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Survey: Oregon bike ridership low due to air quality, safety

Oct 04, 2023

A bicycle rider on his daily commute in Bend.

Almost 40% of Oregonians in a recent survey say they bicycle less, according to research published by the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center, a Portland-based nonpartisan group that surveys state residents on various political, social and economic topics.

Among those more likely to report a decline in ridership are Oregonians living in rural communities, women and people over the age of 45. Many respondents noted how poor air quality due to wildfire smoke and hazardous road traffic have made cycling less enjoyable.

“I would say one of the most surprising things to me is how many people expressed concern about traffic safety and bicycles. People feel like it’s not safe to ride a bike a lot of times,” said Amaury Vogel, the associate executive director for the center. “People say that they would otherwise ride more, but they just don’t feel like it’s safe because of cars and traffic and pedestrians and other bicyclists.”

These concerns were surprising, considering how bicycle infrastructure is championed in many Oregon communities, Vogel said.

“I love to ride my bike, for my health, the environment, to save money and for decreasing car congestion,” wrote one survey respondent, a woman from Deschutes County. “However, the infrastructure is not in place to make it feel safe wherever I want to go.”

Tobias Marx is the parking services division manager for Bend and helps manage the city’s electric bike ridership program.

Traffic congestion near construction sites and downtown Bend was especially bad this summer, and whenever wildfire smoke spreads throughout the city, there’s a drastic drop in electric bike ridership, too, Marx said.

“I think we definitely see a correlation between the wildfire smoke and bike-share use,” Marx said. “It’s fair to assume that there’s a 70% decrease on wildfire or smoky days.”

To Alex Hoxie, the marketing director at Project Bike in downtown Bend, the smoke from wildfires can be incredibly frustrating to the mountain bike community. There can be a slowdown in bike rentals at the shop, although when the smoke prevents people from riding, the shop can see an uptick in people dropping off their bikes for maintenance repairs, Hoxie said.

Sometimes if mountain bikers are lucky, the smoke will form an inversion around Mount Bachelor, and people are still able to enjoy downhill mountain biking even if the air quality is poor in town, Hoxie said.

According to Central Oregon wildfire officials, three wildfires in Oregon are likely contributing to Bend’s poor air quality, including the Bedrock, Lookout and Wiley fires, burning in or near the Willamette National Forest. The Juniper Creek Fire, burning west of Lake Billy Chinook, is also contributing.

In the survey, 29% of respondents reported that they were riding more frequently. Those who reported cycling more often are more likely to be men, people ages 30-44, and parents of schoolchildren.

For this poll, the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center surveyed 2,514 Oregon residents aged 18 and over. The nonpartisan research group publishes surveys on new topics once a month.

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