Highway Use Continues to Escalate in Portland

Portland Trends Compared to Seattle

The latest data released by the Texas Transportation Institute indicates that street and highway use per capita continues to rise rapidly in Portland, despite new urbanist planning policies intended to reduce automobile dependency.

  • From 1986 (the year before Portland's light rail line opened) to 1996, average passenger miles per capita in the Portland urbanized area increased 29.8 percent. This compares to an 18.9 percent increase in Seattle, which had neither light rail nor new urbanist planning policies.

  • The increase in private vehicle usage was particularly strong during the last year. From 1995 to 1996, annual person miles traveled by private vehicle increased approximately 1.75 billion, to more than 15 billion annual person miles.

By comparison, total transit passenger miles were 272 million. The increase in private vehicle use was more than 35 times the total light rail usage and more than six times total transit usage.

Further, the average route mile of the light rail system carries substantially fewer person miles than either a freeway lane or a surface arterial lane (city street).(2)

  • Light rail carries an estimated 10,600 person miles daily per route mile.

  • The average Portland freeway lane carries nearly five times as many person miles, at 54,700.

  • The average Portland surface arterial lane carries more than twice as many person miles, at 21,300.

1. Estimated from US Department of Transportation data. Assumes 1.61 persons per vehicle.

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