Sunday, May 30, 2010
SMART planning still has some work to do.
Commuting to Work in Portland
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.
Average Commute is 24 Minutes
New 2000 U.S.A. census figures show Portland-area residents typically commute 24 minutes to work − a three-minute increase since 1990 but still a shorter journey than in 30 of the nation's 50 top metropolitan areas, including Denver (26 minutes), Seattle (28 minutes) and Atlanta (31 minutes).
Experts say the fact that the numbers don't look worse reflects a natural coping mechanism: Frustrated by traffic, commuters have moved closer to their jobs.
2000 Census Data
The 2000 Census figures are part of the most detailed portrait ever of how people get to work in greater Portland - a region consisting of Multnomah, Clackamas, Washington, Yamhill, Columbia, Marion and Polk counties in Oregon, and Clark County in Washington.
In addition to basic information on race and gender asked of all U.S. residents in April 2000, a 53-question-long form was sent to one in six households. Workers 16 or older were asked their employers' addresses, how they got to work and what time they began their journey. No questions were asked about other trips, such as for shopping or school.
Their answers reveal that:
Portland stood out among a handful of regions where automobiles declined in importance. Bus commuting grew 41 percent, while the numbers of bicycle riders and people working at home each grew 54 percent - well ahead of the 27 percent growth in people driving alone.
Despite that, the region remains as car-dependent as Puget Sound and Southern California. Roughly 73 percent of Portland-area residents drove alone by car or motorcycle - the same as in Los Angeles and one percentage point more than in Seattle.
Walking lost popularity. Metro areas walkers grew by a sluggish 13 percent, with big declines in small towns and outlying areas. The most popular place to walk was Yamhill County where 6.3 percent of commuters hit the sidewalk. The least popular was Clark County with 1.4 percent.
Most Portland residents work in Portland; most suburbanites do not. Consider the major suburbs of Tualatin, Wilsonville and West Linn, where 20 percent to 30 percent of commuters head downtown. By contrast, 74 percent of Portlanders work within the city.
Less than a third of Clark County residents cross the Columbia River to work in Oregon each day. About 2 percent of Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties residents went in the other direction.
In Washington County, an economic engine for the region in the 1990s with 61 percent job growth, the population ballooned 43 percent. Yet residents of the Silicon Forest also had the smallest rise in commuting time.
A key reason: Just 25 percent of Washington County residents work in Portland. The vast majority - more than two-thirds - work in Washington County.
A boom in apartment construction helped. As new rental units outpaced new homes in Hillsboro, rents stayed affordable for tech workers seeking to avoid U.S. 26.
Most Clackamas County residents still leave the county for work each day. In Oregon City, Milwaukie and Molalla, a growing percentage of residents left their city limits for work, and their commute times rose 16 percent, 21 percent and 47 percent, respectively.
By contrast, commuters in Tualatin, Tigard and Hillsboro increasingly stayed within their own city limits, and average commute times in those cities rose 3 percent, 7 percent and 9 percent, respectively.
Texas Transportation Institute 2009 Report
The Texas Transportation Institute publishes their mobility study annually. The Urban Mobility report is considered the most authoritative study of its kind, the Texas report outlines the nation's congestion problem in metro areas.
The 2009 report analyzed traffic congestions for the year 1982-2007. In 2007, congestion in the Portland metro area added 37 hours behind the wheel to motorists' rush-hour trips, a decline of one hour from the 2006 rate. Added together over a longer period, all area motorists experienced 34.4 million hours of delay because of congestion in 2007 − a 21 percent jump from 2002. That's because the average U.S. rush-hour driver still needs 25 percent more time − 29 percent more time in the Portland area for trips than during off-peak times.
The Texas study touts a "travel time index" that has been controversial locally because it doesn't reflect well on Portland. The index compares the time it takes to complete a trip in rush hour to the time it takes in free-flow times. A value of 1.30 indicates a 20-minute free-flow trip takes 26 minutes in rush hour. By that measure, Portland and Seattle tied for the 20th-worst congestion, with a travel time index of 1.29. Los Angeles-Long Beach had the nation's worst, with an index of 1.49.
The average for 90 large urban areas studied is 39.9 million hours of travel delays. For 29 metro areas — like Portland — that are classified as "large," the average is 31.8 million hours.
Other 2009 report findings:
Consider that traffic and congestion normally get worse in the most highly populated metro areas. Portland is the 24th-largest metro area by population, but its 37 hours of delay make it the 34th worst.
And in the 10 years leading up to 2007, the average Portland commuter's delay rose from 35 hours a year to 37. The average for the top 90 metro areas grew from 36 hours a year to 41 hours.
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.
September 2006 The average daily summertime bicycle trips across Portland's four busiest cycling bridges have increased by 18 percent over last year. And for the first time that four-bridge total has passed 12,000 daily trips.
The Hawthorne continues to lead with almost double the average daily summertime bicycle traffic of the next-leading bridge, the Broadway. The Hawthorne's average daily count this summer is 5,557 trips compared with the Broadway at 2,856. The four-bridge average daily total is 12,046, up from last year's 10,192.
The counting process: For all but the Burnside Bridge, the city placed automatic traffic counters on the sidewalk bridge paths and left them for up to several days. On the Burnside Bridge alone, which has a roadway bike lane that doesn't lend itself to an automatic bikes-only count, the city stationed a person to tabulate bicycle trips from 4 to 6 p.m. on a weekday.
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.