Opinion: My thoughts on the cycling decline and a list of theories to explain it

Traffic on North Williams Avenue, May 20th, 2020. (Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

There are a ton of reasons why cycling is down in Portland these days. Anyone who thinks the answer is short or simple has not taken the time to fully grasp what has happened in the past decade and what continues to happen today.

We need to acknowledge the problems that got us here and get everything out in the open. That’s what this post is about (and it’s long, so get comfortable).

I’ve read hundreds of comments and emails, have had many conversations, and have spent countless hours thinking about this decline. And it’s far from a new concept. We first reported that Portland’s cycling boom was over and that something fundamental about the culture of this town had shifted in a story our former news editor Michael Andersen wrote way back in May 2014 (that was part of a “Portland’s Cycling Stagnation” series we published mid-2013). Michael wrote that story because I just wasn’t able to get the words out of my brain. That’s common on issues like this — big, multi-layered ones I feel deep in my bones but have so much emotion wrapped into they’re hard to put into words. After listening to me rant for days in the office about it, Michael finally just said, “Let me write it.” And he absolutely nailed it.

The fact that the city happened to be painting over the huge “Welcome to America’s Bicycle Capital” mural downtown was a perfect coincidence and Michael’s idea to splice the article around a time-lapse of it was brilliant. We went on to publish 12 stories in a series we hoped would help get Portland back on its pedals. It didn’t work.

Personally, although I shared my thoughts on Portland’s cycling complacency and political crisis in 2015, I never fully reckoned with our decline in cycling after that. There were a lot of reasons why: I always figured it’d be a temporary blip; I’d staked my professional life on Portland being a great cycling city, so it was hard to acknowledge we were anything but; I didn’t want to demoralize the community with too much negativity; and I wanted to make space for a lot of other very important issues — like racism in urban planning, police brutality, gun violence, housing affordability and related homelessness — that began to dominate the local discourse and City Council meetings.

As a white dude with a lot of privilege and who many just think of as “the bike guy,” I knew the optics of me shaking my fist at the sky and saying, “But what about bikes?!” would not be great. So I mostly kept my head down, mentioned my concerns about the decline here and there, and worked hard to keep the cycling flame lit.

The new bicycle count report from PBOT (the first one they’ve published since 2014, unfortunately), forces me — and all of us — to fully reckon with these facts and speak out. Some folks say the report might have undercounted cyclists, and there is probably some truth to that (bicycle counting methods are notoriously flawed). But overall, the trend is real and it would be a grave mistake to keep our heads in the sand about it.

Cycling is too important to Portland for us to just sit back and hope things turn around.

As we continue to cover the decline and publish stories and content that push us forward, I want to share a list of theories I’ve heard and thought about thus far. Getting all this into the open is an important step, and I hope we can soon stop talking about why it happened, and start talking about what we will do to reverse the trend.

So buckle in. Below is my attempt at a full list of reasons why cycling has declined in Portland…

A socio-political-cultural shift

Too many of us took our cycling culture for granted. Between 2002 and 2012 or so, Portland had the greatest cycling culture in the world. No, we are not Amsterdam, but they can only dream of the bike culture we had (the head of bike planning for Copenhagen told me as much during my visit in 2013). It is no coincidence that our once-vaunted culture declined at the same time cycling rates began to plateau and then drop. (City Cast PDX podcast host Claudia Meza and I talked more about this in an episode that came out Tuesday.)

The hard truth is that Portland walked away from cycling around 2012. It’s a shift in culture that has troubled me for years. Some of the creative cultural elements — like the Sprockettes, BikeCrafters, and custom bike builders — waned because all cultural moments eventually fade away. But in Portland, we fanned the flames of this shift because city leaders and advocates began to lose confidence in cycling when it hit some tough times.

This doubt crept in around 2010 and the result was a new silence around cycling that is still happening today.

Remember when PBOT decided to change the name of “bicycle boulevards” to “neighborhood greenways”? Remember when PBOT embarked on the North Williams Avenue project in 2011? It was going to be called the Williams Bikeway Development Project. But they changed the name to Williams Avenue Traffic Safety and Operations Project. Or how about in 2016 when the nonprofit Bicycle Transportation Alliance changed their name to The Street Trust? Remember the Bike Commute Challenge? Now it’s called the Move More Challenge. Or the time in 2020 when City Council was poised to get re-educated on several key bike issues, then PBOT and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly got cold feet and removed the presentation from the agenda

That presentation was scuttled because of one of the biggest reasons for the silence around cycling at City Hall and PBOT: That it’s too white and to prioritize it goes against the City’s new focus on racial equity. That’s a dangerous miscalculation. “Cycling” the noun definitely has some too-white problems (which I address below), but “cycling” the verb does not. That’s a distinction I don’t think enough local leaders understand or appreciate.

City Cast PDX host Claudia Meza and I talked about this in our conversation Tuesday (at around the 11 minute mark). “I feel like [the City is] just all about inclusivity and DEI [Diversity Equity and Inclusion] and all this stuff, but they are just not wrapping that around biking,” Meza said. “As a person of color who’s been in the Northwest for like over 20 years, cycling is not white.”

When you walk away from cycling due to misplaced fears about racial equity, you not only slow progress, you also erase all the people of color who love to ride bikes, who rely on it as a form of transportation, and who want it to be safer. And when you systematically erase cycling from your city, you should not be surprised when it disappears.

We also got complacent. For years Portland was adored by the media and the urban planning industrial complex. All that attention went to our heads and we lost our edge.

Now we’re in a chicken-or-egg scenario: We’ve lost our major cycling champions in City Hall and we have a PBOT work force that has lost confidence in cycling at the same time the culture has weakened; but we need a strong culture to (re)create those champions and get our City staffer swagger back.

The bike scene is still too white and too centrally located

Portland will never reach its potential until it reaches into every neighborhood in the city. I’m talking about both hard (concrete) and soft (cultural) infrastructure. We need safer streets near the Gresham border and the hills of southwest, and our advocacy organizing needs to go way beyond wealthy white people.

There are some great success stories here. There’s a vibrant, Spanish-speaking advocacy group in the Cully neighborhood and since the tragic murder of George Floyd by police officers and resulting protests, we’ve seen growth in local groups like Black Girls Do Bike, BikePOC PNW and others. But the struggle to expand the circle of bike activism beyond the usual suspects is still in its awkward tween years.

WTF WFH (Work From Home)

The work from home phenomenon is both powerful and recent, so a lot of people are talking about it. Recent U.S. Census data shows that Portlanders who work mostly from home spiked nearly fourfold between 2019 and 2021 — not surprising due to the pandemic (although the upward telecommute trend began in 2014).

WFH decimated commute trips and it had a disproportionate impact on bicycle riders (see charts above). When we look at Census numbers and take WFH folks out of the equation, there’s a big increase in drive-alone commuters and a related decrease in bike commuters. I’d surmise that this has a lot to do with the erosion of public safety, increased skepticism of strangers and general isolationism many people have taken to since the pandemic.

Before Covid, I recall city staff extolling the virtues of WFH as a welcome weapon against climate change and congestion. Now, as downtown struggles and no one wants to return to offices, they might be changing their tune.

Erosion of public safety

This is a big one. Another thing that started in 2014 was massive encampments of people living in tents along popular bike paths. Ever since those camps on the Springwater Corridor, and the decision by local leaders to not address it, I’ve heard from readers that they simply do not feel safe riding on multi-use paths. In 2016, we reported on the leader of a bike summer camp who cancelled their activities due to these fears. And by 2019, before the pandemic started, it reached a boiling point.

These paths were the lifeblood of many people’s riding habit. When they fell off the map due to these real and/or perceived issues, it was a massive loss.

Fear of bad interactions with people on paths is just one part of this. The general sense of lawlessness in public spaces brought on by rampant drug use and many people in need of mental health care, combined with the reluctance and/or inability of our government to do its job and keep people safe, has been a knockout blow.

Infrastructure & traffic safety fears

Way too many Portlanders are afraid to use our streets without a car, and I can’t blame them. Our infrastructure has not kept up with our rhetoric and people can only be disappointed so many times before they simply give up.

Our streets are filled with people on their phones, people who use massively oversized and dangerous vehicles for doing everyday things, people whose brains are hijacked by motonormativity, and people who have been told repeatedly by the Portland Police Bureau that they are not likely to get caught if they break traffic laws.

At the same time, our bike infrastructure is not nearly as good as folks in the Portland Building and City Hall think it is. PBOT Bike Coordinator Roger Geller recently said “Our strategy of ‘build it and they will come’ is just not working anymore.” That’s only half true. If we actually built excellent and connected bikeways and safe, welcoming streets, people would come (see this 2016 BikePortland op-ed, If we’re serious about cycling, let’s get serious about cycling infrastructure). Look what happens at Sunday Parkways: We tame drivers with redundant diversion and the presence of enforcement, and thousands of people walk and bike with joy and freedom.

We could have Sunday Parkways (in some places) every day, but too often we build projects that are politically safe instead of building truly safe streets

It’s 2023 and Portland still does not have a single fully-protected, signal-prioritized, “8-80 safe” bike corridor that gets people from homes to destinations without a spike in fear.

Our bike network is full of gaps, we lack an effective maintenance strategy to keep them clean, and we still cater too much to drivers and the powerful voices who defend them. (We can return to 2014 for an example of this: We had a chance to install a bike lane along a popular commercial area of SE 28th, but after some business owners got in the City’s ear, PBOT scrapped the plan.)

I’ve been a broken record on this point: When it comes to street design and network connectivity, we are simply not doing enough to counter the rising threat of drivers and their cars. The gap between that threat and our anemic reaction to it is where people die and/or decide to drive.

We can’t only blame users of the system, we must also expect more from the architects of it.

The enforcement problem

Local transportation officials and advocates (I’ll include myself in this) have gotten enforcement wrong. It was right for us to be wary of the role of armed police officers in traffic stops, but the reflex to distance ourselves from enforcement entirely has left us in a bad place. As we sought to protect vulnerable people from police, we never communicated or implemented an alternative plan to enforce traffic laws.

The message was, “We don’t trust the police, so we are moving away from enforcement.” The message should have been, “We don’t trust the police, so here’s what we’re doing instead.”

The alternatives are right in front of us: automated enforcement cameras, bolder street designs that encourage safer driving, and a larger role for PBOT and non-armed civil servants to enforce some traffic laws. We’ve made some progress on all three, but not nearly enough.

Driving is too easy

It’s not enough to make incremental progress for cycling, we must simultaneously reverse progress for driving. As a driver myself, I would happily trade less convenience for a healthier, more humane city (which I did by supporting a diverter at the end of my block). PBOT has made some strides on this, but we must do more, and more quickly.

Currently there are numerous key cycling arteries that are dangerous only because of the presence of drivers and a lack of physical protection between their cars and bicycle riders. SE 7th, N Interstate, SE Foster, SE 122nd, NE Marine Drive, NE Lombard, SW Barbur Blvd — we could place concrete barriers on all those streets today and they’d be much more appealing to bike riders tomorrow.

We could also make driving much more expensive, but because Portland officials haven’t figured out how to decouple equity concerns from transportation planning efforts, we are still stuck in the mud. Higher gas taxes, EV charging fees, parking prices, congestion charges — there are a lot more ways to create revenue from our transportation system. We should try more of them.

Bike facility maintenance (and lack thereof)

It’s not actually a bike lane if it’s covered in debris, trash and/or a large puddle most of the time.

ODOT simply doesn’t care enough to keep bikeways on their roads clean and passable, and PBOT has cut funding for maintenance crews for years and has struggled to keep enough workers on the job. And with more protected bike lanes in the network, PBOT still hasn’t figured out how to sweep them efficiently.

Whatever the official excuse is, the amount of leaves, gravel, snow, mud, water, trash, cars, glass, and so on and so forth, is unacceptable. Neglected bikeways send a clear signal to the people: We don’t respect cycling and we don’t expect anyone to use these spaces. That signal has been heard and people have reacted accordingly.

Gas is too cheap

(Source: Top: Michael Andersen for BikePortland; Bottom: Statista)

I know a few smart people who say the best way to predict cycling rates in the U.S. is to look at gas prices. The correlation between high gas prices and high bike ridership — and vice versa — has long been a solid argument. But I would posit that the correlation will weaken going forward in large part due to the forces I’ve laid out in this article. As people get even more fearful of others, inequity and selfishness grows, and as long as options to driving are not as attractive, most Americans will simply pay whatever it takes to keep driving.

Demographic forces

Portland home prices, 2013 – 2021. (Source: RMLS)

This topic is beyond my area of expertise (actually all of these are, but why stop now?!). I include it on this list because I’ve heard it brought up many times: The combination of new Portland residents moving here in droves around 2012, and higher housing prices brought on by a lack of supply, has forced younger, lower-income people out of the most bikeable inner neighborhoods and into less-bikeable ones. This was a double-whammy because those bike-oriented people now have longer trips and less safe infrastructure to ride on; while those new residents have more money and are less likely to have cycling play a large role in their everyday life.

Those younger residents that helped create the fertile comedy grounds that the hit show Portlandia germinated from, had less money, but they also had fewer life responsibilities (no mortgage, no kids, and jobs that fit their lifestyle) and more time to create, organize, and advocate around cycling. When they grew up and left, they were replaced by folks who had a different relationship to Portland and to cycling.

The local advocacy ecosystem

In 2014, two years before the BTA changed their name to The Street Trust, there was already talk about how the group had stopped being a loud voice for cycling in Portland. In a comment to a BikePortland story that was part of a series intended to help us break through the stagnation, the co-founder of then-BTA, Rex Burkholder, couldn’t stay quiet any longer. He felt the organization had lost their voice and wrote, “It’s time for the BTA to return to its roots, or step aside.”

One week after that comment, we reported on how the BTA had made an intentional shift in strategy to move way from bicycling and toward something they felt would be more appealing to business interests and suburban partners. The BTA changed their name to The Street Trust two years later and has drifted further away from cycling ever since. Two weeks after we reported on the BTA’s shift, activists saw the writing on the wall and launched Bike Loud PDX. That group has been growing ever since, but still has no paid staff and doesn’t have the resources or legacy to wield major influence. 

The BTA was a force to be reckoned with in its early years. Today, The Street Trust continues that legacy, still does vital advocacy work, and celebrated their 30th anniversary last year — but their shift away from cycling has come at a cost. One source inside City Hall told me this week that, “Bike advocates have no presence or political capital in city hall at the moment.”

It’s also notable to me that The Street Trust hasn’t made any statement about the counts report or the decline in cycling since it was released over two weeks ago.

Another element of this topic (unrelated to The Street Trust) is the demoralization of many bike activists. The past decade has been tough on Portland’s legendary bike advocacy volunteer troops. From the lack of urgency on the 2030 Bike Plan, to the myriad decisions where Portland leaders followed the path of least resistance instead of sticking to our velo-centric values, some activists just got fed up and moved on.

Bike theft

The bike theft problem has plagued Portland for a very long time. And it persists, despite our best efforts to do something about it. Regardless of stolen bike statistics, many people simply don’t think their bike will be secure if it’s locked-up outside. Heck, thieves even target locked bike storage rooms in apartment and condo complexes! Until we reverse the perception around this issue and are able to show that the City of Portland is making a sustained effort to remedy the problem (similar to the effort they’re making for stolen cars), it will continue to dampen enthusiasm for cycling.

The rise of carsharing and micromobility

Remember when Uber and their drivers forced their way onto Portland streets, despite not having a permit? When Uber and Lyft burst onto the scene, they likely ate up some bike trips and might have gobbled up some on-the-fence bike riders. And other types of non-car vehicles have also gained a toehold in the bike lanes in recent years. E-scooters, one-wheels, and e-unicycles have all contributed to the erosion of the cycling habit for some Portlanders.

So now what?

We need to continue to learn and share information, then we need to use that knowledge to course-correct and get back on track. For my part, I’ve been soaking up perspectives and feedback since the count report came out two weeks ago. We’ve published several stories about it, I’ve done two podcasts so far (ours and I was on the City Cast PDX pod Tuesday), and tonight (Weds, 4/5) we kick-off a new Bike Talk Happy Hour event we co-organized with three businesses on SE Ankeny and 28th.

Everyone has a role in this rebuilding process. Getting mad and pointing fingers is helpful only up to a point, then it becomes detrimental.

I believe Portland is “The City That Works… Better With Bikes.” If you believe that too, let’s work together. I don’t want to return to the “old days.” I want us to build something that reflects lessons learned in the past decade and that is even more exciting and beautiful than we could have ever imagined. 


If anyone wants to talk about this, I’ll be at Gorges Beer Co on SE Ankeny just before 28th from 3-6 pm. Come join us at the inaugural Bike Talk Happy Hour.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago

Love the perspectives here Jonathan. I think that the loss of culture is the saddest part to read about (it’s all a bummer to be fair). Portland’s cycling culture was truly legendary – it’s something I remember hearing vague whispers about growing up in Wisconsin. It may be on the decline now, but I do think we have lots of opportunities to rekindle and “build back better” (so to speak). Do a group ride, plan a ride to the park with your friends, get excited for Sunday Parkways and the like, show up for events, and support your local bike shop. Hope to see you all out there riding bikes – Portland’s cycling renaissance starts today baby!

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I really couldn’t care less about “cycling culture,” though I do like it when cyclists are friendly, as they tend to be in Portland.

I’m much more interested in having good and safe places to ride – not necessarily protected (translation: unmaintained) bike lanes but just some dedicated space on the street.

I think that “cycling culture” goes only so far in getting people into cycling. There are thousands of would-be cyclists out there who might try it if they knew they had some dedicated space on every street – if they knew there was space for them outside of a car. Right now you really can’t say there is – at least not consistently.

John
John
1 year ago

As we sought to protect vulnerable people from police, we never communicated or implemented an alternative plan to enforce traffic laws.

I feel this line and the paragraphs around it are still buying too much into the narrative that any of this is an actual policy change. The cops are still fully empowered to do their jobs with traffic enforcement. Their funding has not been cut, nobody is suggesting we shouldn’t enforce traffic. This just sounds like you’re saying we did “something” (defund the police, stop enforcing traffic, etc) when in reality, that never happened. The cops are using this as a tactic to hurt people for political gain. This isn’t on “us” and writing about it like it is just feeds that narrative that we need to double down on policing.

SolarEclipse
SolarEclipse
1 year ago
Reply to  John

It most certainly happened. The Mayor and Chief of Police told us, in the early days of Covid they were going to have Police officers NOT do traffic stops because of the risks of Covid. The DA has also made it no secret he won’t prosecute criminals for minor offenses especially if they are members of particular groups.
So yes, Police can still enforce the traffic laws, but doing that goes against what the politicians and DA have told them not to do. So if you were a Police Officer would you waste your time pulling someone over for running a red light when nothing is going to happen to the person as they could just ignore any ticket.

idlebytes
idlebytes
1 year ago
Reply to  SolarEclipse

The DA doesn’t handle minor traffic offenses and cops apparently have enough time to ticket cyclists not using the bike lane. John is spot on the cops are selectively choosing what to police for political gain. It’s not necessarily new just more obvious and blatant with some even going so far to outright say it.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  idlebytes

cops apparently have enough time to ticket cyclists

This happens about once per decade, so it might be best not to draw too much from it.

city-lover
city-lover
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Happened to me in 2004! Why did I tell him I had a driver’s license??

idlebytes
idlebytes
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Still more common than cops giving tickets to people running the red light by my house near 82nd which happens every time I wait for the light to change when I come home from work. What do you draw from that?

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  idlebytes

What have you learned about comparing tickets you know about at a particular red light near your house with tickets given anywhere in the city that are so rare they’re newsworthy?

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

The fact that it happens at all is a scandal. We are correct to draw a lot of conclusions from it.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

I conclude the law needs to be changed.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I’m not sure how you differentiate between cops not doing their jobs and them being very short staffed (and disbanding of the traffic division, far from never having happened, is a documented fact), so your explanation is pure conjecture. But leaving that aside, what can the public do to see positive movement on the dangerous driving front?

Cameras might help somewhat, but they do nothing for drunk drivers, driving without license plates, blowing stop signs, texting while driving, and the rest.

Maybe we don’t need more police, but what would you suggest instead?

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

The cops could be enforcing traffic rules. And they choose not to. That’s the point. There are ways. Radar traps, or just sit and issue citations all day at some intersection. They do have cops out driving around, there is no reason they couldn’t be doing their job. If anything, it should require even less staff to just blast out tickets with how bad people are driving and how much we complain about it.

I think they need cameras, lots of them, prominently and all over the place. Of course it would deter drunk drivers unless you’re suggesting drunk drivers don’t do any other traffic violations. This goes for the other distracted driving issues.

And how hard would it be, really, for cops to pull over every person without a license plate. If they’re so common and they’re everywhere. It’s not a complicated problem, no plate -> impounded.

Finally, as has been suggested by Jonathan in this article and in various other places, simple traffic enforcement doesn’t have to be done by cops. We’re talking low hanging fruit here, 80/20 or some such ratio. Most of the stuff that concerns me is speeding, oversized vehicles driving poorly, running red/stop signs, and stuff like that. Cameras would go a LONG way to getting most of that under control.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

The cops could be enforcing traffic rules. 

And they are, just not nearly as much as they used to when we had a group dedicated to this mission. We’re seeing what happens with underenforcement, and it isn’t good.

Of course [cameras] would deter drunk drivers

If a camera gives a speeding ticket to a drunk driver, that’s not the same as arresting someone for driving drunk, so no, I don’t think cameras are effective at deterring drunk driving, any more than they would deter bank robberies that involve escaping at high speeds.

simple traffic enforcement doesn’t have to be done by cops

Who do you propose should do it? Given the prevalence of guns in cars, you don’t want to send some random PBOT clerk out there (and they probably wouldn’t be willing to go). I know I wouldn’t do it.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

when we had a group dedicated to this mission

The group was the cops! They can just decide to have a group dedicated to this mission and they don’t. And why would they need one anyway? As you said, they already can and do hand out tickets, they’re just choosing not to do it as much anymore.

that’s not the same as arresting someone for driving drunk

Nobody said it was, but it is a deterrent to driving drunk. If you get tickets for driving badly, you will be deterred from doing things that will get you tickets. Especially if it can eventually lead to losing your license (not sure if it can, but it should).

Given the prevalence of guns in cars

There are guns everywhere, we don’t have cops do every task in the city because of that. People aren’t going to be willing to escalate a traffic ticket to a murder. It just doesn’t happen. It can happen with cops, because cops are prone to search your car and look for other excuses to arrest you and take you to jail. That’s the only reason someone pulls a gun on cops, it’s because of the threat to life that cops represent.

These people wouldn’t take over all the jobs of cops. There are times when an armed cop makes sense (or some other alternative that we haven’t gotten to solutioning out yet). Say, maybe DOT employees wouldn’t be expected to come pry into what’s going on with a plate-free beater car driving around. But they could follow the car, they could call the cops themselves, etc. Cops themselves do this, they don’t drive around decked out all SWAT style all the time (although, it’s closer and closer) just because the situation MIGHT warrant it.

dwk
dwk
1 year ago
Reply to  John

“There are guns everywhere, we don’t have cops do every task in the city because of that. People aren’t going to be willing to escalate a traffic ticket to a murder. It just doesn’t happen.”

What could go wrong with guns everywhere…
And no one as ever escalated a traffic stop into anything more have they?
Are you in high school?

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  dwk

Did you even read my comment? Just keep going to the next sentence. Cops bringing guns to a traffic stop is why they get violent. The promise of deadly force or loss of freedom because the cop wants to snoop around a bit or maybe wants to come up with an excuse for an arrest is why people feel the only possible escape might be deadly force. If a DOT employee pulls you over and you have something to hide, why would you make it into a murder charge? I don’t buy it. It wouldn’t happen.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

“People aren’t going to be willing to escalate a traffic ticket to a murder. It just doesn’t happen”

So, to pick an extreme example, what happens if a PBOT employee pulls over a car that has a murdered body in the back seat?

Would you expect that the PBOT traffic person would not call the police? Would the driver feel secure enough that they would not attempt violence against the person who pulled them over in order to prevent that?

What if there is subject of an Amber alert in the back seat? “You two have a nice day!”

Or the driver has a serious warrant on them. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone I saw you.”

What if the driver is drunk? “Here’s your ticket sir, please drive carefully.”

What if the driver just drives off? Would the PBOT person give chase? Probably not, and by the time the cops show up, that person is long gone. Maybe catch him the next day? You can’t issue a ticket without positively identifying the driver, and I am sure the standard would be much higher for the more serious crime of evading a PBOT officer.

The idea that unarmed enforcers can safely stop random vehicles to issue traffic tickets is laughably naive.

Paul
Paul
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Pretty sure those cars just wouldn’t stop.

cc_rider
cc_rider
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Cameras might help somewhat, but they do nothing for drunk drivers, driving without license plates, blowing stop signs, texting while driving, and the rest

Do police do anything meaningful in other places to prevent this stuff? People in California go a minimum of ten over and CHP is all over the place. In the midwestern state I grew up in, the bars all have 50+ car parking lots and literally everyone who leaves is driving drunk. It’s just part of the culture.

Police are the most expensive and least efficient method to get people to drive better. We need them, but our primary means should cameras and road designs that force motorists to engage with the road instead of playing on their phone. People aren’t going to feel as comfortable texting on a narrow road as they do on a wide open road. Building out the curb at stop signs to make the pass through narrow forces people to slow and come to a stop. Most people on the road have license plates and most of them are driving dangerously. Lets get easy wins.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Do police do anything meaningful in other places to prevent this stuff? 

That depends on how the police respond to people speeding/driving drunk, and whether there are enough cops around so that they have time to do enforcement.

I’m in favor of traffic cameras when they’re backed by policies preventing data collection. I’m all for building better streets. That’s a long, slow, and expensive process. What do we do in the mean time? Continue doing what we’re doing now?

cc_rider
cc_rider
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

That depends on how the police respond to people speeding/driving drunk, and whether there are enough cops around so that they have time to do enforcement.

There isn’t a single community in this country where the majority of motorists drive safely

What do we do in the mean time? Continue doing what we’re doing now?

Street improvements don’t have to be long, slow, or expensive. That they are is a by product on how PBOT views the roads. What makes it that way is PBOT’s determination to try and build projects that are safe without doing anything to make motorists stop behaving dangerously.

PBOT has the funding and resources. They have literally no checks and balances, so they can do whatever they want, and they have some of the highest starting wages for cops in the country. They’ve been at this for over 100 years.

Cops are the status quo, and its a pretty terrible status quo.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  cc_rider

There isn’t a single community in this country where the majority of motorists drive safely

I recently spent a week in San Francisco and was impressed with how respectful drivers are to pedestrians. The city has used stop signs extensively, something PBOT repeatedly has stated they will not do. Compliance is not perfect, but drivers seem to be looking for pedestrians and expect to/are willing to stop when a ped is present. Its not perfect, but it is noticeably better than Portland. The overall traffic in the city drives very slowly.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  cc_rider

I’m all for faster and quicker (and I’d add better). How can PBOT get people to stop behaving dangerously? (And if you’re going to suggest putting rocks in the street, let me add the qualifiers of behaving lawfully and not exposing the city to endless lawsuits.)

cc_rider
cc_rider
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

How can PBOT get people to stop behaving dangerously?

  1. Traffic cameras
  2. Road diets
  3. Speed bumps
  4. Traffic divereters on non-arterials

Those four alone could get us 90% of the way there. People hate narrow roads, but they hate them because they are forced to pay attention.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  cc_rider

I support all of these (with my usual caveats about data cameras and data privacy), but I’m not sure they won’t continue to be long, slow, and expensive. Let’s check back in in 20 years and see if we have even 5% coverage for these 4 measures. People were talking about these same items 20 years ago, and you can see for yourself how much progress two decades can bring.

Of course, they won’t help with the phone problem, drunk driving, and the rest, but I’ll take what I can get.

CDD
CDD
1 year ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Y’all have seen the “speed humps” in Mexico and further south? It forces everybody to 15 mph by default And they are every 500 feet or so. Or the foot high curbs in the more developed parts of Africa + the aforementioned humps. Cars are forced in that channel, regardless of the non-existing lanes = by default speeds are low. And everybody changes shocks 2x/year…

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  cc_rider

This, exactly, this is my point. Everyone wants to talk about the edge cases or the harder to solve stuff, when there is a giant slew of easy wins that in themselves would make a huge improvement. All the talk about “dangerous driving” being a deterrent to cycling isn’t drunk people without a license plate. It’s mostly middle class SUV tank driving people impatient to get from work to soccer practice or some crap. It’s road ragers who decide it’s ok to squeeze by a car turning left and run a light that’s been red for three full seconds. It’s people just blowing stop signs because they were looking at their phone.

Will
Will
1 year ago
Reply to  John

The times I have come closest to being hit are around 7 AM by folks staring out their phones as they drive to work.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

“giant slew of easy wins ”

How do we get those wins? Cameras and road design aren’t going to stop any of that (except maybe the red light runner if there happens to be a camera there).

Maybe I just need to embrace the chaos.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Cameras can enforce red lights, speeding, and if someone was willing to put a tiny bit of effort in, stop signs.
Even if we only dealt with the lights and speeding, that is a massive win.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

A camera at every signal and stop sign; that may take a while. What do we do while we’re waiting?

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

It should be faster than hiring new cops. And the problem doesn’t stay exactly the same until every intersection has a camera. You get a few important spots and you’ll solve most of it.

dwk
dwk
1 year ago
Reply to  John

30% of traffic deaths are from Drunk driving.
Facts are hard aren’t they?

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  dwk

Keeping track of the thread is hard, isn’t it?

What does this have to do with anything? This doesn’t mean 30% of the drunk drivers on the road will die tonight. Most of them drunk drive all the time and it results in bad driving (but not death) that would result in tickets with automated enforcement.

dwk
dwk
1 year ago
Reply to  John

A ticket stops a car from smashing and killing people?
What a joke..
You are either just simply clueless or the biggest troll on this website.
Glad JM prints all your bullshit while you are “working” at home.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  dwk

The fact that you can feel confident that speeding and running lights will result in a near guaranteed fine yes, will prevent people from speeding and running lights. Completely? No, physically nothing can prevent it. But people do it now because they have been told nobody is going to stop them.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Most of them drunk drive all the time and it results in bad driving (but not death)

I’m less willing to be blasé about this. Drunk driving is a very serious safety issue, for everyone. A speed camera is not going to help.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Oh ffs, nobody is being blase about it. If being drunk causes people to drive poorly (speed, run lights, etc), then cameras will catch them. They will get tickets. And for that reason, it will work as a deterrent.

Did anyone, anywhere in this thread, say we should dust our hands and consider drunk driving sorted after that? You’re constantly trying to dodge the main point which is that automated enforcement would solve a huge amount of the problems we actually have on the road. If running a red or speeding was nearly guaranteed to result in a ticket, I promise you we would rarely see it happening. Everyone’s grumbling about how unsafe drivers are, well there is the solution. You’re not going to find a solution that solves every problem, certainly not just giving cops more money.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

As I’ve stated many times, I’m in favor of automated enforcement. You think someone who has been drinking won’t remember where the speed cameras are? Or that getting “flashed” will protect the cyclist they encounter on the next block?

I simply do not think cameras are an adequate solution to drunk driving. If you do, I probably can’t convince you. If you don’t, then let’s stop arguing about it. Hell, even if you do, let’s stop arguing about it. I feel very comfortable inhabiting the consensus position, even if you won’t join me.

jay
jay
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Would issuing tickets really work?? What if the same racial inequity occurs in camera issued citations as did officer issued citations? I already know this governor will do the same as Kate, and forgive unpaid traffic citations….https://www.kptv.com/2022/12/22/gov-brown-forgives-unpaid-traffic-tickets-oregon/

Less you forget, Portland Police laziness or making political points are not stopping them from traffic enforcement. Kate indicated that traffic citations created racial inequity. It was her whole rational for citation forgiveness. Plus don’t forget Ted and our current police chief said Portland Police needed to stand down with traffic enforcement. A study showed a small bias in traffic citations… https://www.opb.org/article/2021/06/22/portland-police-bureau-traffic-stops-racial-disparities/

PDXAlex
PDXAlex
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Add to this it’s the proliferation of drivers smoking weed (smell it on the streets every day) and now under the influence of psilocybin mushrooms (God forbid) or other recreational drugs. Oregon legalized pot in 2015.This should be added to the timeline too.

OS
OS
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I live outside Chicago and mostly ride trails or use a trainer. Seems to the people who don’t like cops don’t like cameras, you may change your tune when you get the ticket data. The new mayor here didn’t pay his numerous traffic tickets. “To soccer practice or some crap” – my kids play soccer, helps build discipline and teamwork, things that might help your city and wider society.

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 year ago
Reply to  cc_rider

I can’t imagine any city in Southern California that you could drive around without license plates for more than 30 minutes and not get pulled over and searched. If you don’t have a license plate down there it is assumed that you are trying to commit a crime.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  cc_rider

Alex, I’ll take “Wisconsin ” for $100.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Don’t forget covered license plates. You can apparently buy a Tesla with a standard plate cover.

city-lover
city-lover
1 year ago
Reply to  John

My understanding is that the total number of police declined since Covid (this report from the Mercury has some good charts on staffing), and it’s really tough to get new recruits through the State training facility bottleneck. In addition, there are so many issues to contend with- 11 overdoses downtown the other day that police responded to, street racing, etc.

Potatoman
Potatoman
1 year ago
Reply to  city-lover

The PPB isn’t actually responding to street racing, though. They keep letting it happen and complaining that they are too understaffed as an excuse.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Potatoman

How many cops do you think it would take to safely respond to a large group of boisterous, possibly intoxicated young men and women, some of whom are armed, who are explicitly gathered to break the law and none of whom want to have their cars towed?

I don’t think this is the kind of thing you can send a pair of squad cars to take care of. It seems quite playsible that the police often don’t have sufficient staff available to take care of gatherings like this.

Other than not liking the cops, do you have any reason to think that they are lying?

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Every single issue that comes up about cops, someone will say “the few cops we have are doing this or that other thing” and the reason that other thing isn’t being addressed is the cops are busy with yet another thing.

What is it, exactly, that they’re actually doing? Because it seems like they’re too busy to actually be doing any of the things people want them to do. There aren’t zero of them, so what are they doing?

Also it seems like these cops had no problem doing overtime and cracking down on huge crowds during the 2020 protests, weird that they suddenly lost the ability to deal with large crowds now.

I personally think they’re lying because their lies don’t stack up. None of it makes sense.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

What is it, exactly, that they’re actually doing?

Police stuff. I don’t know if you’ve been reading the papers, but there’s a lot going on in Portland these days, from shootings and murders down to rampant traffic violations.

The community is not exactly policing itself particularly well.

If you can back up your rather serious accusations, write them up and send them to the Oregonian or WW. I’m sure there’s a Pulitzer Prize in there somewhere if it’s true.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Oh they’re doing “police stuff” but any time anyone wonders why they don’t do X or Y thing, it’s because they’re understaffed. The alleged police stuff seems to never cover any of that.

cc_rider
cc_rider
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I just see them driving around. There’s one that likes to go sleep at Columbia park by the church. There’s always one or two inside that fraternal organization on N Lombard.

It doesn’t help that they are too scared to do anything alone. An unwanted person call can get 4+ officers on the scene.

Pill Check
Pill Check
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Oh, it’s the cops fault that there’s no accountability for illegal camping on the bike ways and sidewalks. Portland gets exactly what it asks for.

Pill Check
Pill Check
1 year ago
Reply to  John

We need to double down on policing.

jay
jay
1 year ago
Reply to  John
John
John
1 year ago

I want to add (can’t edit my comment anymore) – this is a great summary of the issues so far.

I remain unconvinced of the effect of infrastructure on the decline though. Certainly we need more and better infrastructure to get new people but we haven’t lost 35% of our infrastructure since 2014, we’ve hardly lost any (and made some patchwork gains). I suppose things like greenways are less friendly with increased traffic, so maybe this is a small factor.

I really think the big one is the demographic shift. That’s the change that would explain the sharp drop that isn’t just the pandemic. Older, richer people who come from places without a bike culture are showing up, and people who biked are leaving. So I guess figuring out a way to get these new people to bike will be important, and I don’t know how to do that.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Demographic shift is one possibility, cultural shift is another. The decline started around the same time Uber did, and that may have changed the expectations of “the next generation” of riders in terms of how to get around the city. I also believe that bicycling follows similar patterns of fashion, and may simply be on a natural downswing at the moment. Riding in Portland wasn’t particularly “cool” in the early 1990s, but became so in the 2000s. It seems that it is no longer so.

Most likely, demographics and cultural shifts are intertwined and feed off one another. Either way, I don’t know if PBOT can do much to combat them if they even care much about cycling at all anymore.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Maybe so. I do think, despite all the existing problems, if the only thing they did was just start making amazing infrastructure (and yes, clean the infrastructure we have), it would go a long way. Solid dividers instead of plastic posts, more diverters on greenways, maybe even some concrete-protected lanes too. Stuff like that, just all in. It could overcome some of the other problems.

I have a hard time getting in the heads of people who don’t bike (or stopped biking especially), because despite all the usual gripes, biking feels extremely safe and convenient to me. The only real problems I face are weather related and self-motivation when conditions aren’t perfect. I guess if I think back to when I started commuting, I do remember things like left turns on busy stroads being intimidating, but that was in Tigard. Portland is comparatively easy.

JP
JP
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

There has been a definite cultural shift. In the hipster heyday, it was cool to listen to NPR, read books, and ride bikes. Now it’s cool to use tiktok.

Lazy Spinner
Lazy Spinner
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

I feel that the demographic and the cultural are intertwined. If you were a healthy, single 20 something downtown worker in the early 2000s, riding your bike was a cool and exciting thing to do. You also felt good about your contribution to sustainability and loved the low cost of doing do.

Fast forward two decades, now you are likely a married 40 something with kids. Between a higher paid, higher stress job, the kid’s afterschool sports and appointments, and the affluenza that comes with age and bigger salaries, you would much rather get around in your luxury vehicle with leather seating, climate control, and every piece of music ever recorded on that high-end audio system thanks to Apple Music. You can afford it and you’re not a youthful risk taker any longer. If your peers and social circle think the same, most people fall into that hive mind. Maturity and success = comfort and showing off the fruits of your labor.

I would even argue that those concerned about the environmental impacts of car use mass transit, rideshare, or justify the purchase of an EV instead of pedaling. Feels like you are doing good but those are still big motor vehicles on our roads.

Are we simply fighting a losing battle against very deeply ingrained attitudes and motives? Does getting older and being responsible for others just automatically get people off of bikes? As Portland gets more expensive and younger workers are forced into the exurbs for housing, is cycling dying because close-in Portland is populated by older, more affluent citizens?

Adam
1 year ago
Reply to  John

In some ways though the infrastructure that does exist is a negative in terms of perception. People see the battered flex posts, trashed bike lanes and paths and they don’t think “wow what a great place to bike” but rather “wow, biking definitely is dangerous, just look at those destroyed flex posts and imagine if some car had hit me on a bike instead of a flimsy piece of plastic”. The infrastructure we did build doesn’t actually protect anyone but does showcase the dangers of cars to vulnerable road users.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam

I agree with that, but how is that a change from 2014? Is a damaged flex post more of a deterrent than a paint only bike lane with debris and evidence of cars in it that was common back then too? Maybe. I guess it could be just one drop in the bucket.

AMA
AMA
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Maybe this is just recency bias, but the condition of the bike lanes that are protected by the posts seems substantially worse than the ones with no posts did in the before-times. The sweepers could get to the gravel before. Also, the posts look terrible! Even when they are brand new. They look cheap and temporary, but not in a cool DIY way.

Adam Pieniazek
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Yes, you can’t see where a car went out of its lane and into paint, but you can see every instance where a car hit a flex post.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam Pieniazek

Sad to say, there are many places where the paint stripe on a bike lane disappears on the inside of a curve. That means that the statistically normal driving line goes through the bike lane.

On new construction I would love to see a slightly raised bike lane with a cambered edge on the inside line of curved streets. It’s very persuasive. As an alternative to speed bumps we could put a slight wave in the grade of protected streets. It would be hardly noticable at 20 mph, very disconcerting at 35.

Jo
Jo
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Not necessarily older….. they also don’t know how to recycle or compost their food even though the city, at one point, made great efforts to educate and simplify doing so. As with bikes, the city must keep advocating and educating for it even if it’s no longer the do gooder thing of the moment.

David Hampsten
1 year ago
Reply to  John

From a suggestion I learned from a transnational transit company – start by putting a price on your curbs space by instituting a citywide parking permit program, and give low-income households a discount similar to what TriMet does on bus passes. Once residents and visitors alike start to price the parking of their cars, they’ll soon seek alternatives.

Potatoman
Potatoman
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

We have two cars, one in the driveway and one on the street. They are both small, and paid off, so they don’t cost too much to keep. But if the city said I had to pay $1k/yr to park in the street, that second car would get sold. But currently it is just cheap to keep it around, and convenient when I need it.

Champs
Champs
1 year ago
Reply to  John

Snow, trash, and gravel preclude bikes. PBOT’s poor maintenance is an even bigger issue in the “protected” lanes.

Nobody wants to hear this, but camps are an issue too. They spill into the bike lane on my ride home, and the last time I used 205 it was barely a footpath—halfway through the underpass, I had to (nervously) step over a huge pile of syringes.

I used to take the Esplanade after dark, but nowadays you practically need a death wish to use any of the off-street paths at night.

Are you sure we haven’t lost that much infrastructure?

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Champs

The Esplanade is definitely still fine. I wouldn’t be too worried riding on it, even after dark, although the area under the Steel Bridge on the west side is definitely a place to avoid. But I’ll ride it at night going N/S on the eastside and not really worry much.

205 path was definitely not rideable the last time I was on it, but it’s been a while. I think it’s worse near the intersection with the Springwater, and better further south (from what I’ve seen on the MAX/walking near it). Had similar bad experiences on the Marine Drive path, but that was a couple years ago now.

The Springwater varies wildly depending on what portion you are on. On the west end, it’s really fine during the day, maybe there are some camps on the bluff near the start of the trail, and below on the river, but I’ve never been bothered. Once you get out past like Flavel it can be sketchy – and the portion between 82nd and 122nd is borderline unrideable at times (but still not as bad as the 205 path).

The Peninsula Crossing trail was not rideable last time I tried too (almost got hit by a car!), and the Columbia Slough trail was pretty sketchy between Vancouver and Interstate, but still okay connecting to the N Portland Road trail. That was sometime last fall at least. It’s all pretty variable depending on how popular the path is I think.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

That’s funny you mention the west side of the Steel bridge- that is on my commute home, but I usually avoid it by cutting over to the reiver earlier or taking a different bridge. Last night I decided to ride through just to see how it was, and guy lounging around on the sidewalk told me to f@#$ off and he threw a bottle at me! Caught me by surprise because I was looking at all the tents across the street. No harm done, he didn’t come close to hitting me, but it is definitely sketchy under that bridge! The rest of the waterfront, east and west banks is pretty good- but sometimes there is sketchy stuff happening around Salmon/Taylor and the Esplanade. The connection form the Columbia Slough Trail that goes under Interstate Ave is really not good- I have been menaced there and that is very lonely location.

All in all, most or many areas are fine, but there are enough sketchy places that some of my regular riding friends won’t ride in many part s of Portland anymore.

Priscilla B
Priscilla B
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Well the Esplanade wasn’t so good for our young Asian visitor riding there…..

I often seen male cyclists trying to say how safe they feel riding in PDX. NOT true for many women, and families with children.
https://www.kgw.com/article/news/crime/portland-eastbank-esplanade-anti-asian-bias-crime-attack/283-13e46e51-cefc-4b16-9f8c-a28cd7f0caf9

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  Priscilla B

Great point, Priscilla. I am man, and my wife and daughter do not feel comfortable riding the places that I feel comfortable, so from this tiny sample size, you are right. I have been wondering what might help increase safety and feeling of safety on our paths. Do you have any suggestions? Would you feel comfortable riding the esplanade or springwater corridor if there were cops on bikes that rode it regularly (1-3 times/day)? What about cops on motorcycles? What about rangers in a pickup?

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Priscilla B

There were three murders in Hosford-Abernethy in the last year, but that doesn’t mean I would tell people to cower in fear every time they cross 29th from Richmond. That assault on the Esplanade was inexcusable and horrible, but it’s not representative of 99.99% of rides people have there.

I would recommend the Esplanade to everyone I know who cycles in Portland. It is very different to bike on the Esplanade than it is the 205 path – so different that it’s not really even worth comparing. The biggest issues I’ve had riding on the Esplanade have always been navigating traffic on nice days, not worrying about assault and robbery. The comment I was responding to was implicitly comparing a place that is absolutely not safe to ride on in almost any condition to a place that is largely fine, even at night (with a few caveats).

Joseph E
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Re: “better further south” – yes, the 205 path wascomplete clear and clean in Clackamas County last summer, once you got out of Portland city limits. Same with the Springwater in Gresham, last time I checked. Only Portland is permitting camping along these two paths.

idlebytes
idlebytes
1 year ago
Reply to  Champs

“the last time I used 205 it was barely a footpath”

I rode the 205 all the way into Vancouver last Friday and back Saturday. There were two points where a camper had partially blocked the path. That’s about 10 feet out of 7 miles of path (0.03%). I also frequently ride south on it to Milwaukie and have a similar experience. How does that qualify as a “footpath”? This kind of hyperbole is not helpful.

Chris I
Chris I
1 year ago
Reply to  idlebytes

Glad to hear that you got a clear day. In two weeks, i could be completely blocked. Did you use every one of the underpass sections? It’s the reliability of a mode that makes or breaks it. Unfortunately, it takes just a few bad experiences for people to give up and switch routes, or switch modes. Many people have given up on the MUPs in this city, and telling them that “only a small part of it was blocked” isn’t going to get them back on the bike.

Seth Alford
Seth Alford
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris I

A chain is no stronger than its weakest link. One bad MUP tarnishes all of them.

Charley
Charley
1 year ago
Reply to  Champs

Nobody wants to hear this, but camps are an issue too.

Maus literally listed in this in the article, and lots of commenters agree with you that it’s an issue. Almost every single article that remotely touches on these issues has many comments about campers on bike paths, etc. Homelessness is clearly the number one political issue in the state, even if the response doesn’t seem that effective.

So what do you mean by “Nobody wants to hear this”?

Damn near everyone is talking about this! I mean, I guess it’s true we don’t “want” to talk about it. . . but that’s because it’s $#!77y problem to have, not because it’s some kind of taboo subject.

Bill MacKenzie
1 year ago
Reply to  John

” Older, richer people who come from places without a bike culture are showing up, and people who biked are leaving.” Interesting point. Multnomah County actually LOST population in the last census and I think the casual, outdoor, safe, laid back environment that attracted young people who cycle has deteriorated.  

Pockets the Coyote
Pockets the Coyote
1 year ago

Thanks for this write up, and linking so many receipts, I look forward to diving into this more.
I think two of the things that we should strive for as we approach and navigate each of these fronts, are consistency and progress over perfection. While we shouldn’t cease learning from each step forward, we need to remember small incremental change is better than none, and the idea that there’s some end goal seems a bit silly to me, after all “It doesn’t get any easier, you just get faster.”

Brandon
Brandon
1 year ago

This is a really great write up and covers all of the same thoughts I’ve been having. I’ve been a year-round bike commuter since 2004 and this is the first winter I decided to take the bus to work instead of getting on my bike. The main factor in this is distracted drivers, often driving massive vehicles at high speeds through neighborhood streets and greenways that I use on my commute. Seeing this behavior combined with the dark commutes, I just didn’t feel like the risk was worth it.

Austin
Austin
1 year ago

For me it is frustrating to see this decline and lack of urgency from the City Council. I became obsessed with the cycling culture thanks to the YouTuber NotJustBikes. What is more frustrating I guess is that I am just one voice and I live in SW Portland and PBOT neglects us anyways. I want to make a difference in my neighborhood and Portland as a whole in an equitable manner in terms of transportation investment and livability. Im just not sure how.

Let's Active
Let's Active
1 year ago

Thanks for this well thought out piece on the sad state of biking in Portland. For the life of me, I do not understand why people in this country, and particularly in Portland, do not rise up against the high level of automobile-cased injuries and deaths. Contrast that with Amsterdam, where the rise of biking came in large part due to a concerted effort by all kinds of activist groups to Stop de Kindermoord.
In the early 1970s, people in Amsterdam saw the traffic-related deaths of 3,300 people, including 400 children, in a year and said enough. “Stop the Child Murder.” They worked across activist efforts to totally remake their city into a healthier one. I had the privilege of visiting Amsterdam last week and was blown away by the everyday biking that I had only previously heard so much about. What a pleasure it was to ride side by side with cyclists of all ages across the city and between neighboring cities. Sigh.
Now it’s true that Amsterdam in the 1970s was a place of tremendous activism and upheaval in general. It wasn’t just traffic safety that was a focus of change. But it is amazing to see how so many disparate groups worked together out of disgust at the senseless deaths as part of larger fundamental changes in that city. I don’t see any of that happening here and it makes me depressed for the future of biking in Portland. Put me in the negative bucket.

Serenity
Serenity
1 year ago

I love this, Jonathan! Thank you.

Adam
1 year ago

It’d be interesting to see the breakdown of cyclist counts in places with true separated protection (Naito, Tilikum) vs the greenways and flex posts and painted bike lanes. Have a feeling the number of cyclists is much higher on the pieces of infrastructure that actually do protect versus all the rest.

blumdrew
blumdrew
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam

Anecdotally, I’m not so sure. Some greenways are consistently busy despite pretty minor (but great!) infrastructure investment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a time where Naito was busier than Clinton, though I’ve never really counted people and my rides on both are definitely skewed a bit towards “leisure times”, since I don’t use either to get to/from work.

I also typically see quite a lot of people biking on N Williams, despite the paint-only infrastructure. More than I see on my usual ride home from work over the Tilikum (but again, different times of day probably plays a role – my after work rides that end up on Williams usually are reasonably close to rush hour, though so are my rides home from work).

All those words to say that the general utility of a piece of bike infrastructure is based just as much on the local context as the physical protection. Clinton and N Williams are useful to a lot of people within their local contexts, even if the physical protection ranges from pretty good (Clinton) to not great (Williams). They are both the primary connections between a good number of residential neighborhoods and downtown (as well as being places to visit in and of themselves). Contrasting with the Tilikum, which is as protected as it gets – but lacks the benefits of local context and utility that Williams and Clinton enjoy. For example, it’s never faster to use the Tilikum to get downtown from any point on the eastside (the Hawthorne is always flatter and more direct), so it’s mostly a connection between the eastside neighborhoods and OHSU/South Waterfront. Still a useful connection of course, but it misses on the utility a little bit so I think fewer people use it than otherwise might have (if it had a slightly different alignment).

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  blumdrew

The Tillakum is a great facility but for a person on a bike the approaches, especially on the E side, are a total botch.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  X

so true!

Charley
Charley
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam

Great idea. This would be a terrific study, if possible. Might be hard to statistically disentangle factors such as…

  • quality of facility
  • how many people live nearby
  • demographics of that population
  • whether or not the facility links to important destinations

But if you could, then you’d probably learn something!

Seems to me like people will probably “deal with” a subpar facility or a dangerous connection if the route is directly in their path to work/play/whatever. But maybe bad facilities that are in out-of-the-way places are less used.

On the flip side, even a good facility might not get much use if it’s not between home and destination for a large enough number of potential riders (Holgate bike lane near Powell Butte is a classic local example).

cc_rider
cc_rider
1 year ago

Good article! The only thing I think you missed is TriMet’s decline in service and quality. To me, Bike + Transit is really how you achieve a place where you don’t need to rely on a car. But the bus service is getting worse and the MAX is not pleasant to ride.

The Street Trust is a really good example of what’s happening to non-profits and the regional governments. Actually arguing that people should live on the interstate was really them jumping the shark. Hiring Sarah, someone who hasn’t accomplished anything and doesn’t seem to understand how the government works set that up nicely.

I feel like competent people are leaving both non-profit and governmental service because the leadership has bought in to a fringe view of the world and force ideological hegemony. If you believe that people shouldn’t be allowed to sleep wherever they want, you are a terrible person in their eyes. These people are unreasonable. The dogma is off the charts.

In the waning days of Hardesty’s campaign, I got a text from one of her volunteers. I asked her if Hardesty had changed her mind on sweeps. I cited a then recent article about how 150 stolen cars were found at a camp/open air chop shop in North Portland. I pointed out that these people weren’t stealing Teslas, and that these were cars stolen from Portland’s working class. The volunteer came back with some nonsense line about how we need to get these people housing. It’s just pure and utter delusion to think the people living in these camps could maintain even free housing. But the dogma insists that we must not hold them responsible for their actions. It’s killing our city and killing our county.

chris m
chris m
1 year ago

The big increase in work from home also makes driving a lot easier for the remaining commuters. When I worked in downtown Portland the choice was ride your bike (25 minutes+free) or drive (20 minutes or worse, depending on traffic) + $20 in parking. Now parking demand is reduced so the price of that has gone down, and basically traffic flows pretty freely into downtown. So the deterrent to drive has gone down a lot, which explains why biking and transit got clobbered after the pandemic.

I will also agree with the other commenter that demographics is a big one… beyond the displacement piece, it’s just an unfortunate fact that people tend to buy cars and start to drive them as they get some disposable income. I believe the decline in bus mode share in the US since the 1970s or so is partially a story about urban sprawl but also partially a story about increasing prosperity. Since we all hope the metro area will continue to become more prosperous over time, we really need to work on the public policy front to get bike ridership moving in the right direction again.

Ri
Ri
1 year ago

Hoo boy. A bleating example of white entitlement. No, the 3% of commuters who cycle into town in good weather do not get to determine urban street policy for the rest.
I have enjoyed riding year round in Boulder/Denver and Portland/Vancouver. About the same level of survival angst and fear of theft/bad things.
I still believe that the real core bike cadre has aged out of the workforce or figured out that working in the city is a waste.
It’s not coming back.

James
James
1 year ago
Reply to  Ri

Agreed

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Ri

This kind of pretend ally talk isn’t useful. Nothing about this is a “bleating example of white entitlement”. Yes, a small number of people recognize that we have to do things to change how people get around and recognize bicycles as an important example (with plenty of precedent, I’ll add). And you’re damn right we’re going to push for “urban street policy” to make it more friendly for people who aren’t in a car. Not just getting into downtown, but everywhere in the city. It has to be everywhere. Nothing about this is “white entitlement”, that’s a giant load of faux inclusive talk nonsense.

ri
ri
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I may have been a bit harsh. Sorry to make you frown.
However, PDX cycling is overwhelmingly white, as is the overall demographics of the region. The point I may have been clumsy in making is that it makes no fiscal sense, in the face of a rapidly disappearing cadre of daily riders, to continue policies that were cooked up during the 7-8% commuter years for the benefit of a sliver of the population who choose to ride bikes. This especially when you are dealing with a disfunctional city government and general civic decay.
I have a lifetime of bicycling behind me. From the Schwinn Stingray 1960’s, through my first tours and commuting on a trusty 10 speed in the 70’s, to raising a bicycling family and finally in the ’00’s getting the best equipment for self-supported touring in the PAC NW. A couple of multi week wilderness trips, big group rides, including STP, the annual PDX bridge rides, and RAGBRAI, and several years when my personal challenge was to use a Surly Long Haul Trucker instead of a car in all weather conditions (even brought home the Christmas tree on a Croozer flatbed trailer three years). My favorite bike right now is a steel touring bike with friction shifters and well worn racks and custom doodads added over 10 years. Its perfect but definitely not state of the art.
This is to say that I have never demanded that a municipality or regional agency build me some special bike lanes or “infrastructure”. You get out and ride on the roads that exist and take responsibility for your own safety and your own cycling needs (learn basic maintenance, change a tire on a dark rainy roadside, know how to tune gears, so forth. I learned this stuff from riding on tours and entering other towns where bike traffic is a much more a novelty than PDX and conditions are whatever you find.
And yeah, the precious folks demanding sharrows and dedicated crossing lights and huge public initiatives to make an essentially dangerous choice for exposed kinetic risky movement somehow safer and easier are wankers. I choose not to ride in PDX anymore because the MUP’s have been ceded to the zombies and what used to be a unique city has turned into Little Detroit.

EP
EP
1 year ago
Reply to  Ri

It sucks that you still have to be hard core to hang tough biking year-round. By this point in time, we should have had a better bike route network built that truly made it easier for the original hard core riders to age into. Then their kids can get into biking without having to be ready to get hit by a car in the name of commuting.

But this can still happen, and should. I just don’t see a future where everyone’s driving themselves everywhere by themselves. There just isn’t room for every accountant in town to drive their brodozer pickup truck to work. Bikes are part of the picture but all the other micro mobility stuff can play a big role too. And, they will need a safe place on the road, which I think I’m OK sharing with them.

Beth
1 year ago
Reply to  Ri

In 2013, I was 50, I retired from a physically demanding job, and then my next career stumbled out of the gate a little. Then Covid came along and totally buried me physically for a few years. At age fifty, I rode every day and averaged fifty to eighty miles a week. This year I am sixty, recovering from Long Covid and suffering through an especially cold, long winter — and reassessing my ability to work full time ever again. I’m lucky if I ride ten miles a week, though I hope that with warmer days I’ll be able to manage a little more than that.

I was part of that older “core group” of people who rode their bikes everywhere once upon a time, and I began doing so in the 70s when I was in my teens.
People get older. Bodies change, balance changes, life needs and realities change.
OF COURSE there will be a falloff in ridership as the Boomers enter old age and those who follow after have different transportation habits. The truth is that the world is not as relaxed and safe a place as it was during the peak of my riding years, for LOTS of reasons.

Everything changes. Some things change more than others.
it’s not a conspiracy, it’s just change.

How we choose to adapt can make the difference between a longer life or a shorter one, yes; but so can my genes.

I can and do still enjoy riding in my neighborhood, and at this point in my life that is enough.
The greatest aids to my adaptation have been contentment and gratitude.

Happy riding.

Charley
Charley
1 year ago
Reply to  Beth

Great perspective to hear in this forum!

Mike Leahy
Mike Leahy
1 year ago

Until 2009 or so, I frequently traveled from the Seattle area to Portland for work. I always brought my bike and would jump out for a ride after work. And it was true— Portland was a fantastic place to ride around on a summer evening. Infrastructure was good and drivers were amazingly aware and considerate.

In recent years (as mentioned above) I’ve found the multi-use paths increasingly unrideable with tents and trash and sketchy characters abounding. I don’t bring my bike to Portland any more.

SilkySlim
SilkySlim
1 year ago

Great write up. Just about every single point listed has touched my life. I was the classic ’07 Portland arrival, living car-free on SE Lincoln in an inexpensive, shared house loaded to the brim with bikes we used for fun and racing and commuting and loud and lit rides. And am now the somewhat older (not 40 yet though!) guy who works from home, and when out riding is towing a burley with a toddler but avoiding certain routes and crossings and night time and extended bike lock ups and…..

On the positive side, I still find it pretty darn easy to bike around the neighborhoods near me in SE (Creston-Kenilworth, Woodstock, Sellwood, etc.).

Kp
Kp
1 year ago

Even alluding to making the use of cars economically prohibitive can be interpreted as elitist. Us senior citizens should not be punished for driving our cars. I am an avid bike rider but the only place that I ride, and truly enjoy riding is in the forest, Banks/Vernonia. I would be overjoyed to find a trail like that where I can do a 2 hr ride and not have to drive 40 minutes to get there. Bikes are much more than simply transportation.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  Kp

True, Kp, but bikes are also transportation, and it should be as easy – or easier! – to get on your bike and get where you’re going as it is in a car. But currently it simply is NOT. When the car is easier, people are going to take it.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Fred

For 9/10 trips I make, riding is easier than driving.

Walter in Portland
Walter in Portland
1 year ago
Reply to  Kp

I completely agree. The cyclist vs driver mentality in any form needs to end. Pro cycling does not have to equate to anti driving. If we fuel that perspective, is it any surprise when drivers become anti cyclists? And who has more members, more money, more political clout, and is more easily instigated? Why would we encourage that negative relationship?

It is not anti driving to call out unsafe driving, lack of driving enforcement, too many big urban tanks, lack of good separation for safer cycling. As a driver (even if I had no interest in cycling), I am also all in on those. They are bad for everyone!

But a new parking tax? Removing parking as a tool to push people to cycling? A city wide anti parking in your neighborhood (an idea mentioned in the comments)? Are you nuts? That’s just going to create animosity against us. We need to build alliances and choose carefully who we want to make our enemy. Targeting to target all drivers is a horrible strategy. Don’t be surprised when it backfires.

Maybe that should be added to Jonathan’s list? When did biking in Portland become entitled and flagrantly anti everyone in a car?

FYI, the best cycling environment where I’ve lived was in Munich Germany. They have great infrastructure and a vibrant biking culture. They are also the home of BMW, have the Autobahn, and have a strong driving culture. The two are not incompatible. Note: they don’t have big pickups, they have phenomenal traffic enforcement, they are hard on driving under the influence or distracted driving, etc. Those are the changes we need.

John
John
1 year ago

While this a thoughtful, detailed piece, as a previous daily bike commuter who still commuted a few times a month during the pandemic, wfh is by far the number one reason for this drop. The main commuting routes used to be packed and they’re ghost towns.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

The top right graph in this article shows that even excluding WFH, the mode share of cycling has dropped, while that of driving has increased.

PTB
PTB
1 year ago
Reply to  John

I too blame WFH. I was recently in a city (several actually, but one is real big) outside the US, where WFH, based on office vacancy numbers I could find online, would indicate WFH is not a thing. I wasn’t awake for the AM commute scenes but was up shortly after. Cafes and shops were busy, folks took lunch breaks from work or had coffee shop meetings, sidewalks were bustling! Then at the 5pm commute; bonkers. So many cyclists. Packed transit. Restaurants and bars in the evenings were also packed (and open late, wonderfully, awesomely late!) Presumably, and maybe this will ring bells, you might go get a drink with coworkers after work. Maybe you’d meet your partner for dinner before heading home? WFH doesn’t make that impossible, but you can’t convince me it hasn’t really curtailed most of this. I’ve talked with friends who WFH. “Don’t you miss going in and seeing people??” Mostly yeah, is the consensus. They miss taking an out of office meeting with a coworker to grab a coffee or even just like, being around other people (coworkers are often friends, right??) Now it’s all sitting in jammies and zoom. Count me out.

Also I think it’s harder for those that would smash windows and tag businesses and empty trash cans onto the sidewalk to do all those things when people are, ya know, out in the world, not sitting in their makeshift spare bedroom offices. When no one is around to stop us from doing jerky things, people do jerky things.

Last thing. So many of us bemoan phones and how obsessed we are with them, how much they cut us off from one another IRL. “Come on, engage. Be here” And now so many people have like taken it a step further with deciding they don’t want to work in person anymore. I don’t get it. I’m sure someone else could expand on this more eloquently, make a point better, but I hope you understand what I’m trying to get at.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  PTB

(different John, btw) that all sounds good, there are nice things about going to an office. And there are a lot of nice things about WFH. For me, I would quit my job if they tried to make me go back in. As a parent of a young kid, the flexibility can’t be beat. I don’t envy the majority of people who do have to be in a place for work and also want to raise a family, it sounds really hard.

But you’re right, a lot of what makes a city be a city is people going there. Portland doesn’t have enough people living in the central city to make it act like a real city if people aren’t working there.

Charley
Charley
1 year ago
Reply to  John

The statistics seem to imply that WFH is part of the total picture. But aside from that, I agree: WFH has been like a slowly exploding nuclear bomb for cities. It’s changed so many features of daily life, economy, housing market.

Champs
Champs
1 year ago

I moved here after a 2010 breakup. I wanted to get away from my ex and her mother, who hated that I never got a driver’s license. In hindsight, that was at least partially the same Obama-is-a-Muslim racism that she could not understand, but I digress. In any case, bike-friendly Portland felt like my ticket to change. Back then I was so sure that a Sullivan’s Gulch trail was the linchpin to an explosion of cycling.

By 2012, I knew the city pretty well and my enthusiasm tempered. Even then, my concern in a BikePortland Q&A with Charlie Hales was that the bike network needed expansion more than enhancement. If I am in the “strong and fearless“ demographic, I am not in the subset that likes to ride where there is *no* space.

A year or two later, the off-street paths became objectively scary at times, the first protected lanes appeared, and it was immediately obvious that neither were getting the attention they needed.

Subsequent blank slate attempts have been failures. Now we have contrived approaches to Tilikum Bridge, the Moody lane swap, and Slabtown cycle tracks to nowhere, encroached on by eye level tree limbs.

Everyone has a smartphone now, making every neighborhood street a through street. PBOT won’t catch up to this and change with diversion by default. The bureau’s equity criteria also mean that it perversely favors safety treatment for the whitest neighborhoods.

One more bitter pill to swallow is that with housing costs, Old Portland lives dozens of blocks farther out, if at all in the area anymore. It doesn’t matter that that you can motorize your bike, COVID happened, or that there are no first-class routes: riding downtown from Parkrose or Gateway is not the same as Belmont or Alberta.

Anyway, fast forward to today: I still don’t drive and neither does my partner, who moved here for similar reasons. I just do all the pedaling, with her on the back of our cargo bike. She doesn’t trust drivers anymore, and I’m more up for the distances we need to cover nowadays.

Let’s treat our climate like the emergency that it is. Do it cheap, do it fast, and do it ugly, just like in wartime. Build possibilities, not perfection.

joan
1 year ago

Jonathan, I would be interested in hearing more about business opposition to bike lanes in Portland, because I do think that’s a bigger part of the picture. You mentioned that here — and we know it’s common for businesses to overestimate the need for car parking near their locations and underestimate the impact of having bike lanes and bike parking — and David Bragdon mentioned on your podcast that in most other cities, businesses are advocates for transit, but in Portland. But we have a business association, the Portland Business Association, that seems actively hostile to bicycling infrastructure, even as Travel Portland markets bikes as part of what makes Portland an attractive tourism destination.

The PBA fought Better Naito (and lost). The PBA fought bike lanes on SW & NW 10th (and won).

We have Broadway going in one direction, southwest, through downtown, but we don’t have an equivalent northeast bike lane except for all the way at the river, or parts of 14th, all the way on the other side of 405. If you want to leave PSU and get to Naito or the waterfront, there isn’t a bike lane; you have to take sharrows and ride in traffic, or pick your way down other streets to Milk. And one of the better options, SW Harrison, means you’re sharing the other lane with the streetcar, so you have to either tango with tracks or deal with cars going downhill behind you.

We just don’t really have that many bike lanes downtown.

I also think it’s telling that none of our city commissioners are riding bikes on the regular. If Mingus Mapps actually was a bike guy (as he told us he was when he ran for office) and biked the very short distance from his home in inner SE to work at City Hall, he’d see what we’re all dealing with on a regular basis.

Also, it’s worth mentioning that the bicycling groups focusing on people of color, BikePOC PNW and Black Girls Do Bike, are about riding bikes more than advocacy. The bike activism scene is dominated by white people, especially white men, and I know a lot of women and folks of color have been turned off by some of the approaches of those men.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  joan

Mingus Mapps actually was a bike guy

Even if Mapps is not currently a daily rider, I’d much rather have him in office than someone indifferent to or hostile to cycling, as his predecessors were.

cacarr
cacarr
1 year ago

The goal should be an increase in small, single-occupant/rider vehicles, whether that’s bicycles or whatever other sort of bicycle lane-scale electric zoom-zooms. Some folks need to stay dry (we need more affordable fairing-covered vehicles), and/or don’t looks so great in Lycra.

Hotrodder
Hotrodder
1 year ago
Reply to  cacarr

The “electric zoom zooms” belong in the vehicle lanes, not the bike lanes.

David Hampsten
1 year ago

I don’t know if this affects Portland bike counts or not, but many jurisdictions have switched to infrared and other automated readers rather than using human counters. At issue is that human counters, usually volunteers or poorly paid interns, would often fall asleep doing the counts, then inflate their counts after waking up – a lot of city officials tell me that they don’t trust their own counts from before 2006, even for car movements, and anything from 2006-2012 is “suspicious.”

Priscilla B
Priscilla B
1 year ago

MAUS: “So I mostly kept my head down, mentioned my concerns about the decline here and there, and worked hard to keep the cycling flame lit.”

But you didn’t Jonathan. You silenced those concerned about homeless mayhem as “ lacking compassion” and you supported people like Eudaly, Hardesty and Rubio who promoted a misguided view of racial justice over common sense and pragmatism. You are a nice guy but definitely part of the problem.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Priscilla B

“silenced” those concerned sounds hyperbolic. How about “has a different perspective”?

Nobody ever suggested the best thing we can do about “the homeless mayhem” is ignore it. The status quo isn’t what anybody wants. We are inching closer to open air prisons the more we let this fester. What people like me and I presume Jonathan (but I don’t know) object to is “solving” the homeless problem by inhumane methods like putting them in a regular prison, and until better options are put in place I object to trying to sweep the homeless people under the rug.

Just thought you should know, since you are perpetuating a lie so commonly repeated.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  John

While on the topic of perpetuating lies, no serious person is suggesting putting people in prison because they have no permanent place to sleep.

dwk
dwk
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

He is not a serious person at all..

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

No, just prison for refusing to be herded into an outdoor cattle pen with hundreds of other unhoused people

Charley
Charley
1 year ago
Reply to  Priscilla B

Maus didn’t silence anyone. There have been literally hundreds and hundreds of comments critical of campers on this forum for years. If giving people a forum to complain about campers is “silencing,” then we must understand the term differently.

Similarly, there was a thriving contrarian comment section as far back as the N Williams debacle, calling out neighborhood opposition to the safety project as NIMBYism dressed up in the language of racial justice.

People want to blame Maus, as if he’s handing out tents and fentanyl on the streets, or as if he’s part of some vast conspiracy to cover up the ill effects of homelessness. These people are just plain wrong.

David Hampsten
1 year ago

A good deal of this story is reliant on data going back to the 90s, that bicycling numbers have declined. But census data including the American Community Survey, from which mode split data is commonly compiled, has always been controversial and debatable in value, as has various other counting methods. Clearly commuting patterns have changed, but the real question is, has bicycle use overall actually declined?

So here’s my counter example. Once per year Portland puts on a major bicycling extravaganza, the annual Bridge Pedal every August. What are the year-by-year numbers? Does anyone have them? What are the trends?

Daniel Reimer
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Being out on the streets, it is apparent that there are not as many people on bikes as there used to. There is no mismatch between the data and my personal experience riding around Portland.

joan
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Pedalpalooza was huge last summer. I disagree a bit about the idea of bike culture being in such decline given that we have had a three-month-long Bike Summer in June, July, and August the past two years.

PTB
PTB
1 year ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

“””…but the real question is, has bicycle use overall actually declined?”””

I left work at 5:30 yesterday, headed west, crossed the Rhine/Lafayette ped bridge, then to Springwater, then to Hawthorne Bridge. Between the top of the ped bridge to Springwater I was passed by 19 cyclists heading east, by the time I hit Hawhthorne Bridge I was passed by only 5 more. That’s in the typical commute home hour. Pre-Covid I could not have kept count of the cyclists. No chance. This is seemingly pretty typical these days.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  PTB

During high pandemic seeing/passing one bike in a 30 minute was completely normal. Sometimes none.

city-lover
city-lover
1 year ago

Thanks for this write up, Jonathan. It helps to process this story for all of us. Bike commuting numbers are down, yes. But the culture? The Bike Summers of the last two years seem like they have been legendary! The Naked Bike ride was so packed that everyone had to walk (not fun). There were a record number of Pedalpalooza rides this year (like 300?) Maybe the way we are biking needs to change. Yes, mode share is the only apples to apples way to measure biking and a proxy, blah blah blah, but to say culture doesn’t exist anymore, is that really true? Or is just happening differently? I arrived in Portland in 1998, biked before there was good infrastructure, and moved away in 2011 (Portland was over!) I became a bike advocacy planner in my tiny city in a rural state and joked that “I was from the future.” I even created open streets events in the image of Sunday Parkways I missed Portland biking so. We moved back here in 2011 because Portland is home. We bike a lot less because we don’t live in outer NE anymore and can walk more easily. And yes, more driving too. My teen daughter rode to summer practice all last summer through the inner SE and it was all fine but the more I read about biking danger the more wary I am to have her do it again this summer.

Lizzie
Lizzie
1 year ago

Really love this thoughtful analysis. I moved to Portland in 2014 from Washington DC and was frankly appalled that the city that was so lauded as the bike capital didn’t have a bike share program available, didn’t have any protected bike lanes in the inner city (at the time), and frankly didn’t have that many people biking in my networks. It really felt like the city rested on its laurels and we’re paying the price a decade later. Flash forward to my bike being stolen this year (from a locked building), not feeling particukarky safe on many off road trails that haven’t been prioritized for cleaning, and the cheap price of gas and I too have fallen prey to biking far less than I want to. To change it will take many efforts from all sorts of sectors from city hall to advocacy groups to individuals to push for the infrastructure needed and to change people’s minds about the beauty and wonder of biking. I just bought a new (to me) bike from the community Cycling center and am looking forward to getting back on the road.

Timschilke
Timschilke
1 year ago

Christ! Just go ride your bike and quit writing/bitching about it! You sound like a frat bro or sorority girl who can’t go outside without help and backup from your brothers or sisters. Try skating on the streets with no support in the past, now or ever from anybody, yet we still do it without any reservations because we’re committed! Maybe you should just quit and take up gaming or something.

Fred
Fred
1 year ago
Reply to  Timschilke

How is this comment helpful?? JM is trying to get more people on bikes, which is a good thing.

Ron
Ron
1 year ago

There are as many reasons as there are bikers I think. You listed most of them. Personally for me, it was public safety and the homeless. I never worked anywhere you could easily bike to without taking public transportation also( so what’s the point?) so I was never a bike commuter. But living in southeast Portland I was a big fan of the Springwater corridor. I used to ride it just about every weekend, going from Division and 122nd area, out to Boring, then all the way back in to Portland at OMSI. Apex was a great place to get as much water as I could drink along with a pint of Guinness, been with my weary limbs hop on the bus and go home. The last time I did that was around 2017, and springwater was already becoming an enormous homeless camp. Aside from stolen luggage and clothing being strewn through many parts which made it look like a weird scene out of Mad Max, there were many camps just beyond the trail. Then when he got close to 82nd and the Johnson Creek area it was just a No Holds Barred homeless camp situation. No thanks!

Daniel Morgan
Daniel Morgan
1 year ago

Well done

Shane S
Shane S
1 year ago

When you walk away from cycling due to misplaced fears about racial equity, you not only slow progress, you also erase all the people of color who love to ride bikes, who rely on it as a form of transportation, and who want it to be safer

But Jonathan you were one of the big supporters of misguided racial justice….saying you were protecting Ms. Hardesty from criticism in the comments section because she was a woman of color…instead of calling her out for her things such as the absurdity of stating PBL’s are racist amongst other insanity. You along with many Portlanders rushed to embrace or at least tolerate extreme ideology after George Floyd and are just now realizing it went too far (yet still not fully admitting your contributions to the mess this created in Portland).

Steve Cheseborough (Contributor)
Chezz
1 year ago
Reply to  Shane S

There is nothing “misguided,” “absurd,” “insane” or “extreme” about pointing out institutional racism and demanding an end to it, and safety for all. What is extreme is the official reaction to it, including building a militarized police training center in the forest near Atlanta, and the labeling of protesters against it as “terrorists.” Portland’s “mess” — poverty, lack of housing, dangerous streets etc — was caused by the institutions the protesters object to, not by their valiant protests. Portland is still not complying with federal court orders to straighten out its police bureau, and Portland taxpayers are paying out millions in lawsuits for the sadistic, illegal brutality of cops during protests. There’s another lawsuit going on to try to force the city to make streets safer for all. The “mess” is caused by those in power, not the ones living on the streets or being beaten by cops.

John
John
1 year ago
Reply to  Shane S

Yikes, sounds like someone linked this article on Truth Social or some red hat facebook group.

Calling racial justice extreme ideology is just incredible.

Kyle Banerjee
1 year ago

Mostly agreed with the list even if I don’t see some of them problems (telework — how is it bad to not make people commute or some of the non car options)

But there were of three glaring omissions:

1) The car environments have become too nice. I know people who have perfect bike commuting conditions and horrible driving conditions yet they do the latter — they’d literally rather sit in a parking lot and take much longer because they decompress and enjoy the environment in the vehicle.

2) For most part, not even cyclists consider the ride its own reward. Few people who have a problem with conditions inherent to cycling — the physicality of cycling, distance, weather, infrastructure, the people they’ll encounter, etc. — will be able to stick with it.

3) Cycling has become a “thing” that carries baggage. Most people don’t want ordinary stuff they do to be a performative statement — especially one the vast majority of people they know will look down on.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

I agree with all of your points, but the third one is particularly interesting to me. I have frequently lamented the politicization and identity-ifying of bicycling, but this captures my sentiments perfectly. For many of us, bicycling is just something we do, not something we are, and the less comment the better.

Potatoman
Potatoman
1 year ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

One of the things I love about Portland, having come here from North Carolina, is that I wasn’t “the bike guy” any longer. So many people at my work biked, people I met biked. In NC, I was like famous as the weirdo on the bike. Here, yea, sure, bike, whatever, we all bike. That was nice, and remains so.

Pat Lowell
Pat Lowell
1 year ago
Reply to  Kyle Banerjee

Great point with #3. I’ve had SO many more bad interactions with drivers starting around 2016 – I think people make assumptions about cyclists and their politics and take out anger on me.

Adam
Adam
1 year ago

“As a white dude with a lot of privilege and who many just think of as “the bike guy,” I knew the optics of me shaking my fist at the sky and saying, “But what about bikes?!” would not be great. So I mostly kept my head down, mentioned my concerns about the decline here and there, and worked hard to keep the cycling flame lit.”

Jonathan, you really need to embrace your civic role as “the bike guy.” Your voice is necessary. Do not let yourself nor anybody else keep you out of a conversation, especially one about biking, just because of the melanin levels in your skin, your gametes, or because you have earned a living by building a well-regarded local news and public policy platform.

“The bike scene is still too white and too centrally located”
The bike scene is not too white. It is too small. Portland is more than 70% white, and there is nothing wrong with that fact. We need more regular bike riders regardless of background, period. A lot more. We could get all 6% of Portlanders who are black biking regularly and still be in a deep biking rut if we did not add very many white riders. If Portland somehow got to 25% mode share by bike and the rider demographic split was 85% white, 60% male, and 70% under 40, I would take those numbers. In practice though, I would expect that if we could get bike mode share that high we would see a more balanced demographic profile than we do now. With mode share languishing in the lower half of single digits, biking is still a niche, sub-cultural thing, and thus prone to lopsided demographics. At 25% or higher of mode share biking would just be another consistent and durable form of transportation that anybody living here could naturally see themselves doing.

In principle we should build high-quality bike infrastructure in all parts of the city, but we should also recognize that the central city and the neighborhoods west of I-205 are relatively more densely populated and walkable and therefore are going to be where bike infrastructure is more likely to induce the most demand. And anyways, the bike infrastructure in the central city isn’t that great when compared to cities with truly high bike mode shares. We need leaders not afraid to say yes to a high-quality infrastructure projects just cause it might be “too central.”

Jay Cee
Jay Cee
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam

.

Charley
Charley
1 year ago
Reply to  Adam

Totally love your hypothetical, especially since taking young males (like I used to be. . . ahem) out of cars would probably make the city a TON safer. I’m 41 now, and I’ve slowed down. I’m a safer rider. But I’ve had issues with anger management and impulse control over the years. It would be fair to say that targeting this demographic for cycling would probably be good for traffic safety, too.

GK
GK
1 year ago
Reply to  Charley

especially since taking young males (like I used to be. . . ahem) out of cars would probably make the city a TON safer

Interesting thought! I’ve never heard of anyone researching the impact of such a shift. (Wonder if anyone has looked at it?) Seems like it could be consequential…

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  GK

Insurance companies could probably make a good prediction, it’s there business.

BB
BB
1 year ago

More easily summed up as: too much hammering. Not enough shredding.

Endanseur
Endanseur
1 year ago

Wonderful, thoughtful and timely analysis. You’ve identified the tip of the iceberg and it’s up to us to move forward to incrementally claw back bicycle advocacy, as BikeLoud is doing. There is a need to return to our roots to take control.

EP
EP
1 year ago

It’s all about the bike paths.

Oh how I wish a utility vehicle/small maintenance pickup was driven up and down EVERY bike path daily. It would drive really slow with flashing lights and would stop to pull off and pickup garbage and keep things clean. Having a larger vehicle go up and down the paths would mean that so many sketchy camping/tent/garbage situations would just never have the chance to happen. The daily passing of this vehicle would serve to actually keep things clear, and would increase the presence of some type of authority. If the vehicle can’t get through, the authorities are called to clear the way.

It’s like a commercial kitchen that gets cleaned daily; it stays clean and usable and doesn’t harbor bacteria and vermin that make people sick.

Instead we currently have mad max situations in spots all over town and I can’t depend on the multi-use paths as reliable, safe, car-free backbones of the bike route network.

If some of our oldest, and most car-free, dedicated bike infrastructure can’t be maintained, what does that say about the future of all the rest of it?

Michael Mann
Michael Mann
1 year ago

Jonathan, thank you so much for this. I don’t think anyone in Portland is better situated than you to summarize where we’ve been and how we got to where we are now. And many of the people in positions of influence who can make a difference will read this. Yes it’s a long piece, but considering all the ground you cover, it’s remarkably concise and gives a great launch pad for all the important discussions we need to have.

I want to make one small counter-point to something you say in the Infrastructure section. You tout Sunday Parkways as an example of success in “taming drivers” and creating a space where “thousands of people walk and bike with joy and freedom.” Unfortunately, the shine is dulling on that part of Portland’s success as well. I volunteered at the first ever Sunday Parkways 16 years ago, and have volunteered at most of the events since then, every summer. I’m usually a mobile mechanic or “Mobile Superhero,” assigned a section of the route (or the full route) which I ride several times over the course of the day. This year where I received a request to volunteer, I reluctantly declined, explaining that the increase in aggressive driving on the route, including being cursed at by drivers angry that they had to slow down, share, and find an alternative driving route for 5 hours on one Sunday of the year. I’ve had drivers rev their engines speeding around me, and had one spray me with gravel. Last year I was there just after the driver pulled a gun on volunteers, and saw and heard how traumatized some of them were. You mention enforcement as part of Sunday Parkways success, but except for hired flaggers at the major crossings, there’s no longer any enforcement at these events – PPB pulled out several years ago citing lack of overtime budget.

Unit
Unit
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

This is a telling point. Our decision to enforce nothing, really, has inadvertently destroyed basically everything else.

Beth
1 year ago
Reply to  Michael Mann

I also pulled out of volunteering at Parkways for precisely the same reason. In my final year as a mobile mechanic, I had a driver scream at me to let him onto the course, then launched his car at me, steering aside only at the last minute to graze my knee before speeding off. I quit my shift early, went home and wrote a letter to the Parkways staff explaining why I’d never volunteer again until more security measures were in place. They responded with regret and an explanation that nothing more could be done until the police could return to the event.

Sometimes a problem grows because the city grew, and catching up with more resources is dreadfully slowed by funding, denial or just plain hubris.

John L
John L
1 year ago

Cycling culture is a little bit like a cockroach, it re-roots and flourishes when the lights go out.

I mean the economic lights.

Think back to all the cool cycling stuff that emerged during the last recession, when there were fewer monied people in $70,000 SUVs, cheaper rents for places like Velocult and framebuilders, fewer expensive developments crowding out old houses shared by multiple housemates with bikes on the porch, fewer cash and investment house buyers crowding regular folks out of Portland, no crypto-this and web-that mania, more people getting by on less and part of less meant biking more – which turned to mean living more.

I think that’s going to happen again. I don’t hope for it, because there’s bad in recessions, but there are silver linings too.

Life goes in cycles.

SD
SD
1 year ago

With that many people switching to work from home, it is shocking that the biking percentage did not decline further than it did.

I appreciate taking this opportunity to point out the flaws with our car-dominant transportation system. On the other hand, bike mojo and people’s perceptions of biking seems to be pretty influential. Exaggerating the decline, danger or lack of interest in biking can have an unintended negative effect on biking enthusiasm.

Much like the PBA and co. funded and embraced “poverty pornography” for political leverage and negatively affected perceptions of Portland and it’s downtown, weighty voices in the Bike community could do a lot of harm in convincing people that no one bikes any more.

I also doubt that this airing of grievances will create much leverage. Doesn’t PBOT already know that their secret/ pretend bike network is a failed experiment?

BN
BN
1 year ago
Reply to  SD

There’s a drumbeat of how unsafe cycling is. Not untrue, but man as a parent it wants to make me drive kids everywhere instead….

Jay
Jay
1 year ago

Since 2012 cars have turned to SUVS, vehicles are heavier and sight lines worse. You are putting yourself at risk on a bike. Downtown needs to go car-less. That’s the only way. And I’m a car guy. But safety is more important

Mark
Mark
1 year ago

“Cameras might help somewhat, but they do nothing for drunk drivers, driving without license plates, blowing stop signs, texting while driving, and the rest.

Maybe we don’t need more police, but what would you suggest instead?”

My irritation with technology in cars is the use for mood lighting, light sensing glass roofs, full dash electronic panels, 32 speaker sound set ups. Why is there not map controlled speed sensors, breathalyzers, can’t start your car without chip enabled drivers license (suspended license, drunk driving convictions, to many tickets could be controlled). If the car is moving wifi is disabled.

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  Mark

“Why is there not…”

Because people don’t want it. It’s as simple as that.

(And wouldn’t you be pissed off if someone miskeyed a drunk driving conviction and your car was remotely disabled until you visited a government office to try to get it sorted out?)

If/when robot cars materialize, all these issues will get swept away.

Steve Cheseborough (Contributor)
Chezz
1 year ago

Removing the from-home workers from the equation doesn’t tell the story. We need to determine where they came from. Are pre-pandemic by commuters more likely than others to be working from home now? If that’s the case, and I have a feeling it is, that pretty much tells the whole story without speculating on other causes. I hope the city survey can answer this question.

JP
JP
1 year ago

Regarding the demographic shift, certainly a portion of newcomers were attracted to Portland because of its bike friendliness and relative ease to live car-free or car-light. I’m in this group and I imagine there are a lot of us.

AMA
AMA
1 year ago

I think all of these elements are part of an overlapping/cascading issue and it is really hard to tease out one thing to focus on – we need to focus on everything.

However, I do want to call out the difference between building infrastructure vs. building CONNECTED infrastructure. We have built better infrastructure in some places. I’m on a personal quest to get rid of all plastic posts (they are a blight and a distraction) but there are certainly more bike lanes, bridges, etc. than there were 10 or 20 years ago.

What hasn’t really improved is the network.

If you commute downtown from an inner neighborhood, you have a nice quiet calm commute (mostly) from Mt Tabor until about 12th…then you’re dumped in to a traffic sewer protected only by paint at every major bridge.

It’s the same thing on the west side of the river – you are asked to almost immediately mix with traffic as you exit the bridges. It’s like there’s a moat around Downtown, where the network SHOULD be the best.

If you want to head north-south on the east side, you’ve got to navigate the Rose Quarter tangle, mix it up with traffic to cross 84, deal with left hooks on Vancouver/Williams, etc.

If you want to head east/west or north/south east of 82nd you’ll end up on winding paths or suddenly biking next to traffic going 75.

There’s essentially no part of the network that doesn’t experience regular interruptions that are often straight up dangerous.

The network effect in transit occurs when a piece of transit infrastructure CONNECTS to another piece. Every time you connect, you improve the overall usefulness of the whole network. The opposite is also true. Every time you disconnect a piece, it reduces the overall usefulness of the network. What we have is a collection of infrastructure, but not a network.

We aren’t realizing the benefits of the investments we have made because we aren’t focused on creating a network. It makes each piece less useful, and more expensive.

I guess what I’m asking for is that we try to make some of these connections and see what an increase in usefulness of the network does for encouraging people to ride.

Also, we need to regulate the hell out of trucks and suvs so we aren’t sharing the road with tanks, but that’s another topic.

maxD
maxD
1 year ago
Reply to  AMA

comment of the week

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  AMA

protected only by paint

Don’t underestimate the power of paint: It’s all that prevents fatal head-on-collisions on a huge number of facilities everywhere.

AMA
AMA
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

In this scenario, you mean prevents fatal head on collisions between cars, right? The cars that are themselves stuffed with safety features because of how dangerous they are?

Watts
Watts
1 year ago
Reply to  AMA

Yes, those ones. A head on crash at rural highway speeds is most often fatal. And only a thin line of paint protects against them.

The point being that paint is a very effective tool for preventing collisions.

Daniel Reimer
1 year ago
Reply to  Watts

Ah yes, all the local streets that don’t have paint are notorious for constant head on collisions.

Having paint often results “if I stay in my lane I’ll be safe” mentality, and a driver that feels safe and complacent leads to not being on a lookout for vulnerable road users and encourages faster speeds.

I’m not saying to remove bike lane paint, but the average traffic car speed sure would decrease a whole lot by removing the center line on a number of streets

Rod B.
Rod B.
1 year ago
Reply to  AMA

I very much agree about the lack of connectivity in Portland’s bike system, especially its 8-80 low-stress system. We have too many scattered pieces of high-level improvements (remember the “platinum-level” Cully Blvd improvements that don’t really make a key connection? Or the pitiful separated bike facilities at the NE 7th and Tillamook intersection). Years ago I was impressed by Montreal’s Maisonneuve bikeway, which basically went all the way through the city into and out of downtown and into the neighborhoods, all the way separated from traffic. I also noticed that most riders wore everyday/non-cycling clothes, more like Europe than most US city bike commuters. I think it could make a big difference if we had fewer miles of similar highly-improved bikeways that actually connected to key destination (secondary streets could connect to such bike trunk lines with minimal/no improvements). I’m amazed and frustrated that there is no easy bike connection between PSU and the Hawthorne Bridge – riding down 4th Avenue during rush hour crowded with cars with no bike facility to get to the Hawthorne is stressful and seems ridiculous considering the importance of the connection. Portland needs the political will to make a smaller number of big moves that create continuous high-quality connections, rather than the large number of episodic, opportunistic small moves that don’t create a well-connected, safe-feeling system.
Portland has also been ignoring the fundamentals of successful cities – crime and disorder is getting out of hand, making many people and businesses think twice about staying in Portland, and riding a bicycle for many people feels like a more vulnerable activity than driving in a car.

axoplasm
1 year ago

There must be something in the air Jonathan bc so many ppl are having the same thoughts at the same time.

Yesterday (before reading this!) I tooted:

5 things, loosely related:

1. Parks dept. took down all the lights in my neighborhood parks & called this an “improvement”

2. Yesterday a dude under the 17th ave underpass took a swing at me with a lead pipe when I rode my bike past his camp

3. Today a driver blew through every “diverter” (on Lincoln) from Chavez to Clay, directly in front of my bike

4. I owe this city $20K/yr in FIVE different taxes

5. City vehicles have door skins that read “The City That Works”

Here’s what I expect for my $20k/yr:

1. Lights in public parks

2. Dudes don’t have to live under bridges & can get the help they clearly need

3. Diverters that divert traffic, and cameras that ticket drivers who defeat them

4.I can write ONE f***ing check

5. City vehicles have door skins that read “The Rose City” and not some b***s***

I’m going to go off-script a little and say this isn’t particularly a “bike problem,” so much as a “failure to deliver reasonable public services” problem. To the extent that bike infrastructure is just infrastructure it’s part of a bigger thing where the city isn’t delivering like it did 10ya. Heck consider that the I5 bridge — which everyone has been talking about, good or bad, for TWENTY YEARS — is still in the ether and not, you know, built already. So it’s not like “car infrastructure” is getting big wins either.

I have opinions about why this is happening but you know what they say about opinions. The emotional fact is that average Portlanders are laying out lots of money and getting less, which feels like a reversal from my experience with the city before about 2015 or so.

Walter in Portland
Walter in Portland
1 year ago
Reply to  axoplasm

Competely agree and would add:
6. Police that enforce basic driving safety norms (stop at stop signs and red lights, don’t speed on neighborhood streets, don’t drive distracted)

Jordan Lund
Jordan Lund
1 year ago

Stating theft as a perception problem and not a theft problem is disingenuous.

Portland Police Bike Theft Taskforce has been abandoned:

https://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/66825

Bike thefts DOUBLED from 2007 to 2014:

https://www.oregonlive.com/portland/2015/02/bike_theft.html

“The bike theft database, containing 13,000 records, shows an arrest in about 2 percent of such cases.”

Current estimate is 27 bikes are reported stolen every day:

https://www.fox23.com/trending_archives/bike-stolen-from-portland-police-bike-theft-task-force/article_cc49c8cd-44b2-50ac-b7b8-47d221b31907.html

27 x 365 = 9,855 a year.

jayson
jayson
1 year ago

I am planning to ride more when the weather improves this spring. My riding has always been more of a fair weather activity rather than a daily dependence. It fell way off at the start of the pandemic and has remained down. Seeing fewer people riding in general (strength in numbers), riding through sketchy streets (ex: Old Town) to get to sketchy paths (ex: Springwater and 205) has not been appealing in the least. Lack of police presence or any sort of traffic enforcement for 3+ years doesn’t help.

I don’t use public transit nearly as much as I used to for similar reasons: I don’t feel comfortable on the streets, especially after dark, which was never a problem before. I mainly commute to work and home by bus but I drive almost everywhere else now.

I bought a car in 2022 which is the first one I have owned in 10 years. I also moved from NW to SW to escape some of the 24/7 lunacy and drug addiction on the streets of my old neighborhood.

For me, most of these negative changes have been the result of the seismic cultural shift of the pandemic and simultaneous police strike.

TA
TA
1 year ago

I agree with so much you wrote. As a driver and a cyclist, two things come to mind that would help almost immediately and without tons of infrastructure:
1) Parking in Portland is allowed to go right up to the corner unless painted otherwise – IIRC the state has more of a “setback” which increase visibility for all road and sidewalk users
2) Unless origin or destination is on a Greenway, forbid Google Maps, Waze etc from directing drivers along or across them

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  TA

Diverters. Diverters within neighborhoods would prevent or at least slow down cut through drivers using apps. No more 15 block straight shots with no stops and no turns. The apps will learn even if the drivers can’t or won’t.

Bill MacKenzie
1 year ago

Couldn’t agree with you more, on almost all your points. I’ve been riding around Portland since 1984.Used to regularly ride 40 miles out and back to my job in Hillsboro. As I read your piece I was saying to myself, “Yeah, but what about this, too” only to find you got to that eventually, too. Two points stood out. I have been complaining, whining, writing in my blog (THERE’S NO EXCUSE: PORTLAND’S “SCENIC” SPRINGWATER CORRIDOR, JULY 23, 2022, https://bit.ly/40JZv0a; SCENES FROM PORTLAND’S (ONCE) PRISTINE SPRINGWATER CORRIDOR TRAIL – AUG. 27, 2020, https://bit.ly/3KCR3KC) getting depressed about Springwater Corridor for years. It’s a god damn jungle. I’ve even been threatened by campers a few times and I worry about women walking alone there when I pass them. Downtown the city has also become a mess. And when I ride out on the pathway along I205 and over the bridge to Vancouver it’s one long stretch of campsites, half-abandoned motor homes, drug dealing, etc. I guess it’s all part of Portland’s general decline which, frankly, I ascribe to the city’s voters who keep electing incompetent people and to the incompetent people they keep electing, even though Portlanders have seen their city being destroyed all around them. I could keep going forever, but I’m done.

Catie Gould (Contributor)
Catie
1 year ago

Wish we had *any* non-bike commute data to compare with. My bicycling activity has never been reflected in this chart.

Daniel Reimer
1 year ago

From https://www.portland.gov/transportation/bicycle-committee/documents/2022-portland-bicycle-count-report

In the past, these peak-time counts—principally conducted from 4 to 6 p.m.—have accounted for approximately 20% of all daily bicycle activity at each location, making it possible to extrapolate a full weekday estimate of the number of people biking at each count site. Given the enormous affect that the pandemic has had on travel it was unclear if this past assumption would hold for 2022. But there was no compelling data or reasoning that identified other times that might be more representative. So PBOT used the established methodology; counts were conducted during the historic two-hour weekday peak.

While volunteers were conducting manual bike counts, PBOT was also collecting 24-hour automated bike counts using pneumatic hoses at 67 locations. Looking across all 67 automated count sites, the number of bikes tallied in the 4–6 p.m. period represented 21% of all bicycle traffic at those sites. Thus, the historic relationship appears valid, and the 2022 two-hour peak counts were considered 20% of the daily bicycle traffic at each location.

Carrie
Carrie
1 year ago

Perhaps the location of major bikeways is based on commuting, but that’s a larger (and interesting!) conversation

The biggest bias here is assuming that commuting = trips to/from downtown. It’s the biggest bias in much of our transportation schema — the TriMet routes (from Max to bus lines), our greenways, etc. I’d go so far as to add that there’s a gender bias on top of that – that again our system is designed for the white male office worker who goes to/from work, not making lots of stops in between.

Anyway, I do agree with the analysis that the data captures a lot of off-hour riders, but it is as flawed as our system design with who it caters to.

gentrification is anti-bike
gentrification is anti-bike
1 year ago
Reply to  Catie

Wish we had *any* non-bike commute data

PBOT found that 24hr count locations were well-correlated with human count sites:

PBOT was also collecting 24-hour auto-mated bike counts using pneumatic hoses at 67 locations

A percentage significantly less than 20% would indicate much higher cycling activity outside the commute hours, while a percentage significantly higher than 20% would indicate lower cycling activity outside commute hours. Our early staff conversations indicated we expected peak hour volumes to be lower than 20%. Overall, the data from the 24-hour hose counts reinforces the historic relationship in which counts done 4-6 p.m. represent 20% of all daily bicycle traffic at a location. While Table D.1 shows a wide range, the median peak hour percentage across all sites—even those with other than a 4-6 p.m. peak—is 20%.

Table D.1: Data based on 24-hour bicycle hose counts This shows continuing strong connection between 4-6pm peak representing approximately 20% of daily bicycle traffic

https://www.portland.gov/transportation/bicycle-committee/documents/2022-portland-bicycle-count-report/download

Melissa K
Melissa K
1 year ago

I can see where Jonathan is coming from, about the drop in cycling culture in favor of a broader approach being a failing strategy. But we have to ask ourselves: what’s our goal if we aim to recapture the culture aspect? Because even at the height of Portland having the “greatest cycling culture in the world” as he puts it, our mode share was still only about 7.2% – in other words, less than 25-50% of what any mid-large sized European city currently has without even trying to be a “cycling city”. I lived in Hamburg, Germany for a few years, and literally never got the sense of it having any kind of bike culture. Yet that city has twice the cycling mode share (15%) that Portland had at our peak.

In fact, as Chris and Melissa Bruntlett note, even the Netherlands doesn’t have much of what we consider a “cycling culture” – most people view it as a really good form of transportation, not a hobby to coalesce around. Are there hobbyists among them? Sure… but that’s not why the vast majority of Dutch people bike. I seem to remember the Bruntletts saying the Dutch wouldn’t consider themselves to have a cycling culture any more than they have a toothbrushing culture – and yet we think of NL as a cycling mecca.

I see the opposite at play here in Portland. Despite having a Bike Score of 99, the vast majority of my neighbors almost never use their bikes for transportation. They’ll accompany their kids on their bikes for fresh air and exercise on a Saturday afternoon, and one neighbor even had a bike pub-run for his birthday a few months back. But that same neighbor drives his kids the 1/2 mile to school and his wife sometimes works 1.5 miles away but has literally never biked the route. They see biking as fun/exercise, and not as a travel mode.

We can also refer back to BP’s recent interview with Mingus Mapps, where he said he doesn’t have time to bike to work, yet a quick Google search shows the route from Lone Fir Cemetery to City Hall as a 15-minute ride vs. 9 minutes by car. Add rush hour and time spent parking to the latter, and the travel times are roughly the same, or even better for biking. And yet he falls back on the same old excuse of “time.”

As much as we’d like to think Portland is different, we’re still operating in a uniquely American ecosystem in which car = transportation and everything else = niche. This was true even in 2012, when I moved here primarily because I could get around without a car. But even then, I was still in a tiny niche of people I knew who refused car ownership, even among my neighbors in the Pearl.

I have few to no answers as to solutions here, but until we realize the role of American car centricity and break through that, bringing back our culture and reputation as “the” biking city in America and even adding the best biking infrastructure and safest streets in the country may still keep cycling in the single digits, or at best, low double digits, which wouldn’t deserve much of a victory dance.

X
X
1 year ago
Reply to  Melissa K

Mingus needs to get on the bike. He’s been quiet, probably just not making waves in anticipation of showing up as an incumbent for the 12 member council.

Charley
Charley
1 year ago

This is a terrific roundup of the biggest factors at play. We have a long way to dig ourselves back out.