relaxing, warm, dry, with the sound system going, in the car.

Champs
Guest
Champs

I suppose everyone’s got different zones of discomfort, but warmer rainy days are my least favorite. Modern fabrics like eVent are great, but a jacket is still a jacket. Wear it, get sweaty and hot. Don’t wear it, get soaked and cold—except that one warm summer day in Portland when it rains and feels good.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Right with you for the most part. Cold rainy days are easier because the rain gear makes you hot on the inside – which if fine if it’s cold out.

More mild temp but rainy days are hard; do you put on the gear and get soaked from the inside in sweat or leave it off and get soaked from the outside and get chilly? A warm-weather rain though is tolerable with a good wool shirt – just get wet and don’t worry about it.

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

I felt that way until I got a rain cape which is perfect for mild rainy days because you get lots of ventilation under the cape. e.g.
http://www.carradice.co.uk/index.php?page_id=product&product_id=66

Dorky? Yes! Non-aerodynamic? Yes! Comfortable, effective, and lets me wear whatever I want underneath? Those too.

I find rain pants to only be necessary under the rain cape (which covers my thighs) on days with quite heavy rain.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

I think it would be interesting for people to try out the Organic Transit trikes on some of Oregons’ rainiest, coldest days for commuting. Its canopy essentially eliminates the need for rain gear, which right there, eliminates much of the clammy skin and wind chill threat that goes along with rain riding.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Most people, having never been in a crash or witnessed one, have no clue how fast things can go wrong. Slowing down when it rains is very prudent, especially the first 24 hours after a long dry spell as oils come to the surface of the street. Skid resistance (friction) also reduces when a lubricant like water is introduced between any two surfaces in contact. You might even say the basic rule covers this concept.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

on the positive side, one also slides better when one does go down.

Chris Anderson
Guest

Part of the reason we went car free was to avoid the temptation to let the weather dictate our transportation choices. I can happily report that after a year of rain, ice and heat spells we have no regrets. Hint: an ebike helps too. Also if you ride in Portland and aren’t using Dark Sky or some other weather alert app you’re getting wetter than you need to.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Dark Sky’s push alerts are indispensable for my winter riding. It’s been very handy to know when there’s a dry window to ride from work to home – and the push alerts get me to hustle my butt when there’s an impending deluge coming.

Joseph E
Guest

When it rains, many people decide to avoid taking unnecessary trips… and some necessary trips! Bad weather means lots of “no-shows” at my clinic, and some of our staff don’t make it in (or are late). This helps reduce the effect of people switching from bike to cars or transit.
I still notice that the traffic on I-84 and Burnside is worse when the rain starts, as I ride by, but it would be a LOT worse without the reduction in trips.

daisy
Guest
daisy

My local bike shop says they notice a big drop-off when it’s really hot, too.

Patrick Barber
Guest

When it rained recently I noticed the drop in bike traffic and my first thought was, “Come on, people, show some fortitude.” My second thought was, “Any transportation system that relies on user fortitude is a broken transportation system.” Upon further consideration this statement applies to most discussions about bike facilities, too.

Dan
Guest
Dan

I generally prefer not to ride in the rain because I’m considerably less visible to drivers then (wipers don’t even reach the far right side of the windshield, where I’m riding). This wouldn’t be a problem if there was car/bike separation. I’ve never been nervous about riding in the rain on a bike path.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest
gutterbunnybikes

Actually being separated puts you further to the right of the passing automobile, and less in line with the drives center of focus. Toss in the grey weather and your nearly invisible on the side of the road. (You loose your ability to determine color at roughly 30 degrees and farther from the center of focus).

Justin Gast
Guest
Justin Gast

Champs
I’ve ridden in weather you could describe as “dishwasher” or “ice planet Hoth” myself, and used a similar mantra: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.”
It’s only a mantra, though. You don’t have to take it literally. It is motivation, not an absolute.
Recommended 1

Totally agree on the gear. If you have [have = can afford] the right gear, it makes biking year-round that much easier. And, when I say “right gear,” I mean Showers Pass.

Justin Gast
Guest
Justin Gast

Champs
I’ve ridden in weather you could describe as “dishwasher” or “ice planet Hoth” myself, and used a similar mantra: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.”
It’s only a mantra, though. You don’t have to take it literally. It is motivation, not an absolute.
Recommended 2

Champs
I’ve ridden in weather you could describe as “dishwasher” or “ice planet Hoth” myself, and used a similar mantra: “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.”
It’s only a mantra, though. You don’t have to take it literally. It is motivation, not an absolute.
Recommended 1

Totally agree on the gear. If you have [have = can afford] the right gear, it makes biking year-round that much easier. And, when I say “right gear,” I mean Showers Pass.

was carless
Guest
was carless

i would rather ride on a cool rainy day than on a hot day. the heat is really brutal on your body – sunburns, dehydration, you get extremely sweaty, etc.

John Lascurettes
Guest

The pitter-pat of rain on my helmet is almost meditative. 🙂

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

upper 40s with light rain are ideal riding conditions for me.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

Wow…I guess there is at least one more benefit of “Global Warming” other than local olive and palm trees in Portland… less rainy days and more bike commuters, for now. I wonder when the Corbert Report or Fox will pick up on the silver lining?

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

Most models predict wetter Falls, Winters, and Springs in the PNW:

http://occri.net/climate-science/climate-modeling

9watts
Guest
9watts

And Portland’s increased rain intensity is tracking the shifts that were anticipated to accompany climate change. It isn’t that we’re necessarily getting less rain, but less of the light rain and quite a bit more of the heavy rain that used to be rare around here.

KristenT
Guest
KristenT

I can do cold, I can do rain, I even did snow. But my body just cannot do excess heat. Up to about 90 I’m ok, but go too far above that and I start to have health issues– mostly with my brain overheating, and then I make bad decisions.

So that means Monday, with 100 degrees forecasted, is right out as far as riding goes.

benschon
Guest
benschon

Great data analysis.

Alex
Guest
Alex

I’ve tried to ride 3 times in icy/snowy conditions over the past 6 years (going very slowly/carefully) and slammed every time. Sometimes gear matters. I’ve decided not to ride on icy roads, ever. It’s just not worth it unless you have a tricked-out snow bike.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Don’t need a “tricked-out snow bike”. All you need is winter-specific tires: either studded, or the new studless ice tires from Continental (and presumably forthcoming from other makers). Most bikes other than road racing machines can fit studded tires.

spencer
Guest
spencer

my favorite days are the rainy days, i get to ride the west bank esplanade by myself

Mindful Cyclist
Guest
Mindful Cyclist

There is no question that the amount of people on bikes goes down as the rain starts to fall. I do wonder, however, how much of that bridge count going down because people may decide to cancel any recreation riding that was planned and just go to the gym or skip exercise that day?

Mindful Cyclist
Guest
Mindful Cyclist

Admittedly, I have slowly had to get used to commuting in the rain. I never minded riding in the rain for shorter trips, but have just started to look at the forecasts better and really tend to only skip those days and take the bus when the forecast calls for a decent amount of rainfall. If I had a 4 mile commute downtown, it would not be an issue. But, doing 12 miles in heavy rain just gets to be a drag for me.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Distance really does make a difference (I also have a 12+ mile, hilly commute). Spending an hour in moderate rain is more uncomfortable, potentially colder, and tends to pose a greater risk to my “weather-resistant” gear (e.g., lights, shoe covers, even “rain” jacket). I find that 15-20 minutes is the outside limit of effectiveness for rain gear, where it keeps the rain off, but I haven’t yet been completely drenched in sweat. Since my commute is at least an hour when it rains, it makes me much more careful and deliberate in committing to it when the radar map looks green and yellow…