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Portland slips to 5th in Bicycling Magazine ‘Best Bike City’ rankings

Posted by on October 10th, 2018 at 9:19 am

It’s a frequent topic of conversation in local advocacy circles that Portland has lost some of its swagger when it comes to being a leader for cycling in America.

Today, Bicycling Magazine released its biennial rankings of America’s best cities for cycling and Portland came out in 5th place — our worst position ever.

“Portland has only built 5.2 miles of protected lanes. Seattle and San Francisco built 15 and 18 miles respectively in in that same period.”

Seattle grabbed the top spot on the list this year, followed by San Francisco, Fort Collins, and Minneapolis in the top five. Eugene nabbed sixth with Chicago, Madison, New York City, and Cambridge rounding out the top ten.

For context, here’s how Portland has fared in these rankings in the past decade:

1st in 2008
2nd in 2010
1st in 2012
4th in 2014
3rd in 2016
5th in 2018

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Here’s the methodology they used:

The Bicycling editorial team reviewed U.S. Census and Department of Transportation data on more than 100 cities, consulted with experts and examined data from organizations including People for Bikes and the League of American Bicyclists. The editors looked at the overall percentage of bike commuters in each city and the rate by which that number is growing. They cataloged the amount and quality of cycling infrastructure in each city—including miles of protected bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, and off-street pathways —and how recently it has been implemented. They accounted for transportation budgets, civic and political commitments, and implementation of data-driven policies that make cities safer for cyclists, like lowering speed limits, narrowing lanes, and revamping problematic intersections. The editors also took historical performance and future projections into account and asked each city to explain its plan for ensuring people of all income levels have equal access to safe streets. Finally, the editors hit the streets and talked to local advocates, officials, and everyday riders in each city on the final list, as well as in those cities that did not make the cut.

The blurb about Portland on Bicycling’s website (and that will appear on newsstands in their November/December issue) cited our lack of high-quality, protected bike lanes as the main reason for our slip to 5th. “Since we last put out this guide two years ago,” it reads, “Portland has only built 5.2 miles of protected lanes. Seattle and San Francisco built 15 and 18 miles respectively in in that same period.” The blurb also features a promise from PBOT that between now and 2020 Portland will build 24.4 miles of protected bike lanes citywide.

If we make good on that promise, I’d fully expect Portland to grab the top spot next time around.

(Note: Please keep in mind these rankings are more art than science. While they’re easy to dismiss, Bicycling remains one of one most wide-reaching cycling media outlets in America and a lot of people will read this. They’ve also been doing these rankings since 1990, so they deserve credit for longevity. For a look at a more technically rigorous ranking, check out how Portland did in a recent comparison of 480 US cities by the nonprofit People for Bikes.)

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Scott H
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Scott H

5th? That’s generous.

Remember two weeks ago when PBOT abruptly ripped out a bike lane in the middle of the week without telling anyone?

SERider
Guest
SERider

Seems disingenuous to include Fort Collins, Madison, and Eugene in these types of ranking. They’re all relatively small college towns. Fairly different from bigger metro areas.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Please, don’t sweat this. I ride in Seattle maybe once or twice a year and have ridden a lot in SF and the surrounding area–Portland at it’s worst is as pleasant, fun, and safe-feeling as Seattle and enormously better than San Fran. Bicycling magazine I like to think of as cycling’s equivalent to Fox News–the lowest quality of information that’s believed by the most people!

soren
Subscriber

It’s my experience that increased motorvehicle traffic$# is severely impacting the willingness of anyone who is not an experienced-, skilled-, year-round-, mostly-male-cyclist to ride for transportation. In fact, it is my impression that on many bike routes a growing fraction of peak cycling traffic has moved over to other residential side-streets. This makes complete sense because side streets have lots of stop signs and far fewer angry cut-through commuters.

$Uber and Lyft car trips are not counted by census ACS mode share statistics but they represent an increasing fraction of motorvehicle traffic.

#Portland (Census ACS 1yr estimates)
Year Drive-alone commutes
2017 202718
2016 202102
2015 191822
2014 187726
2013 178980
2012 180107
2011 174457
2010 168231

B. Carfree
Guest
B. Carfree

Bicycling is obviously looking mostly at things like “protected” miles than at how those are working. Eugene keeps adding so-called protection, but the result is (predictably to me) a continued decline in bicycle use since Eugene adopted this approach in 2012. In fact, if you plot the modal share of bicycle commuters in Eugene from 2012-7 and extrapolate the line, it predicts zero bicycles by sometime in 2024. (The data follows the best fit line incredibly well for a social phenomenon, with R^2 over 0.8 and p~0.01, almost like it’ a physics lab instead of a human behavior measurement.)

How a place that is on target to have no cyclists at all within six years ends up ranking number six is a complete mystery to me. More art than science, indeed. Actually, the rankings are more of a bias towards the hoped for wonders of sidepaths than anything else.

9watts
Subscriber

Hey, look, they gave us 10/10 for “culture”…!

Gregg
Guest

So I’ve ridden in many of the cities in this Top 10 list.
I’m interested in traveling somewhere to ride that is better than Portland. I’ve ridden in Vancouver- and it’s fantastic. I know that Denmark and Sweden are SO EXPENSIVE once you arrive. Where would be a cheaper option (Once you arrive) that is Bike Friendlier than PDX? Madrid? Bogota? And which is bike friendlier Quebec or Montreal?

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

Sad to see Portland not improving as much as these other cities.

I’ve spent time in SF and Seattle recently, and seen that they simply don’t have the intensive use of bikes for transportation, neighborhood by neighborhood, commute route by commute route, that Portland does. That said, I’m disappointed that , that we *haven’t* done better over the last 2 years.

Ted Buehler

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

This is the best publicity Portland has had in many years. Thank you Bicycle Magazine! Seattle has built 15+ in 2 years, NYC is building 20+ per year. Maybe Portland’s mayor and council will finally decide to start building PBLs.

Dan A
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Dan A

“Eight to 80 friendliness (how accessible the city is to riders of all ages)”

Portland scores 24 out of 30? They must be grading on a curve.

Glenn
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Glenn

Just imagine for a moment that there’s a simple and monolithic quantity known as “being good for bikes” which we will call, I dunno, how about B. Very well then, one way in which the ranking is more art than science is that it tries to rank not only the current value of B, but its rate of change as well. In other words, not just B but ΔB since the last survey. So if a city is the best, but nothing changes much, it doesn’t get ranked as the best, even though it’s the best. (Not saying Portland is the best, either.) Meanwhile if you’re the worst, but really trying hard and improving fast, you can get a pretty high ranking. So I mean it’s kind of just a Certificate of Participation type of thing. “Good Job, Lil’ Guy!” sort of deal.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Imagine how quickly our rating would improve if we started converting one street per week to bikes only. Sounds radical but if you look hard at the new IPCC report on climate change that is how quickly we would have to get off our addiction to motorcars to stay under 1.5 degrees and avoid the most horrifying effects of runaway climate change.

q
Guest
q

Portland’s government and institutions tend to think overly highly of themselves, to the point it makes them dismissive of criticism–“Don’t you realize we just got named the best (bike city, garden, bureau of this or that, park system, museum) on this important list!?”

And while people generally recognize that lists and rankings aren’t scientifically accurate, they seem to forget that when they appear at the top of a list.

So I don’t mind seeing anything about Portland getting knocked a couple notches down on any “best” ranking.

Jim Lee
Guest
Jim Lee

But we have Roger, and his awards!

9watts
Subscriber

Does the guy at the top of the article have some toilet paper stuck in his front spokes?

Keith
Guest
Keith

We had a great start out of the blocks in the late 90s, but like an aging athlete, we’re fading and losing our edge. We may still be in the lead (I’d still prefer riding in PDX compared to the top 4 cities), but not for long.

joeb
Subscriber
joeb

Unfortunately I have not read all of the comments and may be duplicating…

I was happy to read this headline and article. In my perception, bike facilities and protected bike lanes are popping up all over Portland (apparently 5.2 miles of protected bike lanes, but highly visible to me) and other cities are doing better. Great!

Quote: ” …a promise from PBOT that between now and 2020 Portland will build 24.4 miles of protected bike lanes citywide…If we make good on that promise, I’d fully expect Portland to grab the top spot next time around.” I agree, and I still hope we end up 5th… or 3rd… or even 2nd! It seems to be on target that, in Portland, these facilities will actually be built (including Flanders Bridge, Sullivan’s Gulch Bridge near NE 7th St, etc)

Now I could point out plenty of problem areas, namely state highways running through the middle of the city (Lombard, 82nd, Powell, etc) and the abomination of urban freeways. In 2018, we should know what not to build! I didn’t digest all of Bicycling Magazines” data points”. I hope scoring human scale access to services and vicinity is factored into any and all road construction and reconstruction, urban and rural. (let me just say that access to Kenton when you live east of I5 and North of Lombard is a fiasco if you are driving and appalling when walking or biking. Do Not Ever Build This Mess Again!)

maxD
Guest
maxD

These kind of measurements are always a bit depressing to me. Wether it is good news or, like this story, bad news. The issue I have is that measuring bike success by miles of this or that misses the point of a network. I think it encourages PBOT and designers like Geller to push for expanding miles of protected lanes or adding some new thing instead of taking look at the network as a whole and doing the difficult and creative work of improving the network (not just the segments). PBOT maddeningly continues to design and implement infrastructure for bikes with dangerous gaps and poor connections. As someone alluded to earlier in the comments, maybe some of these designers are just trying to rack up “firsts” or “added miles” to get an award or a speaking engagement. Maybe not. It seems to me that this focus on comparison to similar Cities and building segments has a very limited usefulness in terms of encouraging the construction of more segments. But without some actual leadership and commitment to closing gaps and making connections, all those isolated miles of whatever are relatively useless. 2 examples in areas where I frequently ride spring to mind: 1) The proposed protected lanes on Greeley. This a Geller-proposed solution that adds a bit of protected bike lane, but does not address a full 1/3 of the new route, the dangerous and substandard conditions to Interstate, or the rampant and excessive speeding on Greeley- in fact it will likely make that worse. 2) The Going Greenway between 7th and Interstate. This is an absolute mess of a Greenway that jogs incoherently from street to street and has zero protected crossings at busy streets. Just a block or so to the south is Skidmore, If on-street parking were removed, the buffered bike lanes on Skidmore could be completed to 7th and take advantage of existing signals to cross Interstate, Williams, Vancouver and MLK and existing 4-way stops to cross Mississippi and 7th. Creating a safe route along Skidmore would create a safe connection between existing bike infrastructure on Concord, Interstate, Michigan, Vancouver/Williams, 7th and Going and connect the growing residential/commercial districts on North Killingsworth, Mississippi, Vancouver/Williams, MLK and Alberta. Reports like this encourage our leaders and designers to think small and incremental and ignore the important safe connections that make these segments useful.

Rivelo
Guest

Portland is the best city I’ve EVER ridden a bike in, and I’m glad that I get to do it every day.

Now, if fellow cyclists would just STOP using their dang flashing strobe lights on the Esplanade and other CAR-FREE paths, I’d be in hog heaven.

This is our most popular Instagram post EVER, so others must agree:

https://instagram.com/p/Bom2V3GBDVU/

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

I’ve ridden in Seattle a couple weekends this year. In terms of pavement infrastructure it’s still not up to Portland’s level and the bikeway network is still pretty fragmented, but there is this:

The dockless systems have absolutely flooded the streets with bikes this year. And you know what that has done? It has made drivers far more used to being around bikes. I’m comfortable riding on a lot of Seattle streets now that I NEVER would have ridden on before.

And I think drivers are a bit more accommodating because the barrier to entry for dockless bikes is so low (no membership, just download the app and go, as with scooters) there’s less of an us-vs-them mentality than when most of the cyclists on the road are people who’ve made a commitment and serious financial investment in it.

Also, the two-way cycletrack on 2nd is nice to have. One of my closest calls while biking was years ago when I lived in Seattle, and almost got hit by a speeding car while trying to change lanes across 2nd to make a left turn.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Interesting Portland effectively tied with Minneapolis. They’re both nearly tied in my mind too, as far as which city I’d rather ride in, though the riding experiences are vastly different.

It does feel like less protected-lane mileage got built this year, though we’re still far ahead of Portland. Maybe that feeling is because much of this year’s activity has been in North Minneapolis, where I don’t get to a lot, but where the equity issues are largest, so maybe that’s a good thing.

Also to be fair, Minneapolis is only 60% of the urban core here. St. Paul is the other 40%, and they came in 18th. St. Paul’s bike infrastructure is frustrating at times, but there are a lot of good projects in the pipeline that will take care of some of the biggest deficiencies. Look for StP to move up the rankings substantially within the next couple years.

Racer X
Guest
Racer X

Imagine the near future (like 2019) when Eugene surpasses Portland in these rankings…that might be the friggin spark that set the City leadership’s bike afterburners on…

Until then Portland leaders (Corporate and Governmental) should be asking themselves:

“WHO LOST PORTLAND AS THE NATION”S BIKE CAPITAL?!?!)”

Richard
Guest
Richard

This is great news. It should put pressure on PBOT to step it up with protected bike infrastructure. I think it is relevant that other cities are making more strides in present day, while Portland rests on its laurels with past accomplishments. Portland staying #1 without earning it in a yearly (or bi-yearly) period keeps Portland stuck. It’s why we can’t even get a protected bike lane on Naito, or why a diverter on Lincoln was controversial enough to abort. We’re already #1. We don’t need any more improvements. I appreciate Bicycle Magazine’s audacity to measure our recent progress against the active momentum of other cities.