(Photos: M.Andersen and J.Maus/BikePortland)
Bike transportation among Portland State University students peaked at 12 percent in 2010-2011 and has since fallen to 8 percent, newly released student surveys show.
And in a development its transportation director called “alarming,” the popularity of driving to PSU classes rose last year for the first time since 2000.
The share of student TriMet trips stayed flat last year. And though walking rates jumped two years ago in response to new on-campus housing, they too seem to have dropped in 2013.
The percentage of PSU students who see biking as their primary commute mode to class has been falling even more dramatically: from 13 percent in 2010 to 7 percent last year.
The data comes from surveys distributed each fall to 8,000 randomly selected students, of whom 884 responded last year.
“I think that seeing the [biking] rate go down two years in a row gives us enough information to say that this isn’t just a one-year statistical anomaly. I think it does underly a trend,” said PSU Transportation Director Ian Stude.
The shift away from bikes and toward driving come despite a package of biking benefits and amenities that have earned PSU recognition as one of the four most bike-friendly universities in the country.
Students: an indicator species?
PSU students provide a uniquely responsive window on Portland life because the community experiences such rapid turnover. Every few years, a new crop of mostly young people arrives and makes a new set of choices based on the situation before them.
The choices more students have been making threatens to put financial pressure on the university, which currently operates just 3,900 parking spaces for about 30,000 students.
“Seeing that drive-alone number pop up over 20 percent is certainly concerning,” Stude said. “Because at the end of the day we don’t want to build any more parking. We want to build classrooms.”
Students living closer, but driving more
“Traditionally I relied on the MAX,” said incoming junior Daniel Chrzan, 27, who commutes to PSU from his home in the Cedar Hills area north of Beaverton. “I did get a car recently. I drive a little more often.”
These days he drives about three days a week. When he does, a 45-minute transit trip usually falls to 10 or 15 minutes by car.
“It’s a lot quieter,” Chrzan said of his reason for living west of the hills. He said he’s never learned to ride a bicycle.
Decisions like Chrzan’s have apparently become more common despite the gradually rising price of parking at PSU, which is currently $321-$376 for a three-month term or $9-$11 per weekday for a one-off trip.
Though some students speculated in interviews that housing prices might be to blame, driving students to live further from the city center, that doesn’t seem to be the case. In fact, more students than ever now live within 6 miles of campus.
“You can find places for sub-$400 if you live with a few people,” said Wendell Britt, 23, who lives near SE 52nd and Holgate, about five miles from campus. He took up bike commuting when he started taking classes at PSU because he found it so unpleasant to drive downtown. “If somebody lived further out than I do, then biking is just infeasible.”
Raghad Boulos, 20, said she lives with her family in the Happy Valley area and gets to PSU on the Green Line.
“If it was 45 minutes biking I would do it,” the junior said. “It’s not.”
Further complicating the situation, the biking rate among PSU employees continues to climb. It’s now at 15 percent, almost twice the student rate.
“When anyone asks, I say ‘Don’t take your car here,'” said Randy Smith, an adjunct professor and student in environmental science.
University calls for city to improve bike routes
Stude, the transportation director, said PSU “does everything but bend over backwards” to encourage students to bike.
“We have arguably some of the best bicycle programs in the country for a university our size,” Stude said. “We’re a gold-level bicycle friendly campus. We have our own campus bike shop where students can get anything from a bike down to an inner tube at a pretty healthy discount, so cost really isn’t a barrier. We’re running our own bike challenge every May. … If you count all the bike parking associated with the housing units on campus, we have almost an equal number of bike parking spaces as car parking spaces.”
Why, then, is biking to PSU on the decline? The university’s survey does contain clues.
When the university asks students what could persuade them to bike commute, by far the most common answer — from 55 percent of students in 2013 — is that nothing could persuade them to bike to campus.
The second most common, from 22 percent of students, is “better bicycle routes to and from PSU.”
Stude said what’s missing is protected bike lanes or some other facilities that don’t require people to either share busy lanes with traffic, as they must on 4th or 12th Avenues, or ride in a narrow door-zone bike lane, as they must on Broadway.
“If we want to see bicycle mode shares that resemble Northeast and Southeast Portland, we have to have bicycle infrastructure that resembles the comfort level that people have in Northeast and Southeast Portland,” Stude said. “You need a different tool from the toolkit. We see other cities doing this. We’re just not seeing this downtown.”
The shortcomings of downtown Portland’s bike network, of course, are nothing new. And though Stude said it’s likely that other factors are also at play — it’s worth noting that undergraduate in-state tuition rose 25 percent from 2010 to 2013 — Stude said the data shows huge potential for more biking to PSU if downtown infrastructure improves.
“We have a new crop of folks every year, and my concern is that this newest group that’s coming in to us, that they are less and less feeling that the infrastructure downtown meets their threshold of safety to feel like cycling is an option,” Stude said. “We’re kind of desperately in need of our city partners, and obviously our neighbors in downtown and the university district, to come up with a plan for facilitating bicycle use downtown and helping all those folks who’ve told us, in survey after survey, that they’d be interested in biking downtown if the infrastructure were safer.”
So the question has not been asked, “Did you once bike and quit, and if so, why?” I wonder if economic improvement means more students have jobs? Sometimes it’s just logistically difficult to get everywhere you need to on bike time-wise. Also wonder if short-term parking costs are too low. Although I don’t argue that downtown infrastructure needs to improve.
It seems to me that parking rates for cars are likely too low. The going parking rate for cars should be significantly more expensive than a transit fare for two people; daily should thus be $15 a day or higher, and monthly should be about 50% more than the cost of two monthly Tri-Met passes. This would send the message that yes, you can go to the suburbs to find cheaper housing, but you will pay significantly more if you then choose to drive back downtown to school.
Price is a powerful motivator!
But yes, the bicycling infrastructure to connect PSU to N, NE, SE, NW, and SW needs bast improvements. In that photo, the right side of the elk should be for bikes only, the left for buses, and cars should have to divert off the bridge to either a street two blocks north or two blocks south. We need to do a lot more as a city to make it less convenient to drive cars — Europe shows us this is the only true way to change habits!
Everything here is based on a survey with “8,000 randomly selected students, of whom 884 responded”. I would question the quality of this data. The rate of answers would make this very noisy. Also, the respondents would be pretty self-selecting.
Is there a statistician that can weigh in on the data quality?
I don’t know about the sample size, but extrapolating a trend from two data points is not so rigorous. Taking a longer view puts the recent decline in a less alarming context, a rolling increase in cycling with some ups and downs. Should we maybe be skeptical of the 2012 data, which is extreme on most measures?
Yes, that n sounds really low to draw a lot of conclusions (granted there is a definite trend over a few years now, which strengthens the interpretation).
I do a good bit of sampling for my job, but not very much surveying. To be a total dork about it, the n is pretty good (from my perspective in an industry where collecting data is usually quite costly, 884 is huge and should get you a pretty tight confidence interval!) but the response rate is not so great (although I know survey response rates have been declining for decades so it doesn’t feel surprisingly low to me from a non-surveyor’s perspective). Back-of-the-envelope, the 90% confidence interval on those estimates is around +/-3% so 13% should be statistically significantly different from 7%.
Really, though, the big issue is not confidence interval, but year-to-year bias, which depends on whether a different subset of the population responds to the survey one year to the next. Hopefully the surveyors did all they could to keep things constant (email pretty much the same, survey questions the same, etc.) With a 10% response rate, I’d think you’re inevitably subject to biases such as your email’s timing relative to exams, due dates, and events, which will certainly change from year to year. E.g. if in 2012, your email came the day before the engineering finals, but in 2013, it came the day that a bunch of English theses were due, you’ll get more English majors in 2012 and more engineers in 2013.
Overall (without reading the report) I’d say the data are concerning from a transportation perspective and the biking rate has probably gone down since 2010.
Do you actually use a 90% CI? We usually use a 95% minimum standard.
Yeah, we do! Gathering the data is relatively costly in my industry and can be extremely costly so much of the industry uses 90% as a standard to balance cost and benefit. I even see 80% used fairly frequently for emerging technology work which seemed crazy to me, but the question there is generally “Is this technology worthy of further study?” not “What is the true value of the number estimated in this study?”
I’ll 2nd Alex. Getting a 1/10 response rate is crazy awesome. Doing a quick Google search, you can see what the sweet spot is for responses (http://www.snapsurveys.com/blog/good-response-rate-random-survey-sample/). For a population of 100,000 you will need 383 to be good. And for a population of 1,000,000 is 385. 884 is an awesome response rate.
I think the key is the faculty. The rise might be from the fact faculty is getting paid enough to live closer to campus. Or they may be more informed about the bike facilities than the constant overturn of students at a commenter college.
Yeah, a 11% response rate makes these data pretty much meaningless. A better method would be to annually count the number of bicyclists on Broadway or the number of bikes parked at bike racks, accounting for weather and day of the week.
The sample size is fine and actually 10 percent is a pretty high response rate for this sort of thing. As long as the sample itself is random, there’s a very high probability that the results are accurate for that survey. Having only 2 years of data in a row is a bigger problem, but if the sample sizes and response rates used to calculate each year’s rate are comparable, that points toward reliability. (I am not a statistician but I do have to use basic statistical reasoning in my work.)
Maybe more students are choosing to live in lower-cost housing in East/Southeast Portland along the green Line? The rise in transit ridership tracks the Green Line pretty well.
That new construction in SE is spendy and cramped. Not what students want, in the real world. Living in Lents and driving is a new trend for the young’uns.
Perhaps the city lacks the ability to make people change their lifestyles. Food for thought …….
Is Lents not along the Green Line?
“choosing to live in lower-cost housing in East/Southeast Portland along the green Line?”
“That new construction in SE is spendy and cramped. Not what students want, in the real world”
I’m curious how you can say this? Plenty of students (and people of other ages) are okay with these types of apartments (otherwise downtown, the Pearl, and much of NW Portland would not be very populated).
Frankly I think students are more drawn to trendy inner neighborhoods than affordability in Lents (esp. when their parents are paying).
Joe Roses blog in the Oregonian yesterday talked about the uptick in driving and traffic as jobs rebound from the great recession. pSU is widely known as a commuter school – I myself finished the last 2 years of college (over 4 years, going part time) while I worked full time. Could it be that more returning/adult/nontraditional students are working in addition to going to school and the lost time needs to be made up for in the time saved driving?
As a PSU alumni (who still takes the occasional class) and traveler by all modes (but most often biking), I can speculate that housing is a major factor. My first Portland apartment was on PSU campus 8 years ago and rent has doubled since then. No wonder students are living west of the hills.
I think the new Collaborative Life Sciences Building will help nudge the trend slightly. Even before Tilikum Crossing opens, riders to the new campus can mostly avoid downtown and end their ride headed downhill instead of uphill.
Except the graph shows more students are living closer to campus?
I really think the “What would make you more likely to bike” graph is telling. As much as we want to tout the high statistics of “interest but concerned” there is always going to be a large chunk of people who just aren’t going to bike EVER. Note how the “better routes” choice is not substantially higher than the other choices.
Yeah, that’s true. I somehow scrolled right past that section. Although the example of living close in–52nd & Holgate–may sound like a casual bike ride to a BikePortland reader but it takes twice as long as driving and is a lot wetter and colder than transit. To a new rider, a 6 mile roundtrip vs a 12 mile roundtrip can make all the difference in the world. I’ve made a similar move from downtown to the 60s and biking now absorbs significantly more of my free time–good thing I’m already hooked.
Completely agree, while I don’t think my commute downtown (which is two miles longer than this students) is a particularly high burden, I understand that for some (or many) it surely is.
Granted, depending on time of day (peak hours) and extra time spent on finding parking, etc., biking is sometimes not that far off of the time it takes to drive downtown (getting stuck on Powell, Ross Island, etc.).
I see something a little different when I look at that map, and unless I am looking at it wrong, I am seeing that after 5 miles, the percentage from two years ago, has a gradual increase. I wonder if it is just all that new student housing that is making it appear that students are living closer and slowly the rest of the students are being pushed out are living further and further and making it less feasible.
But, your other point I think it spot on.
yes, it might be a bimodal distribution.
Sounds like they should charge much more for parking, for starters.
And maybe provide some shelter for all those bike racks?
Yes. Also maybe put a bike lane on SW 6th’s 4 lanes.
“Seeing that drive-alone number pop up over 20 percent is certainly concerning,” Stude said. “Because at the end of the day we don’t want to build any more parking. We want to build classrooms.”
Attention Downtown Business Association and Freight Interests! If you want to move freight through downtown and create space for shoppers, THIS is the mentality you should be fighting, not bike infrastructure! The statement above implies to me that regardless of the planning intentions of PSU, if they perceive more students want long-term parking options, then that is what they will build. IMO, Portland (and PSU) needs to increase on-street parking fees, limit long-term parking, tax (to death!) surface parking lots in service of supporting alternative transportation. As demand warrants, increase bus, streetcar and MAX run times, and expand and improve bike infrastructure.
Car-free South Park blocks!
This might be an all time record for “clicks” in support of a comment…and so short and sweet too.
Is PSU required to build/acquire more parking spaces to meet demand?
Some might take the decline in bike share personally but it is much more critical to lower automobile use for the sake of everything else.
Without a matching increase in parking spaces the automobile share growth will wither.
I, too, was a bit perplexed by the statement: “Seeing that drive-alone number pop up over 20 percent is certainly concerning,” Stude said. “Because at the end of the day we don’t want to build any more parking. We want to build classrooms.”
That’s the thing about parking. If you build it, they will come. I don’t believe they are under any obligation to build parking, aside from ADA spots.
There’s no legal obligation, but a University isn’t a dictatorship, if there is strong demand for additional parking it will end up happening even if the administration is basically against it because the students do have a pretty strong say in the matter.
It’s possible that there’s been a (slight) mode shift from cycling to transit, as the two often modes do interact that way (I can’t find a citation now, but I remember this tradeoff being discussed in a transportation class a while back). In the graph, you can see a transit share increase starting after 2009, which incidentally is when the green line MAX first came to PSU.
The Tilikum Crossing may improve things in a year. From where Clinton St. hits 12th Ave. There will be a concrete bike path all the way to the bridge. They’ve already finished that path down to 4th Ave. but still have it fenced off. The West side of the river still seems difficult, with Harrison St. being the most direct route to PSU from the Moody cycle track. The city recently sharrowed Harrison where the bike lane ends, but it’s a steep hill with the streetcar in the adjacent lane.
I think the new bridge will help a lot with PSU students from the east side. Ross Island sucks and almost isn’t an option, Hawthorn is ok – but it’s pretty out of the way should you live south of Lincoln, and well unless you’re deep SE Sellwood isn’t much of an option either, especially now with the construction, though even after it won’t be great.
First time you cross the Hawthorne Bridge, you’re pretty sure you’re going to die. That pot holed monstrosity and subsequent climb is still a problem.
I don’t think Broadway is too bad, but getting to it from the river, or returning back to the Hawthorne is an issue. The cycle track, for all its benefits or detriments, is only one way. E-W routes are poor in that area.
Barbur, the only flat-ish way to the west… is…. Barbur.
Adding also, stolen bike capital of the west? Possibly.
West. For some reason I still screw that up. I think its because the river runs the wrong way.
I feel the poor condition of Main coming west off the hawthorne bridge could be a significant contributor. Anyone coming from SE must first battle cars cutting across the bike lane trying to turn right onto 2nd while rolling over a potholed obstacle course. You then have to fight your way around the elk statue with more potholes, aggressive drivers and no real shoulder. This is the route used by anyone coming from SE. Also I hate to say that after riding the proposed route up from the Tillicum bridge to PSU I don’t think it will attract many riders when it opens. We need protected bikeways downtown!
(and if you think Main is fun on a bike, try it on a skateboard….)
Personally, I turn south onto 1st and then head west to PSU on Harrison or Jefferson. Main is an ugly mess.
This does seem to fit the pattern of Portland having plateaued (or even being in decline) when it comes to biking. And maybe that’s it: the fuel shock and recession of the late 2000s got a lot of people pumped up about getting away from cars, for various reasons, and that enthusiasm is wearing off.
Combine that with a whole lot of cyclists who started with a high level of excitement about it, but the reality is sinking in that even in America’s cycling “nirvana,” much of the infrastructure is still not very friendly. That picture of a hormonal pickup bearing down on a cyclist rounding the Elk statue illustrates exactly how I feel when I ride there. And having the bikiest bridge in the country dumps you into a potholed, intimidating, congested mess (not to mention that the bridge itself is an intimidating, congested mess for cyclists) illustrates exactly where we are with bike infrastructure in Portland.
Hopefully the Tillikum bridge will greatly improve the route to campus for people commuting from inner (and outer) Southeast.
One other possible dimension of this problem: I would think that bike theft is a pretty major deterrent to cycling at PSU. What are the crime trends the last couple of years? Are things getting better? I remember hearing some time ago about PSU doing enhanced patrols to deter theft – have those continued, and are they working?
I was thinking the same, and looked at the bike theft hotspot map from a few years back – PSU is right in one of the hotspots. Unfortunately, things won’t get better until the county DA gets serious about property crime like bike theft.
Except that bicycle theft is so common because far too few people bother to write down the serial number and bike thieves know this. This is something bike riders really need to start doing before the DA can be that serious about it unfortunately.
I think professional bike thieves in Portland are well aware of the fact that PPD doesn’t place a priority on bike theft, and won’t be proactive or go out of their way to pursue cases. Serial number recording or not.
I mean, just ride along the esplanade and look at the muliple camps of dudes with just stacks of bike in plain view (that are certainly stolen) to have that fact driven home. Or the piles of bikes thrown all over the decks of the pirate boats. Again, in total plain view. These aren’t guys who are thinking there’s a police department in this city that takes bike theft seriously, and will go out of it it’s way to catch and prosecute people who partake.
The deficiencies in the bike routes to/from PSU clearly have not caused the decline in student bike commuting. The bike infrastructure hasn’t gotten worse in that period. Portland hasn’t installed as many new bike lanes etc as many would like, but it hasn’t removed any existing bike lanes.
Similarly, the lack of showers or financial “incentives” are not causing the decline, because they didn’t exist before either.
Some “other force” is causing the decline. Maybe it is more students moving to 4-6 miles from campus, instead of 0-2 miles, due to rising rents or something else. Maybe it is more older students, more working students, more students with families who are more pressed for time. Maybe it is the improving economy allowing more students to own cars. Maybe it is something else.
Depending on what that other force is (are), improvements in downtown’s bike infrastructure – carrots, if you will – might not be enough to bring student bike commuting up to a desired level. Only 22% of respondents said better routes would cause them to bike more, and some of them were probably lying. It may be that significantly higher auto parking cost – the stick, essentially – is required.
(But the $9-11/day rate isn’t all that low, compared to the downtown market rate. The rate at SmartPark ranges from $10 to $15 and you can find cheaper parking than that.)
Walking has trended up recently, as well. I continue to see housing construction downtown, so perhaps more students are living closer to campus as well? Why bike two miles and potentially get your bike stolen, when you can just walk?
Walking has actually trended down between 2012 and 2013 from 21% to 18%. The graph in the post doesn’t have the latest year on it.
Im going on memory here, so maybe someone with a better idea can chime in but I think since the late 90s the # of children riding bicycles has been generally decreasing. So maybe this is the effect of that co-hort coming of age, going to school and continuing to not ride bikes.
I agree, I think there should be more investment in adult riding classes.
As for the survey responses, 884 responses from a student body of 30,000 is absolutely enough.
Imagine if the County (with City’s help) were to put the Hawthorne Bridge on a road diet and convert the outside motor vehicle lane and get the bikes off of the very crowded path…this might help attract interested newbies to bike commute from the eastside.
It’s pretty disappointing that the new MAX bridge over Harbor Drive, from the Tilicum Bridge to SW Lincoln (PSU), didn’t get a multi-use path.
That would have made a direct, Car-free link from the SE waterfront to PSU.
Whatever the cause, it can certainly be mitigated, if there is a modest amount of political will and funding.
The first step, as PSU and Ian are doing well, is to collect data, publish it, and discuss the trends.
Also…I have to disagree with this point in the article (or did I miss something)…
The drop in bike use “threatens to put financial pressure on the university, which currently operates just 3,900 parking spaces for about 30,000 students”.
I would consider the greater demand for car parking should instead allow higher market prices to be charged for parking…vs. building storage capacity (which costs a lot: $, land and lost opportunity costs for that space and $). As faculty move to bikes from cars there is a bit more supply and less required parking based on employee contracts…since students do not have any “guaranteed” car parking (I would assume).
As someone who commutes about 5 miles to my job near PSU, I recognize that the bike infrastructure is totally lacking. I bike solely for my health during the summer and the downtown portion of my commute (including the Hawthorne Bridge) is my least favorite, by far. There are cars on every street, in every lane, wherever I go. Hawthorne Bridge is always filled with bike, peds, joggers, etc. In downtown, I have to deal with conflicting right turn car movements every two blocks. The bike boulevards are nice, but they fail when they cross major streets. I feel like I’m going to get seriously injured at some point, which is ironic since I bike for my health.
They get free streetcar passes now. That’s why rail is up. (Driving is up only a very, very tiny bit. Don’t blow it out of proportion.) At the University of Florida in Gainesville they included bus pass in one of the student fees, starting in 1996 or so. It absolutely killed commuting by bike. (I remember seeing groups of 20 or 30 or more in the morning commute at some crossings.) The effect here is similar: lower the barriers to one mode and it will see its share go up while others go done.
We can try to make this into an infrastructure issue, but infrastructure hasn’t gotten worse in the last few years. What has changed is the streetcar pass.
Thanks for pointing that out Dwaine. Of course those streetcar passes surely aren’t free, they are just rolled into student fees. What a great way to inflate ridership numbers on the streetcar. Brilliant.
That being said I think that PSU does a great job trying to encourage active transit, shout out to the Bike Hub.
…anyone for a transit strike?
The lesson of 2008 is that increasing the cost of motoring encourages people to try other modes., IMO, a bit of infrastructure here and there won’t do much if we don’t do more to actively discourage motoring. I strongly believe we need less “bike ambassador” accommodation and more european-style protest.
Park blocks are totally valueless for anyone biking from southeast or southwest. I typically bike across the Hawthorne, up 1st to clay and then up to broadway. We really need better connections from the bridges to some sort of N/S & E/W bike ways downtown.
My deciding factor in riding/driving/transit is if I have to worry about my bike being stolen. PSU, movies, grocery stores feel like high theft for bike transport. Based on personal experience. Thieves know there are little or no repercussions to bike theft in Portland.
It is interesting that virtually all the comments here try to think of ways to encourage students to bike commute, when 55% of them said ‘nothing’ would convince them. I’m wondering if there is some kind of sea change in the new student population? I’m sure this opens us up to all kinds of random theorizing, but does anyone have any theories about how maybe young people have different values and priorities than all of you who are trying to help solve ‘their’ problem? I say this seriously, not trying to be snarky.
This is a good point: the demographics of PSU are changing, and fast. Lots of much younger, and wealthier students than before. PSU is moving from a commuter school to a 4 year university with some good up and coming research departments. Many people from outside the region as well.
Cost would convince some of those nothings to not drive. And the fewer people driving the more attractive cycling will become to those who have some interest in cycling. Genuine bike advocacy is anti-car.
May be PSU marketing should help new students who are “bike prone” to self select PSU more intensely ?
As long as driving is subsidized, people will choose to drive. The true cost, both in terms of money and environmental damage (climate change) are not being addressed, with the current system of low gas taxes. The Mayor/s street fee is only perpetuating the subsidy mentality. Taxing coffee shops and homeowners, doesn’t address the true costs of driving and perpetuates the subsidy that driving is and should be free (or nearly free). So until the real costs associated with driving are addressed, I think we’ll see more parking being built.
sadly, this part of cascadia is increasingly resembling southern california in it’s attitudes towards sustainability. sf, seattle, and vancouver are leaving us in the dust when it comes to progressive land use and transportation policy.
Are they still cutting summer classes?
Trimet passes were the same price for summer term, so if you had one class it wasn’t worth it to buy the pass. Save $100 and ride during the summer. Come fall, when you were there every day and it starts to rain, ride the bus/train.
If trimet subsidies changed, or the summer class schedule changed you’d probably see a big change.
You may be right about summer, but the survey is conducted sometime during the regular school year and asks about the last week of transportation choices.
I rode my bicycle every day to PSU last academic school year. I was actually rained on perhaps 5 to 10 times – most of the time it was sunny or cloudy, with perhaps a tiny bit of drizzle or misty rain (not enough to even wear a jacket).
Because of the off/on again rain cycles in the northwest, you can normally wait 20 minutes for the rain to stop and get to your destination without getting very wet.
Bike Share in downtown would be a huge huge boost, and introduce many of those “never” people to the idea of riding, as well as make it convenient to ride for people who live in apartments in the area but don’t own a bike because they don’t have room inside, and if they leave it outside it gets stolen which accounts for more people than you might think.
A very fascinating topic. Thanks for covering, Michael.
It is great that the university cares enough about this issue to be tracking the numbers. Kudos to them on that.
However, while the survey shows enough to be concerned, it doesn’t appear to go far enough to explain the problem. I hope further research is planned.
I wonder if they’ve thought about any of the following:
1) While they ask “What would encourage you to BICYCLE more frequently?”, they don’t ask another important question: “WHY ARE YOU STILL DRIVING?!”. (But seriously, what are the factors that explain why drivers are driving to PSU.) That PSU still has multiple, enormous, ugly, above ground parking structures wasting precious space that could be used for classrooms (and is instead doing things like cannibalizing student gardens to expand the School of Business) is a subsidy in and of itself which needs to end. How much do that and other subsidies contribute to the likelihood that students will drive?
2) It doesn’t appear that people were asked how long they’ve been at PSU (we’d be most interested in what people do during their first and second years at PSU — which isn’t the same as their year in school due to transfer and grad students). That’d be an interesting variable to include, and it could shed light on some multi-year trends and highlight alarming problems much sooner.
3) The map on page 6 is perhaps unclear. At first glance, it appears to be showing the geographic distribution of the different trips by mode, but in reality I think it just maps out what the median commute distance looks if you were to travel outward from PSU in all directions. I’d be really interested to get a better sense of where all the trips actually begin. For example: as the bike infrastructure in Portland has flatlined, car infrastructure in Washington County has been steadily expanded, and what effect has that had? Has the expansion of Hwy 26 increased the likelihood that students will drive in? etc. Looking at a heatmap animation showing changes in residence locations for parking pass holders could be useful.
I noticed that the carpool rate has gone from mildly pathetic (7%) to abysmal (4%) between 2000 and 2013.
I also noticed that there is very little incentive for drivers: carpool permits cost 90% what regular permits cost . (At Harvard and Davis, for example, regular permits are twice as expensive as carpool permits.)
I also noticed that PSU encourages carpoolers to use the Drive Less Connect service which has questionable performance (questionable not because I’ve seen the numbers for it but because it is a partnership between ODOT, whose dedication to a low-car transportation system is well proven by the Barbur and CRC examples, and Pac/West Communications which has lobbied on behalf of projects like LNG pipelines, ODOT’s CRC and Kinder Morgan’s Port Westward coal export terminal ).
To get to the point, I’m guessing PSU could do better for carpoolers. Something more like Lyft Line or Uber Pool rather than a system built by corporate lobbyists historically entrenched in maintaining the status quo.
4: See page 8 of the following for an example where Pac/West’s Ryan Tribbett’s “defused momentum” against “aggressive opposition from environmental interest groups” who were trying to stop legislation that facilitated the siting of LNG pipelines. PDF.
5: Pac/West’s role in CRC is well known, but see source from  for their self-applause in “stopping any anti-CRC policy”.
So bicycling is down but transit is up. So why is this a big deal? I don’t think we should care how students get to campus, as long as they aren’t driving.
biking and transit use tend to be interchangeable – I’d expect biking to drop if students suddenly have better transit options – what is disconcerting is the rise in driving alone.
This important point is lost on many bicycle “advocates”.
If driving is up, and the sample mostly responded that “nothing” would make them stop driving to PSU, then the economy has bounced back — at least for these people — and with it, a return to Cheap Oil thinking. Forget protected bike lanes, forget transit — these people are reclaiming their “right” to drove an autombile and that’s that. Until we make driving really, really expensive and inconvenient, we’ll continue to see a return to this outdated mindset every time the economic cycle sees an uptick.
“Until we make driving really, really expensive and inconvenient, we’ll continue to see a return to this outdated mindset every time the economic cycle sees an uptick.”
Who is “we” Beth? The majority of Portlanders do not support making driving expensive and inconvenient. You can tell by their actions. Portlanders love their cars- we have 500,000 registered vehicles and 18,000 bike commuters. Do the math.
Looks to me that PDX is implementing density in such a way as to increase housing costs, and that people are voting with their cars, and also moving away (PDX lost population this summer).
Citation on the population change?
nations with the highest cycling mode share systematically de-incentivized low occupancy motoring well before they started spending billions on separated infrastructure. i strongly believe this anti-car policy is the missing ingredient in north america. as pucher’s famous manuscript showed separated infrastructure lagged increases in mode share in the netherlands. we won’t generate a public plurality that supports spending big money on bike infrastructure by being nice to motorists.
1) cheap housing increasingly far away = longer, less bikeable commutes to campus
2) downtown infrastructure that only confident riders are comfortable taking (near misses daily on broadway) and that even I have to drag myself to ride
3) a gigantic, cat 5 (according to MapMyRun) hill to get to campus.
I see PSU doing a lot, but until the city makes better routes, all biking in the city is going to keep decreasing.
I wish I hadn’t just experienced the glorious riding/walking/transit in DC… it’s hard to come back and ride in the town I love and have it suck so much in comparison :/
(Note: I bike to PSU via multiple routes nearly daily)
Note: biggest change in commute distance were increases in the 6-13 mile commute (think about the potential neighborhoods that would indicate…) – where it seems you’d need to be more dedicated and less casual to choose a bike as your primary commute mode.
The big change was more people moving into that distance from farther out. The chart shows that people are living closer.
But that distance (specifically 5-10 group from the study) is still a reach for a casual commuter, which is the point I’m trying to make.
The median bike distance for student is 3.29 miles – driving was 7.22. The average bikeable commute distance for students based on that data is pretty small. The entire 5-10 mile group also saw substantial growth, & that’s places like out near 82nd where housing costs less. It’s a factor, and I’d like to see the raw numbers for the 0-5 group – I wonder if most of that growth was at the higher end of that range.
John Liu wrote:
“The deficiencies in the bike routes to/from PSU clearly have not caused the decline in student bike commuting. The bike infrastructure hasn’t gotten worse in that period. ”
Not necessarily so.
Whenever car traffic increases, the quality of the bike infrastructure gets worse.
More right hooks, more parking maneuvers, more hydrocarbons to inhale, more noise, longer waits in queues.
Hands down, increased car traffic makes for worse bicycling infrastructure, even if the markings on the pavement haven’t changed at all.
I suspect car traffic in Downtown Portland has increased in the last 2 years, but 5 minutes of googleing doesn’t yield any data.
I don’t know if I’d call more car traffic a change in “infrastructure”, but I guess you could.
Thinking back, has there really been substantial change in the amount of car traffic in downtown over the past several years? I suspect the recession cut car traffic by a few percent and the recovery is increasing it back, but I question how noticeable a +/-5% change in traffic on a typical surface street really is. It would be noticeable at specific spots like freeway bottlenecks and certain congested intersections, but otherwise – ?
The search term to use is “miles driven”. Look at the charts on this page (Oregon) http://daily.sightline.org/2011/03/01/whered-the-traffic-go/
and on this page (national)
The percentage changes in the charts are not big, just a few percent.
I personally haven’t noticed any substantial change in downtown traffic. Maybe I’m just insensitive. Auto traffic doesn’t bother me.
A few more notes on how different bicycle infrastructure is needed to support bicycles when car traffic increases.
In Davis, CA’s original bicycle infrastructure study, by Parsons Brinkerhoff in the 1960s, they specified different types of infrastructure for different traffic levels. In theory, as traffic levels increased, there would be a requirement to improve the infrastructure in order to keep up up to the city’s standards. From Mixed Traffic => Bike Lanes => Protected Lanes => Separate Path.
upper right hand corner
In PBOT’s Bikeway Design and Engineering Guidelines it just says “Bike Lanes” are all you need up to an infinite amount of traffic. It’s a nice table presentation, but they didn’t offer any higher quality facilities than a bike lane. This is from 1996.
p. 85 of the .pdf, listed as page A2.
In the current NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide, it has a variety of different options, the “buffered bike lane” and “protected cycletrack” are recommended for situations with higher volumes of cars than the basic bike lane. “By protecting cyclists from motor traffic, cycle tracks offer a higher level of security than bike lanes and are attractive to a wider spectrum of the public” p. 27.
They don’t have a tidy chart like Davis, or a table like Portland, with traffic volumes directly tied to recommended infrastructure, but if you read the text you can figure out that they recommend fancier infrastructure for higher car volumes.
See also “conventional bike lanes” on p. 3, “buffered bike lanes” on p. 9
All of these point to a reduction in the ability of bicycle infrastructure to perform as motorized traffic volumes increase.
Here’s a modern chart similar to the 1972 Davis chart.
p. 40 ODOT Design Guidelines. Make sure you ask for this level of protection whenever you’re at an open house or on a design review committee.
I’m surprised Portland doesn’t seem to have any googleable data on traffic volumes. You can pull up car traffic counts on http://www.portlandmaps.com for individual streets by toggling over to traffic counts, and they post bridge bicycle ridership annually.
https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/448401 p. 8
But I don’t see any comparable data on downtown street volumes for motorized traffic.
Even if might seem imperceptible to a daily user, when traffic volumes cross certain thresholds, the gridlock factor jumps up in steps. So it’s possible that with a 3% increase in traffic somewhere, intersections might hit gridlock and get jammed up for hours, whereas if they didn’t cross the threshold they’d be just fine. I’m not saying that that’s what’s going on, but the routes from the Hawthorn Bridge to PSU can be real Hellholes at times, and if the marginal bicycling population consistently has bad experiences trying to navigate the area, they’re not going to stick with it.
FWIW, Ted Buehler
&, to illustrate a point I made earlier, here is a Google Street View comparison of the route to PSU from the Tillicum Bridge.
The Tillicum Bridge isn’t going to help all that much, because Tillicum to PSU will still be crap. Whereas MAX has a long flyover from the west end of the Tillicum Bridge to SW 4th and Lincoln.
If they had funded a mixed use path on the MAX bridge, you’d be able to go straight from OMSI to here: http://goo.gl/maps/LLiVp without playing fender tag with cars on surface streets.
As it is, the day the bridge opens, bicyclists will need to ride on a half mile of congested bikeways, streetcar track interactions, traffic signals, and cars infringing in the bike lane because drivers tend to keep their wheels off the rails.
Moody and Sheridan. http://goo.gl/maps/4a43Z A long wait at a traffic signal, followed by a double checkmate hazard — if you swing wide enough not to have your wheel eaten by the streetcar tracks, your wheel will slide out on the storm sewer grate.
Moody and SW River Pkwy. http://goo.gl/maps/aNmKc I’m not sure how you’re supposed to make a legal left turn here. I guess you just play fender tag, and hoe you don’t get rear-ended by inattentive drivers going straight.
SW River Pkwy and Harbor Drive. http://goo.gl/maps/k8kZb Where you have the pleasure of waiting at an extremely long traffic light for our favorite 1950s expressway, Harbor Drive. That overhead bridge is where MAX goes — the direct link from Tillicum to PSU. That’s where bikes would be riding if they hadn’t put bike infrastructure on a starvation budget.
SW Harrison, on the hill. http://goo.gl/maps/EBMDa Where minivans encroach on the bike lane on a steep hill (where bicyclists require the most space because they wobble more). Again, that’s our friends the First Class Citizens on MAX overhead.
SW Harrison at Naito. http://goo.gl/maps/URCvg Where the bike lane ends.
SW Harrison and 4th. http://goo.gl/maps/yFhDs Where you need to navigate a double set of streetcar tracks at a noncompliant, dangerous shallow angle.
My point? PSU needs direct bicycle access from the east side. The Tillicum Bridge won’t connect bicyclists from SW Moody to PSU. Bicyclists will need to ride through 6 dangerous, slow, or unpleasant intersections.
If, however, a bikeway had been included in a half-mile section of the Orange Line right of way, the connection would be smooth as glass.
I was down at the Tillicum west bridgehead tonight. 11:00 pm. 2 bicyclists went up the MAX viaduct to get to PSU. Classic.
I was going to take my riding mates on the Hellhole of a route from the Tillicum to PSU, via Moody, SW River Pkwy & SW Harrison. Instead, Rev Phil looked up the MAX/bus ramp and said “why don’t we just take this.”
So I rode the MAX viaduct myself, with 3 friends. It was sweet. So direct, so clean, sailed above Harrison and Harbor Drive, under I-5, it dumped us out onto a fabulous, brand-spankin new set of bike lanes on SW Lincoln at Naito. Infinitely better than the nonexistent westbound bike lane at SW Harrison and Naito.
I suspect that after the Tillicum opens that there will be a surge of bicyclists taking the viaduct downhill to get from PSU to SE Portland. They’ll have to put up signs with fines for any non First Class Transportation Mode folks from using the bridge. And enforce it. Because it’s a Grade A Platinum Route from PSU to SE Portland. But not open to bikes.
I doubt they’ll get the funding to add a multiuse path to the viaduct anytime in the next 40 years. So biking from SE to PSU will still suck rocks.
So close, but so far.
I had a similar thought regarding the streetcar viaduct from MLK to OMSI over the rr tracks. It is so direct, and the alternative surface routes are extremely circuitous that it was a no-brainer to include a sidewalk and space for bikes. Unfortunately, no-brains has come to be expected!
To clarify, I was leading a ride of 4 people, and I wanted to ride the Tilikum => PSU Bike Route myself, just to demonstrate for myself that it really was a Hellhole of a route (I’ve ridden parts of it (some with BikePortland writer Michael Andersen), but not all of it. And after writing a treatise about it on BikePortland I figured I ought to go out and make sure it was every bit as bad as I said it was). Riding at 11:00 PM, because that’s when I was there, and because you can stand around and inspect the infrastructure at that hour without getting mowed down by cars.
So I was there at the west bridgehead, with Rev Phil and two lesser known riders, explaining to them that “This” waving my hand up the smooth concrete ramp with MAX tracks “is the MAX route from here to PSU.” And “That” (waving my hands up Moody) is the Hellhole of a bike route, which we’ll ride.”
And, along came a dude on a bike. Looked like a stereotypical PSU student. Coming up from South Waterfront on the Moody Cycletrack. And, what did he do? He hooked a left on the MAX viaduct and busted on up to PSU that way. Just like he’d been doing it every day of his life.
Then another bicyclist came along and asked us if that was the way to PSU, and we said “yup, that’s the way.” Up the viaduct he went.
And at that point Rev Phil made the rather astute observation that instead of just describing how nice of a ride the viaduct would be, that we could just field-check it ourselves. And we did.
And it was sweet.
Sorry to go a little off topic, but these are the issues that PSU, PBOT and bicycle advocates will need to address if they want to increase student bike mode share to campus. Can you ride a bike there easily, quickly and safely? If there’s an opportunity to do it, and it’s not done to cut a construction budget to the bone, then you’re failing in your objectives and failing to your constituents.
I recommend that ya’all get out there and try riding the MAX viaduct from Tilikum West to PSU sometime in the next couple months. Just to experience what excellent bicycle infrastructure could be. So you know what to ask for in all future public meetings.
Do it before they take down the construction fences and put up a sign that says “Max fine $1399 for trespassing on this bridge.”
Wow, what a huge miss on TriMet’s part – was a multi use path planned, then dropped amid the last-minute budget cuts before the design was finalized?
By the way, those caught riding the viaduct could be in for a nasty surprise: if TriMet counts as a “railroad”, they could issue $6000 tickets and press criminal trespass charges against trespassers, just as Union Pacific has been known to do.
GlowBoy — I don’t know, I wasn’t following the process.
But, other examples from the 2009 – 2012 era that I was following, bicyclist needs were never ever considered in terms of a quick, direct route from point A to point B.
Example 1, the CRC. The design called for a straight, fast freeway, and a tortuous bicycle route, full of stop signs, loops, crazy intersections, steep grades, and, stop signs at the bottom of steep grades. In 2009 I presented a “time vs travel distance” calculation to the CRC’s bike/ped committee, demonstrating that there was a significant delay factor to bicyclists (about 5 minutes, as I recall) because of the contortions. Nobody paid much attention, and I never took it to a higher level.
Example 2, the redesign of the Broadway and I-5 intersection, Portland. I went to a few meetings and asked that bicycle route directness between Williams/Vancouver and the Broadway and Steel Bridges be incorporated into their project objectives. They never were. Look at Figure 4. at https://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/415777 If this intersection gets built as planned, I think the route from W/V to the bridges will be worse for bikes than it is now. Certainly no better. No mention of improving bicycle access between the bridges and W/V in the objectives. And this whole thing (freeway widening project) was done under the umbrella of a “let’s look at traffic and zoning in the near-NE.” Which, any bicyclist should know, has pretty lousy conditions. But nary a footnote anywhere in the objectives, and nary a bone to bikes anywhere in the $100s of millions project.
So, I doubt TriMet ever considered the needs of bicyclists for a direct route from the west Tilikum Bridgehead to PSU…
“It is so direct, and the alternative surface routes are extremely circuitous that it was a no-brainer to include a sidewalk and space for bikes.”
Yes, my sentiment exactly, on that section of the new streetcar line.
This is what rubs me the wrong way — streetcar and transit advocates say “All alternative transportation modes should be friends. We shouldn’t piss on each others’ projects, because then we’ll all get subdivided and conquered.”
That all sounds fine and good. But in actual practice, I see something else entirely. Bicycles get the short end of the stick.
The OMSI – MLK/Goodwill streetcar bridge. Sure, that’s nice that the streetcar got to go exactly where it wanted to.
But, bicyclists wanting to ride the same route get sent up to Clay, wander up or down the pothole heaven of Clay St. with sharrows in the middle and plenty of commercial trucks. Then we get to wait for 6 mph freight trains at SW 1st. Then we wait for the traffic light at Water St., then go south on bike lanes to the east end of the Tilikum Bridge. Not pleasant, not direct, not fast, not up to a very high standard of safety.
Could the streetcar have taken this route? There are probably laws against running a streetcar across a freight railroad. But no laws prevent bicycles from going over freight railroads, so the streetcar gets the fancy bridge. And lacking political muscle, farsightedness, or any other of this type of redeeming quality in the 5 year planning process, bicycles don’t get anywhere near the same quality of route. (Possible exception in the 1995 – 205 decade, when nearly all of downtown’s landmark bicycle infrastructure was built).
Max also wrote:
“Unfortunately, no-brains has come to be expected!”
It always puzzles me how bicyclists get such crummy infrastructure.
I think it’s because legally, they can run a bike route anywhere. And, legally and practically, they often need to cut all frills out of projects.
But, most importantly, there are very few “performance measure” parameters for bike routes.
Performance measures would be things like
* short distance
* short travel time
* minimal delay
* minimal steep grade
* minimal energy efficiency requirement (don’t put stop signs or sharp curves on downhills).
* no requirement for similar routes for bikes as other modes (bikes get zigzags, stop signs, long smoggy waits at traffic signals).
But, ultimately, it comes to no brains. The politicians funding these things, in Portland, 21st century, have the experience to know that slow, zigzaggy bike infrastructure is crap. The engineers designing these things have the brainpower and computational power to see what the difference is in travel time for good vs. bad routing. They can tell us what the additional cost is, of multiuse paths, too. The planners have the modelling software to calculate expected bicycle more share between a destination (like a university) and an origin (like a residential neighborhood) based on travel time, and a zigzaggy route will draw a smaller share of those residents than a faster route. And, bicycle advocates know that if they want quality, they need to step up to the table and demand it (they didn’t, 2000 – 2011, but that was then, and this is now).
All it takes is for us all to power up our brains, and we’d be able to design this decade’s infrastructure to a level of quality comparable to what was delivered by the engineers, planners, politicians and advocates of the 1990s and 2000s. But it takes the act of thinking, and acting on knowledge.
Another classic example of “no brains has come to be expected” and “#bikeinfrastructurestarvation” is the Skytrain bridge over the north fork of the Fraser River between Richmond BC and Vancouver BC.
Lauded as the first bike/transit bridge in North America, you can see it has some similarities to the Tilikum Bridge.
It also lacks direct bicycle access to destinations at the ends of the bridge.
In the google streetview, you’ll note that bikes need to go up a ramps with swtichbacks just to get up to the main bridge. While the Skytrain whooshes straight out onto the bridge from its last station in Vancouver.
This is probably a 5 minute delay to all bicyclists, relative to what their travel time would be if the bike route followed the Skytrain route in a long “whoosh”.
You can really tell which is the “First Class” mode of transportation, vs. the “Third Class.”
PSU is a classic case of “the bike routes to campus look good on a map, but in reality they have much longer travel times and harsher travel conditions than the routes used by cars and mass transit.”
PSU, great freeway access to anywhere in the region (when its not jammed), but its a major challenge for an inexperienced bicyclist to access the campus. From anywhere. Cater to driving, and you’ll get more drivers. Starve bike infrastructure development while bicycling conditions deteriorate generally, add transit lines, and you’ll lose mode share.
Can someone overlay the Streetcar/max routes with the expected bike route? Having not rode to OHSU, I think I’ve been through the South Waterfront once, so the description is a bit confusing.
The trimet map might be the best: http://trimet.org/pdfs/maps/citycenter.pdf
Less direct than the street car, sure, but it looks ok at that scale, until you see how many street car tracks you need to cross.
No bridge lifts for the Tillicum, but you have train delays. Those can last 15 minutes or more. Then again, they aren’t supposed to lift the bridges during rush hour. Any restrictions on when you can run a freight train through downtown Portland?
“Can someone overlay the Streetcar/max routes with the expected bike route? ”
Done. See if this diagram makes sense of my descriptions.
(& the discussion is Tilikum West to PSU, not to OHSU, which has been made bike-friendly by the tram.)
Nice posts, Ted. The Tilikum Crossing/South Downtown bike connectivity issue could be it’s own post if it isn’t already. I predict that TriMet has already heard of this activity and will eventually have security guys on both ends of the viaduct structure, 18-24 hours per day, to prevent unauthorized users. Signage can only deter.
PSU is also going to be seeing a regression in bike access/comfort with the streetcar double tracking. The plans call for traffic on Montgomery between 4th and 5th (a huge connection for cyclists leaving campus for the bridges) to be reversed from it’s current direction meaning cyclists will have to find another way through.
One option is to go up to Harrison and then have to deal with trying to turn left at the light on 4th which is nearly impossible during rush hour.
Another is to go down 6th and make the illegal right onto Market or any other street for that matter.
Could potentially ride down the sidewalk to Market, but then have to battle pedestrians on the sidewalk in addition to trying to cross 3 lanes of traffic to get in left lane. It’s not a situation most casual cyclists are going to want to deal with. Can’t blame them for not cycling to PSU anymore.
Another thing to keep in mind with the timeframe being studied here is the rise in Car2Go. Could be a small but not insignificant contributor to the increase in the driving population. Additionally, for those living on the east side, it’s possible for parking rates to have no effect on them with Car2Go as an option. It’s also not as bad on the parking needs as the cars come but don’t stay as long as someone driving their personal vehicle to campus. Some interesting discussion to be had about the pros and cons of Car2Go being a contributor to the rise in driving to campus.
Anyone know where I can find (or put me in touch with someone) Portland State’s Bicycle Friendly University Application from 2013?? Y’all are setting the bar pretty high with the bike facilities on campus and the University of Memphis is trying to follow suit!