Dirk VanderHart of the Portland Mercury broke the news this afternoon after checking his mailbox: in Bicycling magazine’s periodic ranking of the country’s best bike cities, Portland has tumbled from first to fourth since 2012.
It’s our lowest ranking in 20 years. Bicycling named Portland as the nation’s best bike city in 1999, 2001, 2006, 2008 and 2012. In 2010, when Minneapolis edged Portland into second place, Jonathan wrote that we “usually don’t make much out of the various rankings that come out, but Bicycling has been doing theirs for longer than anyone else and Portland’s #1 ranking has become a cornerstone of our reputation.”
Here’s the magazine’s new top 10, as reported by VanderHart:
1. New York
6. Boulder, Colo.
7. San Francisco
9. Fort Collins, Colo.
10. Cambridge, Mass.
Here’s the previous Bicycling ranking, from 2012:
3. Boulder, Colo.
7. New York City
8. San Francisco
This year’s ranking hasn’t been published on Bicycling’s website yet.
Among major U.S. cities, Portland is still a head above its closest competitor, Minneapolis, when it comes to the percentage of residents who bike to work. According to the U.S. Census, the bike-commute rate is about 6.1 percent in Portland, 4.5 percent in Minneapolis. In New York it’s 1 percent; in Chicago, 1.6 percent.
But as we wrote last month, that ratio is actually a pretty dumb way to compare one city to another, because it depends so completely on where a city’s borders happen to fall. If Portland suddenly de-annexed the area east of Interstate 205, its borders would shrink to the size of Minneapolis or Washington DC and its bike-commuting ratio would shoot up to 10 percent — but nothing would have changed for the better.
What the Census figure is good at is measuring whether any given city is changing year by year. Since 2009, Portland is not. (Neither, for the record, is Minneapolis.) Most other major U.S. cities have been.
So in some ways, an arbitrary and subjective ranking methodology like Bicycling’s is more appropriate than the Census method. And maybe that’s why people pay so much attention to it even though it’s mostly silly. Whatever you think of the merits of the ranking, expect to hear a lot about it from many news outlets — not to mention any friends you might have in New York, Chicago and Minneapolis — for the next few years.
Why did Portland’s biking progress stall — and more importantly, what will bring it back? Since this May, when we used the city’s decision to erase a mural declaring itself as “America’s Bicycle Capital” as a way to write about this problem, we’ve been hosting a community conversation about how Portland will return to the place we all know it can become: an example to the country and, eventually, to the whole world.
Stay tuned for the next installment in that series — and consider getting in touch to contribute your own thoughts, or adding them below. I’m firstname.lastname@example.org, and Portland’s next No. 1 ranking is ahead of us.
This is ridiculous. I just spent the last year living in New York, and it has a LONG ways to go before it’s anywhere near as comfortable to cycle there as Portland.
The calculation likely includes the number of commuters biking…what is it now in NYC? 1 million bike commuters each day?
Ha! Not quite. It’s about 36,000, which is about twice the total number of bike commuters in Portland but only 1 percent of NYC’s working population.
I’ve biked in NYC and agree it isn’t as comfortable feeling as PDX, but in terms of actual danger, I actually get deliberately buzzed and more outright hostile behavior in PDX. Admittedly, riding Myrtle is scary and the it seems like the Vans that transport medical patients are the worst drivers.
The think that makes biking in NYC actually better than PDX is density and density of destination. You can easily bike between a ton of really cool places and things to do in NYC and supplement that with transit. PDX is better for general mobility of relatively safe and pleasant routes across the metro area, covering 5 or more miles, absolutely. But I can bike to more things in 1 mile in NYC than I can bike to in the entire PDX metro area.
I agree. I ride everyday in NYC, and although there are a lot of bike lanes, bikers are not respected by people that drive. The people that drive seem to look on bikers as material items, rather than human beings, and actually try to run bikers down. There are still way more cars than bikes, so the bike lanes actually hurt the real riders; it creates resentment from the drivers.
And I ride in three boroughs daily, so I have to say Brooklyn may be the best place to ride. Still too many cars on the street; I really think the city should look into banning all car traffic other than deliveries.
Is it me or is the guy in the photo going the wrong way?
Nah…that is a “DIY” separated bike lane with bi directional traffic!
Yes, he’s pedaling against traffic. He’s choosing to do this, of course, because it’s so difficult to cross 122nd.
and because in outer and east portland many people riding bikes don’t really think of themselves as “real” vehicles.
Nor do most of the drivers…
And the roadway design has nothing to do with it? Really, it’s a lot easier to ride legally when you don’t have to deal with six lane roads with fast-moving cars and superblocks where there’s no signal-protected crossings for up to 1/2 mile.
I’m fortunate enough to not have to get around by bike in those kinds of areas very often, and when I do I thank God I have the means to live and work in neighborhoods where I don’t face that kind of traffic on those kinds of roadways.
I see this on almost all roads out here, whether they are 5 lanes or 1-2. People just constantly riding in the wrong direction on the wrong side of the road (even when there are bike lanes).
how do you know that, exactly? Did you talk to him about it?
That’s how you can tell if you are east of 205…
An overdue kick in the pants? From Platinum to Particleboard!
9watts, gold star for you! I spit coffee keyboard.
I am going to ride across the WIllamette, down Front>Kittredge>30> Saltzman where I will ride through the lovely, cool Forest Park to Skyline, descend Germantown, back over the Willamette with views of Mt Hood and Mt St Helens, and home via Willamette Blvd enjoying views of the river and the west hills. I would not rather be riding in New York, Chicago, or Minneapolis, despite the ranking.
^^ Comment of the week^^
Bicycling magazine is in no way an authority when it comes to any sort of cycling besides road riding for sport. Having said that, it’s clear that we suck and should immediately go out & crash on a streetcar track.
I subscribed to Bicycling magazine for a year to benefit my nephew’s school. Page 1 of the first issue was a double fold out Hummer advertisement and the only valuable information I got from the magazine were two fashion tips:
1. Don’t wear threadbare spandex that your passenger can see through
2. Make sure the tool bag under your seat doesn’t dangle
No kidding… but that was off topic.
I’m very happy to celebrate livability successes in any city across the country. A couple of years ago, I went out on a whim for a 50 mile loop from Chula Vista CA to Coronado, ferried across the bay to downtown San Diego for a bite and a pint and happened upon an off street aqueduct-to-trail on the way back to Chula Vista. I was surprised and happy about the quality of my unplanned trip. I figure there is something to love about every city, but I’m happiest when I come home.
Ha. I got a free subscription from joining the League several years ago, and despite repeated requests to the League to remove my name from the reup list when I renew my League membership — and ignoring countless RENEW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE notices from the mag itself — we continue to have to move it from the mailbox into the recycle bin. I check every once in a while to see if anything has really changed, but . . . nope. It’s all about pricey gear, gear, gear (most of it pricey) and sports rides.
All this is, of course, more reason to take not take their assessment of bike-friendliness too seriously. As in, at all.
Welp, that’s it. I’m packing up for New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, and/or DC. Portland is just too affordable and/or moderate.
Portland is only more affordable than 2 of the 4 cities mentioned by Champs: NYC and DC. It is considerably less affordable than Minneapolis or Chicago, even ignoring the higher income potential in those places, and the gap has widened considerably in the last year or two.
Elect a new mayor in 2016?
Seriously Portland, what happened? I mean I know PDOT has lost its marbles and wouldn’t hesitate to route major arterial automobile traffic onto a greenway, but what was the turning point? Was it under Adams? Or Fritz? Was it that the BTA stopped trying?
2008: end of cheap oil; party’s over; retrenchment
Portland as a premier bicycling city is a relatively new development. I grew up in PDX and a lot of my family and friends think of bike lanes as a nuisance. I feel the bike community got complacent and just expected improvements to happen. There is serious opposition to improving bicycling in Portland. The bike community is going to have to fight for each and every improvement. They can’t just sit back and expect it to happen.
Perhaps it was a psychological thang…a switch went off in their heart of hearts…when PDOT went to PBOT…from a “department” to a “bureau”?
Google defines each as:
Department: “a division of a large organization such as a government, university, business, or shop, dealing with a specific subject, commodity, or area of activity.”
Bureau: “a chest of drawers.” Nuff said…
What do most of the other cities on that list have (including every other city in the top 5) that we don’t have?
Still can’t figure out why we have been so far behind everyone else with bike share.
Refusal to dump Alta?
One factor is lack of many large corporate sponsors to choose from. Seattle, for example, struggled to find a lead sponsor until Alaska Airlines came in with $2 million (at the request of new mayor Ed Murray). New York? Citibank. Chicago? Blue Cross.
Because Portlanders are smarter than that!
I think most Portlanders know there is way more to Bikeshare management than the already failing plans in those cities, NYC’s is struggling badly and already being farmed out to some sucker company, it will end up Bankrupt by next summer!
The Sam Adams era…
Ha! This is hilarious. I am out on a road trip with the family. All I can say now is that Bicycling rankings are more about publicity and page views than any real, rigorous analysis. — Jonathan, from the Gorge
Replace “Bicycling rankings” with “all news media”.
Can I respectfully beg to differ?
Fraudulent grant applications from PBOT regarding the status of bike share funding and inappropriate payments to contractors who haven’t performed to contract specifications are part of the reason bike share hasn’t been launched. It’s a PR mess to anyone who pays attention and cares about government integrity.
Look up the crime of “Attempted Theft by Deception” and then look at the
Connect Oregon grant application filed by PBOT. Discuss amongst yourselves.
A person, who obtains property of another thereby, commits theft by deception when, with intent to defraud, the person:
(a) Creates or confirms anothers false impression of law, value, intention or other state of mind that the actor does not believe to be true;
(b) Fails to correct a false impression that the person previously created or confirmed;
(2) Deception does not include falsity as to matters having no pecuniary significance, or representations unlikely to deceive ordinary persons in the group addressed.
The rankings aren’t just based on what it’s like to ride in a city, but on the energy and progress in each place. No secret Portland has stagnated in a number of different ways, and although the graph above shows the stagnation may not be unique to Portland, there’s no question the top 3 cities have more momentum right now. Everyone’s heard about the great strides being made in NYC and Chicago, and Minneapolis is about to embark on a major building spree of protected bikeways (as if 70 miles of real-deal cycletrack isn’t enough!)
Can’t disagree with MaxD about the views, and the bike lane network is better in central Portland (for those fortunate enough to do all their riding there), but overall things still aren’t that great here. As one who works in Beaverton and has to cross the West Hills every night, I’d take biking in the Minneapolis suburbs over biking in the Portland suburbs (west, south, north, or east) any day. And I’d take the Twin Cities’ bike boulevards over the car-clogged powder keg that is Clinton Street any damn day too.
I think Justin’s right that there’s serious opposition to improving cycling here (and everywhere – the “bikelash” is not unique to Portland). Given the consistency of the anti-bike memes going around, I’ve been starting to suspect the opposition is more (covertly) organized than we know so far.
That shouldn’t be such a surprise, really: a serious increase in cycling poses a major threat to a whole bunch of vested interests, from automakers and oil companies all the way down to body shops and car washes. We’re going to have to fight harder. Bike Loud PDX may be a good start.
“a serious increase in cycling poses a major threat to a whole bunch of vested interests, from automakers and oil companies all the way down to body shops and car washes.”
I also remember the Oregonian’s Editorial Board statement:
“The car is here to stay!”
But I really think this backlash is more subconscious than you make it sound. I don’t think most folks see bikes taking over, but I do think many feel that the conditions necessary for continuing with autodom may have worn much thinner than we tend to want to admit. Heck, that is true even here on bikeportland.
Not to mention all the Taco Bell + Burger King Drive throughs. The car is here to stay because we are a fat, lazy country.
My bike locker is on the 3rd floor next to an elevator and a stairway. I have to chuckle each time I see someone take the elevator DOWN two floors. That is fresh-baked artisan laziness.
Ya know who gets to judge if that’s lazy or not? Only the person who is taking the elevator, and only for their self.
Some people have hidden/non-visible disabilities.
“Some people have hidden/non-visible disabilities.”
Yeah, but most of us are simply habituated to taking the elevator, or, when we try to take the stairs are told they are locked, or we have trouble finding them because the architect hid them out of sight and provided no signage.
I have a visible antipathy to vestigial motorized transport.
And some people have barrels full of excuses. I know, because I use the same excuses from time to time.
…and school drive thrus. Don’t even have to get out the car to dump your kids by the front door.
Who cares about Bicycle Magazine rankings? (Apparently Portland does). Perhaps it’s time to remove the “We’re #1 stigma” and focus on doing what we do best, creating our OWN bike culture and livable neighborhoods. We are the only people who need to be pleased. Let’s get on with it!…
“…I think Justin’s right that there’s serious opposition to improving cycling here (and everywhere – the “bikelash” is not unique to Portland). Given the consistency of the anti-bike memes going around, I’ve been starting to suspect the opposition is more (covertly) organized than we know so far.
Sounds like the stuff of paranoid conspiracy theories. A companion to the ‘poor me’ syndrome some people like to indulge in.
Infrastructural changes representing major improvements for basic biking, that is; facilities consisting of more than painting off a bike lane onto road’s existing right of way, cost big money. Logically, the economics of expending that kind of money on a mode of transportation used by something on the order of 15 percent or less, of overall numbers of road users, has people anxious about taking the expense on.
Portland and other cities in the Metro area should be devoting more serious consideration than they do at present, to substantially making improvements in infrastructure for basic biking. Start with the relatively easier areas to move forward on this first, which is not Portland’s West Hills, but beyond them where the terrain is relatively flat. Particularly in areas where planning hasn’t already more or less precluded options for construction of a basic, interconnecting cycle track network. This area actually represents much of the Metro area outside of Downtown, its close in neighborhoods, and the West Hills.
If basic biking, in other words, biking for short haul commuting, shopping in the outlying areas, ever were to start experiencing some dramatic increases in usage and corresponding support on the part of the public, the will to expand bike infrastructure would likely evolve. That could help the Metro area, which includes big parts of the Tualitin Valley, move start moving in the direction of major investment in infrastructure for basic biking.
Eugene has protected bike ways leading to the biggest indoor mall in town.
Now that’s a way to encourage biking by teens.
Free Forest Park.
Forest Park is already free to use.
“Forest Park is already free to use.” Only if you’re willing to conform to the form of use (walking) favored by the old guard who prefer to treat our public land like their own private park. It’s time for the city to get out of the dark ages and learn what an inclusive, sustainable, recreational trails system actually looks like and how it would serve long-term conservation and community needs.
For the love of god, don’t you notice how the clay can take a beating in Central Oregon, while the terrain of Forest Park is just too fragile? You are selfish. It’s all about bikes, and screw the moss. I love single track. And I
do not support cycling selfishness in Forest Park. Why don’t we leave Forest Park alone and support the new Greenway project by 205? Take the Springwater to Powell Butte. I never feel that my fat tires are tearing up the soil there. Sauvies Island is a place you can ride without damaging the
If you don’t believe that sustainable, shared use trails can be constructed and maintained in Forest Park then I would encourage you to learn more about the thousands of miles of trails that are enjoyed regularly by cyclists and other users in similarly wet and forested environments.
Land managers around the world haven’t simply thrown up their arms in surrender when faced with management challenges. Instead, we employ a range of trail construction, management and maintenance techniques that mitigate the specific challenges of accommodating public access in such settings.
Right now, policy in Forest Park runs entirely contrary to all the management science by restricting bicycles to the fastest, steepest and least sustainable areas of the park. It’s time to fix that failure and build a better future for the park and the community it depends on.
The 1/3 mile of singletrack in Forest Park is in as good of shape, if not better, than the hiking trails nearby despite the large numbers of tires on it. Gateway will never be a solution for those who prefer a more forested ride, kinda like asking birders to just go to the local city park to get their birding fix is not acceptable. First,we need to do away the myths associated with mountain biking (even within the biking crowd, I guess).
I love my fat tires, but I won’t take them onto fragile terrain. Forest Park doesn’t have to pay the price for mountain bikers without cars. That’s not the park’s problem. Take the bus to Mount Hood and ride.
That’s my point. It isn’t any more fragile than the terrain in other areas (Coastal Range, for example; or in a different way, the volcanic terrain on Hood), nor is it more fragile for tires than boots. For areas that are fragile, there are ways to deal with it utilizing modern trail-building techniques (bridges, addition of 1/4-, etc); or seasonal closures. I don’t think Forest Park minds my tires. In fact, we have a very good, symbiotic relationship.
All environments are fragile in the sense that they can withstand only so much recreational use or other impacts. It’s the job of land managers and the broader community to determine where those thresholds are and to employ best practices for managing, mitigating and sometimes reversing those impacts. You’ve apparently determined that Forest Park’s trails can accommodate any level of pedestrian and canine use but no level of bicycle use. How did you arrive at that conclusion?
Regarding your suggestions about public transportation, I think you are probably wrong that it’s just mountain bikers without cars who would like to have some level of access in Forest Park. I’m guessing that I’m in the vast majority of mountain bikers who have a bicycle AND a car and would prefer – for a variety of reasons – not to have to load ourselves and our families into our vehicles and drive an hour out of town to find trails. If you’re concerned about environmental impacts, how does that scenario make any sense? Especially in light of the fact that we have a significant piece of open space right here in our own backyard (Forest Park) where we all know full well that some level of singletrack cycling could be accommodated safely and sustainably.
Oh yeah, and Bike Share. It’s transforming how people get around in the cities where it’s been deployed. I used to be opposed to spending public money on these privately run systems, but after using the Nice Ride system several times in the last couple of years I’m sold.
Look at it this way: we’re still the #1 bike city … without a bike share system!
All along, Portland has had unusually high commute ridership percentages in a city with merely decent infrastructure.
Now, other cities are catching up in both bicycle infrastructure and participation.
It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Bicycling in Portland has had a tough go of it politically since about 2011. And, key bicycle facilities are at capacity during peak period at our present levels. Which happen to be the 2008 levels as well. Projects like Tillicum, NW Everett, N Williams and others will add capacity to downtown, but only incrementally. What we need is a another doubling of bicycle route capacity, like Portland did in 1995 – 2005.
While plenty of improvements have been made to infrastructure, you can’t discount the culling effect of the eastside streetcar line. 100s of people break collarbones, crack skulls, or acquire large amounts of road rash because all over the system there are now streetcar tracks on high-speed, hilly streets that don’t have decent alternative routes. With rail construction without bicycle facility mitigation, Portland shot itself in the foot for quality of bicycling by ensuring that 100s of people every year would have a life-altering injury while simply riding a bike on city streets.
You can’t cut funding, slow improvements and trash key components of your existing system without some negative results. 0% appears have been designed into our present ridership by decisions made between 2008 and the present.
At least we’re not falling in mode share percentages. Like some falling stars have done.
Cheers to New York, Chicago and Minneapolis for rolling ahead and setting the bar higher.
And may the competition spur Portland’s civic leaders into increasing the rate of development and quality of new infrastructure.
BikeLoudPDX was formed in response to Portland’s bicycle stagnation. Want to get us back on top of these rankings? Join our Google Group at https://groups.google.com/d/forum/bikeloudpdx !
The Mercury’s has a June 2014 story on how Portland last its bicycling mojo. An excellent read.
Hey, those rich white men really have ruined our bike scene after all.
If only Elly hadn’t written that opinion piece…
If you see NYC’s ranking as a “Most Improved” award, it makes sense. Looking back to the years before Janette Sadik-Khan, the DOT under was, at best, ambivalent about bikes and, at worst, openly hostile. But then JSK is appointed and things start to take root: protected bike lanes on 8th and 9th Avenues, improvements to the Brooklyn waterfront, and the first set of on-street bike corrals, etc. This all builds to a crescendo with the launch of Citi Bike in 2013, which – despite its problems – is a hit in terms of membership, trips, and how it changes the image of cycling as a means of transportation.
So, on the institutional level, this feels sort of like a lifetime achievement award given to a Hollywood star whom everyone loves but who never gave a single performance that was quite worthy of an Oscar.
On the individual level, however, I’d say there’s no way anyone could call NYC the best bike city in the U.S. How do most people experience biking in NYC? Not as a series of institutional accomplishments that look good in DOT Power Point presentations or on the pages of a magazine but as blocked bike lanes, faded paint, terrible pavement, a completely antagonistic police department, angry drivers, and more.
I think what you’ll see in NYC is the mayor’s office touting this recognition but then doing little to follow through or build on the momentum. Meanwhile, individual riders will still contend with the NYPD and a current DOT that is, for the most part, leaving bikes out of the Vision Zero discussion to avoid the political confrontations that JSK faced head on.
Oh, and as Jonathan noted, Bicycling magazine will get a lot of page views.
Doug is spot on, and I too worry that NYC being named #1 will allow politicians to kick back and do as little as possible to improve biking in the city. They’ve already significantly slowed down progress since JSK left.
I lived in NYC for a LONG time, and they’ve done a LOT to improve bicycling, especially with protected lanes and CitiBike. HOWEVER, the network of protected lanes and greenways there is still patchy at best and poorly enforced, and the rollout of new facilities has stalled. Portland is far and away a better place to ride a bike, mainly due to the extensive network of greenways and neighborhood greenways and the sheer number/visibility of cyclists. Drivers in Portland are also highly aware of cyclists, yielding and giving way in ways that would never ever occur in NYC.
I’ve said a number of times that a lot of other cities are quickly gaining on Portland, which has stalled on increasing bike infrastructure, but that is not to say that those cities are currently better places to ride a bicycle, cause they are almost certainly not.
I think this sentence says it all- “If Portland suddenly de-annexed the area east of Interstate 205, its borders would shrink to the size of Minneapolis or Washington DC and its bike-commuting ratio would shoot up to 10 percent — but nothing would have changed for the better.” I ride east of 205 daily and there are not many cyclists because it’s dangerous and it’s clear that the money for improvements have been spent elsewhere. I’m quickly becoming an east Portland alternative transportation advocate.
…yet that is where the next crop of affordable housing is for bike commuters…that is until the City develops satellite job centers within 2 miles of them versus getting pushed out so far that one has to either buy a car OR reverse bike commute into a neighboring job center (Hillsboro, Gresham, or Vancouver).
Don’t expect NYC to stay up there. Under the new mayor, any progress on bike infrastructure has come to a complete stop. The only projects with bike stuff going through are projects that were planned in the past.
The most recent road change announcements include 15-foot lanes….explicitly for double parking. Like, to the point that the rends show double parking. No bike facilities, at all.
They made huge progress in 5 years, it’s a huge shame to see the new mayor end it immediately.
On the other hand, expect Cambridge, Mass to keep moving up. Every road projects of theirs involves a cycle track. problem is, stuff is super slow there, so plans finalized in 2006 don’t actually get built until 2016.
Observers of New York don’t realize the extent to which the city’s bike improvements came from the energy of a SINGLE woman – Sadik-Khan. (With Bloomber providing political cover, of course.)
Problem is, the new mayor fired her and her team.
In the implicit de Blasio ideology city cycling is associated not only with Bloomberg but with gentrification (ie rich hipsters)–de Blasio’s core constituency is, to say the least, not sympathetic to city cycling.
Ironically, de Blasio’s emphasis on affordable housing is tied, implicitly, to the termination of Sadik-Khan’s efforts (eg, the plaza on Times Square), which are seen in many circles as simply an effort to make the city more appealing to the international 1%.
Needless to say cycling advocates need to deal head-on with this kind of faux-populism, both in NYC and elsewhere.
Ted, to blame Portland’s bike use stagnation on Streetcar is absurd. Few ever biked on Grand & MLK before the CL line, and on Broadway/Weidler and & 7th the two options are well separated. By helping to spur close in housing, jobs and retail, Streetcar is making getting around by bike that much more attractive an option. Yes, you do need to cross tracks…MAX, Streetcar, freight at as close to 90 degrees as possible. Note that I am on the Streetcar CAC and a big fan, and have been riding bikes in Portland since about 1952.
Lenny, you’ve only highlighted the Eastside areas (about which I happen to agree). Pretty much all the Westside streets that the streetcar runs on used to be pretty good streets to bike on before the streetcar went in.
I admit that I am perhaps biased because my husband had moderately serious streetcar track injury (separated shoulder, happened in the Pearl) which put him out of bike commission for a year, and he still hasn’t biked very much since. But maybe that’s also an anecdote that illustrates Ted’s point.
Sure, the increased density is great. Assuming that the streetcar significantly added to it (there is certainly a correlation, but I haven’t seen a study on causation), that seems like a definite positive for biking to me. I wonder if there’s a cheaper way to get the same thing, and I wish there were federal money for more cost-effective projects like bike and pedestrian infrastructure. And I wish that the streetcar projects’ assumed impact on density hadn’t come at the cost of worse biking conditions.
As to your larger point, though, I agree that the Streetcar tracks’ net addition to biking stagnation has been minimal and how slow the City has been recently to add new good bike infrastructure is probably the #1 cause of the stagnation.
The Streetcar isn’t the premier reason for Portland’s bike stagnation, but the way bike routes were handled on the Eastside line, especially with all the lessons learned from the previous line, demonstrates Portland’s clumsiness when it comes to building a quality network. I ride down MLK every day and see many fellow people on bikes on the same route, usually on the sidewalk. If Portland is serious about building an equitable system of transportation choices, we must do better.
Lenny wrote: “to blame Portland’s bike use stagnation on Streetcar is absurd.”
I beg to differ.
It’s a key component.
AROW has collected 100+ personal accounts of people crashing on streetcar tracks. There are common themes:
1) Experienced cyclist. Many years of accident free commuting.
2) Ate it on streetcar tracks, very surprised. Many had been riding around streetcar tracks for a long time, and one day they crashed hard.
3) Broken bones, Road rash. Many with unrecoverable injuries, or requiring multiple surgeries.
4) Hospital staff remark “oh, here’s another one, we sure see a lot of these”
This was a couple years ago that I reviewed the database, maybe Steve can comment on anything I’m incorrect on.
Fast Forward to July 2014. One of my housemates is a lifelong bicyclist. About 30 years old. Has lived in Portland for one year.
He recently switched from fat tire bike to skinny tire bike.
He was riding south on NE 7th, merged to make a left turn on Multnomah crossing the streetcar tracks with care. He woke up a while later with blood all over, broken teeth, a face half scraped up, sunglasses scraped to bits, not remembering much, and being transported to the hospital. Lost most of his short-term memory for a while, has regained most of it. Hopefully will regain all of it.
Streetcar tracks cull the herd of bicyclists.
Not just the weak. But the strong, skilled and motivated. And certainly the weak.
The west side streetcar line doesn’t have a lot of “checkmate” situations. The tracks stay in their lane, car traffic is slow, there’s always alternate routes a block or two away. Where they run on hills (up to PSU and back) the track routing is predictable, it just gets in a travel lane and stays there.
The east side section is completely different. Tracks weaving between lanes. Steep hills with fast traffic. Tracks entering and exiting streets on steep hills. Checkmate situations galore.
But, it’s been going on for four years now, it will likely take a fatality before any more mitigation is done.
I really hope I’m wrong about that.
Or ban all bicycle tires less than 32 mm in width!
On the surface, I’d say Portland bike infrastructure and culture has stagnated. However, there’s so many projects in the pipeline and/or under construction… Tilikum Crossing, new path between South Waterfront and downtown, 50’s bikeway about to open, 20’s bikeway in development, Vancouver/Williams “improvements” under construction, downtown and NE Broadway separated bike facilities in planning, great new bike parking facilities in most new buildings, and numerous bike parking corrals throughout neighborhood main streets. Despite all those improvements I still feel like bicycle infrastructure is stagnate here… Perhaps it’s because there was too much compromise and we ended up with less than “world class” facilities in just about all of these projects.
And the SW Multnomah cycle track…
Hey, how about rather than bitch and moan about how we are no longer #1 on somebody’s list, we give kudos to the other cities for all the progress they have made? Let’s look at it this way: if Portland had not done all the work it has, many other cities probably would not have been encouraged to do the same. Bravo, New York and Chicago, for getting aggressive about creating a transportation system that respects and serves more than just drivers. And hats off to our compatriots in Minneapolis – I hope we have a friendly rivalry for years to come.
100% of the people that subscribe to that magazine live in Boulder, CO and we still beat them.
That means a lot to me.
I think a lower ranking will be good for us.
Who cares how some website arbitrarily ranks cities?
Anecdotally, when I lived in Chicago, I got honked at nearly every day, and on a few occasions was run off the road. People almost always passed too closely. I don’t experience that here – even on streets without bike infrastructure, people driving still pass with enough room 99% of the time.
Chicago has a LONG way to go to being as friendly to riding a bike as Portland. In a completely backwards move, Chicago recently banned pedicabs from the downtown area. They also ban bikes on trains during rush hour periods, and at all times during festivals. There is far less on-street bike parking as compared to Portland. I am not sure what metrics Bicycling Magazine is using, but they clearly have not taken the aforementioned reasons into account.
My guess is that people are dropping Portland in the ranks because it’s the new cool thing to do and it makes for good headlines.
Adam — what years did you live in Chicago?
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and lived in the city proper from 2010-2014. I moved to Portland three months ago and I definitely feel better about riding here than in Chicago.
I have several friends who are transplants from Chicago to Portland. They are all quite adamant that Chicago is better for cyclists. They completely expected the opposite, and were more than disappointed.
Chicago has more protected bike lanes, for sure, but people driving don’t respect people riding bikes there. That and the connective-ness of Portland’s neighborhood greenways is far better than Chicago’s protected bike lane network, which very few connect to one another.
In the year before I moved and after the Dearborn bike lane was put in, protected bike lane construction in Chicago stagnated. CDOT preferred to install buffered bike lanes, which in a typical Chicago move, renamed to “buffer-protected lanes” so they could still call them protected.
I’m curious to hear why your friends think riding a bike in Chicago is better than Portland.
I divide my time profreeionally between Portland, where I can ride to my students homes for tutoring, and coties like Kansas City and niw phoenix, where so far the bicycling has been prett lackluster and even unsafe. And yet, my new friends in these cities are intrigued by my carfree life in PDX and want to accommodate my requests for homestay hospitality within biking distance of the schools. My KC gig is letting me ship a bike there to keep for me for my repeat visits. So I like to think that those of us from Portland can do a lot to teach folks elsewherre about why biking everywhere is so great. SO what if Portland isn’t at the top os the ranking of some bike magazine? BuyCycling doesn’t speak for or about me anyway. Better to ride my own ride. Cheers.
I prefer to see this as a positive for biking as a whole, and for Portland in particular. As long as Portland is synonymous with “the biking city,” people will think of biking as a “Portlandia” quirk rather than an integral part of any modern urban transportation infrastructure. I actually hope the number one slot changes every time they do the ranking to reflect that it is a distinction that every city should want.
This also deflects the criticism that Portland is so far out in front that we shouldn’t be investing any more into biking infrastructure. If New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis show interest in improving their cycling experience, then why shouldn’t we?
Finally, let’s all be a little humble with these national rankings and recognize we have a long ways to go to match our neighbors north of the 49th parallel, let alone across the Atlantic. It’s good to be #1, but far better to be striving to improve.
Look at the bright side. We are still the #1 skateboard city!
If NYC is top of the list they can only mean “most improved”. Cycling in near-Brooklyn seems to get more and more PDX every time I’m over there, but the rest of the city, despite strides, has a loooong way to go before it’s anywhere near as welcoming as PDX and Seattle, both of which I find about 5000% better for everyday riding than NYC.
NYC does have many awesome rail trails in the region easily accessible by public transit and so IMO its competitive “in the recreational biking space.”
The more telling story in all of this is that what have typically been considered the top two major cities for bike commuting – Portland and Minneapolis – have had no real growth in cycling. The rankings due appear to reflect “improvement”, rather than actual bike friendliness.
Are we at a point where, without a paradigm shift – caused by either a critical market or environmental dynamic, or perhaps a groundbreaking technology or program – we are approaching a saturation point?
This goes back to the studies by Roger Geller with PBOT and Jennifer Dill with OTREC in which there is evidence that something drastic needs to take place to shift people from being “Interested but Concerned” riders to those that are “Enthused and Confident”. Being completely transparent, I have a bias as owner of an electric bicycle specialty store. I believe that an extremely critical aspect of the shift for a substantial share of the “Interested but Concerned” riders is to make cycling a little easier for climbing hills, for getting you places quicker and going farther (which is related extensively to quicker).
It would be great if we were all fit enough to tackle Portland’s hills, maintain high speeds and/or budget our time to take showers when we get to work. But these are the obstacles (or excuses) for a large portion of the population that improvements to biking infrastructure won’t conquer.
This is not to say that we have reached our limit in getting people to use traditional bicycles as transportation. Improved infrastructure will increase usage. But incremental growth appears to be getting more difficult.
Rich, I think what you are assuming is that our bicycle infrastructure is anywhere near “good.” Compared to even a car crazy Country like Germany, our infrastructure would seem non existent to the average German in ANY part of ANY City, town or rural area. Until we have cycle tracks everywhere, where cars go, and even better have them where cars aren’t allowed (greenways, pedestrian only bridges), we won’t get a large increase in usage. Even in Portland, large parts of the City where people live don’t have safe, separated bike infrastructure. The areas that do have commute rates above 10%.
Hanging tough, staying hungry:
I’m sorry, but these ratings ARE. A. JOKE. Keep your head down Portland. As a native Portlander now living in Chicago, this city doesn’t come close. Greenways are almost non-existent, road conditions – the actual pavement – drivers, culture… in any area, Chicago has work to do, not unlike Portland. A little humility brings us all further.
As someone who just moved to Portland from Chicago, I agree completely.
Your bicycle master plan calls for making cycling easier than driving for distances of three miles or less. Work BOTH side of that equation and you’ll have more mode share.
It’s also about one less car. Who is going to start giving bikes to employees or those in need ~ Chris King or Vanilla Bike perhaps ?
The east side section is completely different. Tracks weaving between lanes. Steep hills with fast traffic. Tracks entering and exiting streets on steep hills. Checkmate situations galore.
But, it’s been going on for four years now, it will likely take a fatality before any more mitigation is done.
I really hope I’m wrong about that.
Ted, Steve, et. al.,
My late mother crashed on the tram tracks of Edinburgh in the 30’s, and that ended her interest in riding. And during my years on Swan Island several of our strongest bike commuters ate it on the tracks of the Ash Grove Cement Road. So, I have seen first hand the nasty results of rail crashes. All members of the Streetcar CAC are anxious to minimize bike crashes on its tracks; we have urged staff to pursue solutions, particularly where busy bike routes cross Streetcar tracks.
re the Eastside, while there are crossing points, as there must be, note that Broadway/Weidler has tracks and bike lanes of opposite sides of the street; NE 7th Avenue has wide and separated bike lanes in both directions; and Grand/MLK are not primary bike routes…though I recognize its a necessary options for some (I ride it to Burnside on occasion), rather they are freight routes with tons of motorized traffic.
Let’s get the 7th Avenue Bridge built, and give bikers a good connection over I-84 that all our own!
To say that Streetcar is a cause or even a contributor to the plateauing of biking in Portland stretches way beyond the plausible. To the extent that Streetcar has catalyzed close in development, it has helped to create numerous Os & Ds that fit bicycling perfectly. In Lloyd hundreds of apartments are under construction on three blocks worth of former parking lots that will have tons of bike parking, etc. Note that this land has sat underused for 30 years next to the MAX 7th Avenue Station, but within a year of the eastside Streetcar opening, construction began.
It pains me to hear voices from the bike community whom I respect lining up with the mindless opponents of rail transit, MAX or Streetcar, in the two “C” counties to our north and south. Streetcar and bike commuting are complementary modes, at least for myself and many others, and both are key to building a livable and sustainable city.
Don’t forget that Streetcar was not the brainchild of the 8th floor of the Portland building, but came from the streets via the Central City Plan, neighborhood transportation activists and business advocates. Only when the initial project has traction did the city step up. The same model can apply to biking and bike infrastructure. Why not a LID led by New Seasons, the Blazers, Legacy and PCC to fund a real world class bikeway on Williams/Vancouver? A demonstration project showing the value of Bike Oriented Development.
Finally, thousands of Portlanders bike, and we hope that thousands more will in the years to come, but note that at last count more than 18 thousand ride Streetcar every day. With completion of the Loop, that number will no doubt exceed 20K.
Ride safely and please cross tracks…MAX, Streetcar and freight…at as close to 90 degrees as you can!
“… my husband had moderately serious streetcar track injury (separated shoulder, happened in the Pearl) which put him out of bike commission for a year, and he still hasn’t biked very much since.”
“My late mother crashed on the tram tracks of Edinburgh in the 30′s, and that ended her interest in riding. ”
Like I said, crashes on streetcar tracks can have life-changing injuries.
Nobody is keeping stats on how many people have this type of crash on the tracks.
AROW got over 100 individual submissions, and its a pretty safe assumption that only a small fraction of those that crash end up finding the AROW submission form.
Let’s say it’s 3000 potential daily commuters now have broken bodies and aren’t going to ride their bikes because of streetcar track crashes. If these folks were all commuting now, there would be 21,000 daily commuters in Portland, or 7% of the workforce. Instead of our current 18,000 and 6% of the workforce. Would we still call Portland’s bicycle mode share stagnant? Portland’s mode share chart (top chart in the post) would have climbed from 6% to 7% between 2010 and 2014. That’s the same percentage point gain as the other three cities, Minneapolis, Seattle and DC.
If its only 1500 people put out of action by streetcar tracks, like Alex’s husband, someone like Lenny’s mother, and my housemate, that’s still half of the “stagnation” Portland has encountered relative to its peer cities.
I think there’s a strong argument that the treacherous street conditions caused by the eastside (& NW Lovejoy) streetcar tracks are a major contributing factor to Portland’s stagnation in bicycle commute growth.
NOTE: the first lines of my post are quotes from Ted’s earlier comment!
Just a couple replies — not trying to get in an argument, just iron out some facts.
“To the extent that Streetcar has catalyzed close in development, it has helped to create numerous Os & Ds that fit bicycling perfectly.”
Except if the rails make riding unacceptably dangerous, then its not a perfect fit. I sat at the corner of NW Lovejoy and 10th the other day, for 10 minutes, on a sunny afternoon. I saw exactly 4 bicyclists. 2 of whom could easily crashed on the tracks based on their novice riding abilities. Pretty much any other intersection in town would have more bike traffic than this.
“at last count more than 18 thousand ride Streetcar every day.”
18000 boardings = 9000 people making a round trip. And not all of those are trips to work. There’s 18000 people who bicycle round trip to work. Just clarifying.
Is it possible that mode share has flat-lined because the 94% that doesn’t bike commute refuses to do so for intractable reasons such as 1. not liking to bike 2. health issues 3. having family members to carry around 4. having a job not conducive to biking (third shift, on-call).
There are 18,000 bike commuters and 500,000 registered automobiles in Portland.
I think we should concentrate on instilling the love of cycling in kids. I see women my age teetering on their bikes because they lack bike skills. Projects like the single tracks in Gateway are what we need.
BTW- riding the Springwater yesterday, I saw some overly fast cycling near kids and dogs. Advocating for biking means you set a good example on a mixed use, easy cycling trail like the Springwater. You don’t get to ride two
abreast on the corridor and make others get out of your way. I apologized to one pedestrian with a dog for the rude behavior of other cyclists. She asked me to ask Bike Portland to “share the trail.” Allow people to work on their biking skills in family groups on the SC.
Oregon Mamacita, I’m not saying streetcar tracks are the only thing limiting Portland bicycle ridership growth.
I’m just making an observation, looking at facts, reviewing history, and making a claim that they have been a limiting factor in bicycle ridership growth, 2010 – 2014. It’s a pretty fair argument that the eastside tracks have taken hundreds if not thousands of previously dedicated bicyclists off the streets of Portland, and limited the adoption of bicycle transportation among these peoples’ peers.
A similar argument could be made about roadies on the Springwater Trail and the Hawthorn Bridge. For every wobbly but dedicated cyclist that gets knocked over, breaks a collarbone or gets major road rash, we’ve likely lost a regular rider, and some of their peers.
To change the plateauing trend of ridership, we need to explore the causes of it, and see what mitigation can be taken. Levelheadedly.
The Tilicum Bridge will create a much safer crossing than the Hawthorn (which is badly underdesigned for the traffic it carries) and help solve the roadies on Hawthorn limiting effect to use by new bicyclists. A separate ped trail, where possible, on the Springwater would make it much more comfortable for folks walking and folks bicycling both. But we’ll need to organize for that one, since I don’t think its in the works.
Thank you for your thoughtful posts. What do you think about my concern that the pool of possible new bike commuters is quite small? We may be stuck at 6% for reasons that have less to do with infrastructure and more to do with personal choice/physical shape etc.
I don’t think our population/weather/geography is different enough from Tokyo/Copenhagen/Amsterdam/fifteen other cities to make our maximum mode share 6% where their achieved mode share is 20-25%. Sure, there’s maybe a little bit going on with obesity and the West Hills but that seems like a max 5% effect rather than a 20% effect. Plus, those cities have an older population on average so you’d think that would be a counter-effect. The rest seems to be to be from those high-bike-mode-share areas building bike infrastructure, de-prioritizing auto infrastructure, pricing car parking much higher, raising the gas tax tremendously, and other government policy differences.
“de-prioritizing auto infrastructure, pricing car parking much higher, raising the gas tax tremendously, and other government policy difference”
imo, this is the missing ingredient in portland and north america. i doubt we will see large increases in cycling mode share until the dominance of automobiles is actively disrupted by price and policy limitations.
“It’s a pretty fair argument that the eastside tracks have taken hundreds if not thousands of previously dedicated bicyclists off the streets of Portland, and limited the adoption of bicycle transportation among these peoples’ peers.”
No, some anecdotes does not make this a fair argument.
don’t mourn. organize.
The census questionnaire asks what mode of transportation you used for traveling to work (not school, not for any other purpose) most days in the week before the questionnaire was received. I was one of the data points one cold Minneapolis winter — when I did bike to work more days than not — but I don’t think that question really captures a city’s cycling activity.
Seems pretty obvious to me, follow the money…
Bicycling Magazine needs to sell more subscriptions amd more ad space. And who has a lot more disposable income than Portland? NYC. Who is the biggest fan base of NYC? NYC. I saw so many fancy plastic bikes going slow on bike paths and parks there. People have an inverse of excess money and good places to ride compared to Portland. IMO this ranking is more a publicity stunt than based in facts. I left NYC largely because I knew it was simply a matter of time before a cab or NJ driver creamed me. It sucks to ride there unless you are young, fearless and love to pretend you are in MASH.
We spiked from 4 to 6% in one year (07-08) due to high gas prices.
While prices are almost to that peak, it hasn’t come up in such a singular price shock.
I’m more surprised that we didn’t crater back to 4% when the recession hit and gas prices fell back to 2004 levels. http://www.oregongasprices.com/Retail_Price_Chart.aspx
Maybe we would have had a better rating if people like the guy in the picture would ride in the right direction.
NY is integrated much more urban based, and if you don’t wanna ride the city they have paths. It’s different…. huge family of all rider types.
Biking has always been pretty easy in most of Portland, especially the old east side streetcar neighborhoods with their good street grid. And the geography is pretty forgiving. In the 90’s the City began to formalize a back street network, but it was always there. Even in SW where I grew up, as kids we found the less busy connections between destinations, for me Multnomah, Hillsdale, and Lewis & Clark College.
I think having a mayor, Bud Clark, between ’84 and ’92 who actually rode from NW to City Hall got things going a bit. BPOT’s Bike Program in the 90’s put bike lanes on wide streets (where they weren’t really necessary), and that gave more legitimacy to the cycling option (Thank you Mia and Charlie). ODOT put their, for me meaningless, bike lanes on state highways, which at least made the system mile numbers look good.
Subtract the ODOT lanes, the bike lanes on wide streets, the neighborhood routes, and there is not much for public agencies to brag about, and one can only be amazed at the vigor and energy of Portland’s biking universe.
That it has flattened out, should not come as a great surprise. I am sure it will catch its breath and take off again!
Yet in fairness to those at PBOT, BES and ODOT who worked so hard to help get more and better bike access to Swan Island over the last dozen years, I must give a bow. Compelling projects can be realized, and what the agencies need is strong and determined direction from citizens and businesses to get what needs to be done done! Like the 7th Avenue bridge.
And a final word on Portland Streetcar from an unabashed fan…I hope it expands (Broadway to Hollywood!), I hope bikers learn to better negotiate the tracks, and I guarantee that the next line will be designed, built and operated to keep such mishaps to a minimum.
I wish Portland were like the 50th best bike city. What a great country that would be.