Falling Off Bicycles in Portland

It has become customary for the fawning print media to lazily repeat whatever information is provided them by the urbanist lobby. The result is all manner of puff pieces that report as reality what is nothing more than hopes, or even delusions.

The latest puff piece is about Portland and is in today’s Wall Street Journal. The article indicates that 8 percent of Portlanders commute to work by bicycle, based upon data from a bicycle advocacy group. That number is more than five times the figure reported by the United States Bureau of the Census, (which is not a bicycle advocacy group). In 2007 (latest data available), 1.5 percent of Portland metropolitan area workers commuted by bicycle according to the Bureau of the Census.

It is, of course, possible that there is confusion about the definition of Portland. Domestic migration is the principal subject and it is clear from the data cited that the article is citing metropolitan area data, rather than municipal (city of Portland) data.

However, even if we allow that the editors might have erroneously substituted municipal for metropolitan data and that the advocacy group bicycle market share of 8 percent applies to the city of Portland; it would still be off by at least 100 percent. The Bureau of the Census data indicates that 3.9 of workers rode bicycles to work in 2007 in the city of Portland.

Of course, it is always possible that three quarters of metropolitan Portland’s bicycle commuters have fallen off their bikes or that, if the editors were confused as to the difference between metropolitan and municipal, that half have fallen off.

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Two Things

1) The 8% figure is not from a bicycle advocacy group, although the number in the article came from such a source.

Rather, it is from the Portland City Auditor's Office in which they conducted a 2008 residential survey of Portland:


(page 6)

2) Even if you use the Census Bureau's sample of 3.9%, that is 8 times the national rate (national rate being about 0.5%). And remember, this is just work commute percentages - not accounting for other trips made.

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Salman Khan
Salman Khan