The Portland Bureau of Transportation is trying out a new strategy to encourage people to commute downtown by biking, walking or public transit: free coffee. Every Wednesday morning in March and April, PBOT staff will hold a pop-up somewhere downtown with coffee and $50 Kuto gift card credits for anyone who traveled downtown without a car.
PBOT’s “Ride Every Wednesday” initiative is part of Here for Portland’s larger “Every Wednesday” program, which intends to highlight Wednesday events happening in Portland’s central city to encourage people to get out of the house and visit some places downtown that could use some love.
“‘Every Wednesday’ is a new tradition we hope you’ll embrace,” the Here for Portland website states. “It’s a series of perks and pop-up events to brighten up your midweek and make your time in town as fun and productive as possible.”
Knowing the divisive reactions that are quick to follow most discussions about downtown Portland, Here for Portland offers a disclaimer about their new initiative:
“Every Wednesday is not a cover-up or Band-Aid for the very real challenges facing our city. Revitalization requires structural change,” the website says. “But at the same time, we recognize change is only possible if people show up and spend time in affected neighborhoods.”
It’s good to see PBOT encouraging people to commute with active transportation — though it might not seem like much, some free caffeine really can be a game-changer for overcoming your late-winter hump-day blues. However, given this initiative is happening in the midst of a concerning decline in bike ridership, one wonders if programs like this will really make a dent. Like Here for Portland said, revitalization requires structural change, not just coffee pop-ups.
At a Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) meeting earlier this month, members discussed strategies to prompt PBOT to more assertively incentivize cycling for transportation, and how doing this might mean some hard decisions for the bureau.
“It doesn’t seem like there’s a lack of information on PBOT’s part [about declining bike ridership],” BAC member David Stein said. “It’s more the the willingness to go out and do work that might not initially be politically popular.”
There’s also the question of how many people are actually physically commuting downtown given the prevalence of working from home. At the February meeting, BAC Vice Chair Joseph Perez asked whether PBOT should rethink how they measure bike ridership in the age of remote work.
“It’s somewhat challenging to conceptualize that ridership is actually declining in Portland if people are working from home and not commuting to work,” Perez said. “So why are we exclusively measuring commuting relative to Portland ridership?”
Advocates think tactics like closing streets off to cars on a weekly or monthly basis and improving safety for people walking and biking would be the most effective measures for reversing declining bike ridership. It’s an ongoing problem on which the BAC will continue to focus. But hey — I’m sure they wouldn’t say no to free coffee, too.
So, back to the coffee: PBOT will hold the kickoff “Ride Every Wednesday” event this Wednesday, March 1st. You’ll be able to grab coffee and download the Kuto gift card (which you can use at a variety of downtown establishments) from 7:30 to 10:00 am at the Congress Center at 1001 SW 5th Ave. Find out more about the program at PBOT’s website.
Taylor has been BikePortland’s staff writer since November 2021. She has also written for Street Roots and Eugene Weekly. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
I ride past there every Wednesday at 7am to catch the bus to work. Bummer that this is seemingly still just focused on the 9-5 office jobs in the downtown core. Seems like a fine idea, but I’d be shocked if this moved the needle at all.
There are two things that keep people from biking in this city.
As an aside, its extremely frustrating that as business in my neighborhood get vandalized and robbed on nearly a weekly basis, the CoP is giving out $50 taxpayer funded gift cards in an attempt to beg people to come a neighborhood that the Portland Business Alliance owns a lot of real estate in. I guess we don’t matter up here.
If infrastructure were the problem, why has ridership declined as infrastructure has improved? It is not more dangerous today than it was in Portland’s cycling heyday.
Bike fatalities in Portland is at 20 year low.
it is much more dangerous to walk than bike in Portland but people need excuses not to ride….
People have to walk. Biking is still somewhat of a choice.
People walk to nearby shops, they walk quite a bit to reach transit, they walk to their damn cars, they walk because they have a little money/SNAP for food and walking is free. People who are “interested but concerned” still have to walk. That’s why they are getting killed.
Some cycling advocates might believe that commutes were overrated but the discipline imposed by everyday trips was a key factor in making Portland more friendly to people on bikes.
I used the wrong word above. Everyday bike commuting is a habit forming activity (and not necessarily a “discipline”) that makes one less likely to drive for all 1-5 mile trips.
Infrastructure hasn’t improved though. Portland has maybe 100 blocks of real bike infrastructure scattered throughout the city. You can’t go more than a mile for the most part without engaging with deadly infrastructure.
The lack of improvement in infrastructure and the cultural shift to driving massive vehicles while you play on your phone has made it more dangerous. PBOT/ODOT set a new record for bodies last year and they’ll break it again this year.
I don’t know how long you’ve been riding in Portland, but infrastructure definitely has improved from the days when we were experiencing regular annual increases in mode share. It is not an exaggeration to say that bike infrastructure in Portland has never been better, especially along some key corridors such as N Williams.
The crash stats that I’ve seen do not reflect your assertion that the situation is worse for cyclists. I am not arguing that the current situation is acceptable, only against the narrow claim that infrastructure explains the dramatic fall in cycling rates we’ve experienced.
I agree that fear of theft may be a factor, to which I would add that cycling just isn’t as fashionable as it once was. Riding in Portland once had certain cachet that simply isn’t there any more. I don’t see as many young people riding as I used to.
However… in a sign of optimism, the bike racks at Cleveland are often full, which didn’t used to be the case. The pendulum will start swinging back at some point.
This is certainly true. In fact, Portland’s bike mode share (census data) is now lower than when Sam Adams installed Portland’s very first fully separated bike lane on Broadway. Perhaps throwing a few more million here and there on piecemeal and disconnected infrastructure may not have the results that PBOT and its supporters desire. For example, spending ~$15 million one one bridge (Blumenauer) when this funding could have been used to complete bike network connections is, IMO, the epitome of Portland’s bike network dysfunction. The fact that the Blumenauer bridge itself lack connections to our bike network only heightens the absurdity of PBOT’s active transportation program*.
*From a more cynical point of view, one could argue that PBOT’s active transportation infrastructure (like its streetcar system), is sometimes more about real estate development and place-making for the rich than providing decent transportation options.
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Exactly. The biggest predictor of bike mode share is a physically separated network. Separate Williams/Vancouver, Broadway/Weidler and a few other corridors and, just like other cities who have done the same, we will see a dramatic increase. Every advocate for cycling needs to remember this. For some reason this is still a debate in Portland, whereas even council members in NYC are overwhelmingly in support.
I disagree that the N Williams left-lane configuration is an improvement. I almost got left-hooked by a truck there, since drivers aren’t expecting a bike on their left. Portland has so many one-off treatments – they are really confusing for drivers.
Infrastructure has improved, it’s the goalposts that have moved. Once upon a time bike lanes and greenways were celebrated; now they’re dismissed and condemned by the loudest voices in the activism scene. If you don’t accept the narrative that PBOT literally wants to kill you, then you’re called names and ostracized.
Hard to see these types of attitudes producing positive, meaningful change.
Who doesn’t like greenways and bike lanes in the actvism scene? Portland should build more greenways and bike lanes.
PBOT’s problem is they are adamant that motorists are able to drive as fast as possible on greenways, which makes them significantly less green. When you have to beg and plead for PBOT to install hard infrastructure on “greenways” that have car volumes several times their intended amount, that’s something to complain about.
Bike lanes are also still en vogue. We’ve observed that a painted line doens’t actually create a force field and to protect the integrity of the bike lane, we need physical barriers to stop motorists from using it. When you see motorists using the “buffered bike lane” as a passing lane, like I do all the time, you understand that you’re just as vulnerable there as anywhere.
lol at this. greenways are constantly criticized by advocates on this site.
Are greenways criticized or “greenways”?. Sharrows, beg barrels, and signs are nonsense that should be criticized.
I’ve never seen a comment here I can remember that criticizes the concept of a greenway.
I’ve certainly been one to criticize greenways, but usually in the context of them being not enough. They should be the equivalent of local streets, rather than the only way to bike around the city. Paths on major roads (to connect with transit, businesses, schools, apartments, etc) are the huge missing link in Portland. Until there is an actual plan for those I view greenways as functionally pushing cyclists “out of sight, out of mind” from the motor vehicle driving majority – which I think degrades social conditions on the road (drivers who are less aware of cyclists, etc.).
PBOT added “greenways” in the overlook neighborhood. I put it in quotes because the design/construction involved was literally painting sharrows on the street. They did not add speed bumps, diverters, parking restrictions or change stop signs to favor teh greenway. The most negligent thing was they did not add stop signs to cross streets. There a bunch of uncontrolled intersections which had worked well in the past, but with so many delivery drivers/uber+lyfts, there have been a lot more crashes and near-misses. PBOT deserves criticism for implying something is greenway but doing none of the expected safety improvements required to actually make it a greenway.
Why is it no suprise that PBOT is not following it’s own very good policy when it comes to neighborhood greenways? Instead of considering cheap traffic calming (e.g. diverters) when ADT excedes 1000, PBOT now just retires greenways and builds costly alternative routes.
Sure, it just hasn’t improved that much. Portland has a tiny amount of platinum level bike infrastructure around the river through a small section of downtown, and that’s the extent of our real bike infrastructure, that I’m aware. Of course, we ‘ve lost tons of miles of MUP as the city has handed them over to shanty towns, so really there is less infrastructure than there was ten years ago.
N. Williams is basically the poster child for how bad Portland’s bike infrastructure is. Ten years ago, N Williams was an unpainted bike lane on the right side of a one way. Now its an unpainted bike lane on the left side. Progress! N Williams is the busiest bike route in the city and 90% of the space is dedicated to driving or parking a car. The congestion causes dangerous situations where riders pass each other in lane and you have to watch out for cars blocking the bike lane or worse, using it to pass other cars. Hell, one section of N Williams forces cyclists to share the lane with left turning cars. That street epitomizes the cities failure to build suitable bike infrastructure.
Crash stats in this city are completely meaningless. When I got right hooked a couple of years ago I didn’t bother to report it to police because its a massive waste of my time. When I got assaulted by a motorist a couple of years ago, and had the assault and motorist’s face on camera, I couldn’t even get PPB to show up to take a report. No one is going to bother to report most crashes when they know that if the police do show up, they are just going to victim blame the cyclists because cops are generally carbrains.
That also doesn’t capture all the times I have to take evasive action to save my own life. Riding in this city isn’t fun or relaxing. You need to be hyperfocused and tense at all times.
All those low-income people live out in east county now and there isn’t a safe way for them to ride to the central city.
North Williams used to be a parade of cyclists constantly so the infrastructure was plenty good enough.
10 years ago It had a thousand cyclists a day, how can you say the “infrastructure is the problem?
I know that the people who post here are not the problem but this constant excuse making is silly. Bike share is way down for a lot of reasons but it apparently is not “infrastructure”, since the numbers were a lot higher years ago.
I think some of the massive blobs of paint and wands and crap they put down now makes cycling seem more dangerous to a lot of people. It make bike riding appear to be extremely scary to a lot of people, that it requires an entire street or we will all die.
Ten years ago it was relatively rare to see a burned out car with no hood and no license plate doing 20 over.
The Portland metro is also signficiantly more populated than it was ten years ago. The metro added 286K people between 2010 and 2020. That’s more congestion, which means more cut-through traffic on roads like N Williams and any small road that parallels I-5 like N Michigan.
Cars are much bigger than they were ten years ago, and smart phones are more ubiquitous. Hell, they put computers in cars now so you can play games while you drive.
What little enforcement existed ten years ago has withered and died. Portland’s “infrastructure” was adequate when Portland’s roads were much calmer. We are at Mad Max stage now.
The roads have gotten more dangerous while the infrastructure has stagnated and in a lot of cases, gotten worse. That is an infrastructure problem. Much like a septic system for a city, what works for a small town is going to fail when stressed with a large population. You have to upgrade to face your current reality.
I think its the exact opposite. New people see the stupid wands and beg barrels and other garbage and naively think it’s “infrastructure”. Then they try out biking and realize that none of it means anything and biking actually is really scary here. So they never do it again.
Study after study show that the better infrastructure gets, the more people bike. Portland is not special in that regard.
Comment of the week
”Biking actually is really scary here”
And you wonder why numbers are down?
Some infrastructure is true improvement, sure. But some “infrastructure” is paint. And cars have gotten bigger, cell phones more intwined with our lives, infotainment consoles in cars are the size of my first TV now. Unregistered cars, unlicensed drivers, and no traffic enforcement isn’t helpful. I don’t know if it has balanced out. Overall fatality numbers don’t seem like an improvement, even if cycling may be down.
I would add that there is more stress within our bike lanes. E-bikes, e-scooters, and those super fast onewheel things are great for our climate insofar as they replace car trips, but they add stress to our bike lanes. I got passed by a onewheeler and a car at the same time on Interstate Ave in 5′ lane- I would guess the car was going 40 and onewheeler 30+ (almost keeping up with the car). I was going about 15. There was not enough space for that to feel comfortable. We need infrastructure to handle this, and some guidelines for road users to know how to use the roads. These are hybrid vehicles given access to use motor vehicle lanes, bike lanes, MUPs however they see fit. That is not a welcoming culture toa less than confident cyclist.
I think this is an important recognition/push-back for the “but infrastructure has objectively got better” argument – it’s a lot like saying wages have increased, but if they aren’t increasing faster than inflation, it’s still a net loss. Sure, cycling infrastructure has improved, but other conditions (such as automobile size and driver behavior) have deteriorated faster and worse. An unprotected doorzone lane, like a $10 minimum wage, may have sufficed in the past. Neither does any more.
So what do you want a padded bubble to cycle in? Life is full of risks, get over it; it’s safer to ride your bike on the streets than you seem to think if you just use some common sense, pay attention to your surroundings and have some situational awareness. No City infrastructure is ever going to do what the most rabid and ridiculous cycling advocates want it to.
People are actually very bad at determining which activities are riskier than others.
The more people say “cycling is more dangerous now than 10 years ago” the more people believe it and spread it.
Maybe there’s something to that… data shows the reality of danger hasn’t changed, but maybe the perception has. People, especially younger ones, are much more risk averse in many facets of life now than they used to be.
It’s the same thing you see with transit. TriMet is objectively safer than driving, but people will swear up and down that it isn’t, just based on how they feel.
Secure bike parking such as NL examples where you pay a small daily fee for a secure space with staff.
In my opinion, PBOT is not making infrastructure better. Look at Greeley, NE 7th/Tillamook, Blumenauer Bridge, Flanders Greenway, even the proposed path at Wilkes Park: They all feature something that gives the appearance of increased bike safety, but each project fails to address the critical gaps and connections that would (should!) bike the network better, safer and more efficient. PBOT has developed a pattern of only doing the safe/easy parts of the project and ignoring the difficult part- or rather, they refuse to compromise the fast and free flow of people driving and parking for safe, direct bike connections. A safe bike segment is useless without safe connections to it- of course ridership is not increasing. The infrastructure is not being improved, it is being bike-washed.
COMMENT OF THE WEEK!
Maybe if the City (Mayor) would step up and work towards making downtown safer people wouldn’t have to be forced (back to the office anyone?) or bribed with coffee to enjoy what used to be a nice downtown.
Yes, I work downtown, near Burnside, and it isn’t a pleasant experience walking the streets. I have zero desire to do anything else other than go to office, work, go home.
Go for coffee? forget-it.
Go for lunch? No way.
Go shopping? Not on your life.
Actually, the Mayor heard you, or heard somebody. There’s a whole new industry of rousting people downtown. There are some holdouts and I’m sure a person could still get some drugs but if you haven’t seen a change then maybe get out more.
I don’t know where they’ve pushed people to. Expect the story to break any day. Some dark sci-fi scenario? I doubt it but I’m fully prepared to believe that free one-way bus rides are a thing.
No it’s not.
PBOT has performed bicycle counts at key locations on neighborhood greenways, bike lanes, and bridges for decades. The BAC vice-chair should ask Roger Gellar to publish whatever 2019-2022 bike counts he has available.
The denial of reality and facts here is amazing…FFS, just ride around and see for yourself that bike numbers are way down.
Williams used to have so many bikes on it people took other routes..
Now it’s basically just a place for Uber drivers to wait on pickups…
That was my initial response as well. But maybe Perez is saying that ‘ridership’ should be defined (or redefined) so as to not include those that have stopped commuting because they WFH? Perhaps a significant fraction of the reduction would handily remobilize to a bike if they were no longer WFH. And so the number might look worse than it really is.
I would guess that bike numbers are down, but the ‘eye’ test probably isn’t very useful here.
I’m a former commuter to downtown until the pandemic. I’m not driving more than I was, but I also bike less because the number one place I go to is my neighborhoods downtown, which is within walking distance.
It’s possible for bike use to fall on arterial commuter routes like Williams and move to ‘in-neighborhood’ trips near where people actually live.
I’ll just chime in that I’m in this exact situation. I used to commute downtown via N Williams. Now I rarely go that route, instead riding around my neighborhood for exercise and daycare dropoffs (more east/west).
I switched to work from home during the pandemic, previously I commuted downtown every work day by bus or bike.
I really like working from home, and the company I work for closed their offices, so it will take more than some free coffee to get me downtown. It would be nice to be able to go downtown without having to deal with all the bad drivers and bad infrastructure (20 minute headways if you’re lucky for a bus doesn’t make that possible)
Something like car free streets would be really nice but there’s no leadership to make that happen. I’d love to be able to pop downtown in a stress free way, but in the absence of that there’s plenty in my neighborhood and surrounding ones to keep me occupied.
Feels like a cheap bandaid because someone at the PBA has some pull in the city gov.
WFH people drive at about the same rate as work-at-work people. The idea that WFH people will be incentivized to increase non-work bike transportation trips when most major bike facilities are mostly empty of people on bikes, full of debris/sand, and inches away from raging cagers is pure fantasy.
I agree. Work from home often means a more flexible schedule, which means easier driving because you can drive to the store or wherever during off-peak business and traffic hours. Regular-hour jobs that require commuting mean driving in bad traffic hours if you drive, which can give some incentive to look for alternatives to driving.
I’ve noticed this as well. Traffic is just as bad, but instead of peaking in the morning and evening, it just slowly builds all day long. It is nice for those of us who get up early, as you can avoid a lot of traffic that way.
As another WFH person in the same boat as Nick, I have to ask, what are you basing that assertion about driving on? Why wouldn’t people take more trips by bike, especially shorter distance ones like for groceries?
As for me I don’t go downtown that much because I’m just not a big shopper and there isn’t really much there to draw me. The office was it. There are a few stores I go to sometimes, and riding to OMSI with my toddler.
A few early studies reported a small decrease in vehicle mile traveled (e.g. 1-3%) but many recent studies find that working from home (telecommuting) is associated with an increase in VMT:
Choo, S., Mokhtarian, P.L. & Salomon, I. Does telecommuting reduce vehicle-miles traveled? An aggregate time series analysis for the U.S.. Transportation32, 37–64 (2005).
Zhu, P., Mason, S.G. The impact of telecommuting on personal vehicle usage and environmental sustainability. Int. J. Environ. Sci. Technol.11, 2185–2200 (2014).
Rongxiang Su, Elizabeth C. McBride, Konstadinos G. Goulias Unveiling daily activity pattern differences between telecommuters and commuters using human mobility motifs and sequence analysis.Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice Volume 147, May 2021, Pages 106-132
Paul, J. Work from home behaviors among U.S. urban and rural residents.Journal of Rural Studies Volume 96, December 2022, Pages 101-111
Zhu, P., Wang, L., Jiang, Y. et al. Metropolitan size and the impacts of telecommuting on personal travel. Transportation 45, 385–414 (2018).
Some of this literature is discussed here: https://slate.com/business/2021/04/post-pandemic-commutes-cars-driving-more.html
Moreover, we conducted a massive real world experiment: VMT in stabilized at close to 2019 levels during the pandemic even though ~30-40% of Portlanders worked from home in 2021 and 2022.
The rub for a lot of folks is going to be that they are kind of focusing on 9-5 downtown office workers, the folks who are mostly all working from home now. I don’t think most Portlanders are against giving out a few bucks in gift cards to incentivize people riding bikes more.
I would love to see PBOT do a program like this, except in more varied places around the city and encouraging taking trips on bikes, rather than the focus on commuting. For example, the theme for one month could be “bike to the grocery store”.
Culture matters, I think, and I see fostering a strong culture of active transportation being just as important as investing in infrastructure.
I’m shameless, I’ll take a gift card, but I won’t ride more, or anyplace I didn’t ride before. This is nuts.
This isn’t going to cost a lot compared to things like new pavement but what is the budget for it and where does it come from?
Can I swap my gift card for one “Cross Traffic Does Not Stop” sign somewhere on NE Going St?
When I read about efforts like this one, I think PBOT should adopt the motto:
PBOT: WE ARE OUT OF IDEAS.
I can’t think of a lamer, more performative proposal, for getting non-cyclists to cycle downtown, than this one. It’s just slightly more lame than the Red Electric bridge.
Didn’t Einstein say, “You can’t solve a problem by using the same level of thinking that got you into the problem”?
We’re going to need something on the level of a Manhattan Project to get people out of cars and onto bikes. EVERYTHING in our culture currently normalizes driving – gov’t policy, prevailing culture, the petro-economy, work practices, etc. Let’s face it: getting on a bike and riding places is HARD for most people (not for us – the readers of BP). People who currently don’t cycle are going to need an incentive that makes cycling EASIER than stepping into a warm and cozy box and pressing on a gas pedal and getting downtown in 15 minutes. Free coffee certainly isn’t it.
How about sweeping the bike lanes now that the snow is melting? Concentrate on that and when you can do that well, do the next thing.
I expect that we’ll have gravel in the bike lanes until at least July this year, based on past experience.
Comment of the week!
?The Portland Bureau of Transportation is trying out a new strategy to encourage people to commute downtown by biking, walking or public transit: free coffee.”
how about a new strategy of giving me my bus line to downtown back?
Pedant alert. Those cyclists on Williams are heading toward NoPo not portland city center.
I went in and read the details of tomorrow’s event and you need to go inside the building to get your coffee/gift card. Which I suspect will really hinder participation. One of the glorious things about BonB (couldn’t PBOT just give BonB some support?!?!) is that the folks are just there as you’re riding by — no need to go really out of your way, lock up your bike, etc. Anyway, I don’t know how inclined I am to stop by somewhere that takes effort to find….
IMO it isn’t the lack of infrastructure, it’s the lack of consistency and overall poor quality of the infrastructure. Every time PBOT puts any new bits of bike infrastructure out, it becomes another safety hazard which I then have to avoid. As a result I dread the day PBOT starts planning and/or installing new bike infra on any route I regularly use, almost none of which includes any official PBOT bike infrastructure. At this point I even refuse to discuss actual routes I ride with anyone that might use that information to ‘improve’ the route for cycling. For example, I completely avoid the NE Tillamook greenway now b/c of all the speedbumps they installed on Tillamook and the idiocy that is known as the intersection of Tillamook and 7th.
Great point about the lack of consistency. Just wait for the new MUP on SW Capitol Hwy to open in the spring. Some cyclist going downhill at 25 mph is going to be wiped out by a car entering the roadway from a driveway on the right – mark my words.
The problem isn’t traveling to downtown on bike, it’s where to safely lock it up once you get there
Better than free coffee or gift cards would be bringing back traffic enforcement to Portland. That would encourage me to ride more.
I appreciate the thought, but this approach isn’t really going to change the situation.
As for encouraging transit use: fully half of the recent times I have tried to take the MAX back to Milwaukie, no train had come when scheduled. It’s so unreliable! There’s driver shortages, “medical events”, whatever.
1. I certainly can’t depend on it to get me to work on time,
2. and sitting in the rain waiting for a train on my way home is pointless when I already have my bike with me (because no. 1)
I’ve been working in person downtown since 2007 (minus the worst of covid), and have mixed riding, driving, and Trimet the whole time.
Over the years, riding has been my preferred method, for enjoyment, fitness, environment, and cost.
It’s the morning commute that sucks the worst, and I mainly ride because the timing is reliable, the traffic isn’t a factor, and my mood is better. There’s something rage-inducing about being stuck in a barely moving line of cars for 35 minutes, when my vehicle can do the drive in like 10. So I drive when I work in the evening, but avoid the rush hour commute like the plague, and ride during that time.
I bet there are a lot of other people who hate the rush hour commute like I do, but who have the option of WFH or flexible hours. They just probably don’t ride downtown much anymore.
I don’t think it gets as much attention as the other reasons to ride, but there are lots of people who will ride in the rain just to avoid the frustration of stop and go traffic jams. That was a huge incentive for lots of workers.
WFH and flexible hours really change the equation!