Bike commuting at 11% in latest PBA downtown census

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on November 15th, 2012

Source: BikePortland

The Portland Business Alliance has released their 2011 Downtown Portland Business Census & Survey and — while transit use is down and driving alone is back to average levels — the number of downtown employees that commute by bike has reached an all-time high.

This annual census is primarily intended to offer a snapshot of the downtown business climate; but the survey also asks downtown employees how they get to work. Since it has been compiled consistently since 2001, the data offer a good look at commute trends.

Bike commuting by downtown employees has made solid gains since 2001.
(Source: Portland Business Alliance 2011 Downtown Portland Business Census & Survey)

This year’s results show that 11% of downtown workers surveyed go by bike. That’s the largest number of bike commuters the survey has ever registered. It’s also a 22% increase over last year and an 83% increase from 2008. In 2001 this census found that just 3% of downtown employees biked to work.

By contrast, while driving alone has ticked up the last three years in a row, it is now at 44%. That’s the same rate as in 2001 and 2006 (which was down from a high of 48% in 2005).

Here’s the graph of drive alone commute trips into downtown since 2001:

And the same graph for MAX/bus trips:

And here are the raw numbers for the three top commuting modes since 2001:

Compared to the other top modes, MAX/bus and driving alone, bicycling has by far the most positive trendline. (If you’re curious, carpooling has been steady at about 5-8% since 2001 and walking has seen slow and steady rise from 2% in 2001 to a solid 5% in 2011.)

Another way to look at the numbers is that driving alone should be considered the “alternative” mode when compared to the big three of active transportation. When you put walking, biking, and transit together, you get 52% of downtown employees using something other than cars to get to work.

The survey sample size was about 800 businesses, or 20 percent of all the businesses located in the I-5/405 loop. PBA estimates the margin of error at about +/- 4 percentage points. The data was collected using mailed questionnaires, personal follow-up, and block-by-block canvassing.

These strike me as very positive numbers for bicycling, especially since in my opinion, bike access into downtown is very inadequate for the majority of Portlanders. If we actually built some protected bike lanes and had quality connections into downtown from over our main bridges and other access points, I think the bike number could easily reach 20% in a year or so.

OPB ran a story last night about how transit is down and driving is up. In that story, PSU professor Kelly Clifton explained that the drop in transit reflects national patterns, “as transit agencies cut service and employers suspend bus passes” due to the economic downturn.

Many of those transit riders could just as easily hop on a bike. Unfortunately, we still live in a city where driving is more convenient, efficient, and safer than bicycling for many people and many types of trips. To really make progress in bicycling, it will take progress in building our infrastructure so that it becomes an attractive option.

— Read the PBA’s official statement and download the full 2011 Downtown Census here.