Commuting to Work in Portland
In a study by New York city’s Comptroller, Scott M. Stringer, released in early March 2015, Portland’s 3.48 hour commute and 42.09 hours worked per week come in at a respectable No. 7.
Stringer took data from the American Community Survey, a division of the Census Bureau, to analyze the average time spent each week commuting to work in the 30 largest U.S. cities. Adding in average hours worked per week, the results paint a picture of which cities are getting the work-life balance thing right — and those that aren’t doing so well.
A benefit of Portland’s low commute time is that Portlanders save nearly $2 billion a year in fuel and time because we drive less than people in most of the country. Portland officials are working on a master transportation plan to improve the area’s numbers.
2010 Census Data on Commuting in the Portland Metro Area
More than 71 percent of the region’s workers still drive alone, while bicycling and public-transit appear to be stuck in neutral, according to U.S. Census data released in November 2013.
Nearly 60 percent of commuters in the city of Portland still drive alone. But more than 12 percent take transit. And the share of those who walk and bike to work — about six percent in both categories — far exceeds that in the suburbs. Just one percent of residents in Washington County go by bike, slightly ahead of the 0.3 percent in Clackamas and Clark counties.
Nearly 81 percent of Portland area workers choose to hop in automobiles daily, often braving a slow, bumper-to-bumper slog on rainy freeways. And little more than 71 percent drive alone, which is just a slight drop from the all-time peak of 72 percent in 2005.
The mean travel time to work is now 25 minutes, a minute more than 2005.
Still, when compared with the rest of the nation, Portland area commuters appear to be a little more willing to leave their cars at home. But just a little. Last year, for example, 76.3 percent of U.S. commuters drove alone, while only 0.6 percent rode bicycles to work, according to the survey. In Alabama, the share of lonesome drivers has reached 85 percent, compared to 72 percent in Oregon.
In the Portland area, more than six percent of commuters take TriMet or C-Tran. Nationally, however, less than five percent ride public transportation, the report shows.
About 6.4 percent of the region’s workers 16 years and over work at home, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. That’s the largest number since the 1960s, when most people “working at home” were laboring on a family farm.
The Census Bureau’s commuting report on the Portland metro area, including Multnomah, Washington, Clackamas and Clark County, also shows:
- Carpooling continues to slide. Even with higher gas prices, only 9 percent said the share their rides, down from 11 percent in 2005. Part of the decline likely has something to do with the lack of high-occupancy vehicle lanes in the region (3.5 miles compared to 320 in the Seattle area).
- The largest share of morning commuters, about 26 percent, leave home for work between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. However, the exact percentage start their commute to jobs during the more untraditional hours between 9 a.m. and midnight.
- About 49 percent of Clark County residents work outside their county of residence, compared to 18 percent and 31 percent in Multnomah and Washington counties, respectively. So it should be no surprise that Clark County has the longest mean commute at 27 minutes.
- Portland leads all major U.S. cities when it comes to the share of bike commuters, followed by Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., with nearly 5 percent and 4 percent, respectively. The typical Portland pedaler isn’t a 20-something hipster. The average age of a Portland bicycle commuter: 36.
How People Get to Work
The 2012 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey data below shows how metro area residents, city of Portland residents, and U.S. residents get to work.
- Percent that go by automobile: Metro 80.6%, Portland 67.3%, U.S. 86%
- Percent that drive alone: Metro 71.2%, Portland 58.3%, U.S. 76.3%
- Percent that carpool: Metro 9.4%, Portland 9%, U.S. 9.7%
- Percent that work at home: Metro 6.4%, Portland 7.7%, U.S. 4.4%
- Percent that take public transit: Metro 6.2%, Portland 12.1%, U.S. 5%
- Percent that walk: Metro 3.5%, Portland 5.7%, U.S. 2.8%
- Percent that bicycle: Metro 2.3%, Portland 6.2%, U.S. 0.6%
- Percent that take taxicab, motorcycle or other means: Metro 0.9%, Portland 0.9%, U.S. 1.2%
Source: “Census: Despite bicycling rep, vast majority of Portland area commuters drive alone (or work at home),” November 23, 2013, by Joseph Rose, The Oregonian.
Texas Transportation Institute Traffic Report
Portland, the nation’s 29rd largest urban area, ranked 6th on the list of the U.S. cities with the worst traffic congestion, according to study by the Texas Transportation Institute that was released in early 2013. The report analyzed congestion patterns in 498 of the nation’s urban areas.
A tight, circular freeway system within the growth boundaries tends to create bunched-up morning and evening commutes that can seize up after just a couple of simultaneous fender benders, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s new Urban Mobility Report. Other findings:
- The study estimates that average Portland-area driver wasted $937 and 44 hours stuck in traffic jams in 2011, burning through 21 gallons of extra fuel. Collectively, the Portland metro area lost about $1.1 billion of gas and time in traffic.
- Several other transportation studies, including a 2011 Inrix scorecard, have found that Americans are driving less, even as the Great Recession fades away. According to the Texas A&M study, however, traffic congestion in U.S. cities has remained “relatively stable” over the past two years.
After traffic flow outside peak hours (6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.) is factored into the calculations, Portland ranks 17th on the list of America’s most-congested cities. That’s the same position it held last year. In 2010, the region was ranked 24th.
For the fourth year in a row, Washington, D.C., had the dubious honor of being named the nation’s most-congested city by the report, followed by Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, New York-Newark and Boston.
Light Rail Open to Debate
Activists, regional planners and legislators have sparred for a decade about how to address the most visible effect of population growth: traffic congestion. And each camp can find ammunition in the Census.
It shows west side light rail between downtown Portland and Hillsboro, which opened four years ago, helped boost the number of rail commuters from about 2,600 in 1990 to 9,100 in April 2000, before the downtown streetcar and airport MAX opened. In neighborhoods lining the tracks, MAX drew 5 percent to 10 percent of commuters.
Critics of the nearly $1 billion west side line say that’s a trickle compared to the 800,000 people who drove alone – or the 54,000 who, according to the census, rode the bus. It’s also a small portion of all rides on MAX, which average 68,000 per weekday.
“Rail is irrelevant to most people in the region,” said John Charles, environmental policy director at the free-market-oriented Cascade Policy Institute in Portland.
But Metro officials say the census greatly undercounts MAX commuters because it asks workers how they “usually” get to work. That leaves out occasional riders. Metro surveys and computer models put one-way commuter trips at 44,000 a day, which would suggest individual commuters number 22,000.
Biking to Work
The Rose City has been judged the most bicycle-friendly place in North America, according to Bicycling magazine in one award and the League of American Bicyclists in another. Portland wins accolades for its extensive bikeways (309 miles of bikeways) and willingness to include cyclists in its master planning. Corvallis, Ashland and Beaverton have been honored as well.
American Automobile Association chapter Oregon/Idaho is the first AAA club in the U.S. to include bicycle service as part of its regular roadside membership benefits package for AAA Plus, Plus RV and Premier members. There is no additional charge for roadside service which applies to all bicycles and tandems, including rental bicycles and bicycle trailers.
The number of Portlanders who regularly commute by bike topped 7 percent in 2014, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
The American Community Survey says about 23,347 Portland workers commuted by bike, representing 7.2 percent of all commuters. That’s a big bump from 2010, when 6 percent of Portland workers commuted by bike.
The number puts Portland well ahead of any other city of similar size or larger.
The city, whose Climate Action Plan calls for the share of bike commuters to grow to 25 percent by 2030, lauded the numbers. Commissioner Steve Novick, who oversees the city’s transportation bureau, said in a statement that bikes can be a tool for combating climate change and rising healthcare costs.
Bike commuting is also increasing across the Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro area, from 2.2 percent in 2010 to 2.6 percent in 2014.
Portland Ranks First in Nation for Biking to Work
A larger share of Portlanders commute by bicycle than in any other large city in America, eight times the national average, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This makes Portland No. 1 in bicycle commuting among the 30 largest cities in the country. The percentage of walkers and transit users also rose.
- Bike Portland This site is a chronicle of the Portland bike scene that has loads of information about biking in Portland.
- Bicycle Trip Planner Give your starting point address and your destination address and the site will map a route for you. This site is unmaintained. The last significant changes were made in May of 2007 (although several data updates for the Portland region have been made since then). The code is open source (GPLv3).
- City of Portland Bike Guide Check out the city’s bicycle routes and its Bicycle Master Plan.
- Oregon Human Powered Vehicles Dedicated to riding, racing, and building all types of alternative bicycles, tricycles, and human-powered craft.
- Portland Bicycle Transportation Alliance The Bicycle Transportation Alliance is a Portland metro area non-profit bicycle advocacy organization.
- Portland Wheelmen Touring Club 700 member club that promotes recreation riding. Also a social club.
- Ride Oregon Ride Information on shuttle services, bike shops, restaurants, motels, and campgrounds that cater to cyclists.
- Trimet Guide Learn how to take a bike on the bus, light rail, or streetcar.
- City of Portland Transportation Describes the options for transportation in Portland.
- Demographia Compares Seattle to Portland. Demographia guiding principle is “What government does for one it should do for all; What government does not do for all it should do for none.”
- Portland State University Population Research Center Research on census in the School of Urban Studies and Planning.
- Texas Transportation Institute An arm of the Texas highway department that rates traffic nationally each year for major metro areas.
- US Census Bureau Link to 2000 census data.