Subscribe to the Moving to Portland Newsletter
Email:
Commuting to Work

Commuting to Work in Portland

mtp_361

Despite a decade of rising traffic congestion, the average commute in Portland takes about as long as in San Francisco or Los Angeles 20 years ago.

2010 U.S.A. census figures show Portland-area residents typically commute 24 minutes to work the same as it was in the 2010 census and just below the national mean travel time of 25 minutes.  It is still a shorter journey than in nine of the nation’s 50 top metropolitan areas, including Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Statewide, nearly 72 percent of Oregonians reported driving to work alone, while 11 percent carpooled and 4.5 percent took public transportation.

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

share_the_road

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.

November 2010  The average daily trips across Portland’s four busiest cycling bridges have increased after a one-year decline. There are now roughly 17,500 bicyclists per day crossing the Willamette River via four bike-friendly bridges the  Hawthorne, Steel, Burnside and Broadway according to the study.

Bike traffic on the four bridges increased 12 percent. Cyclists represented about 14 percent of all vehicles crossing those bridges, a one percent increase compared to 2009. On the Hawthorne, 20 percent of all vehicles crossing were bikes, a one percent decrease compared to 2009. On the Broadway the number of bikers was 16 percent; on the Steel, 17 percent; and on the Burnside, 5 percent.

At 109 other locations, bike traffic jumped 7 percent. The total number of bicycle trips in the city grew 8 percent in 2010 compared to 2009, according to the count. Southwest Portland and East Portland lead the growth in bicycle trips with 19 percent and 9.5 percent increases respectively.

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. Census Bureau’s annual American Community Survey data showed 6.4 percent told the survey that they bicycled to work in 2008. 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.

Across the Portland metro area, 21,921 people rode bicycles to work. Statewide, 37,582 people pedaled to work.

Biking Resources

  • 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.

Transportation Resources

  traffic

According to the US Census 2000, the region’s average journey to work has stretched to 24 minutes in 2000 – less than you might expect with 26 percent population growth since 1990.

 

 

 

  lightrailconvent

Metro Counties Average Commute Time in Minutes

Clackamas – 26.2
Columbia – 29.3
Multnomah – 23.8
Washington – 23.7
Yamhill – 24.8
Clark – 24.7
Marion – 23.5
Polk – 23.4

  interstate-bridge

About 76 percent of rush-hour travel is congested, up from 49 percent in 1990.
The worst spots:
>Interstate Bridge between Portland and Vancouver
>Sunset Highway (US 26)
>Interstate 5 heading out of downtown

bikers_commute

Bikers peddling into downtown on the Hawthorne Bridge in the morning on their way to work.  Roughly 17,500 bicyclists per day cross the Willamette River via four bike-friendly bridges according to 2010 numbers from the Portland Department of Transportation.

washington-cty

Just 25 percent of Washington County (west side) residents work in Portland.
The vast majority – more than two-thirds – work in Washington County.

Bike There! Maps

Bike_There

Learn where to purchase your copy of the Bike There! map, share your feedback and download free Bike There! quick guides. Here is the link.

jensine_larsen

This is the reply that Jensine Larsen, founder of the Portland-based international women’s magazine, World Pulse, gave when asked if she was going to move to New York.  It appeared in the December 21, 2005 issue of the Willamette Week.

We’re not going anywhere.  Portland is a hotbed of publishing, and it will be a global Mecca.  Portland’s going to be a model for the world. Creativity is highly valued in Portland and there is a sense of do-it-yourself, start your own business – a lot of social entrepreneurs.  There’s a strong feminine pulse here.
scroll back to top