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US Census: Portland bike commuting hits lowest rate in 12 years

Posted by on September 26th, 2019 at 2:47 pm

Riding conditions on 122nd Avenue in the Gateway District.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

The latest numbers from the U.S. Census bureau estimate that the number of people who bike to work in Portland is down to 5.3%. That number is down from 6.3% in 2017 and it’s the lowest we’ve seen since 2007. Portland’s bike to work number peaked at 7.2% in 2014.

Based on American Community Survey (ACS) 1-Year Estimates data, there were a total of 19,553 Portland residents who primarily use a bicycle for work trips. That’s out of 366,445 total workers. This is the first time Portland has dipped under 20,000 bike users since 2013. Put another way, our city has added 54,857 new commuters in the past five years, but the number of people riding a bike has gone up by only 1,216. In that same time period (2013 through 2018), the number of Portland commuters that drive alone in a car has gone up by 35,425 people. An estimated 59% of Portlanders drive alone to work.

While Portland dipped a point, San Francisco (at 4.2%) and Seattle (3.9%) gained one. Our “Best Bike City” nemesis Minneapolis is down to 3.4% bike commute mode share, that’s a half-point lower than 2017 and down from a peak of 5% in 2015. Keep in mind these numbers are only estimates and the data only reflects trips to work (by people who have jobs). The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that commute trips account for less than one-fifth of all trips taken.

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These numbers should not be a surprise. Earlier this month we reported on Portland’s 2030 Bike Plan progress report. Catie Gould with BikeLoudPDX said the report showed “an extremely discouraging lack of progress” that should “raise an alarm bell.”

Here a look at how Portland’s bike commute rate compares to other cities since 1990:

(Chart: Michael Andersen)

Transit use in Portland dipped slightly from 12.6% in 2017 to 12% last year. The data shows another surge in the number of people who work from home. That number is up one percentage point to 9.6% (it was 7.1% in 2013). The amount of people who walk to work stayed relatively flat at 5.6% of the total.

Portland has proudly led the nation in big city bike commute mode share for many years; but our lead is shrinking. And the biking number is only part of the story. In Seattle, where they’ve “blown past Portland in transportation moxie” according to an article in The Oregonian last year, drive-alone trips are down to less than half the total (46.2%), transit use notched up significantly (from 23% to 24%) and walking was up over two percentage points (12.6%).

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

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. 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

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maxD
Guest
maxD

disappointing but not surprising. PBOT continues to leaves dangerous gaps in the bike network unresolved, refuses to prioritize safety and connectivity over convenience and speed for people driving, and places the needs of pedestrians and transit users dead last, well after SOV’s

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I’m not sure I agree with your diagnosis; none of those things are new, and we’ve had higher mode share in the past with all those factors in place (and some, like network gaps, were worse). Also, the experience of driving is a lot less pleasant than it was 20 years ago.

Stephen Keller
Guest
Stephen Keller

It looks like the main contributor is new SOV commuters.

B. Carfree
Subscriber
B. Carfree

True, but the intensity of the messaging telling people to be afraid to ride outside of so-called protected facilities (except for bike paths, which have had their own fearful messaging) has been ramped up these past couple of years like never before. Authorities keep doing their “be safe, be seen” campaigns, which tell potential riders to be afraid that they are invisible. We have bike helmet giveaways, but no comparable promotion of car helmets even though motorists are more likely to suffer TBI per hour than cyclists. (Maybe we should provide insulin management training or home blood pressure readers for those committed to sedentary transportation.)

The reason given for “protected” networks is always that cycling is dangerous without them. Since we don’t have them, it’s no surprise that the more we push this message, the fewer people will be wiling to do that which “everyone knows” is dangerous. Who wants to be seen as the fool who brought about their own demise?

Asher Atkinson
Guest
Asher Atkinson

I couldn’t agree more. As someone who has commuted by bike pretty much every day in Portland for the past 15 years, and ridden every weekend on the surrounding rural roads, I’ve only seen safe and low stress routes expand and driving behaviors relative the the number of drivers improve. Yet when I do my small part to encourage others to ride I typically hear that it is becoming far too dangerous. No surprise when the city, politicians, lobbyists, traditional media and social channels cast cycling around town as a death defying feat attempted only by a collective group of daredevils and climate warriors. I’m neither, but rather just an individual saving time, money and trying to stay healthy. If one wants to see bike commuting numbers increase, and better utilization of the cycling infrastructure investment made with precious public dollars, then consider the messaging. Advocating for something positive by emphasizing its negatives is counter productive.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

“Advocating for something positive by emphasizing its negatives is counter productive.”

No kidding. “Ride to work—it’s better for everyone! Just don’t die! (‘cuz, you know…)”

Maddy
Subscriber
Maddy

It really isn’t just the messaging. More cars are on the arterials, and more cars are speeding through the side streets to avoid the arterials. I really think Portland has crossed the bike commuting risk vs reward threshold for many citizens open to bike commuting.

chris m
Guest
chris m

yikes :(. Feels like a lot of the gains of 2010-2015 were harvesting the crops seeded up through 2008, but we sort of stopped planting around the time of the recession. Hoping this analogy makes sense.

Danny
Guest
Danny

This is certainly depressing news. I wonder why bike commuting is down both here and nationally… I think Portland continues to make incremental progress in upgrading its cycling infrastructure. However, after more than 30 years of riding to work and riding for fun, I increasingly see the contrast between only a relative handful of experienced and confident cyclists willing to battle with cars on shared streets, and on the other hand the large numbers of people on bike — and diversity in genders, ages, and experience levels — one sees on the closed streets of Sunday Parkways and off-street paths such as the Springwater Corridor (and on the huge off-street cycle networks in places like Holland and South Korea). If we build it, they will come; build cycling infrastructure where a wide variety of cyclists feel secure and they’ll use it. Will we have to displace cars to do this? Yes. Should we do this as part of a carbon reduction strategy? Absolutely. Will our leaders — whose will has been locked down by the auto mentality for decades — listen? Good question.

chris m
Guest
chris m

I totally agree. When I am biking to work I see the crowd is about 50% e-bikes or people with relatively new drop-bar bikes, I would estimate the average value of these to be in the $800ish range. This tells me we are not attracting “entry level” cyclists to bike to work, and this is on what Portland would consider its core/most accessible cycling infrastructure (Clinton -> Tilikum). Clearly something is not working here.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

I see the rise in e-bike commuting partly as a response to the increase in cost of housing close in where the jobs are. Transit is having some of the same problems, it used to be easier for people to afford to live where the bike network and transit service were better. It isn’t surprising that people who get pushed out to the other side of the 205 for housing but still work in the central city are not feeling as good about commuting by transit or bike and that some of them are looking to shorten the time their commute takes with an electric bike.

Anthony
Guest
Anthony

ding ding ding! This is, at the very least, a big part of it. I personally commuted by bike on and off between 2010-2017, but I eventually chose to live further out rather than live with multiple roommates in order to be able to afford rent, and now I live a lot further from my work. And knowing so many other people who have moved further out for similar reasons, I’m certain this is playing a huge role in the decline.

SERider
Guest
SERider

You don’t consider $800-ish an “entry level bike”?

Outside of buying a used bike, that’s a pretty standard price for an entry level bike.

chris m
Guest
chris m

I do not think that is a crazy price but if I were to tell someone who had never biked to work “your startup costs are a mere $800 for a bike, $60 for fenders, $50 for lights” etc. I don’t think many would be jumping at it. I was more using the price/quality of bikes I see (in addition to the fact that most people seem to have fairly dialed in commuter setups including panniers, bike specific jackets, fenders, etc.) as a proxy to judge we have very few neophytes.

Brian
Guest
Brian

You see a lot more e-bikes than I do as a commuter and resident living on the Davis greenway. I see *maybe* 1in 10 people riding e-bikes, and I think that number is a bit generous.

Harald
Guest

Please please please add error bars when discussing 1-year estimates. This is what it looks like with the error bars: https://imgur.com/67Ij8ov
In other words, this year’s numbers aren’t significantly different than the last two years or 2012 and 2013. They are significantly lower than 2014 and 2015, however.

*Thanks Harald. I embedded the graphic for everyone’s convenience. – Jonathan

B. Carfree
Subscriber
B. Carfree

Now graph the best fit line for 2014-8 and calculate the error of the slope. The ACS data for trends is usually much better than any given year and can be quite predictive in the absence of some substantial event(s) that cause the trend to shift. (Let’s hope this new negative trend does meet up with such events soon.)

When I do this for Portland’s kid sister, Eugene, I just want to cry. Actually, I don’t just want to, I actually do shed tears, some of sadness and many more of frustration as our city transportation staff keep doubling down on their blunders. Our negative trend since 2012 makes a very straight line that fits tightly to the ACS yearly values and shows us having no cyclists left in just a few more years. Prior to this trend, it was bouncing along happily near 9.5%.

David Hampsten
Guest

I’m rather shocked by the huge margins of error myself, often over 10%, usually an indicator that fewer people are answering the census surveys. How anyone can make a judgement on such iffy data is beyond me, though journalists are notorious for not understanding statistics at all. Bike usage for commuting may have gone down or it may have gone up, who knows? The raw numbers are somewhere between 17,040 and 22,066 users out of somewhere between 360,079 and 372,811 total users, or a commuter share somewhere between 4.57% and 6.13%. So the rate might not have gone down at all. All this angst over (potentially) nothing.

David Hampsten
Guest

When I looked into the data for my own city, I note that they are using raw figures from the 2010 census for bike and transit usage, but increasing the numbers of total users, so that both the rate and number of those bicycling and taking the bus is naturally falling even as the population is growing. Since I know from other sources that our commuter bike share and numbers are growing quite a bit (from an admittedly very low baseline), I’d say the ACS data is biased in favor of car usage and against all other modes. And of course the margins of error will only increase as census funding gets cut and more people either lie on surveys or not answer them at all, as commercial pollsters often point out.

Alex
Guest
Alex

A lot of people move here solely for lower cost of living, and with little interest in adapting to the lifestyle that Portland is known for. I would think that is some context to the data.

Brian
Guest
Brian

Yep. Maybe it isn’t a safety thing, but rather that people moving here are not cyclists and have zero interest in riding a bicycle.

Huey Lewis
Guest
Huey Lewis

I don’t disagree. I don’t think people move here because Portland has/had a bikey reputation. When you ride to work and you can kinda regularly see 2, 3, and maybe even 4 cars pass you in a row that have plates from out of state (Washington excluded) it’s hard to think, “well, they just got here but I bet once they get the lay of the land they’ll be on bikes”. I just don’t see it happening.

Also, I’m really curious about what the current Portland lifestyle is to outsiders. What is it??

Chris
Guest
Chris

Sad commentary on our ability to make people feel safe outside a two ton metal shell. Afraid we won’t attract the “interested but concerned” crowd until we build a continuous, car-free network. I am an experienced, skilled rider, and I still routinely feel unsafe on our greenway and bike lane network. Greenways should be car-free, with cross traffic only permitted at arterials, and with signalized crossing at arterials. Sadly, I don’t see the political leadership to pull this off anytime soon.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

The bike share thing has a weird negative feedback loop. When a city like Portland gets a high bike share number like we had in 2014 it becomes cool and everyone wants to move here. But most of those who move here just move for the cool and not the bikes and they bring their nasty car habits with them from elsewhere. Then the streets become filled with newcomers with nasty car habits and it drives down the cycling share because of danger. Hopefully we can improve the infrastructure to fix it, or maybe the oncoming recession will wipe out the cool seekers and send them packing, driving back up the bike mode share as the coolest and most economical form of transportation comes back in to style.

chris m
Guest
chris m

Interestingly per ACS data the peak of net migration coincides pretty closely to the peak in bike mode share. https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/NETMIGNACS041051

SD
Guest
SD

This raises a lot of interesting questions, more than it answers.
Are people moving to Portland and not cycling the main contribution to this decrease or are bike commuters changing over to cars? Where is the main population growth in Portland and what are the demographics of people moving to Portland over the passed two years? Is it in places where work commutes are farther or served by poor transportation infrastructure? Are there specific demographics that are increasing or decreasing? What about non work related trips?

Joel h
Guest
Joel h

I had the same thought but checked 2017 and the absolute number of bike commuters is definitely down by around 1000. Harald’s point above certainly applies though.

I suspect bike commuters are disproportionally among the people who have moved away from Portland over the last 10 years due to the drastically increased local cost of living.

SD
Guest
SD

There are a lot of possible causes. It would be nice to have the granularity to understand some of the causes better so that they can be targeted.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Other than CoP infra / policy coasting through the early teens…it is most likely the triple whammy: central city housing costs pushing bike commuters out ward past bike network catchment, younger bike commuters having kids (home to school is easier to manage on a bike then home drop-off at school then to work (repeat 2x kids) and older boomer cyclists no longer putting in the peak commuter miles. All the things I started to worry about beginning in the 2006 peak…all except the new issue: more cars on the road, especially more TNC trippers looping the blocks.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

Not surprised. The condition of all of Portland’s roads continues to deteriorate, traffic continues to get worse, and the bike infrastructure PBOT is now building seems mostly counterproductive in terms of routing, design and engineering.

dan
Guest
dan

I see the share is dropping; would also be interesting to know how the absolute numbers are changing. E.g., is the number of cyclists up (while the share decreases), possibly because Portland is attracting largely non-cycling transplants? Or is the number of cyclists down (along with the share), possibly because people who once biked to work gave it up?

Also, just have to state that I am floored how unpleasant driving anywhere around the core is during rush hour and amazed that people are willing to tolerate it as part of their daily commute. Uncertain if I should tell them how much easier (and potentially faster, depending on timing and routes) it is to bike, or keep it a secret so I don’t have to worry about congestion on bike routes.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

The first rule of bike riding is you do not talk about bike riding. The second rule of bike riding is you do not talk about bike riding.

Al
Guest
Al

I commute out in east county but will sometimes ride the I-205 path from Marine to Springwater on the way home. These statistics don’t reflect my personal experience of seeing commuters on the trails and roads. There has been a considerable uptick in commuters within the last 5 years and within the last maybe 3 years, ebikes started adding to the bikes I see out there.

I’m not contesting the data but I am interested in such an obvious discrepancy.

todd boulanger
Guest
todd boulanger

AL – perhaps the growth you are seeing in bike traffic out east are the cyclists that have been pushed out of the SE and NE. And perhaps – like Clarence said “its crap”…perhaps the millenial bike commuters are not home to answer their door to respond to a census?

eawriste
Guest
eawriste

I’d like to see a graph of the rate of growth of the bike mode per city compared with the number of miles of protected bike lanes installed. The last decade in Portland has seen a tiny fraction of the miles of PBLs that NYC, Vancouver or Montreal has installed.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

I rode exclusively from 2008 to 2014 during the height of the recession. I worked low paying jobs and had roommates. When the economy picked up and I had more skills, my income went up and my job location changed beyond my willingness to bike. Now I drive to park and rides and Max in. I’d bicycle to the Max but it’s faster to drive regardless of traffic. I would walk to the bus stop in the morning but it means that I would have to leave my house 20 minutes earlier and then have to wait at a dirty bus stop on 82nd… I do consider buying an ebike but haven’t decided on a model considering they seem to get better every year. I feel like ebikes are in the transition phase of what flip phones and smart phones were going through 10 years ago. I miss biking to work, but my current job is extremely physical and I work outside rain or shine. Driving to the Max means I never get wet and I can rest on the train ride home. With everything that I just mention and how it is seemingly becoming less safe to ride, I don’t know if I’ll ever be a bike commuter again.

EP
Guest
EP

Hey, at least you’re using some form of public transit and being physically active at work. That puts you ahead of 99% of commuters…

Jason Van Horn
Guest

Not at all surprised.

It feels more unsafe than it has in years. Drivers have been more threatening than I’ve ever seen in the past. When my gal is screaming at people (she is the nicest person you can meet) things are getting weird.

Then there’s new and increased danger factor; half the bike paths on the east side are blocked with tents and drug users. I still ride them, but always carry something for self-defense.

It’s so unpleasant to ride the 205 bike path we canceled our gym membership because the ride there was intolerable.

Fred
Guest
Fred

I agree, Jason. I’ve been commuting to work by bike in Portland for 15 years, and I have fond memories of how nice the drivers were when I started. I had commuted by bike in other parts of the country, so when I came to Portland I was just blown away by how polite and considerate drivers were.

Not anymore. I used to believe in the 1 a**hole in 100 rule in Portland, where only one driver in a hundred, in any significant interaction (crossing, following, passing, etc), would behave like an a**hole (you all know what I mean). Now it’s like 1 in 10, and climbing every month.

The huge influx of newcomers to Portland are driving cars, and many of them just want to get where they are going – fast. They have no time for Portland’s old-timey bike culture. Also note that Uber and Lyft have gotten big in the last ten years, and all of those drivers are zipping around, not looking for bikes. These factors militate against folks – new residents and long-time residents – getting on bikes and commuting to work.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

Just returned from spending a month is Boise, a politically conservative city. Was surprised at how considerate car drivers were toward bike riders. And, how easy it was to get around by bike. Also, how they deal with their homeless problem. No camping outside of a vehicle. Vehicle camping restricted to certain areas. Housing, although inadequate, is provided. There’s a $300 fine for removing a shopping cart from a store’s parking lot. Clean streets everywhere. Overall stress level is way less.

Portland, by comparison, is a joke. Let the Big One deal with it.

Concordia Cyclist
Guest
Concordia Cyclist

Classic case of Apples v Oranges: Boise is a much smaller city, thus likely doesn’t have the traffic volume issues (yet) of our larger burg. It also lacks the geographic restraints found in the PDX metro area that further intensify traffic and harden the attitudes of drivers. Has nothing to do with the perceived characteristics of political left v right behavior, but more to do with how much drivers are exposed to stress in their daily ritual.

Daily Commuter
Guest
Daily Commuter

I was recently involved in a bike crash (no cars involved this time) that left me without a bike for two weeks. I commute as much as I possibly can by bike, 4 to 5 days a week. During that time I utilized my car to get from Clackamas to North Portland where I work. I forgot how consistently terrible I-205 and US30 are on a regular basis. Driving for two weeks made me anxious and angry.

Getting into work by car averaged 45 to 50 minutes. My bike commute into work averages 1 hour and 5 to 1 hour and 10 minutes.

This is a 15 mile, one way journey that utilizes the 205 MUP and then onto Greenways and roads that are marked as bike path options on Google but have no signage or striping. Full route is essentially Sunnybrook to 205 MUP, then West Burnside over to 75th/74th/72nd, then up to Alameda, then down 38th to Holman and onto work at Rosa Parks and MLK.

I ride year round, I identify as what I call “fearless but concerned for my safety”. We have a decent portion of our workplace that will ride to work when it’s “nice out” that percentage wise coincides with these commute numbers pretty well. Little victories, and I don’t judge them for not riding year round, but I try to share the joys of it when people ask.

I use commuting as exercise, as medication and meditation, as a form of expression, and to feel a sense of freedom. I only need to add in 30 minutes to an hour at most per day to my travel plans to accomplish this. Happier, healthier, and even safer than being in a car, for a small amount of time difference each day.

We as cyclists or pedestrians end up absorbing a lot of that “anger at the world” that driving fosters and reinforces. I am not sure how we can educate others that we, as users of alternate modes of transportation, are actually out of the way of the SOV crowd without actually getting them on bikes. Many people say, “Good on you, I could never do that.” Or they ask about my commute and how I handle the demands of daily life, and they can’t imagine not having their car at all times and in all situations.

I have a car, I am a driver when I choose to be. I choose to use it sparingly typically in conjunction with the demands of work. There needs to be more options available to me, and everyone else, to make it easier in more situations to ditch the SOV.

Fred
Guest
Fred

Comment of the week?

Al
Guest
Al

“I have a car, I am a driver when I choose to be. I choose to use it sparingly typically in conjunction with the demands of work. There needs to be more options available to me, and everyone else, to make it easier in more situations to ditch the SOV.”

I try to get this point across as much as I can. I also drive. I also ride a motorcycle. I am frequently a pedestrian. I use mass transit as well. I just happen to favor cycling to work for many many reasons.

Joel H
Guest
Joel H

I wonder how reliable those ACS numbers are. They show much smaller public transit ridership numbers than Tri-Met daily ridership claims. And the distribution between bus and MAX in the census numbers is wildly different from Tri-Met’s numbers. Plus, in 2017 they show a few dozen people taking a “ferryboat” for commuting… could that the Canby ferry? I doubt it. Take this with a huge grain of salt.

Joel H
Guest
Joel H

Here are the census tables for the whole metro area for 2016, 2017 and 2018. The link in the article is just for City of Portland. (Same trend here)

https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=&lastDisplayedRow=20&table=B08301&tid=ACSDT1Y2016.B08301&t=Commuting&hidePreview=true&y=2016&g=310M400US38900

https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=&lastDisplayedRow=20&table=B08301&tid=ACSDT1Y2017.B08301&t=Commuting&hidePreview=true&y=2017&g=310M400US38900

https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=&lastDisplayedRow=20&table=B08301&tid=ACSDT1Y2018.B08301&t=Commuting&hidePreview=true&y=2018&g=310M400US38900

The numbers are in different units, but Tri-Met claims about 1.5x as many weekday rides on bus as on MAX. The census shows between 2.5x and 4x as many on buses. I would think the ratios should be similar, at least. Maybe just counting occasional riders? Doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in the accuracy of the bike commuter counts.

Harald
Guest

ACS numbers are only for work trips. So it’s entirely possible that transit ridership overall is growing while ACS numbers are flat or falling. The nice thing about transit is that we _do_ have ridership data as a very reliable metric. For biking, all we have is a couple bike counters, things like the National Household Travel Survey (which only happen every 8 or so years) — and the ACS.

chris m
Guest
chris m

Three other things can explain discrepancies between ACS data and TriMet data:

1. People with multi-modal commutes (bus -> MAX) would only count for the longest leg which I would assume is typically MAX, where TriMet data would count one trip for each.
2. People who drive 3 days a week but take the bus twice a week do not count at all for transit in the ACS survey since I believe they only ask for your primary mode.
3. Normal survey error (ACS is not like the census where they count everyone, it’s really just a poll). While I would imagine these are highly accurate across the entire country, in smaller subsets like medium sized metro areas they may have pretty significant sampling errors.

So I wouldn’t say the data is BS, but it certainly has some blind spots IMO.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Exactly. The ACS only asks what your primary transportation mode was for the week. Even at this most granular level of data collection, that’s not enough resolution to capture the reality of anyone who doesn’t use the same mode 100% of the time.

soren
Guest
soren

We have annual bike counts which also show a downward trend since 2014.

soren
Guest
soren

Trimet has persuasive data suggesting that economic displacement (e.g. gentrification) is a primary cause of the steady decrease in transit ridership.

https://transitcenter.org/in-portland-economic-displacement-may-be-a-driver-of-transit-ridership-loss/

I strongly suspect the same explanation applies to the 5 year decline in ridership in ACS 1 yr estimates and City of Portland bike counts.

chris m
Guest
chris m

That TriMet study is super interesting and pretty persuasive that displacement had a big role in driving transit ridership loss.

I would say though for biking prices were already quite high by 2015 when bike commuting hit its peak. Bike commuting in Portland seems to follow a pretty different trend from transit commuting, it starts rising sharply around 2000, rises more slowly 2009 -> 2014, then has dropped since then. This chronology does not fit neatly with the narrative of rising house prices and associated displacement, at least to me.

Alex Reedin
Guest
Alex Reedin

I dunno, there may be a pretty good delay between when average housing prices rise & when people actually move as a result. Longtime tenants in some cases get lower rent increases than others. People who own homes are subject to a different and less urgent “push” out (“Wow, my house is worth a ridiculous amount of money now! Weird!” is not as motivational as “Holy… I cannot pay my new rent!” but still eventually motivational for some) and thus may take longer to move further out or leave the metro area if they’re going to do that.

For an anecdote: I moved further out in 2016 (but kept bike commuting via an ebike), and didn’t leave Portland entirely until 2018. Housing prices were far from the only thing that pushed me out, but they were a major factor.

Clyde S Dale
Guest
Clyde S Dale

When I first moved to Portland about 8 months ago, riding to work was one of the things that excited me most. After several terrifying brushes with traffic, I opted for the safety of a car. The infrastructure is pretty solid here. However, drivers’ attitudes toward cyclists are the worst I’ve seen of any of the places I’ve lived; a very dangerous mix of road rage and inattention.

Concordia Cyclist
Guest
Concordia Cyclist

I’d hedge to bet much of what you have experienced in poor driving etiquette/skills is due to a severe lack of enforcement by local police thanks to a an equally sever lack of qualified candidates to fill open positions. We are certainly seeing the second hand results of their inability to get police on the streets and the severe decline in any focus on driving enforcement.

Clarence
Guest
Clarence

At this point, US Census data is crap. To the point it’s almost useless. Just one look at the streets of NYC shows that. Our Census number barely moves but it’s obvious the insane numbers of people on bikes in some locations. Add to that: we just hit 100,000 Citibike rides in a day for the first time last Saturday. The Census tells us zero.

B. Carfree
Subscriber
B. Carfree

NYC shows a weak link in the ACS. It uses the longest leg of the commute for the mode type. NYC is very unusual in that many commuters do long transit legs followed by short bikeshare legs. It would be nice if at some point they revamped it to allow data for all trip legs to be represented.

Is that truly crap? If people travel 10 miles on transit and 5 blocks in the most congested area (so they are more noticed) by bike, they’re not doing much riding and the streets away from those congested areas don’t see them.

todd boulanger
Guest
todd boulanger

Aloha Clarence – yah “crap”…perhaps the US Census tool / methods have been Trumped with budget tricks…and congrats on 100k NYC Citi Bike trips a day!! (it takes us here in Honolulu a month of 30 sunny palm trees days to do that!)…[Hey Clarence – I miss you…are you going to be at NABSA next week?]

Harald
Guest

Hm, but if you look at the automated counts for the East River bridges, they look pretty flat for the past couple years. https://www1.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/east-river-bridge-counts-24hrs-1980-2018.pdf

SD
Guest
SD

Most importantly, this data shows that “driving alone” is the invasive species of the transportation ecosystem. It will grow until it chokes out other species, it will consume all of the resources that are available, and it results in a drab, uninhabitable, mind numbing landscape.
But, PBOT, ODOT and city hall have treated “driving alone” as if it is a garden of roses that needs a little transit and active transportation thrown in to make it sparkle.

Alan 1.0
Subscriber

I love the “invasive species” analogy!

If I may pile on by borrowing some terms from https://nwcb.wa.gov/ control methods:

mechanical control: road diets, congestion pricing, bollards
herbicide control: ?
biologic control: ice, rain
cultural control: $10/gal gas, law enforcement

liz
Guest
liz

Also relevant I think is the phrasing of the ACS question:

“How did this person usually get to work LAST WEEK.”

I usually take transit 3 days a week and bike 2 days a week, so my rides wouldn’t be captured here.

Steve Scarich
Guest
Steve Scarich

I live in Bend, where I am sure the numbers are much lower. If you go by any large business, you see a tiny number of bicycles parked outside. I virtually never ride my bike in town to run errands. and I am pretty sure that Bend is ‘safer’ than PDX. I do ride on city streets to get out to rural roads for recreational riding 4 or 5 times a week, and I ‘white-knuckle’ it until I get near City limits and lighter traffic. I just have too many close calls, hostile interactions, and got hit from behind two years ago riding in the bike lane, to even consider regular city riding. I think the odds are just against me, a high skilled and defensive rider; I cringe when I see parents with a kid or two in their cargo bike.

Jake Cummings
Guest
Jake Cummings

I got back into town a year ago after being gone for six years and I’ve been saying it, “bike commuting seems pretty dead around here..” Portland has taken on a tremendous amount of new residents with high profile incomes and tight schedules.. people with no prior lifestyle. The vibe of the whole city is a shell of what I remembered. That being said, Portland does feel broader in diversities and dare I say it, more inclusive than ever..

I agree with the many here voicing that, despite all the work put into our lanes and infrastructure, the rate of population growth includes mostly people with aggressive driving habits – often the latter sentiment far outweighs the tone of the previous.. A confusing place to feel safe on a bicycle right now.

My gratitude to all the voices and activists who have served for *especially the last decade* to reduce right-hooks, expand buffer zones, etc.. If that work had not been implemented.. Imagine how Portland would feel for cycling right now! Early on, I was a voice against the green paint, I wanted everyone to ‘get along’.. to expand education and awareness.. I never foresaw our city booming like it is at this moment. We had around 40 construction cranes in the area this summer.

For work, I have spoken with thousands of recent transplants. While sadly most may never hop on, I can say there’s a decent number of people who would like to begin riding a bike to work and for pleasure. Hope. I try to encourage them that – riding in the winter rain is actually quite nice with a small investment and will to do..

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

Lower gas prices (below $3!) and higher housing prices in close in sections of the city can account for the shift in mode split that we see here for PDX. But PBOT needs to be more aggressive in helping transit get though tight spots…why has this taken so many years. AND, address those nasty gaps in the bike network. Oh, and how about a Willamette Greenway Trail from the Confluence to the Falls! Now! And one more thing…let’s get behind R. Robles pitch to the Gov for a moratorium on freeway construction…NO More Lanes until the earth starts to cool!!!

RH
Guest
RH

I remember reading an article on BP from Michael Anderson maybe last year that was praising all the people moving here because his stats showed that they were biking/walking/transit and not driving. Seems like there is some conflicting data somewhere. I know I don’t enjoy bike riding as much the past couple years. Too stressful and I am a fearless rider.

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

soren
We have annual bike counts which also show a downward trend since 2014.

We also have significantly less official support for said bike counts. I’ve been a volunteer bike counter for 5 years. Prior to this year there was a lot of encouragement from PBOT regarding counting, making sure all sites were counted, keeping volunteers engaged, etc. This year I received an initial email with my site confirmations and then there’s been nothing. No urging us to get out there and collect the data. No calls for end of the ‘season’ counts at important sites that haven’t been counted yet. No thank yous for volunteering and counting. PBOT may still want the data, but from the way the PM is treating the volunteers it very much feels like they really don’t care.

soren
Guest
soren

I remember when PBOT used to splash it’s bike count data on it’s front page and widely promote the results. Since 2013 the counts have been a buried report in the recesses of their web site.

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

Lately I’ve been mulling over my own bike riding habits since I moved to Portland 6 years ago. (Aside: I moved to Portland for several reasons, but a HUGE reason was to ditch my car dependence and I knew I could do it here. I wonder how many people do that now — my new neighbor just moved in with two drivers and three cars which I contrast to me moving here with two bikes and no car….).

Anyway, I’m a daily bike commuter. Heck I just bought an e-bike, so I’m in it for the long haul. But I’ve nearly stopped riding recreationally on the road. And I LOVE road riding. But I’m just tired of dealing with increased & impatient car drivers and feeling very unsafe at least once on every ride I take on a given weekend. It’s not worth it. I’m trying mountain biking — it scares me for different reasons — and trying to like it because I really like bike riding. But over the past two years in particular I’ve noticed I spend way more of my free recreational time hiking than out on the road. 🙁

JP
Guest
JP

I too moved here in part to live a car-light lifestyle. My family of three shares one car, and we walk or bike to all of our neighborhood errands. We save lots of money on transportation costs and the quality of life is so much better.

SilkySlim
Guest
SilkySlim

Just to add another data point… Been in Portland for about 12 years, and was an every day bike commuter (my wife 60% of time) up until last year. Even prioritized buying a house as close in as possible, sacrificing quite a bit of square footage, to make that lifestyle possible.

Alas, now I’m working from home just about every day! I actually miss my twice daily 15′ jaunts. Wife is now 95% car, a blend of needing to get to Canby some days, and really hating the route she needs to take in town (crossing Powell at that awkward 41st spot).

So take that as you may!

poncho
Guest
poncho

this is about commuting to work versus all trips. we should be focused on all trips like errands, and non-work travel, not a small subsection of trips of going to work. i much prefer a bike for errands than going to work where I need to shower at work and bring a change of clothes

X
Guest
X

The census is a blunt instrument, a starting point at best when assessing where Portland mode share might be headed. That trend doesn’t look great. Some thoughts–

My informal bike rack count is highly variable: a heavy weather forecast drives it down, and sometimes there’s a shadow effect the day after a storm. Public school scheduling also can drop the number of bikes on the streets and on the racks. Lots of things impact the mode share tipping point, two days biking, or three? Good rain gear is a great thing but like that helmet we hear so much about it won’t protect me from people driving aggressively on rain slick streets.

Honestly if I were starting to ride a bike in Portland in 2019 I don’t know how it would go. Streets where it felt OK to take a lane are now more congested or edgy feeling. I still pick my spots and find my way but would have reservations about sending a newcomer out on the streets. When I found out my new neighbor’s 15 year old was going to ride a bike to Grant High School I said “That’s great!” and then I worried.

What about vision zero? Is it even possible to massage car user behavior? The engineering challenge is huge and there’s no consensus on what the best solutions might be. My opinion is that the great missing piece is an effective Vulnerable Road User law. As currently defined, enforced, and prosecuted it is worse than nothing. If we had nothing we could advocate for a law meant to be enforced. In 2019 Oregon only drunken people who leave the scene qualify as VRU offenders.

Passing one law won’t fix all our problems but the VRU gap needs to be addressed in the legislature and in the office of the District Attorney.

rh
Guest
rh

For those of you who have been here 10+ years, just ask yourself if you feel more or feel less comfortable riding a bike in 2019 vs 2007. For me, the answer is as clear as night and day. No.

Al
Guest
Al

I have lived in the Portland area for over 20 years now and would say that I am more comfortable riding a bike now than ever. Speeds have been reduced. Bike lanes are common. Bike paths have been vastly increased and existing ones improved. Drivers are not just aware of cyclists and how they will act but expect them.

When I started commuting, there was no bike path on my commute and the bike lanes that existed weren’t even continuous on the same street. Maybe half of my commute had a bike lane. Now, over 75% of my commute is on a bike path, not a bike lane but a dedicated biking / walking path that’s nowhere near traffic and the rest of my commute has a nice bike lane. Moreover, bike path street crossings are far safer than they used to be and drivers are familiar with them.

I’m not saying these things to deter improvements, far from it, a lot more needs to be done but your question is an easy one for me to answer. It’s a LOT better than it used to be.

Hello, Kitty
Subscriber
Hello, Kitty

I have to agree that all the gloom-and-doom talk about the state of our streets feels a bit like longing for a golden age that wasn’t. On balance, I think conditions have improved, though not in every respect.

Brian
Guest
Brian

I have been commuting (not necessarily every day) from the East side to Beaverton for 20 years. My experience in Beaverton has gotten way better over that time. The drivers in the burbs are much more respectful these days, even compared to those in the city. Regarding Portland, it really is a mixed bag for me. The wealthier neighborhoods on the West side are still, by far, the worst part about my ride. I deal with so much of what I perceive to be an entitled “these roads are mine” mentality over there. Downtown and the East side are just much busier and more hectic these days, which often leads to negative interactions. Though I would argue that it isn’t a huge difference from day to day compared to years past.

Michael Mann
Guest

Purely anecdotal side note here, but I occasionally restore and sell fairly inexpensive bikes on Craigslist. Think 80s steel mountain bikes and made in Japan road bikes. I’ve never seen a deader market in Portland for used bike sales than what exists right now.

Cat Mom
Guest
Cat Mom

And yet as someone looking for that very thing, I’m finding little out there? Maybe it’s because my definition of cheap is outdated but the end result is not purchasing because it’s not affordable.

Michael Mann
Guest

Also, I’ve been looking at the Copenhagenize Index https://www.wired.com/story/most-bike-friendly-cities-2019-copenhagenize-design-index/ and what makes a world-class cycling city (compared to Portland which is not). Regarding folks who don’t ride/stopped riding/are really picky about where and when they ride, because of safety concerns, I don’t know what the number is, but It’s obviously higher than 5.2% and probably lower than Copenhagen’s 62% ride share. But at some point, a critical mass of riders makes cycling safer and tips the wannabes onto bikes. I think it will take an aggressive approach to reach this that we’re so far unwilling to do. Congestion pricing for downtown parking, higher gas prices (taxes) to cover the actual costs of burning fossil fuel and maintaining driving infrastructure, charge homeowners for the currently free use of public right of way where they park their cars in front of their houses, and use that money for more pedestrian/bike infrastructure, and aggressive enforcement of current distracted driving (cell phone) laws. The political will isn’t there. Yet.

Early rider
Guest
Early rider

Well I have been an on again off again commuter for years. I do agree that mostly the bike lanes, bike trails, and lighting has all gotten better. These things do make for a much better biking culture and promote the safety for bike commuting in Portland and the surrounding areas. However with that said the negative side of this is the homeless community that use these bike paths as shelters and garbage dumps have pushed me out of commuting many times. It has been an on going discussion and problem about the lack of attention to the homeless problem in Portland.
I commute early in the morning from northeast Portland past Clackamas so much of my ride is spent on a bike path away from car traffic but that does not make me safer. It just exposes me to a different danger that has had very real problems that are not being addressed and I know has pushed other riders back into the safety of their cars to get to and from. The needles on the path, broken glass littering the path, and the most problematic point of being hassled by the people living directly on the path or right on the side of it. I have been attacked several times on my commute home or to work by people trying to knock me from my bike to steal either my bike or my bag.
So as the surrounding are safer and much improved to provide for bike commuting and this is great for the culture of making Portland a beacon for green transit nothing has been done to maintain the safety of that infrastructure. I know several people who just wont do the amazing 70 mile loop rode anymore as they refuse to go through the bombardment of homeless, trash, needles, and poorly maintained bridges on the spring water corridor. As well as the same problem on the 205 bike path with the exception of the bridges of course.