Building Biker’s Paradise – and the Rest of Portland

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Late last year, I was on a podcast talking about the Comprehensive Plan update and was asked about tips for where the best places to live in the future would be. Intuitively I answered “inner SE and inner NE are going to get even more awesome”.

Last week, my intuition got validated by some data. Roger Geller, bicycle coordinator at the Portland Bureau of Transportation, has been analyzing data from the Oregon Household Activity Survey. He’s been looking at how cycling has grown from 1994 to 2011 and how it will need to grow to hit a 25% mode share by 2035. The answer varies quite a bit by geography.

You can find Roger’s white paper and the slides he presented at Metro last week online.

The graphic above shows Roger’s estimate of the mode split in different parts of town to meet the Portland Plan goal of getting single-occupancy vehicle trips down to about 40% of all trips.

A note on how to read the graphic – it refers to the trips generated by households in the area of town. So if I drive to 82nd Ave from my home in NW, that trip is assigned to “West PDX” where I live.

“Inner East”, the area I intuitively suggested was “going to get even more awesome” has a lot going for it on the path to becoming “Biker’s Paradise”. First, the majority of Portland’s population lives in this area, and therefore it generates more than half the trips. But densities are consistently moderately high, there are lots of services available as destinations, and it’s proximate to the jobs center in Portland’s central city.

That’s a perfect mix for leveraging the Portland Plan goals of making walking the preferred mode for trips under one mile and cycling the preferred mode for trips under 3 miles. There are a LOT of trips of this distance by folks living in this area. That’s why Roger can project more than one-third of trips by bicycle in 2035 for households in this area.

But what about the rest of the city? Outer East is challenged by lower average densities, a lack of destinations and a long distance to employment areas (downtown and various industrial districts).

Southwest is challenged by hills and the lack of a grid system.

I’m actually hopeful that we can outperform some of Roger’s numbers for cycling in these areas, but equity is going to demand that if cycling can’t perform as well, then we need to disproportionately invest in transit in these area.

I’m hopeful that electric bikes may boost the cycling numbers, conquering the hills in Southwest and the longer distances in Outer East. But here’s my recipe for how to optimize the results in each area:

Outer East:

  • Build sidewalks!
  • Improve frequent transit network with more frequency and addition of north/south lines
  • Encourage more mixed used development and commercial centers (we’ve already started this with zoning on 122nd)
  • Encourage development of jobs centers in Gateway and Lents so there are employment opportunities closer to the population

Southwest:

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