It is no secret that Portland has a reputation as one of America’s most bike-friendly cities, but the census bureau now has the data to prove it. According to a recent article in The Oregonian, since 2000 biking to work “has shown the largest percentage increase among all commuting modes” nationally. Portland leads the way with a significantly higher percentage of bicycle commuters than the national average.
Nationally about 786,000 people get to work using bicycles, according to the paper, up from 488,000 in 2000 (the data is for 2012, the latest year available). That’s only about one percent of commuters nationwide, but “within the Portland city limits the number has nearly tripled since the 2000 census… In fact, Portland leads all large cities with a bicycle commuting rate of 6.1 percent.”
According to the newspaper, local activists welcomed the news, but also warned about “complacency.” The head of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance called for “bolder steps” by the city to prevent Portland bicycle accidents so that commuters will feel safer. The article specifically cites initiatives to create “buffered bike lanes” – a move which often requires the removal of parking spots or one auto lane along busy streets that double as important bike commuter routes. It also cites “a long-delayed $4 million bike sharing system, which still lacks a sponsor.” Once implemented, the bike share program is also expected to increase bike commuter numbers. The Oregonian concludes by noting that “Portland’s strategic bike plan calls for 25 percent of all trips in the city to be made on a bike by 2030.”
As a Portland bike attorney I am well aware of the important role bike commuting plays in our city, and have long worked to support and advocate for our growing bike community. It is especially heartening to note that of the five cities investing most heavily in bike-friendly infrastructure four are west of the Mississippi River (the lone exception is Cambridge, Massachusetts). Here in the Northwest, Seattle is the only other city to make it into the Top 5.
The report is also, however, a warning that Portland cannot rest on its accomplishments. The fact that a bike commuting rate of barely six percent is enough to make us a leader nationally is an indicator of just how far bike commuting still has to go to win the sort of mainstream acceptance – and access to public infrastructure dollars – that is deserves. We can all be proud of what Portland has accomplished, but that should only spur all of us on to greater efforts.