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Even in suburban Oregon, drive-alone trips are a shrinking share of new commutes

Posted by on May 17th, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Beaverton to Tualatin ride-2

Bike commuter Jim Parsons in Washington County.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The Portland metro area seems to have already discovered how to slow the growth of traffic congestion, the city’s bicycle planning coordinator said Friday. But it’s not investing in it very quickly.

Between 2000 and 2014, the three Oregon counties in the metro area added 122,000 new commuters. And inside the Metro urban growth boundary, less than half of that net growth came from people driving alone in cars.

The “primary reason” rush-hour traffic hasn’t gotten worse twice as fast over the last 15 years, Portland Bicycle Planning Coordinator Roger Geller concluded in an exploration of Census data presented at Portland State University Friday, is “Portland’s significant growth in bicycling and working at home.”

Inspired in part by other Geller comments, we’ve written about this phenomenon before. But we haven’t written about just how much difference the decline in driving rates has made not only in Portland but in suburban areas.

Looking at the region as a whole, these blue bars in Geller’s presentation show the number of new commuters (including telecommuters and other work-at-home folks) by mode from 2000 to 2014:

regional commuters actual

And the orange bars here show what this would have looked like if metro-area transportation behavior hadn’t changed since 2000:

regional commuters hypothetical

Fortunately for the area, those patterns did change. In Multnomah County, the biggest factor was biking, with work-at-home a close second. (Again, the orange bars show what would have happened without a change in people’s transportation behavior and the blue bars show what actually happened, so it’s useful to look at the difference between the two bars.) The rate of mass transit use, unfortunately, declined a bit despite the Yellow, Red and Green MAX lines all opening during this period.

multco commuting trend

In Washington County (that’s Hillsboro, Beaverton, Tigard and points west), transit, biking and work-at-home were approximately equal factors in defraying the growth of driving:

washco commuting trend

And in Clackamas County (that’s Milwaukie, Clackamas, Lake Oswego and points south), the big change was work-at-home, with an assist from bicycling and to a somewhat lesser extent the other modes:

clackaco commuting trend

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Geller is, of course, proud of the role bicycling has played in keeping the region moving despite so many new residents and jobs. But he’s also frustrated by the amount of driving that’s still happening.

“Clearly, not enough people are choosing to use transit,” Geller, who noted that he is “not a transit expert,” said in his presentation. “Driving is very easy in this city, and once you own a car it doesn’t cost very much.”

As the Portland region continues to grow, the stakes are high. This is the scariest slide in Geller’s presentation: a projection of new commute trips created in the next 19 years if the region remains at 2014 driving rates.

Screenshot 2016-05-17 at 12.19.39 PM

Geller has pointed out that unless Portland can reduce driving, this number of additional car trips would require “23 Powell Boulevards” to lace through the City of Portland alone.

Another thing Geller seems understandably frustrated by: the fact that even though biking has been such a huge factor in reducing drive-alone trips over the last 15 years, the region is investing almost nothing in it. He shared this chart, pointing out that even though the region’s biking-walking infrastructure plan is far cheaper than its driving and transit plans (and even though it’s been delivering such high returns on investment so far) the bike infrastructure plan isn’t on track to be funded until the year 2209.

2209

This Thursday, Metro’s regional JPACT committee will make a key vote over how to divvy up $17.4 million created by the new federal transportation bill among biking/walking infrastructure, transit infrastructure or road widening. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is currently fighting to try to persuade to at the very least not spend this money on road widening.

Here’s Geller’s full slideshow from last Friday, which you can also download as a PDF.

And here’s the video of his presentation, with questions at the end:

Correction 1:30 pm: An earlier version of this post overstated the amount of non-car driving in suburban areas.

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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Adam
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And yet,Washington County is still adamant about wasting money on widening roads and not even adding bicycle facilities. We could easily fit a network of cycleways connecting the Tualatin Valley together, and in fact, the Tualatin Hills Park District already has some of the best cycle paths in the region.

When you give drivers handouts, of course people are going to abuse the system. We need to remove the car as the default mode that all other modes (including walking, cycling, bus, and train) must be shoehorned around. Every project in Portland and the Metro starts out with the assumption that we can’t make driving any worse, and that is absolutely the wrong approach. This is the exact reason the Powell-Division BRT project failed, and any project that starts with this assumption will also fail.

If Mr. Geller wants to avoid the nightmare scenario, then we need to start taking roads in Portland away from cars and dedicate space for cycling separated from motor traffic. This is something he himself could push for, instead of telling people that two miles of “greenway” without diversion will meet our goals.

Alex Reedin
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Alex Reedin

Maybe I’m interpreting something different from you, but I’m not seeing “even in suburban Oregon, drive-alone trips …[as] less than half of new commutes” per the headline or “And in all three counties, less than half of that net growth came from people driving alone in cars.” per the second paragraph.

Washington County: 28,125 new drive-alone out of 44,560 total = 63%.

Clackamas County: 10,910 new drive-alone out of 19,868 total=55%.

Am I looking at this wrong?

Allan Rudwick
Subscriber

Epic fail of carpooling stands out here. Good to see more bikes on the road

stephanlindner
Guest
stephanlindner

Wow — the active transportation system will be completed by 2209! Now this I call a glacial path.

I think these graphs are great and useful for many, many conversations regarding why we want to invest in bicycle infrastructure: it is the cheapest way to prevent a traffic collapse. It is also good for neighborhoods, public health etc. but the fiscal argument here has perhaps the best chance to change people’s mind who are currently not in favor of spending more money for bicycling.

rick
Guest
rick

Sad to see Washington County turn so many roads into freeways with many future plans. 8 lane intersection with SW Murray Blvd at SW Farmington Road being built by 2018.

Kyle Banerjee
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Kyle Banerjee

I don’t understand why more people don’t cycle since it is so much faster/easier than other options in most situations.

I suspect the reason more people don’t use transit is that it runs too infrequently, is often very crowded, and is way too slow. I pass MAX trains all the time even where the stops are spaced out and the buses are even worse. The situation downtown is hopeless.

The only method of transportation that’s worse is by car. For some reason, sitting still going nowhere and then having trouble finding parking is considered “freedom.” Reminds me of a quote from a Speed Racer cartoon I saw more than 40 years ago:

Q: “Can’t we go any faster?”
A: “Yeah, but then we’d have to walk….”

q
Guest
q

I’m glad to see working at home mentioned. Getting people out of cars and onto bikes or public transportation is good, but eliminating the need for the commute is even better.

Especially in the case of streetcars and light rail, proponents often seem to think getting those built and used is an end goal, rather than thinking of them as just two of many tools that can be used to reduce negative impacts of commuting. But they have huge costs and expenses compared to simply eliminating the commute.

Cyndi
Guest
Cyndi

I know several people in Milwaukie & to the south that have started driving downtown again since the Orange Line started. A commute that used to take 15-25 minutes on the bus now takes three times that long.

soren
Guest

The 2000-2014 Portland “actual change” in commute numbers argue that much of our cycling mode share increase is due to newcomers.

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

The return on investment for all that work-from-home infrastructure we’ve installed has been outstanding!

K'Tesh
Guest
K'Tesh

Now that’s funny… Me seeing my old pic on my birthday, while I live nowhere near Washington county (currently)

Kyle Banerjee
Guest
Kyle Banerjee

GlowBoy
@Kyle Banerjee: Actually, suburban MAX trains average about 30mph over their route, which is quite competitive with driving. Speed really isn’t a problem for MAX, except downtown (where it is admittedly very slow). It’s buses that are slow … urban buses are mostly in the 10-15mph range, and suburban buses rarely average more than 15-20mph.
But I don’t think it is vehicle speed that is the biggest negative for most people riding transit; it’s frequency. If you have to wait 20 or 30 minutes for a single transit vehicle it’s maybe a bit of a hassle to time your departure to coincide with the run, but easily manageable with all the good transit apps out there.

The lag time is huge. In the bad ‘ol days when I was in the Soviet Union, the metro ran every 2 minutes, every 1 minute at rush hour (you couldn’t even walk the length of a train before the next one arrived). When wait times are short, it becomes much more practical.

For commuting, MAX works reasonably well. The Sunset and the Banfield are consistently total disasters and I-5 as well as parallel lines like Interstate are slow as goo for drivers. But getting to MAX from the start and destination points is an issue.

I love the idea of public transit and own a subsidized pass. But I find it a slow and frustrating experience and regret not just cycling the few times a year I use it.

Josh
Guest
Josh

Allan Rudwick
Epic fail of carpooling stands out here. Good to see more bikes on the road

That stood out to me, too. I’m digging the mode share increases in biking, transit, etc. but I’d also like to see efforts to shift at least some of those Drove Alone trips to the Carpool column.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

The idea that people working at home holds potential for reducing ‘drive alone’ trips by motor vehicle, is an interesting one. I personally know two people from different households, that work at home. Big advantage of that working arrangement in terms of road congestion contribution, is that they’re examples of people that don’t have to drive in the am/pm commute…but they still drive, and by themselves, a lot, outside of commute hours when bumper to bumper congestion isn’t occurring.

In terms of general motor vehicle traffic congestion today in Washington County…it seems to be steadily worsening, despite the various ‘road improvement projects’ the county takes on, and whatever numbers of people are electing to work at home.

I’m very much a realist, I think, or at least I try to be, in terms of the limitations of bikes for travel compared to personal car motor vehicles for travel. However, I think county transportation planners may be making a big mistake in continuing to prioritize road widening within small communities and cities the size of Beaverton, for motor vehicle use, over prioritization of road infrastructure for walking and biking.

Maybe it’s somehow possible to do without replicating an L.A. road infrastructure nightmare here in Oregon, but it seems not likely that road infrastructure widening for motor vehicle use, can keep pace with the growing population, and its corresponding motor vehicle use, if road infrastructure for motor vehicle use continues to be the major road use priority it is today.