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'Maxed out' cycling routes also blamed for loss of biking commuters...

A recent study has concluded that one of America's foremost cycling cities has seen a decrease in bike riding.

The study conducted in Portland, Oregon, found that cyclists made five per cent fewer trips last year in than in 2008—the first dip in ridership since record keeping began in 1995.

According to Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, the report cited the ongoing recession and Portland’s high unemployment rate (11.6 per cent), as well as a steep drop in gasoline prices as key reasons for the decline.

Jay Graves, president of The Bike Gallery and long active in Portland’s efforts to build and increase cycling, agreed that lower fuel costs and record unemployment were generally to blame.

“Gasoline prices dropped significantly (last year) and that made it easier for some to fall back into old patterns and old habits,” he said. “But the unemployment rate also kept more people at home instead of commuting to work.”

Graves pointed to another more subtle issue faced by Portland and other cities—the current level of bicycle infrastructure may be “maxed out.” If bicycle ridership is to grow, then the city needs to increase spending on bike lanes and bike paths, he said.

Graves’ view is supported by the report. “Another factor contributing to this year’s decrease in ridership is that the pool of people willing to use a bicycle for transportation is almost exhausted, given the appeal of the city’s current bicycle transportation infrastructure,” it says.

Other findings in the report found that fewer cyclists were wearing helmets—down four per cent for women from 86 percent, and three per cent for men, down from 77 percent.

In 2008, approximately 80 percent of all Portland cyclists wore helmets. The report offered no explanation for the drop in useage, but Graves speculated it could reflect the growing single-speed and fixie culture where some riders tend to avoid helmets.