Jul 25, 2023 - Transit

How Portlanders' local travel mileage stacks up

Data: Brookings; Note: Includes all biking, walking, transit and vehicle miles; Map: Alice Feng/Axios Visuals

The average household in the Portland metro area travels — by multiple means, excluding flying — 28,207 miles annually, just under the national average of nearly 30,000, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution.

  • But some households here travel less than half that mileage annually, depending on how close they live to activities such as jobs, shopping or recreation.

Driving the news: The Brookings Institution research explores household driving, biking, mass transit and walking data for the 110 largest U.S. metro areas to measure how close people are to where they work, eat, play, shop and more.

  • "For the average driver, living closer to multiple activity centers can save around $920 to $1,200 in annual transportation expenses, and reduce their carbon footprint by 2,455 to 3,020 pounds of carbon dioxide," the researchers found.

Why it matters: In addition to cutting pollution and saving money, it's about quality of life. "Helping people live closer to the centers of economic activity ... should reduce the distances people need to travel for many of their essential trips," the analysts wrote.

  • And "as more people travel by foot instead of a private vehicle, officials can feel empowered to build complete streets that include lower speed limits, protected bike lanes, and other amenities," they wrote.

Yes, but: Across all metro areas the researchers studied, only 37% of residents live within three miles of five activity centers.

  • Portland tips the other way; the study ranked Portland 28th out of the biggest 110 cities in the U.S. for least miles traveled.

Zoom out: Metro areas with lower average household travel are generally older or smaller than Portland, Adie Tomer, the report's lead author, told Axios.

  • Older cities "have the advantage of being developed before the automobile to a much larger geographic extent than Portland was," he said, while in smaller cities trips are shorter because "there's just less land area to cover."

The intrigue: An interactive map developed by Brookings shows that the average miles traveled can vary dramatically, even in neighborhoods right next to each other.

  • Tomer says that could be due to higher disposable income — potentially boosting out-of-town trips — or a few people with long commutes.
  • "All it takes is a few people … traveling really far distances to change the overall pattern" of a neighborhood block.

Of note: The analysis used a mix of metadata such as cellphone geolocation, credit card transactions and underlying demographic information to create a simulated model of average household travel.

The bottom line: The analysts argue that "building for proximity" will lower overall trip distances, making walking and biking and the benefits they bring more feasible.

Go deeper: The many benefits of "building for proximity"


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