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Bicycle ridership in Portland has dropped off significantly over the past 6 years, PBOT says

Portland may not be living up to its 'Biketown' name, as fewer people are riding bikes despite the city's ongoing efforts to encourage cycling.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Portland is famous for its bike-friendly streets, but lately the city's cycling culture has been struggling. Bicycle ridership has decreased significantly over the past 6 years, according to a new report from the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

PBOT reports about a 46% decrease in cyclists between 2016 and 2022. The report says the decline is "undeniable," although PBOT says it's difficult to determine exactly why fewer people are riding around Portland.

Cliff Deveney, a Portland man who said he's cycled for close to 70 years, spoke to KGW Friday and said he was puzzled by the city's drop-off in ridership.

"I don’t know, is our population getting more sedentary, are they doing something else for exercise?" Deveney said. "COVID may have had something to do with it, everybody was isolating and really didn’t want to get out anywhere, but riding, you’re out in the open so it shouldn’t be a problem."

The COVID-19 pandemic does appear to have played a significant role, even if it's not the whole story. Census data cited by PBOT shows that as the number of people working from home skyrocketed during the pandemic, other forms of transit for work commutes dropped off — including cycling.

Kiel Johnson, chair of BikeLoud PDX, said the data is disappointing, especially because Portland's goal is to significantly increase the number of work commutes made on a bicycle. 

"We passed the bike master plan, which was a plan that laid out how 25% of all trips could be made by bike," Johnson said. "Since that plan has been passed, we’ve gone from [about] 7% to 2.8%, so we’re heading in the wrong direction and we really need to change course."

Johnson said Portland needs to make biking more convenient — which would be great for the health of Portlanders and the environment.

"In Portland we’ve built a lot of these neighborhood greenway streets, which are bike streets through neighborhoods, but they zigzag around and they’re not the most convenient way to get to you destination," he said.

However, the PBOT report cited the city's road and infrastructure changes as evidence of creating a more bike-friendly community — even if more cyclists aren't using the paths.

"It is easy to argue that Portland’s bikeway network is of higher quality and reaches into more parts of the city than in 2014-2015 when bicycle commute mode split and the number of people biking to work peaked," the report says.

PBOT developed the report by using volunteers at hundreds of locations city-wide to count bike riders. Analysts then took that data and estimated daily bicycle traffic. 

On Friday, some Portlanders said public safety concerns also factor into why fewer people may be riding bike, listing topics such as crime, aggressive drivers, obstructions on bike paths and homelessness.

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