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.

Six point plan, no metrics involved

I read this Bike Portland post this afternoon and got a little befuddled.

The six points are:
1. We need to make it easier to choose to bike or walk
2. We need to not be afraid to take a few risks
3. We need to not be afraid of what creating congestion might do
4. We need to find a way to create “temporary” projects that show us what can be done
5. In the area within two blocks of a school, there should not be parking or loading zones
6. We need to do a much better job of mitigating construction

Thanks, Kari Schlosshauer.

With my military experience, I tend to examine manifestos and such from a how-would-you-do-this perspective. If you were King of Portland, Kari, how would you enact this plan? How would you judge whether or not you were making progress? What would you tell people who came to you asking how they could help?

The issue with all bicycling promotion is that it’s ridiculously easy to implement. Take away free on-street overnight parking. I’ve learned that my two cousins who live in Brooklyn with small children both have automobiles. Both grew up going to Quaker school and are clearly on the enlightened side of the spectrum, but because they own cars they are now bought into the motor vehicle economy. Me, I have two small children and our family saves a literal krap-ton of money each month by not having a motor vehicle. And we have more family time, because not having the means to make unnecessary trips to furniture retailer Ykea means not making unnecessary trips to Ykea.

Luckily for me, my neighborhood makes it easier for me to not have a car because only the folks with no job can find the time twice a week to move their cars from one side of the street to the other.

So when I read Ms. Schlosshauer’s six points, it seems to me that she is trying to have it both ways; persuading motor vehicle owners that they can live in a bicycling paradise and that it won’t really change anything in their lives. The easiest way to do this is to claim that your platform is “for the children,” because it puts opponents on the defensive; who is against children?

The problem is that winning arguments and persuading people to give up their cars are two different things.