Portland: A Challenging Chart

Portland is supposed to be one of the US’s great transit success stories.  Is it still?  Do we know what it’s achieving?  Do we know how to measure it?

A couple of months ago, Portland reader Adrian Lawson pointed me to an Oregon Catalyst article ridiculing the Portland Metro goal of tripling non-auto mode share by 2035.  The author, John Charles, Jr., is the CEO of the Cascade Policy Institute, a conservative Oregon think tank that opposes Oregon’s land use planning system and generally favors roads over transit, so this is not a surprising view.

But the article cited some data that I found curious.  Adrian was kind enough to analyze it for me.New Picture

Since 1997, the City of Portland’s annual survey has been asking people who work outside the home what their primary means of
getting to work.  The answers are in this chart.  (The margin for error in 2009 was about +/- 1.7%, sample size was 3,194.  Links to the sources are in small print at the end of this post.)

(I’ve aggregated two responses “Transit” and “Drive+Transit” to get the transit scores shown.  The “Drive+Transit” response has always been in the range of 2-4% with no trend over these years.)

Remember, this is (a) only residents of the City of Portland, not its suburbs, and (b) only about the journey to work, not other journeys.  It’s also (c) self-reported by citizens rather than observed behavior.

The data covers 12 years during which Portland opened four major rail transit projects:

  • The huge Westside extension of the light rail system (1998), which linked Portland to the “Silicon Forest” high-tech centers of Beaverton and Hillsboro, should have made a big difference for Portland residents commuting to those areas, though unfortunately most of the jobs are in business-park formats that are not easy to reach from the stations.
  • The Portland Streetcar was a mostly new corridor but close-in to downtown where it competes with walking.  It opened in 2001 with small extensions to RiverPlace in 2005 and the newly developing South Waterfront area in 2006.  South Waterfront is a major new employment area in a spot that’s hard to reach by other transit, but much of it is still under construction, so the jobs aren’t all there yet.
  • The Red Line was a rail extension to the airport, and then-undeveloped land around it, replacing a bus line.  The Red Line served two airport-area stations that will eventually have job centers around them, but those centers are not there yet.  Still, the Red Line should have made it easier for airport employees to get to work, especially as it was a new link between the Airport and Gateway, where many east-side bus lines converge.
  • The Yellow Line was a frequent light-rail line pretty much replacing a frequent bus line.  (The Yellow Line is actually shorter than the bus line it replaced, as it does not yet extend across the Columbia River into Vancouver, Washington, though it is clearly pointed that way.)

Much of this period was a major real estate boom.  Most the dense urban fabric of the Pearl District (mostly residential with ground floor commercial, 5-20 stories, adjacent to downtown) was built, and smaller infill energies played out all over the city.  The other large project of the decade was South Waterfront, a mix of major employment, medical school, and residential served by a small streetcar extension but otherwise rather isolated from the downtown.

If we’re to believe the data, the journey-to-work results of all this investment, and all these people living closer to transit, didn’t amount to much.  Transit mode share for work trips went nowhere.  Drive-alone mode share was down around 5% on the decade, but mostly near the end.  The most striking trendline is bikes, up from 3% in 1997 to 7% in 2009.  There was a lot of work on bicycle infrastructure during the decade and a lot of activist energy.  Most people I talk to in Portland are impressed by the rising volume of cyclists and taking this trend seriously.

More troubling to me is that walk mode share stayed at around 5% even though all of this infill around downtown should have been causing some drop in average journey distances to work.

I would be more shocked to see these numbers if this had been a period of investments aimed at dramatically increasing transit mobility, by which I mean where you can get to on transit and how fast, but that’s not really what the Portland Streetcar and Yellow Line were about.  (The Red Line did improve access to the airport, and since airport lines are really about airport employees, that should have counted for something.)  But although rail gets the press, most of the city is on the bus network.  Most of the City’s bus network is unchanged (in structure and levels of service) since 1982 and saw little change in this decade.  Major inner-city corridors like Belmont and Hawthorne don’t have much more bus service than they had in 1982, which means their per capita service has actually been falling, even before the painful cuts of November 2009.

The non-impact of the Streetcar is not surprising, and easily explained from a pro-streetcar point of view.  As we saw from the comments on my streetcar post, Portland’s streetcar advocates are clear that their purpose is to stimulate development at higher urban densities.  They want to be judged on the consequences of that development, not the transportation provided by the streetcar itself.  Obviously, it’s too soon to count those consequences, though an uptick in the walk commutes as a result of this infill would have been nice to see.

To sum up, these numbers are not saying that Portland is failing.  There’s a credible argument that Portland transport thinking has been taking a long view and these numbers are a short view.  It’s also fair to say that Portland’s transit mobility, measured in the narrow sense of how much of the city you can get to how fast, hasn’t really changed much in this period, and isn’t likely to change much from any of the rail investments planned in the next decade.  Is that success?  It depends, as always, on what you value.

UPDATE:  A follow-up on this post is here.


http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=27107&a=5694 (Page 36)
http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=27105&a=5727 (Page 36)
http://www.portlandonline.com/shared/cfm/image.cfm?id=5739 (Page 40)
 (Page 40)
 (Page A-10)
 (Page Citizen Survey-11)
 (Page Citizen Survey-14)
 (Page Resident Survey-14)
 (Page 44)
 (Page 42)
 (Page 34)


37 Responses to Portland: A Challenging Chart

  1. EngineerScotty January 9, 2010 at 11:35 pm #

    WES also opened in 2009, although that is entirely outside the city of Portland. Also, the Red Line opened in 2001, and was extended to Beaverton a few years later.
    At any rate, transit’s share seems to correspond to the local economy, which is high tech based (though much of the high-tech industrial base is in Washington County, not Portland–the main project affecting Washington County transit was the opening of the westside line in 1996, prior to the start of this graph). Transit share was high in the boom time of the 1990s, then dropped by several percentage points during the recession at the start of the century, when the dot-com bust, the West Coast power crisis and related financial scandals, and 9/11 occurred. It shot up again in the mid-oughties, peaked when gas hit US$4/gallon, then went back down sharply in the current recession. My immediate suspicion, backed by my blatantly anecdotal observation of freeway congestion, is that quite a few transit commuters are motivated by parking and traffic concerns, and are more apt to drive when a poor economy reduces the amount of traffic they encounter (and frees up parking downtown).
    That said–I’m a little suspicious as to why this is being limited to intra-Portland trips. TriMet is a regional agency, not just a Portland agency (something which benefits Portland metro transit overall), and it’s reported numbers are region-wide. As far as TriMet is concerned with reducing auto trips (which is a stated goal) or share thereof, its a regional concern, not a Portland one. It sounds a bit like CPI might be cherry-picking data.

  2. Jarrett January 10, 2010 at 12:03 am #

    Scotty. Thanks for reminder re Red Line. I’ve revised post to reflect.
    This year-by-year self-reported mode share data for a fairly large sample is provided by a City of Portland survey, so of course is limited to the City.

  3. Danny January 10, 2010 at 10:55 am #

    Haven’t the costs of the streetcar forced cuts in the bus network? I tend to hear that quite a bit, but I don’t know if the cause/effect is quite right.

  4. Alexander Craghead January 10, 2010 at 11:54 am #

    @Danny: No, the costs of the streetcar have not forced cuts in bus service. TriMet pays the City of Portland the equivalent of the cost of bus service for the existing streetcar corridor, and the City of Portland pays the balance of operational costs. As for capital costs, streetcar was built by the City, not TriMet (who provides bus service for the region).
    @ Jarrett: Another correx, Blue Line from Portland to Hillsboro opened in 1998. Prior to that MAX was only Portland-Gresham.
    What I find interesting is the sudden changes around 2008, which I assume would be based around the economy. Everything goes down, except for walking and driving, which both go up. I wonder if this data includes driving in search of work?
    Of course as Scotty pointed out this is only Portland, not the metro area. I find that odd, especially as metro numbers would (I assume) be even less positive towards transit, thanks to rapid suburban growth during the period.
    From the overall view though, there are a couple of major conflating variables. For one, that very suburban growth might play a factor. How many of these people are driving because they worked in places that were newly developed and thus have, to be frank, poor transit service?
    Overall, I agree with Scotty, this is more a reflection of economy than anything. It’s also a reflection of demographics. Millenials such as myself are far more likely to use transit, while Baby Boomers and upwards are more likely to have set habits that are harder to break.
    And lastly, contrary to what Mr. Charles no doubt wants me to conclude, I look at charts like this and see that our land use policies are still not doing their jobs and our transit system is still in need of completion. Numbers like this don’t show that we need miles of more freeway.

  5. Greg Raisman January 10, 2010 at 1:44 pm #

    Hi Jarrett:
    Thanks for another excellent analysis of what’s happening with transportation in Portland.
    One other suggestion:
    In your article you say, “There was a lot of work on bicycle infrastructure during the decade…”. While I agree that our bikeways miles (parking, and transit connectivity) have improved during that time, our system has not grown very much.
    See page 10 of the new 2009 Bike Count Report: http://www.portlandonline.com/transportation/index.cfm?c=44671&a=280429
    While I believe that the investment of the quality of our bikeway miles over the past decade has boosted ridership, I think that the larger program and community investments may have had a larger impact on encouraging people to use the system that was installed in the 1990s.
    (programs examples: SmartTrips, Safe Routes to School)
    (community examples: an estimated 2,000 bicycle-involved events each year)
    It is quite striking that we are on the front end of another expansion of our bikeway system. Over the past year, we’ve installed our first new “cycle track” and “buffered bike lanes”. We are 80% through installation of our first new bike boulevard.
    Within a month or so, City Council will adopt the updated Portland Bicycle Plan. The last time a plan like this was adopted was in 1996. As in 1996, I think the adoption of the new plan will result in a significant investment to expand our system.
    Today, we have 29 miles of complete bicycle boulevards. By June, 2010, we will add 15 miles to that inventory. In early 2010, we will begin public process on the next 15 miles. It will not take many years to build a basic boulevard network that provides service that touches the further borders of the city: north, south, west, east.
    These new bicycle boulevards will be networks of residential streets that connect schools, parks, and commercial areas. They will have low levels of motor vehicle through trips, low travel speeds, effective crossing opportunities at major streets, and effective guidance. We are using our decade of experience (and public feedback) with the bicycle boulevards on the ground to make the next generation of boulevards even better.
    The early focus on bicycle boulevards, coupled with some larger commercial street and trail successes, will result in a large expansion of Portland’s developed bicycle transportation system.
    Check back in 5 years. I think it will be fair at that point to say “There was a lot of work on bicycle infrastructure during the decade…”.
    Greg Raisman
    Community and School Traffic Safety Partnership
    Portland Bureau of Transportation

  6. Jarrett January 10, 2010 at 4:00 pm #

    NOTE: Comments up to here reflect an old version of the post. The errors noted have been corrected.

  7. Chris Smith January 10, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    Keep in mind that work trips are only about 1/3 of all trips.

  8. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org January 10, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    @ Chris.  That's right.  Streetcar and MAX have clearly had a larger impact on shopping and errand trips, especially downtown.  Still, isn't it troubling that work trip mode share hasn't increased it all?

  9. Chris Smith January 10, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    This is only one measurement of the numbers – and self-reported data is not the same as measured data.
    I would also note that total (not just per-capita) VMT in the region is down over the same period. So there’s a whole lot of stuff going on that this one view does not reflect.

  10. calwatch January 10, 2010 at 8:10 pm #

    I’ve never really liked these type of questions anyway, since it forces people into the transit box or the walking box or the driving box. In reality, many people do both, depending on how late they have to work, whether they have any errands or events to go to, etc. A better way is to take data gathered from a weekly basis. Still, you would have the issue of someone that is using transit as a parking lot shuttle (in the Portland example, parking at Lloyd Center and taking the train into downtown), but at least it’s a start.

  11. Nick theoldurbanist January 10, 2010 at 8:17 pm #

    Work trips may be only 1/3 of all trips on transit, but commuting times are when most of the road congestion occurs. Thus, transit around these parts has not achieved its goals, IMO.

  12. Stuart Donovan January 11, 2010 at 12:52 am #

    I suspect Portland’s lack of headway on mode shift reflects subsidies for parking, rather than any failing of transit investment or urban land use policies.
    Colliers study of international parking rates found Portland ranked near cheapest in the U.S. – at just $9/day. This is comparable with Louisville, KY – a city which is half as dense.
    Investment in transit is likely to be futile in an environment of subsidised parking. Removing minimum parking requirements and applying a parking levy would be a good start.
    N.B. I’m not sure off-peak travel stats would make for more positive reading. Surely average incomes increased during this period? Which in turn is likely to have resulted in increased long-distance recreational travel? Trips which are almost certainly undertaken by car. It seems to me that if transit has not made up ground for journey to work, then it’s highly unlikely to have made progress for these more dispersed trips. At least from where I’m sitting … 🙂

  13. Stuart Donovan January 11, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    P.s. Jarrett – maybe it’s time for a post on parking policies? IMO transit advocates often ignore the fact that the price of parking is a key determinant of prevailing travel and land use patterns.
    Parking is one of the major costs associated with a private vehicle based transport system, yet many cities around the world persist with ill-considered regulations which force developers to provide excessive amounts of parking.
    Instead of futile debates on the merits of BRT versus LRT, we would be better off advocating for parking reforms, especially abandoning minimum parking requirements, as a way of achieving better transport outcomes.
    Apologies for the rant, but parking is important!

  14. Jarrett January 11, 2010 at 1:10 am #

    Following up on Stuart’s comment, downtown Portland parking rates for the “Smart Park” garages are here:
    Only $10 to park all day at 10th & Yamhill, right at the junction of the Streetcar and the Blue+Red MAX lines, four blocks west of the Transit Mall!
    If I’m not mistaken, that’s price is around what it cost 15 years ago, when I worked near there.
    What’s up with parking, Portland friends?`

  15. Stuart Donovan January 11, 2010 at 2:12 am #

    Given that the average car-park takes up about 380 sq ft a “market” price for parking is closer to $20/day, rather than $10/day. I smell parking subsidies.
    Not to say that they should immediately double the cost of parking, but there’s obviously room to drive considerable mode shift from parking policies alone.
    Note that this calculation is based on the following assumptions:
    – Commercial office space in downtown Portland leasing for $16/sq ft/year; and
    – Demand justifies charging for parking 6 days per week for 50 weeks per year = 300 days/year.

  16. Pantheon January 11, 2010 at 2:47 am #

    I think these numbers call into question the overall strategy Portland is employing, including transit, parking, roads, et cetera. Driving has decreased only slightly, and that can be explained by the increase in cycling. There has been no movement towards transit.
    Mode share changes are indeed hard. It’s a lot of effort and change for tiny results, so trying to effect such change must make one feel a little like Sisyphus pushing the rock up the hill. So I was willing to cut Portland some slack, but then I found these numbers:
    Scroll down to the links under “commuting patterns” and you can get a lot of information.
    While transit use in Portland has stayed flat over the last ten years, here are the results in some key Canadian cities from 1996-2006.
    Ottawa up 2.2% to 19.4%
    Montreal up 1.2% to 21.4%
    Calgary up 3% to 15.6%
    Vancouver up 2.2% to 16.5%
    Total car users (including as drivers and passengers) during the same time.
    Ottawa down 2.3% to 70.7%
    Quebec City down 1.8% to 80.3%
    Halifax down 1.5% to 75.8%
    Calgary down 3.5% to 76.6%
    Vancouver down 2.8% to 74.4%
    Victoria down 2.3% to 71.7%
    Note that these are 1996 numbers (i.e. before the oil shocks).
    Meanwhile, check out this zinger from the Canadian government in comparing the two countries: “The use of public transit in the Boston (11.7%) and Chicago (11.4%) areas was closer to that in the much smaller Canadian CMAs, such as Halifax (11.9%) and Victoria (10.2%).”
    Source: http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recensement/2006/as-sa/97-561/p26-eng.cfm
    So clearly it is possible to move the numbers, with the right investments. The question is, why aren’t Portland’s numbers moving? Furthermore, if they cannot move them or do not even intend to move them, can they really lay claim to being a “livable” city? What kind of city do you think is more livable? One with fewer cars, or one with the same number of cars and freeways, plus a few shiny new trains and streetcars?
    I submit that the ultimate goal of livability is reducing the number of cars. Livability and cars are like oil and water. You can’t have both. It isn’t just the cars themselves but everything that goes with them, like freeways, multi-lane streets and ugly parking garages.
    I think the self-congratulatory air you find in Portland concerning livability is due to the fact that it is in America. They pat themselves on the back for doing things that, while exceptional for America, would be considered subpar and disappointing anywhere else in the world. The bar is set so low in America that even a dwarf could jump it.
    In fact, listening to Portland’s elected and unelected officials trumpet the city’s livability is a lot like watching a dwarf win a jumping contest in some perverse new “special” olympics. You want to cheer for them, you really do. It’s not their fault they were born that way. Nor is it their fault that the competition they are so proud of trouncing is even more inadequate than themselves. So when the gold medal is placed around their neck, a part of you wants to stand up and applaud them for the great effort they have put into life.
    But the other part of you can’t really say it’s impressed. And you can’t get over the sneaking suspicion that the whole thing is just a sad, pathetic exercise in helping them to feel better about themselves.

  17. M1EK January 11, 2010 at 7:11 am #

    You need to compare against a control group, too; for instance, in most cities of Portland’s size and employment patterns, transit modeshare has been dropping over this period. It’s possible this investment was required merely to keep that from happening in Portland, too.
    In other words, in other cities (such as mine, Austin), population growth and employment sprawl with no major transit investment led to each new person basically driving – overall modeshare dropped even if absolute ridership stayed constant or even rose.

  18. EngineerScotty January 11, 2010 at 7:40 am #

    SmartPark garages are owned and operated by the city of Portland, which generally sets their rates to be profitable. There are numerous other private parking lots sprinkled through downtown, which charge various prices, but the existence of SmartPark (which has a daily maximum of $15 across all its facilities, and as Jarrett notes, at least one garage with a $10 maximum) limits what the private providers can charge.
    And as calwatch points out, the presense of Lloyd Center distorts things further. For those not familiar with Portland, Lloyd Center is a large shopping mall on the eastern edge of dowtown, within Fareless SquareFree Rail Zone, with gobs of parking and a MAX station. Parking here and riding MAX in downtown is not uncommon (though it’s probably done more by recreational visitors to downtown, not commuters) and the mall management tends to look the other way.
    But there’s 32k parking spaces downtown, IIRC.

  19. Wesley January 11, 2010 at 8:25 am #

    Seems as though all the sources are credible and the studies aren’t skewed, so what accounts for Portland’s reputation as a great city for transit?
    I’m curious to see why there’s so much buzz. Does Portland have a great marketing team or maybe it’s just all the money they spend.

  20. Joshua Daniel Franklin January 11, 2010 at 12:36 pm #

    You can’t do it without the employers. Contrast the chart above to the charts in the latest UW Seattle U-PASS Annual Report (covering 13000 employees as well as students) over the same period:
    One really interesting part of the approach is that the SOV parking permit is the U-PASS. In other words, even if you plan to drive alone and park, your permit to do so includes a “complimentary” transit pass. Imagine if you needed a similar “SmartPass” to use SmartPark in Portland.

  21. Alon Levy January 11, 2010 at 12:53 pm #

    Pantheon, I don’t know about the rest of Canada, but Calgary has achieved its high light rail use by not only not subsidizing parking, but also legally restricting downtown parking. The city redeveloped parking garages and made it hard to build new parking capacity, so that now its downtown parking rates are the highest in North America outside Manhattan.

  22. Richard January 11, 2010 at 2:46 pm #

    In Metro Vancouver, the results are striking, in Burnaby and New West, where the majority of the rail investment was made between 1996 and 2006, the transit mode share for commuting has increased dramatically. According to the Census, the mode share in Burnaby increased from 16.8% to 25%. The number of people commuting by transit increased from 13,000 per day to 23,000, a 75% increase. In New West, the mode share increased from 20% to 26.8%, even higher than the City of Vancouver’s 25%. Note that these percentages do not include working at home. If that is included, the numbers would be slightly lower.
    The City of Vancouver, if working at home is include, the mode share of driving alone to work was below 50% in 2008. If passengers are included, the percentage of people getting to work by automobile was only slightly over 50% (52.6%). With higher gas prices, the Canada Line opening and major cycling improvements since 2006, I expect the percentage of people commuting by car is now below 50%.

  23. Adams January 11, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

    I don’t see how you can seriously interpret these numbers as showing anything but failure. Portland is the most aggressively pro-transit large city in the country. Transit has more political support in Portland than any other city. Portland has expanded its transit system and encouraged its citizens to use transit more than any other city. And yet it hasn’t produced any improvement in transit’s share at all. And note that Jarrett’s chart refers to the type of trip (commutes) for which transit is likely to be at its most competitive with driving.
    Portland’s goal of tripling the non-auto market share by 2035 may not be literally impossible, but it does seem very, very unlikely.

  24. Adams January 11, 2010 at 4:48 pm #

    Looking at the John Charles article, it states the goal as a “tripling of walking, biking, and transit use by 2035.” It doesn’t say a tripling of non-auto market share. So perhaps the goal is only to triple the number of non-auto trips. If the statement refers to the Portland region or metro area rather than to only the city itself, perhaps a tripling of non-auto trips is feasible if the region’s population grows fast enough.

  25. Pantheon January 11, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

    Alon, thank you for that information. I wasn’t aware of that. It just goes to show that driving in general and parking specifically needs to be made expensive and difficult to achieve mode share changes. Calgary is a great example of a typical conservative western city that didn’t have a strong transit culture, but which made the right decisions to build one from the ground up when the oil boom hit their city. For some reason the simple steps you outlined seem to be much more difficult in the United States.

  26. A Planner in PDX January 11, 2010 at 9:25 pm #

    Couple of thoughts:
    – Didn’t Portland change their parking cap during the late 90s early 00s?
    – It would be interesting to see statistics on where Portland residents work, especially in relation to where they live. Do they work in a location that allows a viable transit journey?
    – Also, breaking down the modes by the household characteristics would also be interesting :: do people with kids drive to work more often?
    But other than that, Portland is still constrained by the many of the same regulations operating in US cities that constrain the type of change that many wish to see (Canadian examples are nice, but there are too many fundamental differences in how things are done to make comparisons meaningful).

  27. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org January 12, 2010 at 1:03 am #

    @ Planner.  My recollection is that the once-rigid parking cap was lifted in the mid-90s, before this chart begins.  But I'm sure a local here will correct me.

  28. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org January 12, 2010 at 1:07 am #

    @ Adams.  I would definitely understand "tripling of walking, biking, and transit use by 2035" as a tripling of the rate of use, i.e mode share.  I would like to think that the inner-city densification that's occuring would increase all three of those modes, but I'd be more comfortable if I'd seen walk trips go up in this interval.

  29. MU January 12, 2010 at 8:17 am #

    The two big shifts in the chart (driving share drop in 06-07 and rebound in 09) correlate fairly nicely to gasoline prices. Gas settled pretty firmly above $3 in mid 2007 and then dropped back at the very end of 2008.
    As long as the costs of driving (fuel, parking, road maintanence) are subsidized it will be difficult to get significant gains in transit share.
    While the overall numbers are disappointing, I think the real story is the increase in cycling mode. I’m pleased to see this go up significantly as the costs to improve infrustructure for this mode are massively lower than for any other mode and the resulting benefits to congestion, pollution, health, financials, etc. are superior to even the best mass transit systems.

  30. Watson January 12, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    As long as the costs of driving (fuel, parking, road maintanence) are subsidized it will be difficult to get significant gains in transit share.
    I really don’t think you want to go there. Eliminating subsidies for driving would raise the cost of driving by just a few per cent. Eliminating subsidies for transit would raise the cost of using transit by a factor of three or four. Direct subsidies alone are over 70 cents on the dollar.

  31. MU January 12, 2010 at 10:26 pm #

    Eliminating subsidies for driving would raise the cost of driving by just a few per cent.
    I’ve not done deep analysis on this. But the often quoted figure is that we subsidize driving to roughly the equivalent of $3-$4 per gallon. (Stanley Hart and Alvin Spivak, The Elephant in the Bedroom. Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 1994)
    And that figure only accounts for “hard” costs directly related to automobile infrastructure. If you add in health care costs associated to higher pollution levels, quality of life loses to auto centric design, costs associated with exporting large amounts of our national income to foreign oil producers, etc. the results are much higher.
    But my broader point was not to argue we should end all subsidies. We subsidize all sorts of things and should continue to do so. That is one of the key roles of government, to identify projects that are in the public good but that are unlikely to arise solely by free market action and puruse them.
    Ultimately, my main point was that if you want good mode shift payoff for your investment, bicycle infrastructure is the way to go. Bike projects are of negligible cost compared to any road or transit project. Furthermore, every trip shifted to cycling has much more payoff in terms of social benefits than even the best mass transit.
    We’re going to need a wide array of transportation options, but sometimes I think we ignore the easy solutions for the big flashy multi $billion prestige concepts.

  32. Watson January 13, 2010 at 10:20 am #


    This study
    , from the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, found that subsidies to motor vehicle users amount to between 20 cents and 70 cents per gallon of gas (in 2002), depending on how “subsidies” is defined. The author notes that the 20 cents number is similar to the estimates produced by the Transportation Research Board and the FHWA. This lower number includes all direct public subsidies, including municipal parking. The higher number is rather fanciful, as the author acknowledges, and includes such things as the cost of U.S. military protection of middle-east oil supplies.
    At an average fuel economy of 20 mpg, 20 cents per gallon is 1 cent per vehicle-mile. This is about 2 per cent of the total average cost of driving (AAA driving costs 2002). Eliminating all direct subsidies for motor vehicle users would therefore be expected to raise the costs of driving by an average something like 2 per cent.
    For transit, direct subsidies are over 70 per cent, according to government figures.

  33. Nathanael January 14, 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    I definitely got the impression that several of the rail lines were simply designed to reduce operating costs for buses, by replacing a line with a gazillion buses with a rail line. The Airport line and Yellow line have that feel.
    The analysis solely of in-City-of-Portland movements is very suspicious and really makes it rather unhelpful. It does perhaps tend to indicate that MAX has been built more for suburbanites than for City dwellers, but we knew that already, didn’t we? And perhaps that inner-city service has been allowed to decline, but that has been widely reported too, yes?

  34. Russell in Cincinnati January 19, 2010 at 4:23 am #

    You calculate that government subsidies to private cars are only 2 percent of “the cost” of driving, but subsidies are 70 percent of the cost of transit. Such ignore-the-big-picture calculations greatly downplay the significance of gas price subsidies to our car culture. That calc hides the paranoia-encouraging fragility of our car-centered lifestyle, and hides the wonderful overall immunity of cities with great public transport to rising energy prices.
    For example, by your narrow logic, if gas went from $2.50 to $7.00 per gallon, peoples’ perceived cost of driving would only go up by 50 percent. Not a big game-changer. But that’s absurd, because if the cost of gasoline went up by $4.50 per gallon, the overall cost of living for a three-person family in a mindlessly gas-wasteful urban area like Atlanta would go up by a crippling thousand dollars per month.
    If Atlantans had another large city with serious, frequent public transport like Barcelona to move to, you’d see mass behavior change and exodus of people and jobs to the sister city–where the $4.50 per gallon gas price increase would only increase the family’s cost of living by eighty dollars per month (search the web for peter newman 103GJ/person).
    If you doubt that life and public transport in the sister city would remain calm in the face of seven dollar per gallon gasoline, consider that for years Barcelonan gas prices have already been close to (or even over) seven dollars per gallon.

  35. Jorgypdx January 20, 2010 at 9:57 pm #

    I would just add that you need to dig deeper into the survey results and look at the demographic profile of the respondents. Only 3,000 returns that are not representative of Portland as a whole. They are Older (35% over 60 years), Whiter (+10% above citywide total), and female (60%).

  36. Allan January 25, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    One of the problems in Portland is “Job Sprawl” While downtown is getting denser for residential, alot of the higher-paying jobs are in the suburbs, causing folks to drive to work. If residential and jobs were both increasing downtown, the numbers might look better.
    Just my $0.02

  37. Tilbrutus June 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    some points:
    -It rains in Portland (too much for some individuals) Solo driving is more conducive to convenience of travel, something all non-car transportation has to deal with, bicycling in particular.
    -The breakdown of solo-driving to rail transit commutes makes me wonder how people who drive to a park and ride and then go by rail are accounted for? Are they rail users or solo car commutes, or both? Ditto a bicycle to a lesser extent.
    -Portland light rail system is based on, as are all transit in America networks, a radial layout. That means that if you want to go form Greshem to Clackamas you have to go downtown, re-commute outward again. Its a problem most cities transit networks have to deal, but in Portland with its growth pattern, its particularly acute. The transit system in built to move people downtown to work, but if job growth is not there due to physical limitations or previous development realities, then you have then a central oriented plan has only limited means of expansion.
    -Portland is a compact city with a small downtown core and urban growth boundaries (historical if not present, LCDC as I remember) both somewhat atypical for a Western US city. Comparisons with other cities with extensive urban sprawl are suspect i.e. non-work rail travel may be a significantly more important in Portland than lets say – L.A.
    -Likewise, my understanding is a significant portion of Portland’s new residential growth has occurred in Downtown and adjacent precincts. If this is the case, one would not expect much increase rail ridership (except in “no-fare zones”, but I’m not sure how that’s accounted for, if at all), but more walking and bicycling.
    -Any successful transit project carries with it the seeds of its own destruction, not just Portland’s. By that I mean the more people use mass transit, the less people drive, the less congestive freeways are, the less difficult sole auto travel is in general. Hopping in a car is always the least common denominator in commuting, its negatives easily rationalized in the short haul; the fall-back means to an end. Conversely, crowded trains is in itself a negative in the psychology of choice mass transit has to overcome. Many people would regard standing for a commute as a reason to go elsewhere.
    I saw TriMet rail in its infant days of MAX, east side to downtown being the only run. Predicted to have little ridership, little more than a conspiracy by planners to inflict their world view at taxpayer’s expense, metropolitan light rail in Portland has come a long way. You need to have a longer range view both backwards and forwards to understand the positive impact it has had and will have one unique, and I emphasize unique, urban fabric.
    That said, for better or worst light rail is an integrated part of Portland life and lifestyle. I don’t think many Portlanders are willing to give it up or even reduce its presence, because its yet to break, for whatever reason, a statistical plateau.