There's little doubt that Portland is alternative transportation-friendly - and we're proud of it! We're always at the top of those lists. You know what I'm talking about: "Best Bike City"; "Most Livable City"; Sustainable City of the Year" and on and on. It's good. I'm not knocking it, but...
It's always good to take a look around and see how you stack up statistically. Interestingly enough, several other bloggers out there are thinking the same thing too - most notably Jarret Walker of Human Transit and Eric De Place of Sightline.
Let's start with De Place's piece. He's going straight by the numbers by looking at the 2009 American Community Survey (the mini, yearly Census survey) and comparing all Northwest cities. Here's a look at how Portland stacks up in bike commuting:
Not bad. But hey! Who knew that Eugene and Missoula were doing so well at promoting bike commuting? And remember - this is measuring "journey to work" (as it's called on the ACS data set) so you can't just write them off because they are college towns. Sure, Eugene and Missoula are different than Portland, but I'm still impressed by that bicycle commute mode split.
Now let's look at Walker's piece:
I'll let Walker explain the graph:
The x-axis is population, the y-axis is public transit trips per capita, per annum. The red triangles are the Australian cities: Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney. The purple circles are US cities: Honolulu, Portland, and Seattle. The blue dots are Wellington and Auckland in New Zealand.
But we're especially struck by the green dots, which represent Canada. The four dots are Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, and all are at the top of this heap despite relatively low populations. Even tiny Edmonton and Calgary are outperforming all the other cities studied, including Sydney and Melbourne.
As you can see, Portland's total public transit trips are much lower than similarly (and smaller) sized Canadian cities. What are Calgary, Vancouver, and Ottawa doing to entice so many residents onto transit? Walker delves deeper in a follow-up post and, although he doesn't directly answer my question, he does explain why Sydney, Australia has so many bus and rail commuters - high parking costs in the city's downtown.
Lest one of our intrepid media outlets seize on this post as a cry for parking increases I should make clear that I advocate no such position. But I do find it interesting that Sydney's transit ridership is so much higher than other comparable cities. It's worth examining more thoroughly.