Data shows suburbs-to-Portland still dominant commute
For decades, Oregon planners have tried to cut down on commuting by encouraging more job growth closer to where people live. Phrases like "jobs-housing balance" became buzzwords.
But despite those efforts, a new analysis of commuting data shows that the traditional model of commuting – people flocking from homes in the suburbs to jobs in Portland daily – is still dominant in the region.
Metro researchers recently released a chart showing how many people commute from place to place within the Portland region, based on data derived from the 2010 census.
The study found that workers in nine of the 10 largest cities in the Portland region send more employees to Portland daily than to any other place in the region – including the workers' home cities.
Only Hillsboro has more people staying in town to go to work than commuting to Portland.
Metro economist Dennis Yee said he's been tracking commute data since the 1990 census. He said not a lot has changed since then.
"In a way, that's surprising by itself," Yee said. "We've been doing a lot of social engineering in terms of trying to bring employment locations closer to where people live, through mixed-use zoning and attempting to spur development.
"I'm surprised it's not changing more," he said.
About 45 percent of employed Greshamites work in Portland; that number dips to 41 percent of employed Milwaukie residents, 38 percent of employed Lake Oswego residents, 31 percent of employed Beaverton residents, 29 percent of employed Tigard residents and 20 percent of employed Hillsborians.
Interestingly, relatively few people cross the Columbia River for work every day. The data showed that only 14,134 people left Vancouver for jobs in Portland daily. Portland-area residents were more likely to commute to Salem daily (about 7,000 people making that drive) versus to Vancouver (about 5,000).
The number two destination for employed workers was Hillsboro, which draws 3 percent of Portland's workforce, 17 percent of Aloha's, 11 percent of Beaverton's and Tualatin's and 6 percent of Tigard's.
Thirty-three percent of employed Hillsboro residents have jobs in Hillsboro. By comparison, about 17 percent of employed Beavertonians work in Beaverton; that number dips to 14 percent for Tigard, Oregon City and Lake Oswego, 12 percent for Tualatin and 8 percent for Milwaukie.
So why does Hillsboro succeed at keeping its people close to home during the day?
"Hillsboro seems to have a more diverse job mix – a lot of middle-income jobs, and they certainly have service and retail, which tend to be a little bit lower paying jobs," Yee said. "It matches very well with a Hillsboro that has all those kinds of household brackets."
Compare that to Beaverton, which has roughly the same population and workforce size as Hillsboro.
"There's not a lot of industrial jobs, not a lot of high-paying jobs," Yee said. "But you look at the housing mix in Beaverton… and it's pretty suburban."
Yee's research didn't compare Portland's cross-regional commute data with commuting statistics from other U.S. cities. It also didn't look at whether people predominantly used cars, trucks, boats, bicycles, buses, shoes, skateboards, stagecoaches or trains to get to where they work.
But, Yee said, other data shows that Portland is pretty normal when it comes to commuting – mostly because of human nature.
"How much people want to spend a day commuting is roughly the same. That's why if you look at all the MSA (metropolitan area) data for what's the average commute time, it all centers around 25 to 30 minutes," Yee said. "That's how much people can tolerate being in a car. You live as far away as you can tolerate."