PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Despite significant investments in Portland’s biking infrastructure in recent years, newly released data from the Portland Bureau of Transportation show that substantially fewer people are using bicycles to get around the city.
According to PBOT’s new 2022 Portland Bicycle Counts report, bicycle traffic in 2022 dropped more than a third compared to 2019. These levels have not been seen since around 2005-2006.
Typically, PBOT conducts its bicycle count every year, but skipped the count in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic.
Experts say the pandemic is likely partially responsible for the decline, but also say it’s part of a trend that began before 2016.
To gather the data, volunteers conducted counts on weekdays from June 1 to Sept. 30 at 234 locations around the city. The counts were made on either a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., which the city considers to be peak hours for bicycle activity.
The volunteers not only counted the number of people riding bicycles, but also noted the riders’ assumed gender and whether they were wearing a helmet.
In 2022, in comparing the 184 locations that were counted in both 2022 and 2019, PBOT found that 17,579 people were biking at those locations in 2022, a 37% decrease from the 27,782 counted at the same locations in 2019.
Data from 2022 also showed a decrease in the number of women riding bikes. The percentage of women bicyclists had held steady at around 31-32% since 2017, but in 2022 it fell to 28%.
Helmet use also declined. In 2018 and 2019, 85% of riders were wearing helmets. In 2022, 81% of riders had them on.
PBOT examined data from the U.S. Census Bureau, which tracks the means by which people get to work, to see if the national data compared at all to the numbers the bureau saw in Portland. The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data are from 2021 and show that working from home grew tremendously from 2019 to 2021, while every other mode of transportation saw decreases.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, only 2.8% of people reported biking to work in 2021 compared to 5.4% in 2020 and 5.2% in 2019.
Census data show that bicycle commuting peaked in Portland at 7.2% in 2014.
Both PBOT’s annual volunteer bicycle count and U.S. Census Bureau data show that bicycle use has declined in the city since approximately 2014-2015. However, Portland has continued to invest in bicycle infrastructure and city-run programs.
Since 2014, PBOT said the city has built 121 miles of new bikeways and has continued to host cycling events like Sunday Parkways and smaller community rides. Portland also launched BIKETOWN, its shared bike program, in 2016.
“Despite these efforts, bicycle use–as reflected in both commute data and the city’s annual counts–has continued to drop. The pandemic can explain much of the recent, precipitous drop in biking, but it does not explain the downward trend before 2020,” PBOT stated in its report.
The research found that East Portland (east of Interstate 205) had the lowest average number of riders in 2022. Southeast Portland (west of Interstate 205) had the highest average number of riders.