How much does the City of Portland know about the decline in cycling and when did they know it?
As I continue to do research around the decline (following the release of the 2022 Bike Count Report two weeks ago), I’ve been struck by this question. In some respects, the City of Portland is saying they don’t know what’s causing the decline. But in others, they’ve offered relatively detailed explanations. In this post, I want to share the theories for the decline offered by Portland Bureau of Transportation Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller and compare those to what we’ve heard from other city officials.
First let’s start with the most recent official statements. In the report itself, PBOT wrote, “That a decline is occurring in both numbers of people bicycling and in mode split is undeniable. Why it is happening is difficult to determine.” And in a story published yesterday on MomentumMag.com, PBOT Public Information Officer Dylan Rivera also declined to share a specific rationale. “We see a need for scientifically valid public opinion research that can help us understand attitudes towards biking,” he said. “Until we know more about why people are biking less, we won’t have any new recommendations on how to address this.”
Those statements struck me as odd, given that I know PBOT has already put considerable thought into exploring the cause of the ridership decline. If we go back to the July 2022 PBOT Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, we learn that longtime PBOT Bicycle Coordinator Roger Geller has put considerable thought into this question.
Geller, who’s worked in PBOT as a bike planner since the 1990s, shared a presentation with BAC members titled, Why has bicycle commuting/bicycling been in decline in Portland (2014-2019)? (PDF)
“I’m really kind of stumped,” Geller said at the outset of his presentation, “I’ve been in this position for a long time and the general thinking has always been, ‘build it and they will come.'” Geller explained how PBOT built new bike infrastructure each year and the rise in bicycle use followed up until a peak of 7.2% of commute trips in 2014. “But then things changed and the numbers began to drop,” he said.
“The network has grown, the quality of the network has grown,” he continued. “And so this is why it’s kind of confounding because our strategy of ‘build it and they will come’ is just not working anymore.”
Geller’s candor was appreciated. But is he really “stumped”? At that same meeting he shared some theories as to why it’s happening.
The first theory Geller shared was that Portland saw a “tremendous increase” in the number of commuters between 2000 and 2019 — and far too many of them drove cars. According to the U.S. Census, there were an additional 95,211 new commuters on our roads in 2019 compared to 2005. Thanks in part to progressive transportation policies and projects, Portland has able to keep driving at a minimum until about 2014 (see chart below).
In fact, between 2000 and 2014 bicycling (blue line in chart above) did more than any other mode to absorb those new commuters. In 2013, the number of new commuters who used a car was about half the number who biked. Just three years later, it jumped to twice the number of bike riders! And the number of drivers continued to skyrocket (relative to other modes) every year after that.
This led Geller to share what is perhaps one of the biggest understatement in the history of Portland bike planning: “Portland’s bikeway network is better than it has ever been, but perhaps it is not able to withstand an average annual growth of 6,700 drive alone commuters.”
And that’s not good, because not only will our transportation system eventually grind to a halt (it already would have if not for Covid’s impact on congestion), but if people keep driving at these rates, our city will become a much worse place to live. “One thing [more car drivers] causes,” Geller continued. “Is there’s more aggression on the road, there’s more aggressive behavior, there’s more overflow into the neighborhood greenways…”
Geller is rightfully worried about the quality of cycling on neighborhood greenways, because those streets shoulder the majority of the load in our bike network. “If people are overflowing… cutting through greenways [with cars],” he said. “Then that’s a problem and people are not going to feel especially comfortable there.”
The second theory Geller fleshed out at the BAC meeting last summer was about demographics. He thinks one explanation is that as younger, lower-income, bike-inclined residents who lived in Portland’s most bicycle-friendly neighborhoods moved out, they were replaced by people who weren’t well-versed in cycling. “Maybe wealthier residents don’t know about bicycle transportation?” he posited.
This trend was a double-whammy because not only did some new residents lack awareness of our bike network and/or an inclination to use it even if they did; but the folks who moved away now live in places where bicycling was an even less attractive option due to longer trip distances and a relative lack of safe infrastructure.
Why would new residents be clueless about our bike network? Geller has some thoughts about that too:
“If you don’t live on a neighborhood Greenway, you may not know that there’s a bicycle transportation network in your neighborhood that you can access… our bikeway network is a little bit hidden to new people coming to town.”
The last of Geller’s theories I’ll share today is related to the one above and I haven’t heard it talked about a lot yet: He thinks it’s just too easy to drive in Portland.
“Depending on where people are moving from, people are moving here from areas where it’s much more difficult to drive, and Portland remains a very easy city in which to drive,” Geller explained. And he continued:
“The congestion here isn’t bad, there’s relatively inexpensive parking… despite complaints you hear, parking is plentiful here. And so it’s possible that Portland is just too easy a place to drive, it’s a very attractive means of transportation, it’s effortless, it’s relatively quite safe — an urban driving paradise for people who are accustomed to congested cities they come from.”
I think all of Geller’s theories are very important pieces to the puzzle. They also lend themselves to a road map on how to turn these trends around: make driving less attractive, build more high-quality bikeways more quickly, defend greenways against drivers, build a stronger culture around cycling, and so on. Even with these solutions seeming like obvious steps, it might take some hand-holding to help city officials connect the dots.
At a city council meeting one day after Geller made this presentation at the BAC, a former BAC vice chair, David Stein, testified about it in front of Mayor Ted Wheeler and other councilors. After hearing Stein’s concerns about the cycling decline, Mayor Wheeler said, “I’ve often wondered if safety is really the primary question here, or whether there isn’t something else. I just don’t know.” (Also at that meeting Wheeler said he would visit a BAC meeting last fall, but that still has not happened.)
And after sharing his insights at the meeting, Geller himself seemed to not know the best way forward (or at least he’s unwilling to share them publicly). “It’s hard to know what to do because we don’t yet have a grasp on… what are the barriers to increasing bike use?”
Geller knows. PBOT knows. City Hall knows. The question is, will they have the guts to put that knowledge into action?
Missing from the discussion is also our transportation system needing to align with our quickly increasingly parking-free zoning. I see that chart comparing modes of new drivers and wonder how much new car commuters will tail off in the next generation as we see more units without parking come online. Driving is a hell of a lot less convenient when you have a car parked down a block, or don’t want to move that car from its ideal spot where on-street parking is increasingly competitive.
On a separate note: I have yet to see one commissioner really take the ‘bike’ conversation and bring it forward as a point to their agenda, its a real missed opportunity to use biking as a point to center conversations of civic life and health in Portland.
To me, the indicator of a livable, sustainable, safe, efficient, and productive city all traces to how empowered its citizens feel to bike and take transit.
Even with all the news about bike mode share: the fact of the matter is: its now news. And that gets me excited and hopeful. Its now a moment where it’s on Portland at large’s radar to acknowledge where we are at. This includes our commissioners and future elected officials who may be eager to develop their platform for after the City Charter reform.
Now that we know its an issue, what are each one of us going to do to solve it?
I found it really interesting that wealthier residents were cited as not knowing about cycling. As someone who lives in the area of those residents I can say they definitely do. But what I’ve also seen is an almost obstinate refusal to address infrastructure concerns in these areas.
Yes, I agree that lower income areas where people need the cheaper option to be safe should be considered as a prioritizing factor during planning. However if you want to get people out of cars you also need to look at who is driving them, many of which are the wealthier folks who can afford it.
The west hills are a transportation disaster. Lacking public transit, lacking sidewalks, lacking bike lanes, lacking shoulders, and high speed limits to top it all off.
We’ve lived in our house for about 40yrs. When I was a kid my parents would let me go ride down Cornell to catch a movie, because it was safe enough to let a kid do that then. Now I hesitate to ride the same road at all despite being an adult and having boxes full of cycling medals on the shelf. The traffic has increased so much, gotten so much more hostile, and some stretches of Cornell have actually lost the paved shoulder that used to be available to ride on. It’s too dangerous.
End of the day people won’t get out of their cars if you don’t give them a safe way to do that.
“The network has grown, the quality of the network has grown,” he continued. “And so this is why it’s kind of confounding because our strategy of ‘build it and they will come’ is just not working anymore.”
This is one of the most depressing things I’ve heard from Roger and PBOT in years. It’s as if they have been blinded by looking at the problem too long. The answer is staring them in the face. The network has not grown. There is no network. The separated bike network is essentially broadway, the waterfront downtown, and the Springwater. That’s it. That’s the reason. Build a physically separated network of bike lanes. This is accepted as given in NYC and most other major cities in the world. Why is this a mystery in Portland?
We need more regional “Bike Highways”, take a page out of the UK and Dutch manuals…the legacy 1980s trails (i205 / i5) and enhanced Springwater trail all were able to fill the new bike lanes and help absorb the 2000-2014 demand peak bike until folks moved out past them into x-rural areas without them.
agreed. But we also need to keep our existing “bike highways” like the 205 bike path and the Springwater trail free of tents and obstructions.
Why aren’t we cycling? Because it feels safer to ride on the streets than on some of our most important bike highways,
Super frustrating. A cool piece here and there that makes for a nice picture on a website is not a network. The new Bluemenauer bridge is a great example. It’s a bridge to nowhere. On the south side, you’re dumped into industrial zones with stop signs every few blocks and big trucks parked right up to the intersection making you hesitant to go through even when you have the right of way. On the north side you have to navigate Broadway/Weidler and then you’re on a busy street with a new bike cut out at Tillamook that makes for an “isn’t that a cool idea” picture but has made biking worse. So many examples like this. Greenway that have too many cars. Decent infrastructure like Multnomah that just ends going east. Zero north-south routes on the east side that are direct and feel safe to the average rider. How can any serious person say we have a network of anything here? So frustrating when NYC, DC, Seattle, San Diego….basically any other city is actually doing something useful.
Great example Matt. The Blumenauer bridge is great. But if we want average people (not just professional road cyclists) to use it, it needs to be connected to physically separated infrastructure. That is why Portland will continue to stagnate. Separate Williams/Vancouver, Broadway/Weidler etc. and monitor the data on bike numbers. Rinse and repeat. PBOT is flailing because of lack of leadership, not because we don’t know how to solve this problem.
They do have plans to re-make the 7th connection in the north and south (or maybe move it to 6th). The city just doesn’t fund it. The 2030 bike plan is exactly what everyone is asking for they just won’t implement it. Case in point Hawthorne is marked as a future separated in-roadway bike lane.
Right – which is the fundamental problem here. Portland making yet another plan with no funding apparatus (and evidently without making anything binding). And even that plan has a massive glaring issue. It puts an “in-road bikelane” in the same category as a separated cycletrack. Which is not great – since the level of comfort between the two is massive.
Interesting to note that the Ross Island Bridge is in there as an “existing or funded trail”. The single worst bridge to walk or bike over somehow is a trail?
Hey blundrew. In NYC the city council passed a bill requiring x number of bus, bike, ped space. The NYCDOT and mayor recently reported they will not complete a tiny fraction of that. While binding it to a specific funding apparatus is helpful, it’s mainly political will. Adams just doesn’t care about that stuff, just as Wheeler (along with most of the council in Portland) could really care less about building a separated network. My point is the 2030 plan looked great. The “streets master plan” also looked great. But both were circumvented by politics. I don’t think Roger was being disingenuous when claiming he doesn’t know why Portland is stagnating. But it is indicative of how broken PBOT/the council is when even the idea of a separated network is really something off the radar.
Yes – political will is always a necessity of getting things done, and there plainly isn’t the will for doing it in Portland. Having specific funding for bike projects would reduce the need for political arm-wrangling for every single project by allowing PBOT to rely on something other than discretionary funds.
I’m not familiar with how NYC designates money for active transport, but part of why the subway (and LIRR, and what is now Metro-North) recovered from the all time lows of the 60s and 70s was that the MTA has a lot of money that they receive from a bunch of different sources (if they spend that money well is another question). But it was created with the idea of having a wide array of dedicated funding in mind (and to ice out Robert Moses).
Successful public projects need to have funding available that exists at least somewhat outside the usual yearly budget. ODOT maintains its power in no small part because they get 50% of the gas tax revenue state wide by law. If Portland passed a specific tax or floated a bond for active transport construction projects, maybe the 2030 plan could have been achieved. But without any funding, of course it was doomed to fail. PBOT needs to be able to advocate, lobby, and deal on more than just ideas – they need to actually build things. They can’t just sit around and cry about how they have no money – find new revenue sources, engage the public, do literally anything other than say “sorry, $4 billion maintenance backlog”.
Not doing us much good then, is it.
Don’t forget the Red Electric Bridge in SW Portland – another “bridge to nowhere.” PBOT spends million$ on projects that look good but do very little or nothing to stimulate cycling in Portland. They are avoiding the hard decisions that would really move the needle, like turning some STREETS into dedicated bikeways.
And when that bridge was in the planning stages, when it was being completed, when the grand opening happened– anyone criticizing it here would get eviscerated.
We need to abandon the “every bit helps!” attitude, just like we need to abandon the “never cede an inch!” attitude when it comes to opposing freeways. Neither are productive and it makes the bike community look like irrational zealots.
I heartily agree with these sentiments. I rode from the west up Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway to the Red Electric bridge a couple of weeks ago — a real eye-opener. I’m a relatively aggressive rider who’s been riding and commuting for over 40 years, and I was riding a cyclocross bike with beefy tires. But even I found the experience intimidating and unpleasant. There were fast cars and trucks very close at hand, and the (occasional) plastic bollards to “separate” the bike lane from traffic gave me little comfort. And the gravel and other debris in the bike lane would have been impossible to navigate without my relatively specialized bike and deep cycling experience. I highly suspect there is very little chance that average or beginning cyclists will use this route on a regular basis — I certainly would not encourage it. So we have miles of mostly useless “protected” bike lane ending in a fancy and expensive bridge to nowhere. This route looks great on a map as protected bike infrastructure, but that’s really just lipstick on a pig. It is certainly no wonder why people would drive this route.
I seem to remember that the red electric bridge was built with Park funds (just checked, about half and half parks and transp). PBOT designed it.
The entire Red Electric Trail is intended to be a “family friendly” east-west route from the river to, I forget the western end point, Garden Home I think. It’s recreational.
I think of it primarily as a pedestrian route, or as a safe, short hop route for children on bikes. Look at a map of the neighborhoods south of Beaverton-Hillsdale Hwy, they don’t have good, safe e-w connectivity. Red Electric Trail will provide it.
It wasn’t intended to be a route for fast bike commuters. Those folks will continue to take BHH.
An interesting tidbit, the western end of the bridge curves out toward BHH — Don Baack thinks that was a big, and misleading mistake. He vocally fought that. Don wanted the path to angle toward Little Bertha, the continuation of the trail.
PBOT engineers over-ruled him, something about being required to connect to the larger intersection. But unless you are going to Sasquatch for a beer (something I recommend) there isn’t any reason for a cyclist to exit BHH here.
You ignore all that PBOT has done because it’s not your ideal type of network. Sorry, that sounds like a “you” problem. The rest of us are enjoying our spiffy new bike lanes out here in East Portland.
What’s really happening is exactly what they said: “build it and they will come” has been proven false. Unfortunately after years of pushing for bike lanes, bike boxes, greenways, sharrows, etc., the bike advocates are trying to move the goalposts– because they see the writing on the wall.
If we were to build the network of your dreams, and the mode share once again did not shift… then I have no doubt that you’ll come up with another new facilities concept and move the goalposts again. How many times do we do this dance before admitting that bikes aren’t relevant or feasible for many peoples’ daily lives?
Ha! Thanks James F Kent. Hey neighbor! I am one of the “rest of us” you refer to coming from East Portland as well. “Build it and they will come” worked in pretty much every case in every city when referring to a physically separated network. Berlin, London, Paris, New York, Amsterdam, Vancouver, Montreal, Davis etc. I’m not aware of any cases that did not work, but please let me know if you find one. It’s one of those things that isn’t really debated anymore except in some US cities. But don’t take my word for it. Here is some basic data that’s easy to access from the NYCDOT (let me know if you want more). The “another new facilities concept” you’re referring to, i.e. protected bike lanes, is used in all of the above and dozens (hundreds?) of other locations. The design has been used since the ’70, unless you count the bike highways built in the 19th century. I don’t want to overwhelm you with info/research, but here is a list if you get hungry to read. Thanks!
You hit the nail on the head. I was at a conference a few years ago and Vancouver, BC had built out a decent network of greenways and other projects outside of downtown but it was only after they built their downtown protected bike lane network that their modeshare doubled. It boosted bicycle modeshare everywhere because so many more trips touched downtown than between more suburban-type locations. I wrote about Central City in Motion a few years ago but it does not seem as though much was built in downtown.
what makes this even more frustrating is that PBOT promised us that one of the main reasons for the n’hood greenway push was to build a constituency of Portlanders who would become bicycling believers and would help create the political will for more protected lanes on main streets. But I don’t feel like that has happened. And the Central City in Motion plan has been disappointing. It was first conceived as a downtown protected bike lane network (at least in my memory) but I don’t think a “network” exists yet and it has also been used to build transit lanes.
So something in 2014 or thereabouts made it easier to drive? And so since other cities saw similar trends, it must have been somewhat universal. Was it some new technology or app? Low gas prices? Stoned drivers?
I vaguely remember a lecture reported on this blog that crash rates really started shooting up around 2012 or 14, and the lecturer blamed the orange hair guy even though he didn’t start his presidency until January 2017. I wonder, is our increasing crash rates also caused by the same thing that made it easier to drive?
Low gas prices and cell phones definitely occurred together and is part of the problem.
I never heard anyone blame the orange guy although Trump fans make him a Big victim of everything all the time so I assume you do also.
FYI Ted Wheeler is the mayor of Portland not Trump. And I would love to have inflation below 9% wouldn’t you? TDS much? LOL
Doesn’t this timeframe coincide with the apartment development that happened on E Burnside, SE Division, and NW Portland, among other places? How does that relate to Portland’s population numbers?
The pull quote about people moving from more congested cities fits my own experience. Around this same timeframe, I certainly noticed an increase of “close call” occurrences as I was riding around town. I just chalked it up to people moving to Portland and still using their cars as personal transportation instead of trying active transportation. Thereby creating more congestion for drivers and a loss of priority for other modes.
The drop in cycling does correlate with a long-term decline in gas prices, so I do think that’s a factor. But 2014 is also around when Portland started to become really unaffordable in the inner neighborhoods most conducive to cycling.
Here’s my 2 cents, and that’s about all its worth.
I don’t bike because I perceive danger and don’t feel like risking life and limb to try and have an enjoyable ride. Which I can’t enjoy anymore because of the yahoos who’ve harassed me when I’ve been out on my bike.
Am I a coward because of it? Probably. But I’m getting close to retirement and the thought of being injured or even killed just makes me do other things that I perceive as being safer, and yes, that means driving. I know it’s not safe, my sibling was killed in a car wreck 40+ years ago, but still, it’s how I feel.
I don’t find that great bike network that PBOT says is out there is all that great, because, yes, I perceive it as being unsafe to ride. Wide areas and paint strips don’t protect me from drivers purposely swerving towards me to send me off the road.
So, my long winded rant comes down to this, until PBOT/ODOT/whateverDOT makes biking to be perceived as being safe then I’m a no go. I wonder how many others think similarly.
Physical barriers would be a great start. It’s not the only solution, but they need to start somewhere.
Back to your other more worthwhile comments. . .
I rode daily until last fall. Too many unsafe drivers, too many dangerous characters on the streets, too many gunshots… I’ve lived in Portland my whole life but I’ve never been as unhappy with our overall community as I am now…and while I’m not really scared to bike, I am scared to ride with my family who are not as urban bike savvy… We NEED not just greenways but car free streets, one out ten or so… just my opinion…
Comment of the Week. I agree with cc_rider’s comment that was also nominated, but I think SolarEclipse here captures the real gist of the problem as I view it.
Also, adding my $0.02 to SE’s: Whether it is more dangerous to ride in Portland than it was 15 years is up for debate (the available data certainly seems to indicate that it is). But you don’t have to look hard to see that the *perception* is fairly universal that our bike “network” is unsafe. It’s mentioned in nearly every comment section on BP articles, not to mention sites like Reddit and Twitter. People feel unsafe riding in Portland. So they ride less. Or not at all.
The list of reasons people cite is long: dangerously aggressive drivers, over-sized trucks and SUVs, negligent and distracted drivers, speeding drivers, lack of real protection from all the above (paint isn’t protection) bike lanes paths filled with debris (leaves, branches, garbage, broken glass, etc.), bike lanes and paths occupied by houseless people* and their belongings, bike lanes and paths surrounded by houseless people and their belongings, reports of aggression from people experiencing mental health issues and or addiction. I’ve probably missed several things, but PBOT is being disingenous if they think they need to finance a massive study about this. How much does a survey monkey survey cost? One question is all they need: “what are your barriers to cycling more in portland? rank the following:” with a list of all of these plus several dozen more I haven’t thought of.
PBOT leadership needs to be asking themselves what they can do to decrease this perception about lack of safety (campaigns like “please slow down” or whatever aren’t it). PBOT isn’t going to be solving our homelessness crises all by themselves or halt the production and sale of ridiculously sized vehicles. But they CAN help people feel safe from perceived threats that result from those and other issues.
* I just want to mention that I’m not one of those people that feels particularly threatened by houseless folks and mostly feel empathy for them and rage on their behalf. I acknowledge the privilege behind feeling unthreatened as a fairly able-bodied, white, cis man. I also don’t see the value in arguing about the causes of and policies around homelessness in this venue. It’s clear that many people feel unsafe and that this is impacting cycling in Portland and should be taken seriously as such. I’d like to think it could be done without othering or criminalizing poverty/addiction/homelessness.
Wow. This – let’s just crop this statement and create a letter (we’ll all sign) to PBOT, ODOT, the mayor, the governor, and all the other people holding cycling back?
“I don’t bike because I perceive danger and don’t feel like risking life and limb to try and have an enjoyable ride. Which I can’t enjoy anymore because of the yahoos<insert: dangerous, malicious drivers> who’ve harassed me when I’ve been out on my bike.
Wide areas and paint strips don’t protect me/us from drivers purposely swerving to send me/us off the road.
Until PBOT/ODOT/whateverDOT makes biking to be perceived as being safe then I’m<insert: “we’re”> a no-go.
Physical barriers would be a great start. It’s not the only solution, but they need to start somewhere.”
I think there are a few things going on that aren’t specifically mentioned but kind of talked around above. First, we underestimated the quality of the facilities needed to attract new riders. It is true that the quality of the infrastructure going down now is better than what went in 10 years ago, and the 10 year old infrastructure was better than what was put in 10 years prior, and so on. But we only have a few examples of really top tier bike routes that feel comfortable for newer riders, or parents to bring young kids on, etc.
Second problem is that if you look at a route from A to B, it’s only as good as the absolute worst part of it. Say you live close to one of Portland’s really nice bikeways, like Greeley in N Portland near Adidas. Parts of Willamette are great, parts of Greeley are (now) great, but Interstate is absolute garbage. The bad parts of the network will scare people off. It’s exhausting being on alert, having the hairs raised on the back of your neck every time you ride a certain sketchy part of road or intersection you’ve gotten nearly right hooked at time and time again.
The city will keep chipping away at the network and smoothing out some of the issues, but it will never have enough cash in the bank to really accelerate the construction of quality bikeways to curb this issue. My biggest worry at this point is that all of the people who might have been attracted to cycling for its environmental benefits will buy electric cars, thinking they’re helping the problem, while biking numbers continue to drop (along with available funding).
John: great point identifying Interstate Ave (MAX arterial corridor), as the PBOT needs to fix the bike way ‘gaps’ that the 2000-2002 era PDOT pre-Biketown politics developed (blocked plans for proposed bike lanes) and has allowed to fester. I have ridden along it for the last 20 years and as an experienced rider I could make it work until the higher and faster and more aggressive traffic made it less safe plus higher frequency of potential dooring.
I have been long asking myself “WHY” does on-street parking [especially free parking] still take precedence along blocks like those along the Oregon Contemporary, the Ockley Green School, George’s Corner (with off street parking), etc. and new construction (old Interstate Bowling Lanes / now infill ArLo Apts)??!
If the reasoning for bike use being down is too much car traffic and that driving is too easy (I am not sure that is really the reason at all but it could be one of them), there is a simple way to make driving far less easier and far more expensive which is to have a traffic patrol division that patrols and writes tickets for infractions.
BikeLoud and others and Geller don’t mention this simple response to bad and dangerous driving which is rampant.
A motorcycle cop could write tickets all day long on Tillamook and other greenways and after a few weeks traffic would slow I guarantee.
Why is this easy remedy for bad drivers ignored? I am tired of the Race argument.
This is a lilly white city and 99% of the bad reckless drivers are white.
Sure they could. Then again, law enforcement is not a thing the bike activists have ever supported.
Bike activists used to totally support writing tickets to drivers driving dangerously. You are observing a new phenomenon.
Yeah. Coalition politics is tough, and the bike advocacy crowd is in a coalition that has backed itself into a corner on this issue.
I used to bike commute into Old Town. Now I work from home. Independent of new residents or ease of driving, I just don’t ride as much
I feel like he overestimates the quality of the network a bit. I know it’s better than it was, but most of the time when I bike somewhere it feels like less than 20% of my route is protected, separated bike lanes. The other 80% im either in a painted lane with traffic or on a seriously bumpy greenway that still has occasional traffic. If I could reach most of my destinations without leaving a protected bike lane I would bike way more and I feel like more people would too.
Purely speculation, the co-opting of trails may play a role. I will not ride the Springwater near my home in Pleasant Valley neighborhood into city center, nor the 205 north of Flavel. Losing those trail pieces may play a role in the perceived danger vs real danger discussion. Purely speculation.
Yes. While I think it’s true that the network has gotten better over time, it hasn’t gotten sufficiently better to counteract whatever other trend is going on. There are some really good bits to the bike network (i.e. Better Naito Forever), but those are the exception, not the rule. Outer Glisan, for example, is better than it was… but is still a pretty miserable street to cycle on.
Translation for people unfamiliar with PBOT
“We are going to ignore the completely obvious situation that the decline in cycling is related to the increase in dangerous driving and our lack of will to protect vulnerable road users. Instead, we will pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into outreach and heck, maybe even throw in a consultant graft in there too, so we can find out what we already know.”
This is true
This is not. Portland builds infrastructure that was last impressive in 2005. Even when we get mildly decent infra like Better Naito, PBOT still allows motorists to use it as a parking space.
Hey Jonathan, if Dylan Rivera is actually confused about why bikes are declining, send him my email, I can save the taxpayers six figures by taking Dylan on a bike tour of the city.
Comment of the week
I agree with Roger that a big factor here is simply the number of cars on the road.
It’s rare that I go for a ride these days where a car doesn’t endanger my life.
As @nerd4cities likes to point out, owning a car is a sunk cost. Once you have a car you are much more likely to use it.
Perhaps it’s time to eliminate free street parking city wide.
It would instantly cure the calls of ‘not enough parking’ and while it wouldn’t likely get most households to get rid of their car altogether, it might discourage folks from buying that second or even third car reducing car trips across the board.
If we’re going to let people use the public right of way to store their private goods when not in use, the least we could do is be compensated for the negative aspects of that transaction. Multnomah County says the land my house is on is valued at about $574k per acre. By extension, a 7.5’x18′ parking space on the street in front of my house should cost a user about $1,800 per year, minimum. Some people might pay for that convenience, sure, but a bunch would likely decide to get rid of an extra car they might have not really needed or at least start demanding better alternatives from local and state governments. And think of all of the extra revenue PBOT might suddenly have to make good on all of their unfunded planned projects!
I do favor Chicago’s method. They charge $90 a year for what’s called a City Sticker. If you don’t have one on your car you can’t park overnight on the streets. And they’ll enforce that aggressively by booting or towing non-compliant cars.
I think you should run for one of the new city council seats on the platform of $1800 parking permits, then we can discuss how feasible that idea is.
It strikes me as a hit disingenuous to say that the if they build it, they will come strategy hasn’t worked. Yes, Portland has great neighborhood Greenways. However, it consistently does not have to the amount of connected separated, protected bike lanes that will make up a full network. To truly increase the share of cyclists, we have to build separate paths that are safe for more than just the experienced, confident rider. We are not building the kind of paths at the rate and level we need to make a dent.
We built it, and they went away. If we double down and build more, will they really come back?
The evidence suggests infrastructure is not the issue.
I don’t understand why people aren’t buying my house. Sure the roof leaks, but I’ve painted it, and landscaped, and put in a new boiler. I keep putting more into it, but no one wants it.
Precisely. Your improving infrastructure isn’t the problem; it’s the crappy location and the high price that is driving buyers away.
Will, perhaps “your house” needs to be repriced at 2005 bikeway quality index (I mean real estate values). 😉
Other cities have ample evidence of that mantra being effective, it’s just that US cities are almost universally allergic to doing any meaningful large scale changes that may reduce car travel
Yes, its going to be interesting to see if Paris votes to de-scooter their city and what the Marie de Paris will do next to make their cities even more bike and pedestrian friendly.
Built what? A “connected separated, protected [network of] bike lanes?” Where is it?
There are holes everywhere, including my own route to work. My options are to a) ride my bike from Vancouver Ave on Columbia Blvd, b) ride my bike on the sidewalk along Columbia Blvd, or c) ride up Albina Ave and lift my bike on my shoulder to (illegally) walk across the railroad tracks where there used to be a crossing. The latter is the option I now choose after suffering several flats from the Columbia sidewalk. I even had a rent-a-cop try to stop me from walking across the tracks one morning. I told him the situation, basically told him to pound sand, and continued on my way.
Compared to what we had when bicycling rates were some of the highest in the country, we have built a huge amount.
Where we have holes now we used to have chasms. I am not saying our bike infrastructure is good enough, I am saying that we have demonstrated that in Portland, at least, infrastructure does not govern bicycling rates.
I am totally open to the possibility that there is in fact a positive correlation, and some other factor that is drowning out the impact of better infrastructure. But if that’s the case, we need to identify that swamping factor and fix it.
Or current strategy of focusing on infrastructure just isn’t working. It’s not the solution.
Where? Since 2014, there have been very few meaningful projects that have improved the bike network. The projects related to the Orange line construction were pretty good, the Greeley path (despite what cc_rider says I think it’s a fine option), Better Naito, and the Ned Flanders crossing are the only ones that really stand out to me as improving the network as a whole. And none of them are even connected to each other.
Our current strategy isn’t focusing on infrastructure – it’s punting everything to some future date where PBOT might add infrastructure (of questionable value) when the road needs to be reconstructed in 20 years or whatever.
Portland does not have a coherent bike network. You’re being purposefully obtuse if you look at the last 10 years of infrastructure building in Portland and think “well, we tried our best”. 90% of the “infrastructure” in Portland is greenways without any sort of traffic diversion – which is just plainly not meaningful infrastructure.
I didn’t say “we tried our best” I said we built a lot of infrastructure (yours is a very partial list) and ridership fell. I think that is a factual statement that is not in dispute.
I conclude from that that building more infrastructure does not always result in more people riding. That also seems hard to dispute (because the evidence leads squarely to that conclusion.)
I then hypothesize that it may be possible that in the general case infrastructure does lead to more ridership, but in Portland something else is going on. And from there I go on to suggest that if we want ridership to increase, we need to focus on that something else, rather than just doubling down on infrastructure which, for whatever reason, is not working to increase ridership.
Please explain where in that chain reasoning I go from “obviously true” to “purposefully obtuse”.
Can you provide any evidence of more useful projects than I already gave?
By implying that we are “focusing on infrastructure” in Portland. Maybe we are in the literal sense, but only by exhaustion – the city certainly isn’t focusing on anything else with regards to biking (see Sunday Parkways divestment). There are no actual plans to build any of the bikeways identified in the legendary 2030 bike plan, and based on the Hawthorne debacle, the “plan” is more like a “loose suggestion”. There are no blueprints, there are no engineering diagrams, there are no resources allocated to get projects started. Infrastructure is plainly not being built on a schedule that would even suggest that 2030 is a reasonable timeline for the “plan”.
If we were “focused on infrastructure” the city would be building something. Floating a bond measure to pay for 50 miles of protected bike paths. Lobbying the state to allow for gas taxes to pay for active transportation. Doing anything other than the “well we might ‘build’ a bike lane when we are re-striping a road, but only if we feel like it”.
I don’t know if the city is focused on infrastructure, but activists sure are.
The Tilikum Bridge opened in 2012. Off the top of my head, since 2014, I think of lower Hawthorne, outer Glisan (or is it Halsey), bike infrastructure on many N/S downtown streets, better connections through NW Portland, and several long NS facilities in N/NE Portland. There is plenty more.
But even if we had added no infrastructure, the “infrastructure governs ridership” viewpoint might be able to explain why ridership had stagnated, but there is still another big factor driving ridership down. “Infrastructure governs ridership” is a political statement, but it is not compatible with the facts.
My point is that we need to identify and rectify that “big factor” if we want to resuscitate ridership rates.
I’m of the opinion that the city isn’t focused on anything involving cycling. They view it as a weird nuisance at best, despite it being a huge potential for civic pride. There are still roughly 0 city councilors who care about it (maybe Mingus Mapps gets some credit for at least riding a bike occasionally, but he hasn’t really been vocal about getting anything done).
I’d say there needs to be a bigger push for meaningful changes to the bike network, as well as general bike activism pushing towards a future where cyclists don’t have to feel like they are risking their lives to go to the store, work, or school.
When Geller et. al align with “if you build it they will come”, they miss the point. What’s needed is safety above all else. Cycling still feels dangerous, and the type of infrastructure that makes people safer (and feel safe) is hard physical separation from motor vehicles (concrete or metal bollards at least). But of course safety isn’t just physical infrastructure – there is a social aspect (safety in numbers) that causes “the cycling decline” to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. And of course the state of unlawfulness on the rights of way (speeding, running red lights, camping on MUPs, etc.) which does meaningfully erode both safety and the perception of it city-wide.
When activists narrowly focus on “infrastructure” I think they have a tendency to miss what’s really needed – the right to safe travel. Maybe it’s obvious to them that this would come from increased infrastructure, but it’s worth talking about more I think. Here is a good article about the state of US cycling activism that I think is worth reading.
You keep coming back to the need to double down on infrastructure, even if you are now cloaking it in safety concerns.
My anecdotal observation is that riding today feels about as dangerous as riding 20 years ago did, that is, not particularly dangerous (something I thought about yesterday as I rode along Foster, which is now much safer). Cyclists (including me) have been making the same arguments about “the right to safe travel” for decades. They aren’t wrong, but basic safety concerns were already baked in when cycling rates were high.
I can’t say it’s impossible that infrastructure is the underlying problem, but no one has presented a compelling hypothesis that makes that claim compatible with the fundamental fact that as infrastructure has continued to improve, ridership has fallen, and in dramatic fashion.
“Build it and they will come” has become a sort of religious belief, something adherents accept on faith even in the face of evidence it isn’t true. Clinging to that belief is making it harder to figure out what’s really driving ridership down.
Infrastructure is part of a larger need for safe travel, and it’s the most tangible one. It’s easier to conceptualize a pretty new protected bike network than it is to solve societal level issues like safety, or to push cultural changes like mass bike adoption. Especially for, say, a city bureau of transportation. I’m not “cloaking” anything – it’s obvious that safe infrastructure makes traveling safer.
“Build it and they will come” certainly has a bit of religiosity to it. But that’s not to say it’s not a good thing to pursue. Again, hardly any substantial bike infrastructure that resembles world-wide leaders in cycling has been built in Portland. To say the evidence is “against” it is to claim that Portland has actually “built it”. We haven’t. And it’s just flat out wrong to say the approach doesn’t work based on what Portland has done. I think it’s a good ethos for a public agency that ostensibly builds transportation projects. I think it’s also not the entire picture, and activists should not expect PBOT to save them.
I said the approach hasn’t worked in Portland; the correlation between infrastructure and ridership is negative. That’s a easily observable factual statement. I make no claims about the dynamics of other cities or countries. I have even said several times that I am open to it working here absent other more important factors.
The claim that there is some unspecified magical “it” threshold where those other factors will fall away and things will just start working is an unsupported article of faith.
I think this is exactly it — a focus on the tangible, seemingly manageable issues that won’t really solve the problem is a way to avoid grappling with the larger, more fundamental issues that are harder to come to terms with.
Absolutely, advocate for more and better infrastructure. I do. Just don’t fool yourself (or others) into thinking that will fix the lack of ridership without identifying and addressing the real issues that are driving folks away from bikes.
It’s like looking for our lost keys under the street light because the light is better, rather than where we actually dropped them.
Thanks blumdrew. That’s correct. Portland does not have a protected bike network. We have the Springwater, Broadway downtown, The S waterfront and Better Naito. I might add Lloyd in there, but that’s a stretch. That’s it. That’s the network. I would love to see the number of miles of PBL built per year. I would guess maybe 1-2ish? In comparison NYC is averaging around 20 miles per year.
I’d throw in the Eastbank Esplanade, 205 path (if it ever gets cleaned up), Rosa Parks, Greeley, Columbia Blvd Path, Columbia Slough Path, Cully, Tilikum Way area (dead-end on Caruthers to Gideon), Steens Rd (through Washington Park from Burnside/24th), the 17th ave path to Milwaukie (might be out of the city limits though), outer Division (if the cars stop parking in it ever), and the Peninsula Crossing Trail (if it ever gets cleaned up).
What’s significant here is that it’s not a network. It’s 15 to 20 pieces of random infrastructure spread throughout the city. The only connections between them I can identify are the Esplanade-Better Naito (a bit wonky, but does exist) and 205-Springwater. Some of them are insulting close to connecting (outer Division – 205 path, 17th ave path – Springwater, Esplanade – Springwater – Tilikum Way, South Waterfront – Better Naito). The miles of PBL per year might be more like 2-5 per year (if we are being generous), but the miles of PBL per year that connect to any other PBL is functionally 0.
I’m a regular bike commuter and I’m telling you myself that improvements to our local bike infrastructure have made a meaningful positive difference in my life. To literally complain that “Since 2014, there have been very few meaningful projects that have improved the bike network” is kind of insulting.
I don’t have a fancy list of new bike projects in town, but my regular commuting routes have been consistently improved over the last decade:
Obviously not everyone likes all of these treatments, and I have my own problems with the first two.
But I’m SO SO tired of these improvements being written off as if they hadn’t happened, or as if they weren’t meaningful! My bike commutes were notably safer and more comfortable, because of the hard work put into these improvements.
If you’d like to argue that Portland should put in more protected bike lanes, without unintentionally (or intentionally?) trashing all of these other safety improvements, just say “Portland has added many facilities since 2014, and many were meaningful, but the facilities failed to attract new riders and create an increase in ridership, or, at least, failed to counteract a decrease in ridership caused by other factors. A fully contiguous network of protected, separated bike lanes would succeed.”
That would be entirely true to your position, and would not require this tedious argumentation about whether something is a “network” or “meaningful” or whatever.
If there’s one thing that bugs me about the comments on this website it’s the number of hyperbolic overstatements. I know that’s become a tool of advocacy these days, but it’s super annoying to hear the sky is falling and I’m not even sure it works to bring about the intended result!
That’s awesome Charley. Coming from near E 122nd my parents and I also appreciate the improvements. I am certainly not trying to belittle the importance of these changes to you or others.
The main point I and perhaps some others are trying to say is that it is now generally accepted that to have an effect on the share of people who ride bikes, there needs to be a functional network that is separated from cars. That basic concept is something that PBOT has ignored for decades. This does not mean I want East Portland to be neglected. 122nd should certainly be part of (the hub for?) an East Portland separated network.
“Portland has added many facilities since 2014, and many were meaningful, but the facilities failed to attract new riders and create an increase in ridership.”
Exactly. Being meaningful to a few people and having a measurable effect on ridership are not necessarily the same.
What evidence do you refer to?
The unexplained negative correlation between us building it and them coming.
Us building what? Who is “them”? I honestly have no idea what you mean. Please provide evidence, not conjecture. That means at minimum a case study and preferably a meta analysis or lit review. Thanks.
Portland has built considerable bike infrastructure since 2014. Ridership has fallen considerably since 2014.
Do you not accept these two factual assertions? Do you really need a literature review to see a negative correlation between building infrastructure and increasing ridership?
We know ridership has fallen based on the Census Bureau data.
We do not know what “Considerable bike infrastructure” means. x speedbumps, x signs, x miles of paint, 4 residential streets, a divertor, x miles of a protected bike network? Some of these things might be more important than others.
Do you see your assumption? Where is the correlation? That’s why we are here. We reinforce our arguments with evidence.
“Considerable” means much more than zero. We do not need to mathematically quantify it (if that is even possible) to make useful observations.
If infrastructure determined ridership, and we built no new infrastructure, we might expect ridership to stagnate. If we built new infrastructure, we might expect ridership to increase, or if the new stuff were completely useless, continue to stagnate.
Unless we are somehow building infrastructure that actively and substantially discourages riding, we can observe that there must be a dominant factor at play that is driving ridership down.
That’s my whole point: there is another factor (or factors) more important than infrastructure that is driving ridership down. If we want to increase ridership, we need to identify and address that issue. Focusing on non-dominant factors, such as infrastructure, is not likely to increase cycling rates.
If you want to argue that infrastructure is the dominant factor, you need to explain why ridership has fallen despite much more than zero new infrastructure coming on line.
I was a certified “effective cyclist” and taught to take the road. Since cellphones became common and frustrated commuters grew in number, I have felt less and less safe.
I got hit late last year, I felt that the cop was antagonist towards me, the speeding driver lied about everything.
I love cycling, but it’s not just the infrastructure. It’s the perception that the roads have become increasingly unsafe. I can’t see that changing anytime soon.
Portland is also a very easy place to break the law. Drive as fast as you like, run stops, no license plates, no insurance, and on and on and on.
I think most of the decline since 2019 to 2022 could be explained away by people working from home and people switching to other vehicles that aren’t included in the count like e-scooters. That being said they really need to up their diversion game. Stop going to the neighborhood association to ask if it’s ok and just divert drivers off of greenways.
Also no more speed humps that do barely anything to slow down drivers and with cut outs the perfect width for their wheel base. That second part still seriously pisses me off. They could make most of those just slightly wider and drivers would go directly over them if they stayed on their side of the road or awkwardly just drive down one from the middle. They could make them more pronounced to. Consistency would be great too every stretch is different so drivers just fly over all of them.
I totally disagree on the speed bumps. And the design is evolving so it’s less likely that cars are able to avoid the bumps. One of my two jobs has me working from different locations around the city, so I’ve been able to experience the before and after from a cyclist perspective on Lincoln, Davis, Clinton, and most recently Alameda and the bumps have slowed cars down in every case. More please.
Bike transportation is perceived by almost everyone as optional. After close to 20 years of bike commuting in Portland, I also thought of it as optional until my cargo bike died recently. Now, looking at how to transport myself and my kid to work, school and soccer while I repair or replace my bike, I’ve realized that no other transportation options come close to being as functional and practical as biking. Put simply, my family can’t do what we do without bike transportation.
The bike network in Portland has helped make biking the best choice for me, by far, but it is still built and maintained as if biking is an option for highly motivated “Portlanders” instead of being a default transportation mode. It does not reflect the reality that I am bike-dependent much more so than many people are “car-dependent.”
Riding a Bicycle is still far and away the fastest easiest way to travel around Portland. I never think about driving if it is less than 5 miles, It takes longer to find the keys, start the car and find a park when I get there than it does to ride.
Trying to explain why people don’t do it is like trying to explain why people vote for Trump. Inexplicable except it’s America.
dwk: I agree.
I used to have the same feeling and reaction back in the early 2000s when I was promoting carsharing (Carshare Portland & Flexcar) in the Portland-Vancouver region…it was like I was asking them to share their spouse or something close to communism.
Portland is a not very dense city with a lot of cars. 47% of Portland households have two or more “vehicles available” according to the census. That’s on par with Columbus Ohio (49%), Dallas Texas (49.4%), and Los Angeles (50.5%). San Francisco (27%), New York (14%), Chicago (29%) and even Seattle (39%) have far lower numbers of cars per capita than we do. I think that this really matters. Cars are a sunk cost and when roads aren’t that congested, the convenience of a car is hard to beat – especially when roads are perceived to be dangerous. If you already own a car, you are much more likely to use it.
But I also definitely question if the bike network has improved to the degree that PBOT claims. We still don’t really have a visible, integrated bike network. All it takes is riding for one day to find a million gaps that range from annoying to incredibly dangerous. Just look at the Overton/Pettygrove stuff. A world class bike city would not capitulate to allow street parking on a vital bike (and ped) connection. They removed an already paid for and installed piece of bike infra to give back 10 (at most!) parking spaces. Or Hawthorne. I mean almost all the “infrastructure” is just a designated greenway with a sharrow, a navigation sign here and there and literally nothing else.
Is it better than it was in 2014? Probably. But is it better enough to offset the rise in lawless driving, the proliferation of much larger cars, the relatively low cost of gasoline relative to inflation, a large influx of “bike-unfamiliar” people, and a pandemic getting people away from riding every day? Seems like it hasn’t been
I was greatly annoyed by the Overton capitulation, but I think the main reason for walking that back was the neighborhood traffic impacts more than the parking. People were ignoring the do not enter signs and making illegal u turns and other dangerous behaviors. There was no threat of enforcement of traffic laws, so people in cars just did whatever they wanted.
I was not happy with the attitude of the owners of ovation coffee and tea to the prospect of losing a couple of parking spaces in a neighborhood that has a lot of parking. I won’t be giving them my business. But I think pbot’s reaction was reasonable.
Yes, the neighborhood traffic impacts were significant (since Overton/9th is a genuinely important connector). Having it be a one-way street was always a bit of a tough sell, and maybe they should have known better. But that being said, it would have been workable if they didn’t capitulate. If that leg of Overton were completely closed, a driver would just have to go one block out of their way to Northrup anyways. If too many drivers were ignoring, the solution should be to make it impossible to ignore (concrete/metal bollards, etc.). It was a good piece of infrastructure, and one of the only examples of useful bike infrastructure at a stressful connection, and PBOT scrapped it after less than a month (after 4 years of planning).
Neighborhood car traffic impacts should not be prioritized over safe and connected bike facilities – that is literally part of PBOT’s TSP. It’s a shame they don’t follow their own goals or rules, and an even bigger shame that they act like somehow they actually do. Stop gaslighting me PBOT.
My hope is that people will stop using the word “Greenway,” when PBOT refers to a residential street with a painted bike on the ground. That is not infrastructure. That is at best an auxiliary route, and at worst wishful thinking.
Prime example of how complicated a problem sustainable transportation is to solve. “If you build it, they will come” only works so far before you start running into headwinds. Local transportation policy dovetails so much with other areas of public policy that we really need to work on those adjacent areas to keep the momentum up. You can have all of the decent to good bikeways that you want, but if I still have to go past mile after mile of single family housing and parking lots full of strip malls to get anywhere, that’s a pretty miserable and costly experience that will often be won out over just hopping in my car. If PBOT comes in and can spend a few million on improving a bad corridor, that’s great, but vastly dwarfed by the fact that ODOT can come in and throw around a few billion dollars on highway expansion projects to “relieve congestion.” If the rent is too **** high and people get priced out of the city core and faced with spotty to nonexistant Trimet service or getting in their car to commute, then they’re probably going to get that car and abandon the bike and bus. And as long as it’s free to park and drive throughout large swaths of the city, then motorists are going to continue externalizing those costs onto the communities they’re driving through and into.
So yeah, PBOT may be doing a more or less good job trying to keep automobile mode shares down where they can by making the right sorts of investments, but they’re being dwarfed by all of the other actors. Where is the city council on reforming land use in the city? Where is it on clearing the backlog of permitting? Where’s the Metro leadership in pushing back against the freeway expansion project formerly known as the Interstate Bridge Replacement Project? Where is the Governor and Legislature on setting priorities for Trimet and ODOT? There’s some good happening in all of those areas, sure (shout out to Councilor Mary Nolan for providing the sole “No” vote against IBRP last year), but it’s too little too late judging by the increasing number of cars on the road in both Portland and statewide.
comment of the week! Every Nearby Municipality and Every Bureau in Portland City Government sets the tone, not just PBOT
YES. There are many factors at work and some of them are quite beyond the control of any municipal transportation department. Remote work (it was rising since before the pandemic), price of gas, cost of living in close-in-neighborhoods, trends in child-rearing (kids not riding bikes around the neighborhood). These are issues that are upstream of PBOT.
Yep…you got that right CARs are the problem with Portland. It’s an urban automotive paradise! Can’t have anything to do with blocked paths and sidewalks, violent assaults, and obstacles of trash, needles and feces.
Something I haven’t seen mentioned is that there’s a ton of jobs at Nike and Intel out in Washington County. These are all too far and hilly for biking to be competitive with driving. I know a bunch of people who would bike if their job was in downtown, but they’re stuck driving out to Hillsboro
I’m sure it’s not one particular reason, but much more likely a combination of factors.
I do feel like there have been more new and improved bike facilities in the city, but it’s hard to overcome these issues without more affordable housing closer in, more traffic enforcement, and a reduction of the criminal element.
Everyone thought the electric car would be the best thing since sliced bread. Prior to the electric car, there was a cohort of people who didn’t drive as much because they wanted to be good environmental stewards.
Our government has massively subsidized the purchase of fast, high torque, CARS AND TRUCKS. The motor doesn’t really matter. But, it gives one more excuse to feel good about driving.
There are probably a bunch of reasons why people don’t cycle as much, but being an awesome place to drive isn’t one of them.
Portland is hopeless to drive in. It’s crazy slow and parking is hopeless until you get out a ways. I have absolutely nothing against cars but have no interest in driving in town because it’s such a miserable experience. I take my bike because it’s the best way.
Messaging does not help bring in new cyclists. The voices that come through the loudest are from experienced people continually saying how the infrastructure and drivers are outright dangerous and the experience is scary. Not exactly an incentive for beginners to get out there, and I don’t know why anyone would ride if they believed that — I know I wouldn’t.
The perpetual hostility to drivers does cycling no favors. We live in a car culture as people are fond of pointing out, so maybe the best way to get people to change isn’t to demonize them.
The tactics used by cycling advocates here remind me of conversion tactics I often saw while I was in college. The religious nuts accosted people as they left bars, telling them they needed to give up their evil ways. No one took them seriously (except themselves), and the only responses they regularly got was getting beer dumped on them, the automotive equivalent of which is typically dispensed.
Make cycling look dangerous and miserable, tell people they suck, and make people associate cycling with a group or culture they don’t want to be associated with — can’t imagine why more people don’t want to ride.
This article has no mention of homeless people turning more numerous and violent, especially around 2016. Remember the Springwater Corridor “Avenue of Terror” and a general decline in outdoor safety? I definitely spent less time on that trail east of 82nd Ave as it got more sketchy.
The graph ends in 2018, but the 2020 “justice” riots unleashed general lawlessness and made police quit, causing further hits to street safety. We now have more gang bullets potentially flying out of random cars, not just traffic congestion.
Hi Jack C,
I’m not sure if there’s a word for it or not, but I’ve noticed a phenomenon where people critique an article because it doesn’t include every single point about a particular issue. I find that strange. I mean, can’t we have a conversation about an issue without having to list every possible angle? Obviously that is a big issue about the decline, it simply wasn’t part of the sources used in this story. Stay tuned! We’ll cover this more in the future.
Jonathan, clearly the people want a long form, exhaustive dissertation worthy of a PhD! Do you think you and your staff could crank out, let’s say, three or four of them every weekday in perpetuity? Seems doable! I look forward to BikePortland being accepted into the ranks of premier academic journals on community development and urban planning.
Well, certain people in Portland insist we mostly have a “police violence” problem when the reality of criminal violence is staring them in the face. Exposed bike riders would naturally feel less safe than “cagers” on violent streets. 2016 attacks on the Springwater trail seem mild vs. post-Floyd mayhem.
Mine is no casual critique of the article, in other words. More like a root cause up for debate.
We certainly have a history of police violence, and bike activists who know their Portland history should be intimately familiar with this. Critical Mass was functionally shut down by police violence and intimidation in 2006.
If you are concerned about safety, lack of accountability and enforcement, etc. from the cops, then the police being on a pseudo-strike to embarrass the city for “defunding” them is a good place to start. For what it’s worth, most of the “defunding” came from removing unfilled open positions – which probably didn’t help the cop shortage, but was hardly very significant in terms of $$ in their budget.
Criminal violence is still a local phenomena concentrated in relatively small parts of the city. 65% of homicides occurred in 8% of neighborhoods. The streets are more dangerous than they might have been a few years ago, but the issue (in my opinion) is the perception of safety rather than the actual reality. Portland still has a relatively low murder rate for US cities, and 81% of Portland neighborhoods had one or fewer homicides in 2022.
Fear-mongering media has more to do with the loss of perceived safety in the city than actual violence. There are tons of obvious things the city should be doing to address it (like maybe staffing a traffic violation department??), but I’m not sure I’d agree that the “certain people in Portland” are the reasons they aren’t. Our city council is not run by that wing of the Portland electorate at all. Ted Wheeler won the mayorship by being the most conservative candidate. Ditto for Rene Gonzalez. Ditto for Mingus Mapps. Ditto for Dan Ryan. Unsure about Rubio to be honest, but you get the idea. Portland isn’t a leftist state run by Leon Trotsky, it’s a liberal city run primarily by business interests.
The PBA conspiracy again!
Our current council alignment is clearly a reaction to the failure of previous council failures to make progress on the issues voters felt were most important; i.e. crime, safety, homelessness, and so on.
We’ll see if folks with a more conservative orientation will be able to do better. The jury is still out.
You’re making the same talking points that got Jo Ann Hardesty booted, since even the most “compassionate” people (naïve about criminal minds) want public safety. You have to know that Wheeler cut the GVRT by $15 million under pressure from Hardesty and BLM, so if that wasn’t defunding, what is? It backfired badly because it targeted the wrong problem!
The only thing I’ve feared from police while bike-riding is them chasing a gang member in a stolen car and blowing through an intersection. Cops preventing Critical Mass rides from becoming crowd-control mayhem is a different issue than daily bike riding. Portland police are hardly like the Old South. They just have to deal with the worst of humanity each day, and only a robot wouldn’t get jaded. It’s odd that supernatural patience is expected from cops, while the “good guys” keep vandalizing Portland. I’ve never had to ride around a police trash pile or look at police graffiti all over the place.
Revisit the 2019 near-murder of bicyclist Jay Hamlin, complete with bloody head photos. The guy who knocked him off his expensive Colnago (bike-jacking in broad daylight) could have easily become a BLM martyr if he’d resisted arrest and was killed by cops. The irony and context of that case symbolizes everything that ails Portland’s “compassion” crowd. It’s fine to empathize with the truly downtrodden, but many criminals are simply evil. I don’t give them a break over skin color.
I ride often for environmental reasons, and I’ve noticed that people on the left view cops like people on the right view the EPA, i.e. crime change denial vs. climate change denial. When an ideology imperils a whole planet or just a city, it’s time to stop repeating its failed rhetoric, eh?
Thanks Jack C. You are not saying anything that is not obvious to most people. I agree with you 100% that bike riders are especially vulnerable to the shitty conditions of our streets, that it has gotten much worse in recent years, and that it’s a big factor in why a lot of people aren’t riding. I’ve said this many times in many places, but I feel like some people want to act as though I’m afraid to talk about that. It’s weird! Just because it’s not mentioned in one out of 100s of stories?
“No one is allowed to talk about [this thing that everyone talks about]!!!”
I think that climate is also a factor. I remember that first drastic smoke-filled September commute home from downtown in 2017. Then, cold winters with increased likelihood of snow, and spiking temperatures I have not seen in Oregon before. I still commute to my job every day, but it’s way more uncomfortable than it used to be just because of the climate. (I live in Sellwood, so I am a Springwater commuter and my ride is very safe. I may be out of touch with other infrastructural deficiencies in other areas of the city.)
We see more extreme weather than we used to, but that’s a handful of days per year. That might explain a small shift, but not a big one.
Though it seems like people expect more comfort than they used to.
Well, when your baseline of comfort is sitting in a soundproofed cabin on a cushioned bucket seat with adjustable air conditioning….
Even on this bike blog where people see cycling as an outright objective, people see a wide range of ordinary weather and petty inconveniences that have always been present as major impediments. Even pedaling for modest distances is now considered a barrier, leading to the constant cheerleading for 100% motorized transportation as “active” if electric power is used.
The cycling climate is easier than it’s historically been, and anyone who thinks fewer people are riding because it’s harder overall than it was before is kidding themselves.
If comfort and ease are important, there’s cognitive dissonance in hoping people will cycle. People who whine about driving in the cold, heat, and rain aren’t going to expose themselves directly to the same until they don’t consider the comfort thing so important.
There seems to be less rain in the past decade, which would make for more good riding days. But AGW smoke has made me cancel some summer rides.
The roads and the bike paths are simply too dangerous. Aggressive drivers have taken the roads both urban and rural. Houseless campers have commandeered the bike paths. Even out here in Washington County, courtesy and safe passing have evaporated while speeds have increased. I have given up road riding.
I still enjoy riding but now pedal a gravel bike. I also rack that bike on my car and drive to spots where I can ride it. I used to feel guilty about that. I now see it as an act of self-preservation.
Government agencies have failed us. Too much planning and fact finding. Too little coordination with other stakeholders. Too much cowardice in the face of big money lobbyists for the trucking industry and business. Far too little done to keep pathways safe for law abiding people. I fear that this is our new normal. When I moved here 30 years ago, Portland was the clean and vibrant city of the future. A place where passionate people made smart and sustainable decisions. “The City That Works” was how Portland described itself. Now, it is a sad morass of empty promises, ideas that never get off of the ground, endless hand wringing over ancillary issues, and a place where largely incompetent pols and bureaucrats allow perfect to become the enemy of good. Bike and pedestrian conditions have deteriorated but let’s all celebrate a whole two blocks of car free road in an out-of-the-way neighborhood or a vanity bridge project!
I look forward to retiring, selling my house for a stupid amount of money, and then moving away. This is no longer the clean, safe, and wonderful place that lured me to the PNW.
a third comment of the week !! a sad morass of empty promises, ideas that never get off of the ground, endless hand wringing over ancillary issues, and a place where largely incompetent pols and bureaucrats allow perfect to become the enemy of good.
I used to ride in Washington County but the farm roads are so crowded with commuting traffic at this point. It’s not fun!
I noticed that gravel riding started its boom around the same time we saw urban cycling trend downward- the mid teens. If other gravel riders are like me, it’s because they no longer felt comfortable on the paved country roads. On gravel roads, traffic is so much slower and so much rarer.
Has anyone been to Seattle or Vancouver BC lately? They are years ahead of Portland in terms of bike infrastructure. Vancouver especially has protected – legitimately protected by cement, not plastic – bike lanes criss crossing the city. It’s shocking how little Portland has done while our neighbors are actually making substantial changes.
That’s funny–I was also going to use Seattle as example of having something I wished Portland had the equivalent of–the Burke-Gilman Trail. But Seattle had it in the 1970s–fifty years ago.
You could ride more than 20 miles car-free, with street crossings only every several blocks. It was usefully located for commuting to and from the University District (meaning useful to lots of people) and incredibly scenic for recreational riding.
On-street bike lanes are vital, but there’s something to be said for functional and beautiful routes you only get the privilege to use if you leave your car.
While it’s clear Vancouver has a much more robust physically separated network and Seattle has some great trails, let’s not forget the Springwater was one of the first rails to trails to open in the region. I rode it as a very small child. Portland has had its leaders. It’s just been a long time since anything substantial has been built (i.e., Broadway/Weidler) that augments the separated network. That’s the most effective way to change transportation modes and that idea is not even on PBOT’s radar.
Other cities are indeed doing much better work and are outpacing portland
Yep: Vancouver BC is 10 years ahead on protected bikes lanes with real fixed object barriers…ever since they hosted Velo City.(May be Portland needs to host VeloCity AND triple down on visionary network of facilities?
Seattle, well that have a real subway…Charlie’s train is great for rainy day brunches downtown but not regional trips more than 10 miles. The MAX CBD gridlock needs to go underground.
Seattle does not have a real subway! The Link is better than the MAX, but they still only have the capacity for 4 car consists and the timeline for building out the network is ridiculously slow. Plus, the street running portions cripple the entire system – since Sound Transit is very limited on how frequently they can run trains through that segment (and it’s prone to collisions, traffic delays etc.).
Not to mention the second line is focused on a suburban expansion, rather than on the densest parts of Seattle. Serving Bellevue is worthwhile, I realize it’s dense in it’s own right and has a ton of jobs – but c’mon there will be a total of two rail stations in the region roughly bounded by the ship canal, I90, lake Washington and Western ave (where roughly 150k people live in 10 square miles) until at least 2030.
Yes, fair enough all new US systems should have 4 track sections…but at least through the core its not snaking along at a snails pace and limited to 2 carriages in length.
Yeah it’s better than what we have no doubt. But the bus service is really what makes Seattle a great transit city, the “light rail” is too regional trip focused to serve the city well (in my opinion). Every time I visit Seattle I’m struck by how frequent and busy the buses are
Perhaps PBOT should abandon the believe that bike infrastructure built in the late 1990s and early 2000s mainly caused the bike boom. Instead, it may have been an influx of young, bike oriented people in combination with increasing gas prices. The trend reversed when more car oriented people started to move into the city and gas prices declined. More cars on the road means biking is more stressful and dangerous, so the influx of drivers further crowded out bike riding.
Fundamental changes to the transportation system can spur substantial changes to how people use roads, but what Portland has tried to do is make small improvements to bike infrastructure without much inconveniencing people who drive, and hope for big results.
Man a lot.of.good.ideas and of.course it’s complicated and many reasons exist but a big one is of course the cost.to drive. Cheaper gas starting in mid 2014 with US oil production ramped up (thanks Obama ;)) https://www.bls.gov/charts/consumer-price-index/consumer-price-index-average-price-data.htm
Along withe cheaper gas is more fuel efficient vehicles making the.price per mile to drive on average less while an economy picking up means people’s ability to pay increaded. Roger is.probably right that transplants may have been less likely to move here for the biking and instead moved here for the idea that people in PDX bike.
Moe infrastructure will not hurt but since ODOT and pbot are on track to go broke by mid 2020s it’s past time to implement at full speed an alternative user fee to the gas tax.
Has no one noticed the homeless camps crowding, blocking, and even booby-trapping the dedicated bike paths along the I-205 corridor?
I could ride I-205 from Vancouver to Gateway faster than I could drive the commute most of the time. It was just too dangerous to try to get past the sections full of tents, trash, broken glass, and wrecked bike frames hung on fences like so many hunting trophies.
Some of the worst looked a bit cleaned up last fall but WFH solved that problem for me.
What? Homeless camps on the I-205 Path?
I suspect housing has a fair amount to do with the decline in bike trips. As people have to move increasingly far from the core in search of anything they can afford, the opportunities to commute by bicycle go down. I’m guessing a fair number switched to transit. Meanwhile, wealthier people are moving into the nice, bike-friendly central neighborhoods … and with no particular concern about gas prices, they have no incentive to keep their very nice cars in the garage.
Also, soaring housing costs have left a lot of homeless people on the streets and particularly camping along bike paths, which makes biking more intimidating for many people.
My guess is that this region will need to solve the housing shortage before we can meaningfully improve bicycle ride share.
I cannot believe it…no one has mentioned the purely ‘obvious’ reason for this downfall / retreat from Peak Bike…its Vancouver’s (USA) fault. 😉
It kinda seems like the people moving here more recently don’t know or don’t care about the whole “Portlandia” dream and just want the same place they came from but cheaper or less crowded or slightly less conservative or with milder weather. The beards and tattoos crowd seems to have been largely swapped out for the athleisure and Audis crowd.
Geller’s comment about “build it and they will come” is frustrating to hear. If you look at a bike map of the city, it has definitely improved, but it’s taken several years for them to pretty much reach into the ramekin of infrastructure and give the city one or two good pinches of bike route salt. There are little bits of confusing experimentation, greenways that take weird routes to avoid upsetting drivers or whatever the reason is, and short stretches of bike lane that might connect to something useful if you’re lucky. Some of it I truly think is useful. I would’ve loved to have the 102nd Ave bike lanes closer to Sandy back when I worked in that area. A lot of it looks like “we made this 4 block long bike lane that ends in the back of a parked car, why isn’t it convincing people to ride bikes?” There’s no network. Perhaps it’s time to take some inspiration from Paris (this doesn’t mean fly everyone there for a vacation) or other places that are successfully increasing bike mode share.
i don’t bike as much as i would like because i worry about my bike being stolen. i love my bikes and have seen too many people have their bikes vandalized or stolen in portland–even from locked areas. there are many times i would like to bike but decide not to because i know the area im heading to is a little shady and i can’t protect my bike how i like…i don’t want to spend the whole time im at work or a bar wondering if my bike will be stolen. hate to say it, but it’s just true. or maybe the spot im at is pretty chill and feels safe, but the available areas to lock my bike nearby are really out of sight or in an area i don’t trust. it’s such a bummer and seems to be getting worse. heartbreaking because i want to bike more and feel restricted by the realities of theft.
as an example, someone completely unscrewed and then ripped off the locked bike cage door at my work place. my bike was the only one out of over 20 bikes that wasn’t stolen or completely stripped down and it’s because I used 2 u-locks and a cable. it’s just tough with how hard it’s been to source bikes since covid…i don’t want to lose a great bike that i can’t replace.
Steph, sorry to hear about your work place bike room theft invasion.
I am not surprised to hear about the security door removal you mentioned…Based on my security audits of many private (and public) ‘secure’ bike parking rooms – back when I was with Bikestation – it is often the little things / oversights in design or not specifying “theft resistant” fittings that undermines the more expensive security features…or doing a post construction inspection to make sure one contractor’s work did not undermine another’s security feature.
Perhaps there are less riders because more people are working from home. Downtown is empty. Covid changed the workplace.
I think the demographic shift is the most relevant.
30,000 new people move to Portland annually.
Learning the language that cars/streets speak to bikes takes time.
Adults think “I’m 20/30/40-something! I know how roads work!” Spoiler: you don’t.
In bike years, you are a child, since even teenagers have driving modeled from birth.
People ride to work one time, and proclaim “drivers are insane and the roads are impossible!”, tell all their friends, and drive to work ever after, amen.
You need a sustained stew of poverty, idealism, physical fitness, & risk blindness(i.e., youth) + social pressure, and infrastructure to create not only the bike culture of 2000-2014 PDX, but the overall *vibe* of Portland, which became a “brand” that, capitalists have now fully “developed”, to extinction. *Starbucks was a coffee shop, now it’s a fast food outlet.
I visited SE Portland in summer 2022. I rode Nike Bikes everywhere, from SW to NE. It was great – but I’ve been commuting by bike for 15 years.
I didn’t see safety as a reason for the decline. I stopped cycling because drivers seem to disregard cyclists sharing the road and its more dangerous than ever on the road.
Is that not “safety?”
I stopped riding for three reasons: Increasingly aggressive drivers unchecked by a police department the has deprioritized traffic enforcement, blockage of bike lanes and MUPs by homeless camps and debris, and threats from the houseless and mentally deranged individuals on places like the springwater. That last point is not perception but based upon an actual assault that happend to a friend while we were out riding, who a year later is five surgeries in to her recovery.
When the bike bubble was booming it was engrained in the portland culture. Living here was relatively cheap, and you could live off of a part time min wage job. This allowed free time create that artsy/bikey culture that the rest of america made fun of and we held so dear. Price of living has gone way up and I am to busy for the culture/biking.
Re: “Geller is rightfully worried about the quality of cycling on neighborhood greenways, because those streets shoulder the majority of the load in our bike network. “If people are overflowing… cutting through greenways [with cars],” he said. “Then that’s a problem and people are not going to feel especially comfortable there.”
ODOT has reported that when TOLLING is imposed on all area freeways, there will be 130,000 vehicles a day diverting onto side roads and into neighborhoods.
That should be a huge red flag for safety and the quality of life in neighborhoods. Yet almost nobody in the active transportation community speaks out against the TOLLING.
I am in favor of tolling, but ODOT seems intent on structuring it in such a way that it will cause maximal side effects. If the tolls were on the bridges themselves, no diversion would be possible, and traffic would not be diverted onto local streets.
To be fair, there are some legal restrictions around tolling on interstate bridges, but I think ODOT’s plan will cause far more damage than benefit.
There is no restriction on toll bridges in the interstate highway system, in large part because of Robert Moses. The toll bridges in the NYC area were the backbone of his power, so he insured that they would be apart of the new highway system as well.
There may be legal restrictions at the state level, but the second Interstate (I5) bridge was tolled originally until the bonds were paid off. So ODOT could at least use a toll to pay off a bond. I am less certain about things like congestion pricing or permanent tolls – but the feds wouldn’t be able to stop ODOT in any case.
I recall reading that both states need to agree to a toll on a bridge going between states — it cannot be introduced unilaterally.
Regardless, the current plan is going to make things worse for folks not on the highway.
ODOT is very much determined to do tolling in the dumbest way possible. If they put the gantries at the Tualatin River and the Willamette in OC there aren’t great options for local roads to divert on to to avoid them. And there’s no local alternative to crossing the Columbia – you’d have to divert to 205. Which isn’t to say that it’s a good plan – it isn’t.
Fixed it for you.
sounds like a good argument to add more traffic diverters
Because tolling is necessary, to reverse the decline in revenue needed to fund the transportation network. Drivers of cars and trucks demand the most of the network yet pay almost nothing for it. Time for everyone to chip in. Tolling will eventually be replaced (in 5-10 years) by a per-mile charge that everyone will pay (including cyclists, if I have my way).
Yes, there will be some diversion of cars onto local streets in the first months of a tolling program. But drivers of those cars will eventually pay the tolls and the system will even out again.
Agree, The “drivers will use side streets” argument is a red herring used by critics and politicians to try to prevent tolling. Rising gas prices are another example of drivers bitching but not changing their habits much if at all.
Is it really just a red herring? Or could there in fact be some negative consequences of putting tolls in places that are easily evaded by using untolled surface streets?
Used to bike everywhere for years. Errands, commute etc. Now no way for the simple reason that cannot leave your bike, even well locked or it will be stolen. This was never mentioned in the news or TV reports.
In addition all the campers who reside on the paths block them and act aggressive towards one for no reason.
I can only speak for myself, I used to be a bike commuter before I moved here. The reasons I don’t bike in Portland are ordered as follows:
1. Bad Weather, freezing rain, blustery wind, 117 degree sun. This climate is awful for biking, the worst!
2. Crime, if you leave your bike locked up, come back in 5 minutes and it’s gone!
3. Terrible infrastructure, cramped, potholed, clogged roads, intersections that don’t line up, confusing bike routes just putting paint over these doesn’t change them.
4. Mean and scary traffic
Where did you move from?
The weather in Portland is incredibly mild. If you have a rain jacket, 75% of the winter rains are fine with just that. Rain pants are nice when the rain is a little harder, but honestly most rain we get is pretty light (in the winter at least) and I rarely get my rain pants out. And sure, the 2021 heat dome was terrible for biking but 99% of Portland summer days are still perfect for riding (temperature wise). If you aren’t biking in Portland because of the climate, I can only assume you moved here from San Diego.
Bike theft is an issue, but I leave my bike locked up for a few hours in most parts of the city without worrying about it too much. I’d only worry if I were locking up for more than 2 hours in the area roughly bounded by Naito, 9th, Madison and the river. Although that is my “not so nice looking ride around the city” bike, not my “go on long rides through the hills” bike
The infrastructure does stink for the most part.
The traffic also stinks
This is a frustrating read- either PBOT staff is not being honest or they are pretty clueless. Their designs have been terrible for the past 10-13 years. The compromise every single design to accommodate car convenience and parking. The remain fixated on their scattered segments of bike infrastructure, claiming that an increase in total distance is improvement, but ignoring the state of the network. PBOT treats bike infrasturcture like little parks: destination in and of themselves to be enjoyed discretely. It DOES NOT treat the bike network likea transportation system that needs to be safe, direct, convenient, navigable, interconnected. If PBOT cannot admit that they are a major part of the problem, then we are in real trouble.
“PBOT treats bike infrastructure like little parks: destination in and of themselves to be enjoyed discretely. It DOES NOT treat the bike network like a transportation system that needs to be safe, direct, convenient, navigable, interconnected.”
Exactly, well said maxD. My hope is that this becomes obvious to everyone. I’m sorry to see this basic idea is still unclear even within PBOT.
How about safety? It just doesn’t feel safe riding around tents and filth. And then locking bike up in public area runs risk of theft.
Stories like this are always going to tease out opinions and anecdotes from all flavors of commenters. I hope the city will adopt a data informed approach here. From this and previous articles it seems that the primary drivers behind the decline in mode share are: 1. Large influx of “drive-alone” commuters, and 2. Less demand for bike commute trips as a result of workplace transformation. To address both of these:
1. Agree with the assessment that Portland is an easy city for driving. Having grown up in the metro area, and having lived in some far worse places to drive (Honolulu, Boston, DC), this seems to check out. The opportunity cost of driving is not yet high enough to create a mode shift for the added drive-alone commuters. Course of action on this should be to continue traffic calming efforts, and resist roadway expansions to further ease the opportunity costs of driving. We still have an opportunity here to prioritize bike infra over car travel in a way that prevents both from being awful, as is the case in many other US cities.
2. Workplace transformation seems to be the most dominant effect as of late. With fewer bike trips to and from the office, the city should strive to create alternative routes and destinations in an effort to replace some of those office trips. This is why things like the ORCMP and Washington Park Master Plan are so important. We absolutely need to invest in creating bike-oriented destinations, both downtown and around the different neighborhoods. Build it and they will come works when there is solid demand. The data seem to suggest that we need to work on the demand part.
Recognizing that anecdote does not equal data, I’ll also add my experience that while it’s not perfect, I feel far safer biking in Portland than in any US city I’ve visited or lived in. I ride nearly every day, often with a small child, and am thankful for the progress that has been made since my earlier years here.
I agree here. The infrastructure may stink, and the drivers may be entitled, but biking is still the best way to get around Portland.
The only city that I prefer biking in to Portland is my hometown (Madison, WI) – but I have so much experience biking there that it’s functionally second nature. Which I think is (part of) why established Portlanders don’t really notice the bad stuff quite so much. Being intimately familiar with the bike network (flawed as it is) gives you a huge leg up on feeling safer. Knowing where to avoid and why means you have the knowledge to pick the safest route every time. Like I know it’s best to take the 17th overpass over Powell to get to my neighborhood from points north of it – but the first times I did I crossed Powell at Milwaukie instead (because a sign pointed me that way).
The knowledge of the city that you garner from years of experience is part of your perception of how easy it is to cycle in it – I know I spent a lot of my first few months in Portland getting lost on zigzagging greenways before feeling like I knew how to get around. And this is a facet that I think Portland really struggles with, and why biking is down. It’s just not intuitive unless you really know what you’re doing, and you can only gain that knowledge if you bike a whole lot.
I’ll keep this short. I was an avid cyclist for 40 years and an all-season commuter in Portland for the last 10 years (2000–2010). I stopped riding when I started commuting on foot. And I just kept walking. I’m now creeping up on 70. Will I bike again in Portland? Maybe. Would I feel safe right now? No. Would I lock my bike up in Portland right now? No.
FWIW, I live in a nice, close-in NE neighborhood.
Taylor’s observation that the OTP hasn’t been updated since ’06 ties into this discussion. The graph of commuters since 2000 shows upward spikes in ’07-’08 which is a reasonable delay for implementation IMO. I wonder if the Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan portion was again updated in 2011 or 2012 where we see the next spike taking place in ’13-’14. There appears to be a downward trend prior to that spike, I wonder (as I’m not finding a history of previous updates on a cursory search) if we are more overdue for an update than was realized and added weight to the complexity of ridership decline.
The neighborhood greenways seem designed to hide cyclists away from main roads and by doing so less people see and interact with cyclists and thus less people are encouraged to also bike themselves. And it allows the city to do things like redo Hawthorne without adding bike lanes. If you do everything possible to get cyclists off the main roads ( which usually have the things one would want/need to travel to ) then you can’t be surprised when years later there’s less cyclists.
Neighborhood greenways are car appeasing infrastructure, NOT bike infrastructure and as Portland has built more and more greenways and less bike infrastructure on roads people want/need to go to there’s been less cyclists. Build it and they will come is true but what Portland built isn’t a bike network, it’s a bike hideaway.
Great description! Thanks.
I think that you are right on the first point, but wrong on the second. Neighborhood greenways are one part of a larger cycling network, and they vary widely in their usefulness, but they are not car appeasing infrastructure in and of themselves. PBOT has made it seem that way by refusing to build anything else, but a greenway network is a good subset of a full connected bike network
But that’s the thing, from my perspective it seems PBOT uses the existence of greenways as an excuse to not install bike infrastructure on main roads. Greenways can be good as a supplement to bike infrastructure on main roads but not as a substitute, which unfortunately is how PBOT designs them.
They do definitely use it as an excuse, I’ve heard PBOT people say “we are satisfied with the parallel greenways” (with respect to Hawthorne). But that is a choice PBOT makes not something inherent to the greenways themselves. I don’t think there would be much of design difference on the greenways if the much needed cycletracks on the main roads existed as well.
What did PBOT do to “get cyclists off Hawthorne”? I can think of very few, examples of where PBOT took active steps to remove cyclists from a facility. The only example might be SE 26th, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what you’re talking about.
Personally, I really like riding on greenways, officially designated or not.
One thing that comes to mind to me is going down from two lanes to one lane makes riding much more stressful. The number of people willing to make dangerous passes has increased significantly. It’s not like they didn’t know that would be the result, either. Riding north of Cesar Chavez would have made it very apparent. The response to that concern is to ride half a mile out of your way to Lincoln and back and make sure you know exactly where that shop you were trying to get to is so you can cut back over and don’t pass it.
I partially agree, but the lane is now much wider than it was, so there is more room to pass. Not as much compared to a rider who had taken the lane previously, but many folks were never comfortable doing that.
We’re not really talking a big change here. And I don’t know anyone who would ride to Lincoln to go a couple of blocks on Hawthorne.
And, to be clear, I’m not defending PBOT’s decision, just saying that the statement I was responding to was not anchored to fact when it asserted that PBOT is “doing everything possible to get cyclists off the main roads”. Because they’re not.
The lane being wider makes it more dangerous. Drivers will drive faster and try to share the lane with cyclists. It’s still not wide enough to share safely. You not knowing anyone that wouldn’t ride a few blocks or 800 feet isn’t really relevant. Cyclists should be able to safely bike the length of it it’s only 1.5 miles we’re talking about here.
I don’t see PBOT doing a lot to get cyclists on main roads. They’re being sued in fact for not following their own policy of putting bike infrastructure on main roads they are repaving.
Think installing bike infrastructure on only a portion of Hawthorne is an active step to encourage cyclists away from Hawthorne, at least where the bike infrastructure ends.
I think the biggest factor by far is that it’s so easy to drive in Portland. If you go to LA, or the Bay Area, or NYC, or even Seattle, people complain all the time about traffic congestion and how hard/expensive it is to park your car. In Portland, I can drive anywhere in the whole region, pretty much, in 20 or 30 minutes even during peak times. And parking is cheap in the few areas where it even costs anything, and plenty of free street parking in most areas. Our freeway system has incredibly closely-spaced ramps, making it super easy to hop on and off the freeway even for trips that stay within the city. As much of the city has become less affordable and therefore more residents (the ones who can afford to stay) are affluent, especially int the inner neighborhoods most conducive to bicycling, more and more people find it cheap and easy to own a car and use it for most trips.
As long as our sole focus is on building high-quality bike infrastructure, all we’ll end up with is a bunch of very nice but mostly-empty bike lanes and greenways. At some point, we as a city need to increase the cost and hassle of driving. Raise the parking rates in the meter districts and SmartParks (better yet, tear them down). Expand paid parking beyond the Central City area. Toll the freeways, and close half the on- and off-ramps so it’s less convenient to use them. Eventually remove some freeway links like I-5 through the Central Eastside. Increase the gas tax, the vehicle registration fees, VMT charge, etc. Do more road diets on major arterials.
Intentionally degrading for the sake of degradation transportation options relied on by the vast majority of Portlanders does not seem politically sustainable. This will become even more true when a majority of council would have to agree to any such policy change.
I haven’t read the comments because I’m busy AH, but not mentioned in article is the rise in occupation of bike paths. Regularly witnessed on my daily bike commute: Houseless encampments, vehicles driving on, vehicles being dismantled on, vehicles burned on, feces, broken glass, trash and debris being a hazard to tires and personal safety – these are definite deterrents to using cycling/walking infrastructure that has been increasing significantly since I’ve been bike commuting since 2013.
What about gas prices falling since 2014 and the rise in SUV sales tied to the decrease in gas prices? Also weather could be a partial factor. Hotter summers and wetter springs might contribute. Whole lot of other puzzle pieces to factor in.
Higher gas prices in 2012-2015 caused cycling to increase, higher gas prices in 2021-2023 caused cycling to decrease, and lower gas prices in 2008-2011 caused cycling to increase.
Instead of blaming a poorly-correlated economic variable, bikers could consider that most people prefer driving because it’s easier, more efficient, and more pleasant.
Driving is only more efficient in the most narrow sense of the word. Here is non-exhaustive list of how driving is less efficient than cycling.
And pleasure is highly subjective, but I doubt you will find anyone who frequents Bike Portland as being amenable to the idea that driving is more pleasant than biking. I would rather spend an extra 30 minutes traveling on a bike than drive. I hate driving with every fiber of my being. I hate being shut off from the environment, I hate sitting at traffic lights, I hate cursing how bad everyone else is at driving, I hate how every speeds at all times. The list goes on.
All the things I hate about biking boil down to “I hate that the transportation system ignores me and leaves me to die on sketchy roads rather than take one iota of space away from cars”.
It’s not uncommon for ~2% of the population to hate what 98% of the population is doing. A theory of change that involves telling drivers that they should hate driving ensures that your tiny subculture will be ignored (or mocked) by majority.
I mean you are in a biking forum talking about how you think driving is more pleasurable than biking. Also I think most of the things I spelled out about driving people by and large agree with. No one likes that stuff!
People already don’t like tons of parts about driving. Saying that 98% of people like driving in heavy traffic is laughable. Sure, I’m a hater – but most of the things I hate about driving aren’t things people love about it.
I experience heavy traffic very infrequently. Driving in Portland is a breeze compared to other cities.
Speaking of pleasure nothing quite so satisfying as biking from South to North Portland during rush hour passing hundreds of cars along the way.
PBOT paints sharrows on some out of the way side streets, calls it a greenway, and then wonders why no one is riding their “bike network”
This article is misleading because excludes data for 2020 and 2021 even though that information is included in the “2022 Bike Count Report.
In 2000, 172K commuters drove to work alone. In 2021, that number had fallen to 165K.
Per the same report, biking to work rose from 5K in 2000 to 10K in 2021.
Include these 2020 and 2021 in the graph above, and driving alone would actually fall, while biking would increase.
Perhaps the author didn’t include 2020 and 2021 because the years didn’t support his inference that cars are driving the decrease in bicycle ridership. Or perhaps he wanted to discard those years because of the pandemic.
The pandemic changed everything, including commutes. The city is right to step back and reevaluate how commute modes.
This is an interesting compilation of Roger Geller’s public statements from 10 months ago.
Have you considered contacting him or someone else at PBOT for an interview about their current opinions on this?
Geller is still a public figure, still employed at PBOT and the duties of his day job, I believe, entail taking time for outreach to news media like BikePortland.org.
It would be interesting to hear his current response to the decline. Also, you could challenge him on some of these assertions and ask what his office is doing to *respond* to them, instead of just use the assertion to explain the failure to maintain high levels of bicycle commuting.
You could also bring up the “personal safety” issue which is mentioned frequently in BikePortland blog comments, which he seems to be unaware of as an issue.
Personal safety is mentioned so often because white cycling activists don’t want to talk about gentrification and economic displacement.
There have been at least a dozen mentions of economic displacement in this comment thread alone, and Geller mentioned it in the article itself. People mention safety a lot because people really dislike feeling unsafe.