Support BikePortland - Journalism that Matters

Multnomah County’s drop in auto ownership since 2007 would fill 287 acres of parking

Posted by on June 22nd, 2016 at 9:54 am

Everyone knows Multnomah County is growing, and that most new residents are buying or bringing in cars, too. In all, state records show, 8,709 more passenger vehicles are registered in the county than there were in 2007.

But a review of car registration statistics shows that if passenger vehicle ownership were still as popular in the county as it was in 2007, it would have had to find room for 38,501 more cars and trucks instead.

How many cars are we doing without? Well, if we built a parking lot to hold the 38,501 cars that didn’t show up and assumed a standard 325 square feet per space, we’d need about 287 acres of land. For the sake of scale, that’s everything between NE Killingsworth, Skidmore, Rodney and 16th:

alberta parking lot larger

Or, if you prefer, it’s the entire Foster-Powell neighborhood west of SE 73rd Avenue:

fopo parking lot larger

Or it’s Portland’s central business district:

cbd parking lot larger

Or about half of Oxbow Regional Park:

oxbow park parking lot

(Of course, that’d only be enough room to park each car once. In a U.S. city, there are something like 3.3 parking spaces for each car.)

But because of the 7 percent drop in per-person car ownership in Multnomah County over the last eight years, those 38,501 cars haven’t arrived.

Advertisement

That’s despite a regional economy that continues to rocket out of the recession, especially in Multnomah County. Despite a U.S. economy that’s been sending off mixed signals, the Portland-area jobs market keeps doing well. It’s ranked 15th of the 50 largest metro areas for job creation since 2008; in the year to April 2016, local jobs grew 3.2 percent, about twice the average rate for metro areas.

But for whatever reason, all the additional money pouring into Portland hasn’t been spent on more cars. Car registration rates have ticked up a bit since the recession, but only slightly.

passenger vehicles per resident

Data: Oregon Department of Transportation and Portland State University. Chart: BikePortland. For readability, axes do not start at zero.

That’s not the case nationwide or in Washington and Clackamas counties. Unlike in Multnomah County, car registration rates there have basically returned to their long-term average rate.

When we last looked at car registration rates, I asked Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute why this ebb in car ownership might be happening.

He said it’s a combination of the Baby Boomers entering retirement and the improvement of non-car transportation options.

“Somebody who 10 years ago would have driven to work is now not only seeing better bicycle facilities and hearing about the importance of healthy lifestyles and getting lectures from their physician about the benefits, but they’re also seeing their neighbors make that shift and it’s a little more socially acceptable,” he said. “When the car breaks down, they’re not going to replace it.”

You can explore the parking lots that weren’t needed on this Google Map we made.

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

Our work is supported by subscribers. Please become one today.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

115
Leave a Reply

avatar
24 Comment threads
91 Thread replies
0 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
43 Comment authors
qsorenDavid HampstenlopAdam H. Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

In addition the factors mentioned in the article is the overiding one that in urban Multnomah County Automobiles are becoming a less effective transportation tool. Parking availibility, congestion, and the increasing access to cycling routes, and mass transportation often work much better ( and are certainly cheaper) than trying to go from A to B in a Car when parking is considered. This is not necessarily the case in most of Washington or Clackamus Counties. It does highlight the progress that can be made when densities go up, transportation alternatives are improved and people are educated and gain practice in automobile alternatives. That is why sites like Bike Portland are as important as anything else we can do as a civilization to eliminate the “Demon Karz” before they eliminate us.

nuovorecord
Guest
nuovorecord

Great work Michael. I think this dovetails nicely with Roger Geller’s exploration of Census data, showing that people moving to Portland are bicycling and using other non-auto modes at greater levels than the city and region as a whole.

Our economy is doing well, in part because we are attracting talented people who like the idea of not having to own a car…or two cars…in order to have a high-quality life. But, that only applies to certain parts of the city. We have to give everyone that chance, regardless of where in the city or region they live.

rick
Guest
rick

What about abandoned cars in Multnomah County?

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

It is truly amazing to think that at 3.5 parking spaces per car in an average city our petroleum powered servants are allocated more “living” space each than the average millennial can afford to occupy in Portland. To be a cycling advocate is to be a voice of sanity in an insane world.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

This is over a ten year spread including the recovery from the “great recession.” I wonder what it will be in another decade? The graph shows the numbers ticking back up (as mentioned in the article).

MaxD
Guest
MaxD

Great article! This really underscores the need for Portland to vastly improve its public transportation system. We need better coverage,longer operating hours, increased frequency and higher priority for buses, streetcars and trains. I also support expanding the train network starting with Powell/Division (elevated line from Ross Island to 39th) and creating an orbital MAX loop based on the 75 bus line.This would dovetail nicely with increased/expanded fees for parking, developing the bike network, and expanding the inclusivness of the bike share to allow people under age of 18 to participate.

Adam
Subscriber

Given this data, why then is PBOT so concerned about retaining on-street parking? Think of all the cycleways we could build instead of parking!

soren
Guest

The reduction in vehicle miles per resident is even more impressive:

http://www.oregonmetro.gov/news/you-are-here-snapshot-how-portland-region-gets-around

(And, unlike auto ownership, is not increasing over the past 4 years.)

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

I wonder if the reduction in car registrations per person are concentrated among the new residents or if longer-term Portlanders are abandoning their cars, as Todd Litman seems to think.

I suspect there are a lot of people who believe the propaganda story that PDX is a great place to ride a bike and be car-free, so they move to Portland in hopes of living that dream. Hopefully, this can become self-fulfilling and a positive feedback loop.

Allan Rudwick
Guest
Allan Rudwick

Adding in Clark Co, WA would be a nice addition to these charts if data is available

My Magic Hat
Guest
My Magic Hat

Weren’t people registering their vehicles in Vancouver for various reasons? Is that still happening? And if it no longer happens, wouldn’t it lead to an increase in Multnomah registrations?

Jessica Roberts
Subscriber

I think there are probably even more people who still own a car but use it a lot less than they would have a decade ago.

Tony Jordan (Contributor)
Subscriber

Just a plug. If you are interested in parking reforms and aren’t on the Portlanders for Parking Reform (transitioning names from Portland Shoupistas) then you should be!

http://pdxshoupistas.com/ @pdxshoupistas

kittens
Guest
kittens

Awesome news for urban design.

But also bear in mind a lot of the decline in car ownership is probably also due to declining real incomes. Much of the money people were spending on cars is just not there. They never earned it. 🙁

rh
Guest
rh

10 years ago Car2Go and Zipcar weren’t around. Having these 2 options helped me not want to purchase a car.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

Didn’t trimet raise fares to cover fuel cost spikes back a few years ago, then never lowered them? I’d leave my car at home (maybe even get rid of it) a lot more if I could get downtown, do business, and get back home on one fare .

paul g
Guest
paul g

It’s possible that Michael is interpreting the data correctly, but I always suggest making sure to challenge your own preconceived notions of the data. The story quotes just one person for a comment who works at an organization that promotes alternative transportation, so I’m not surprised this is “explained” by preference for alternative transportation. Would the Cascade Policy Institute interpret the data the same way? Do the readership here care?

The time points chosen above are a bit problematic if you are correlating job growth with automobile usage. Perhaps it was not intentional that time comparison starts at 2008, the highest point in job LOSS (lowest point in job gains) in the past decade, but that’s what it appears to be (see herecomment image/7f88db09-c21c-4e85-b894-0e3191d03365?t=1439909286338).

MC job growth was anemic from 2005-2007, showed a huge loss in 2008, zero in 2008, and didn’t begin its uptick in 2010. It is true that since 2008 we are doing better than many urban areas since 2008, but it’s also true that we performed very poorly relative to those areas for the previous decade.

The car usage graphic seems to follow an awfully similar pattern with a 1-2 year lag, just what you might expect for a large consumer purchase.

Just pointing out, there are different ways to slice up these data.

jeff
Guest
jeff

misleading title. there has been no drop in auto ownership. Just less than you would think from an arbitrary point in time.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Also guess where many of these cars have gone to…we in Downtown Vancouver (WA) are seeing a lot more Oregon vehicles staying overnight/ parked for days on our city centre streets (most walkable neighbourhoods)…so much so that neighbourhoods have started to push the WSP to begin investigating these recent residents lack of car registration updating.

J_R
Guest
J_R

Multnomah County’s Sellwood Bridge tax was adopted in 2009 and went into effect in 2010. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least a few hundred people registered their vehicles elsewhere – like a relative’s home address. Businesses that had multiple addresses quite likely opted to use addresses in other locals. The first example is likely illegal. The second is probably not.

Beeblebrox
Guest
Beeblebrox

My mom, who lives in Lents, just sold her car! And she’s a retirement-age baby boomer with a physical disability. She doesn’t walk, ride a bike, or even take normal transit. But it was expensive to own and operate a car, and she’s been able to rely on delivery services (Amazon Prime and Instacart, mostly), plus Ride Connection, TriMet Lift service, and friends/family with cars to get around when needed. So my anecdotal experience matches this data. It’s great to live in a city with so many options, even besides the typical ones we think of. I think delivery services, telecommuting, and the expansion of taxi permits and Lyft/Uber have definitely contributed to less need for personal car ownership.

Forum Law Group LLC - Bicycle Law
Guest

This article is terrific. Thank you.

q
Guest
q

The article mentions baby boomer retirements and better non-car options as reasons for the drop in Multnomah County. Meanwhile, the adjacent counties rose back up. It seems likely some of that is because it’s more difficult for people in those counties to manage without cars, maybe because there are poorer non-car options there.

But if you combine all that with comments about how there seem to be a lot of Oregon cars in Clark County, and comments about driving having gotten more difficult and expensive in Portland, it seems there could be another factor at work. People in Portland that aren’t adjusting–or don’t want to adjust–to car use getting more difficult and expensive here, or who cannot or prefer not to use other transportation options, are simply moving out of Portland to the surrounding counties.

Someone commented about how for the cost of owning a car, you can afford to move closer in. Portland may be filling up with more people who are taking advantage of that. But meanwhile, the adjacent counties may be filling up with people who are thinking the opposite–for the price of living close in, but not having a car, they can move outward and afford a car.

q
Guest
q

9watts
q-wrote: “a vote in Portland to spend money to ‘make driving more difficult’, with lots of explanation why that’s beneficial”
But that is asinine or tautological or both. The whole point of running something against the grain like that by voters (and that isn’t necessarily a smart thing even with lots of explanation) would be to offer a full explanation about, e.g., why we are stuck with doing this, how we’ve screwed ourselves out of the options that might have allowed us to continue with business as usual, etc.
Recommended 1

All I was saying was that voters, presented with all the arguments why they should vote to spend money to “make driving more difficult”, would vote overwhelmingly against it. Of course part of the reason proponents might put something like that to a vote is that it gives them a chance to present their arguments, but so what?