As Portland’s biking stagnation continues, it faces an unfamiliar problem: more congestion

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward
traffic trends

A funny thing happens when you stop improving the alternatives.
(Job projections: Metro. Historical data: Census Bureau. Charts: BikePortland.)

In the last couple years, Portlanders have started noticing something they haven’t been accustomed to for a decade: Auto congestion is getting worse.

“Oregon Department of Transportation reports traffic has gone up 6.3 percent this year, about twice the national average — and it’s still going,” KATU-TV reported last week.

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Portland’s housing supply still isn’t keeping up with population, but it’s falling behind more slowly

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Screenshot 2015-05-21 at 10.34.41 AM

*2010 housing figures reflect an upward readjustment from information gathered in the decennial Census.
(Data: Census Bureau, summarized here)

After eight years of failing to add housing units nearly as fast as new residents were arriving, Multnomah County nearly kept pace in 2014, according to Census estimates released Thursday.

The shortfall in new units since 2005 has led to the country’s worst chronic shortage of rental housing in the most desirable parts of Portland as residents have competed for the largely unchanging number of homes in the central city. That’s led to rocketing home prices and rents, forcing many to live in less bikeable areas further from the urban core.

In 2014, a wave of new apartments hit the market and the City of Portland has led the region in both single-family and multifamily housing starts. The population still grew faster than the number of housing units, the Census estimated, but by a much smaller margin.

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Multnomah County car registration is down 8% since 2007, and isn’t rebounding

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Sunday Parkways Northeast 2011-31-40

Why look back?
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

The Great Recession has left plenty of marks on the Portland area. Here’s one of the happier ones: so far, at least, a lot of the cars aren’t coming back.

The number of registered passenger vehicles in Multnomah County peaked in 2007, a review of 16 years of state records shows. After the economy began shrinking in early 2008, passenger vehicles per resident started a rapid slide, landing 9 percent lower by 2012. Finally, in 2013 and 2014, the local economy began a relatively rapid rebound out of one of the sharpest local downturns in the country.

But in those two years, the number of vehicles the average Multnomah County resident registers has edged back up just 1 percent.

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Census shows big leaps for biking in a few cities, but Portland inches backward

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four city mode trend

Source: Census American Community Survey. Chart by BikePortland.

Is America’s latest bike boom coming to an end? Or is it just moving to different cities?

2013 Census estimates released Thursday show the big cities that led the bike spike of the 2000s — Minneapolis, Seattle, Denver and, most of all, Portland — all failing to make meaningful changes to their commuting patterns for three years or more.

Meanwhile, the same figures show a new set of cities rising fast — first among them Washington DC.

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Nice new online maps show biking rates by neighborhood

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In the darkest tracts mapped here, more than 20 percent of the working population gets to work mostly by bicycle.
(Image captured from Census Explorer’s new Commute Edition)

Certain less geeky news outlets we might mention are reporting today on a report about biking and walking to work (PDF), just out from the Census Bureau.

We haven’t jumped on the news, since we covered this data when it first became publicly available last fall. (We love you, though, OPB.) But one thing that is new on the Census site is a very nice interactive map that quickly plots 22 years of commuting data to the neighborhood level.

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From New Orleans to New Haven, driving is on the decline

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People riding bikes in Austin, Texas.
(Photo by J. Maus/BikePortland)

A new report Wednesday from U.S. Public Interest Research Group shows, among other things, that there are many ways to look at the same numbers.

Most Americans, including most Portlanders, “still” drive for transportation? True.

The use of cars is on the longest slide ever recorded, one that seems only partly related to economic trends? Equally true.

And as US PIRG’s latest report, Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities shows, this isn’t just because of the rapid drops in supposedly “weird” enclaves like Portland or Austin. It’s happening almost everywhere. To quote from PIRG:

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Portland transportation isn’t ‘stagnating’ after all, city director says

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Ride-along SW Broadway-5-3

Riding on SW Broadway in downtown Portland.
(Photos by J. Maus/BikePortland)

Four months after taking charge of the Portland Bureau of Transportation, Leah Treat is walking back an idea she shared in her job interview: the notion that the city’s bike infrastructure is “stagnating.”

“If I had to go through the interview process again, I would change that to say it’s more of a marketing issue,” Treat said, according to the edited Q&A on “We’re still way ahead of the country in the transportation arena, it’s just getting lost in the messaging somewhere. So we need to be talking more about the really exciting things that we’re doing.”

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