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Portland’s new surge in bike commuting is real – and it’s gas-price proof

Portland’s new surge in bike commuting is real – and it’s gas-price proof

26749144791_02038b6a6b_h

Rush hour on Williams Avenue in May. Once again in 2015, 7 percent of Portlanders said their main commute to work is by bike.
(Photos: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Gas prices? What gas prices?

The great gasoline plunge of late 2014 hasn’t cut the rate of Portlanders biking to work, at least not in 2015.

In fact, drive-alone commuting among Portland residents hit a modern-day low last year — the fifth such record in six years — and public transit commuting jumped to a modern high of 13.4 percent.

Thursday’s data was the first to reveal whether the recent gas price drop has reduced bike commuting nationwide.

That’s according to the Census Bureau’s annual commuting estimates, released Thursday.

The number of low-car Portland households, those with more adults than autos, was stable for the fifth year in a row. At least 24 percent of all Portland households remain in this category, and they account for 49 percent of household growth since 2005.

Bicycle commuting surged in many U.S. cities, most dramatically in Portland, during the gas price spike of the 2000s. More recently, the drop in gas prices has led to a rebound in driving. Thursday’s data was the first to reveal whether that shift had also reduced bike commuting.

It didn’t.

That’s good news, Portland Transportation Director Leah Treat said in an emailed statement Wednesday.

“Portland is growing, but our roadway space is not,” she wrote. “If we want to avoid choking on congestion, we have to reduce our reliance on single occupancy vehicles. That’s why I am heartened by these latest Census numbers.”

Bike commuting rates hold steady nationwide

big five bike commuting

Bike commuting trends in the country’s five bikingest large cities.
Data here, via Census Bureau American Community Survey. Charts: Michael Andersen.

Portland’s estimated bike-commuting rate was 7 percent in 2015, statistically equivalent to the 7.2 percent estimate from 2014.

That makes it nearly certain that the 2014 surge in bike commuting — 5,000 new commuters, ending a five-year plateau — was no polling fluke.

Also in 2015, Portland’s bike-commuting gender balance ticked closer to parity, reaching 37 percent female. The national figure is 29 percent. Portland’s ratio was 29 percent in 2005 and has been trending mostly upward since.

Elsewhere in the country, bike commuting rates were mostly stable in 2015. Nationally, they remained at 0.6 percent, continuing a four-year plateau.

What might be called the “Big Five” bike commuting cities — Portland, Minneapolis, San Francisco, Washington and Seattle — all held more or less steady. Of that group Minneapolis saw the biggest uptick, cracking 5 percent biking for the first time.

Among the nation’s biggest cities, Chicago continues to show the steadiest growth. Powered by major bike infrastructure investments, the city (which happens to be Treat’s previous employer) doubled bike-commute rates over the last decade and is up to an estimated 1.8 percent bike commuting.

New York City and Los Angeles both posted 1.2 percent in 2015, continuing their plateaus of the last few years.

Driving hits a new low thanks to public transit rebound

drive-alone decline

Data here, via Census Bureau American Community Survey.

Thursday’s figures brought TriMet some of its best news in 10 years.

Portland’s regional transit agency has had a rough decade. First, the new Yellow and Green MAX lines delivered no large payoff in ridership; later, an 11 percent service cut during the Great Recession sent wait times upward, especially at bus stops.

In Portland, transit commuting slipped to a long-term low of 11.1 percent in 2012. Until today, it seemed as if that might have been the start of an indefinite downward shift.

But things seems to have turned around in 2015, at least among Portland commuters. An estimated 13.4 percent of Portlanders got to work by mass transit last year, well up from an average 11.8 percent over the previous five years. If the trend holds, it’d bring mass transit commuting back to 2005 levels.

alternative transport

Data here, via Census Bureau American Community Survey.

Thanks to the transit increase and to a smaller rise in foot commuting, Portland’s drive-alone commuting rate slid to 57.2 percent, probably its lowest level in decades.

Alan Lehto, TriMet’s director of planning and policy, said Wednesday that he wasn’t sure what had driven the apparent rise in transit commuting by Portland residents.

“There’s not one obvious thing to point to,” he said. “We’ve clearly made some improvements in service throughout the city.”







TriMet service finally surpassed its 2009 levels this year, Lehto said. But he said most of those bus frequency improvements were midday, not during rush hours.

Oddly, though, he said it’s midday TriMet service that seems to be struggling most for riders lately.

“Our overall system annual ridership is pretty much the same this year as it was last year, and it’s been running in the same range the last few years,” Lehto said.

Lehto said the agency is “doing some more analysis” to study its current ridership strengths and weaknesses.

This is a sign that Portland policy is working – but a course change is being planned anyway

I-5 at Rose Quarter

Widening Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter would cost an estimated $350 million as of 2013.

Portlanders’ continuing decline in driving to work, in the face of a strong economy and falling gas prices, follows decades of investments by the state and city in non-car transportation like bikes, buses and light rail.

At every level, Portlanders have elected politicians who say they support lower driving rates, especially within the city.

Thursday’s Census figures are the latest sign that this is working. Each of the last eight years, drive-alone rates have fallen by eight-tenths of a percentage point on average. If that continues, by 2025 less than half of Portland commuters will drive alone.

But the state and city are currently planning a major investment in driving.

The agencies are beginning a push toward funding what would be the biggest freeway capacity expansion within Portland city limits in many years: new lanes on Interstate 5 at the Rose Quarter.

A major goal of that $350 million project, of course, is to make it easier for more people to drive on Portland’s freeways during rush hours.

The Rose Quarter freeway widening might wind up as a piece of a possible transportation bill under discussion for 2017. It’s also possible that Measure 97, the corporate sales tax on November’s ballot, could accidentally send the state transportation department enough new money that it wouldn’t need to ask for a gas tax hike.

In any case, Treat focused her statement Wednesday on helping people escape congestion without setting aside more urban space for driving.

“Portlanders continue to get out of their cars and into alternative modes of transportation,” she said. “At PBOT we will continue to do our part to support these important trends. We will continue to work on initiatives like Biketown, the Central City Multimodal Project, making freight delivery more efficient and Vision Zero to make it easier and safer for Portlanders to get from place to place.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – mike.andersen@gmail.com

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The post Portland’s new surge in bike commuting is real – and it’s gas-price proof appeared first on BikePortland.org.

Ten years of Breakfast on the Bridges: An evening of stories

Ten years of Breakfast on the Bridges: An evening of stories

Breakfast on the bridge-5

A 10-year tradition.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

This guest post is by Michael Andersen of Portland Afoot, PDX’s 10-minute newsmagazine about buses, bikes and low-car life.

Dozens of fans of one of Portland’s most unique and durable bike traditions met Tuesday night at bicycle tavern Velo Cult to tell stories from more than 120 mornings of free breakfast on Portland’s bridges.

“It’s amazing to see that this tradition of giving out coffee and donuts has continued for 10 years,” said Ayleen Crotty, who said she and Amy Stork started serving the first regular breakfasts during Portland’s legendary “Summer of Bike Fun” in 2002.

Somehow – like another Portland tradition launched that year, a naked bike ride – the idea stuck.

“We’re going to do it until we’re doing Breakfast on the Bridges for bike commuters on the Fremont.”
— Lilian Karabaic, volunteer

Thanks to modest donations from local businesses – the current sponsor is Trailhead Coffee Roasters – and a gradually shifting team of three to five regular volunteers, Breakfast on the Bridges has been served to bicyclists and pedestrians on the final Friday of almost every month since. (It currently takes place on the Hawthorne Bridge and the lower deck of the Steel.)

Many of Tuesday night’s stories involved romance.

Timo Forsberg bragged that his mornings on the bridge had given him not only a “new livelihood” – he’s now a demand management specialist for the Portland Bureau of Transportation – but a future bride. Carl Larson said he’d met two future girlfriends. And onetime Bicycle Transportation Alliance staffer Lillian Karabaic told the story of the time she “abused database privileges” to seat herself at the Alice Awards next to a cute young man she’d met on the bridge.

Weather has never been an obstacle to the tradition, which continues through the winter.

“The colder it gets, the cooler the people you will meet on that bridge,” observed volunteer Robin Bogert, who said she likes to invite prospective romantic partners to attend on chilly mornings and gives them extra points if they actually show up.

Other stories revolved around the devotion volunteers feel to the event, which is affiliated with local bike-fun group Shift.

Shawn Granton recalled the morning in 2006 when he and Elly Blue, who were breakfast volunteers at the time, ran into several Bike Gallery employees offering free maintenance on the Hawthorne Bridge, along with coffee and donuts.

Granton stopped to say hello, but pedaled away miffed.

“I was like, What the hell, man? This is our thing,” he recalled.

And “sometime later that day,” Granton said, a “cease and desist” letter was created and mailed to Bike Gallery owner Jay Graves, expressing concerns about “brand dilution” of bridge breakfasts. The letter was signed “Stinky McDonut.”

Granton said the author’s true identity will never be revealed.

Shift’s Steph Routh recorded a full audio file of the evening’s many stories, which also included the time volunteers held a bacon-versus-vegan cookoff and the time they crashed TriMet’s Center Street bullpen to offer breakfast to early-morning bus drivers.

Breakfast on the Bridges held its 10-year anniversary event as a way to invite new volunteers to join the little team. If you’d like to be part of keeping this monthly Portland tradition strong, email bonb@lists.riseup.net.

Karabaic said they’re always happy to welcome new participants.

“We’re going to do it until we’re doing Breakfast on the Bridges for bike commuters on the Fremont,” she said.

The current issue of Portland Afoot’s magazine is about finding an affordable transit-friendly apartment in Portland. For a one-time notice when Portland Afoot launches its free mobile edition, drop your email address at PortlandAfoot.org.

Ten years of Breakfast on the Bridges: An evening of stories

Ten years of Breakfast on the Bridges: An evening of stories

steph botb storytelling

BonB veteran Steph Routh.
(Photo by Michael Andersen))

This guest post is by Michael Andersen of Portland Afoot, PDX’s 10-minute newsmagazine about buses, bikes and low-car life.

Dozens of fans of one of Portland’s most unique and durable bike traditions met Tuesday night at bicycle tavern Velo Cult to tell stories from more than 120 mornings of free breakfast on Portland’s bridges.

“It’s amazing to see that this tradition of giving out coffee and donuts has continued for 10 years,” said Ayleen Crotty, who said she and Amy Stork started serving the first regular breakfasts during Portland’s legendary “Summer of Bike Fun” in 2002.

Somehow – like another Portland tradition launched that year, a naked bike ride – the idea stuck.

“We’re going to do it until we’re doing Breakfast on the Bridges for bike commuters on the Fremont.”
— Lilian Karabaic, volunteer

Thanks to modest donations from local businesses – the current sponsor is Trailhead Coffee Roasters – and a gradually shifting team of three to five regular volunteers, Breakfast on the Bridges has been served to bicyclists and pedestrians on the final Friday of almost every month since. (It currently takes place on the Hawthorne Bridge and the lower deck of the Steel.)

Many of Tuesday night’s stories involved romance.

Timo Forsberg bragged that his mornings on the bridge had given him not only a “new livelihood” – he’s now a demand management specialist for the Portland Bureau of Transportation – but a future bride. Carl Larson said he’d met two future girlfriends. And onetime Bicycle Transportation Alliance staffer Lillian Karabaic told the story of the time she “abused database privileges” to seat herself at the Alice Awards next to a cute young man she’d met on the bridge.

botb storytelling wide angle

The crowd at Velo Cult.

Weather has never been an obstacle to the tradition, which continues through the winter.

“The colder it gets, the cooler the people you will meet on that bridge,” observed volunteer Robin Bogert, who said she likes to invite prospective romantic partners to attend on chilly mornings and gives them extra points if they actually show up.

Other stories revolved around the devotion volunteers feel to the event, which is affiliated with local bike-fun group Shift.

Shawn Granton recalled the morning in 2006 when he and Elly Blue, who were breakfast volunteers at the time, ran into several Bike Gallery employees offering free maintenance on the Hawthorne Bridge, along with coffee and donuts.

Granton stopped to say hello, but pedaled away miffed.

“I was like, What the hell, man? This is our thing,” he recalled.

And “sometime later that day,” Granton said, a “cease and desist” letter was created and mailed to Bike Gallery owner Jay Graves, expressing concerns about “brand dilution” of bridge breakfasts. The letter was signed “Stinky McDonut.”

Granton said the author’s true identity will never be revealed.

Shift’s Steph Routh recorded a full audio file of the evening’s many stories, which also included the time volunteers held a bacon-versus-vegan cookoff and the time they crashed TriMet’s Center Street bullpen to offer breakfast to early-morning bus drivers.

Breakfast on the Bridges held its 10-year anniversary event as a way to invite new volunteers to join the little team. If you’d like to be part of keeping this monthly Portland tradition strong, email bonb [at] lists [dot] riseup [dot] net

Karabaic said they’re always happy to welcome new participants.

“We’re going to do it until we’re doing Breakfast on the Bridges for bike commuters on the Fremont,” she said.

The current issue of Portland Afoot’s magazine is about finding an affordable transit-friendly apartment in Portland. For a one-time notice when Portland Afoot launches its free mobile edition, drop your email address at PortlandAfoot.org.

Metro travel survey shows major shifts in how we get around

Metro travel survey shows major shifts in how we get around

Summer bike traffic-14-14

Survey data released by Metro this morning
shows huge spikes in bike traffic.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Almost every transportation statistic you see has to do with one kind of trip: commuting to work. That’s the only one the Census Bureau asks people about.

But once in a while, someone outside the Census Bureau does research into the 85 percent of trips that don’t involve going between home and work: the coffee shop, the dinner party, the soccer field. And a new survey released by Metro Tuesday morning has some surprising insights about how Portland’s transportation transformation since 1994 has affected our non-working lives – especially the ways biking has competed with and complemented other forms of low-car travel.

All of these numbers are demographically weighted estimates based on a 2011 survey of 6,450 households in the Portland metro area, including Clark County on the Washington side of the Columbia River.

The key to low-car life: dense neighborhoods. Across the region, the number of people living low-car lives doesn’t look too impressive. Use of bikes rose from 1 percent of all trips in 1994 to 3 percent in 2011; use of transit rose from 3 percent to 4 percent of trips. But break that down by geography, and the story changes fast.

For residents of the “Central City” immediately surrounding downtown on both sides of the river – neighborhoods like Goose Hollow, the Pearl District, South Waterfront and east side as far as 12th Avenue – biking leaped from 3 percent to 13 percent. Transit use in that area jumped from 10 percent to 22 percent.

Public transportation doesn’t seem to be driving low-car life on the middle east side and North Portland – bikes are. Transit use is up across the region. But between 12th Avenue and I-205, it’s been stalled at 6 percent for 17 years. Since TriMet has spent several hundred million dollars to build the Yellow, Red and Green MAX lines and a network of frequent service bus lines, this is pretty surprising.

And guess what? Bike trips in this area quadrupled, from 3 percent to 13 percent.

All transit growth in Portland since 1994 seems to have come from people who own cars. Transit trips by zero-car households dropped from 35 percent of trips to 31 percent of trips.

It may seem as if no-car households don’t have many other options. But look at those numbers again: even in 1994, car-free families had lots of options. Sixty-five percent of their trips weren’t happening by transit – they were happening on foot, by carpool or by bike.

If all the transit improvements since 1994 were substantially improving the lives of car-free households, you’d expect transit use to increase. It hasn’t. (Unfortunately, the survey didn’t report on bike use among car-free households, but in an asterisk, Metro staff noted that they suspect more zero-car households are turning to bikes.)

Who loves public transit? Young people. In every age group under 45, transit use nearly doubled. The fastest growth: 35-to-44-year-olds. Their transit use jumped from 2 percent to 5 percent. The most popular ages for transit ridership? High school and young adulthood. Transit ridership for people age 15 to 24 is up from 5 percent to 10 percent.

The only age group that now uses public transit less: people between ages 55 and 64.

This is another question Metro didn’t measure among bicyclists, probably because the sample size was too small to be reliable. But to me, it suggests two possibilities: that Gen Xers and millennials are embracing low-car life far more than their parents did, and that the faster growth of transit use among the middle-aged suggests an even faster growth of bicycling among young adults.

There are plenty of other stories to be told with this fascinating data – I’m especially interested in the ways walking has changed – but have a look at the numbers for yourself; and add your own thoughts in the comments. And while you’re doing it, ask yourself which of the Portland area’s transportation investments seem to be paying off the most.

Metro travel survey shows major shifts in how we get around

Metro travel survey shows major shifts in how we get around

Summer bike traffic-14-14

Survey data released by Metro this morning
shows huge spikes in bike traffic.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Almost every transportation statistic you see has to do with one kind of trip: commuting to work. That’s the only one the Census Bureau asks people about.

But once in a while, someone outside the Census Bureau does research into the 85 percent of trips that don’t involve going between home and work: the coffee shop, the dinner party, the soccer field. And a new survey released by Metro Tuesday morning has some surprising insights about how Portland’s transportation transformation since 1994 has affected our non-working lives – especially the ways biking has competed with and complemented other forms of low-car travel.

All of these numbers are demographically weighted estimates based on a 2011 survey of 6,450 households in the Portland metro area, including Clark County on the Washington side of the Columbia River.

The key to low-car life: dense neighborhoods. Across the region, the number of people living low-car lives doesn’t look too impressive. Use of bikes rose from 1 percent of all trips in 1994 to 3 percent in 2011; use of transit rose from 3 percent to 4 percent of trips. But break that down by geography, and the story changes fast.

For residents of the “Central City” immediately surrounding downtown on both sides of the river – neighborhoods like Goose Hollow, the Pearl District, South Waterfront and east side as far as 12th Avenue – biking leaped from 3 percent to 13 percent. Transit use in that area jumped from 10 percent to 22 percent.

Public transportation doesn’t seem to be driving low-car life on the middle east side and North Portland – bikes are. Transit use is up across the region. But north of the Fremont Bridge, and between 12th Avenue and I-205, it’s been stalled at 6 percent for 17 years. Since TriMet has spent several hundred million dollars to build the Yellow, Red and Green MAX lines and a network of frequent service bus lines, this is pretty surprising.

And guess what? Bike trips in this area quadrupled, from 2 percent to 8 percent.

All transit growth in Portland since 1994 seems to have come from people who own cars. Transit trips by zero-car households dropped from 35 percent of trips to 31 percent of trips.

It may seem as if no-car households don’t have many other options. But look at those numbers again: even in 1994, car-free families had lots of options. Sixty-five percent of their trips weren’t happening by transit – they were happening on foot, by carpool or by bike.

If all the transit improvements since 1994 were substantially improving the lives of car-free households, you’d expect transit use to increase. It hasn’t. (Unfortunately, the survey didn’t report on bike use among car-free households, but in an asterisk, Metro staff noted that they suspect more zero-car households are turning to bikes.)

Who loves public transit? Young people. In every age group under 45, transit use nearly doubled. The fastest growth: 35-to-44-year-olds. Their transit use jumped from 2 percent to 5 percent. The most popular ages for transit ridership? High school and young adulthood. Transit ridership for people age 15 to 24 is up from 5 percent to 10 percent.

The only age group that now uses public transit less: people between ages 55 and 64.

This is another question Metro didn’t measure among bicyclists, probably because the sample size was too small to be reliable. But to me, it suggests two possibilities: that Gen Xers and millennials are embracing low-car life far more than their parents did, and that the faster growth of transit use among the middle-aged suggests an even faster growth of bicycling among young adults.

There are plenty of other stories to be told with this fascinating data – I’m especially interested in the ways walking has changed – but have a look at the numbers for yourself; and add your own thoughts in the comments. And while you’re doing it, ask yourself which of the Portland area’s transportation investments seem to be paying off the most.

Update:

In a follow-up interview, Metro Councilor Rex Burkholder said these initial figures support his conviction that “we should be spending more” on bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

“If we get a 5 percent drop on a freeway for a major expansion, that’s considered a victory; here we’ve got 13 percent of people in the central city getting around on bikes,” Burkholder said. “That’s huge.”

The shift was also, Burkholder said, cheap.

“Getting bike lanes on the road was a policy decision that cost almost nothing,” said Burkholder, who co-founded the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in the early 1990s.

Burkholder also said it makes sense that public transit has grown faster among work trips than overall trips. “Transit still is growing mostly for that work commute,” he noted. “It tends to be people’s longest trip. … That’s why light rail is good.”