Portland Bicycling Plateau

According to Bike Portland, reporting on a Portland City Auditor survey, the number of bike commuters is stuck at a plateau. In the year since the original post was put together (and I started writing this post), nothing has changed. Why is this? What does it say about bicycle advocacy and livable-streets advocacy, not only in Portland, but in New York and elsewhere?

Either effective advocacy is needed to resist countervailing forces and keep the “wheel turning” at the same speed, or advocacy as practiced is somewhat ineffective. It’s certainly hard to see how it is helping to generate more riders, unless you redefine the definition of rider. It’s possible that there is a change in the profile of riders so that there are more people riding to do errands, for instance, than driving to work. But that seems like a small victory for advocates.

I broke out my theory of Portland’s rise in cycling mode share in an earlier post: folks who moved to Portland to lead a bikey-lifestyle made up the bump in mode share in the mid 2000s, then as the city’s charms became more widely known, immigrants were less likely to be moving to bicycle, and at the same time, the previous bike-riding immigrants were regressing to the mean in terms of bicycle use.

Here are some possible reasons for the inability of local bicycling advocates to raise the number of Portland bicyclists off its plateau.

Other modes of transport have advanced over bicycling, becoming more effective and attractive, in the same time frame.

Portland’s municipal efforts to promote cycling have become ineffective.

Portland’s bicycle advocates are ineffective at getting people into the saddle.

Portland’s bicycle advocates have overstated the attraction of bicycling to most of the population.

A fixed proportion of the population is willing to consider bicycling, and that limit has been reached.

There is not enough of something, perhaps protected bike lanes or pedestrianized streets. Some threshold must be crossed to get people into the saddle in greater numbers than at present.

Cultural factors are to blame; Oregonians are not really like Danes and not likely to get in the saddle.