Transportation in Portland, Oregon: Wikis


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Road bridges across the Columbia and Willamette Rivers are a critical piece of Portland's transportation infrastructure.

Like transportation in the rest of the United States, the primary mode of local transportation in Portland, Oregon is the automobile. But Portland's reputation as a well-planned city is due to Metro's regional master plan in which transit-oriented development plays a major role. This approach, part of the new urbanism, promotes mixed-use and high-density development around light rail stops and transit centers, and the investment of the metropolitan area's share of federal tax dollars into multiple modes of transportation. This focus is atypical in an era when automobile use led many areas to neglect their core cities in favor of development along interstate highways, in suburbs, and satellite cities.[1]


Mass transit

Commuting statistics for major U.S. cities in 2006

Portland is well-known for its comprehensive public transportation system. The major bus and rail system is operated by TriMet, its name reflecting the three metropolitan counties it serves (Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington). Portland's rate of public transit use (12.6% of commutes in 2006) is comparable to much larger cities like Los Angeles, and higher than in most similarly sized U.S. cities, but is lower than in some similarly sized cities, such as Baltimore and Seattle.[2]

The entire downtown Portland area (the city center) is in the "Free Rail Zone", within which rides on light rail and streetcars are zero-fare. The fare-free zone covers most of the area between the Willamette River and Interstate 405, from Union Station to Portland State University, and in 2001 was expanded to include a portion of the Lloyd District on the eastside.[3]

Buses and bikes in downtown Portland

Within Fareless Square is the Portland Transit Mall, a transit-priority corridor on which buses and light rail trains from many different parts of the region converge. First opened in 1977, and for three decades served only by buses, the transit mall underwent major changes in 2009. Tracks for light rail (MAX) have been added, bus stops respaced, and the left lane opened to general traffic (but with right turns prohibited).[4] To facilitate this major renovation and rebuilding, lasting more than two years, all bus routes using the mall were diverted to other streets (mainly 3rd and 4th avenues) starting in January 2007.[5] The transit mall reopened to buses on May 24, 2009,[6] and operator training runs on the new light-rail tracks took place during the late spring and summer.[7] Light rail service on the transit mall was introduced on August 30, 2009, when the MAX Yellow Line moved to the mall from its previous routing.[8] The new MAX Green Line opened 13 days later, on September 12, and it also serves the downtown transit mall.[9]


MAX light rail

A MAX train of the newest type, in service on the Blue Line

Portland's light rail system, named MAX (short for Metropolitan Area Express), consists of four color-coded lines as of September 2009:

  • The Blue Line is a 33-mile (53 km) east-west route. It begins in Hillsboro, a western suburb, passes through Beaverton and downtown Portland, then across the Willamette River, through Northeast Portland and east to the city of Gresham. The 15-mile line between downtown and Gresham was the first light rail line opened in Portland, in 1986. MAX lines first became designated by colors in 2000.
  • The Red Line incorporates a 5.6-mile (9 km) north-south addition between the airport and the Gateway Transit Center near the northeast Portland neighborhood of Parkrose. From that point the line overlaps the Blue Line, running west to downtown and beyond, terminating at the Beaverton Transit Center, where it and the Blue Line meet WES, a commuter rail service.
  • The Yellow Line added 5.8 miles (9.3 km) to the system. It connects North Portland's Expo Center with downtown. This line is often referred to as "Interstate MAX" because much of it runs along Interstate Avenue, and parallel to I-5. Until 2009, the Yellow Line followed the same mostly east-west alignment through downtown Portland as used by the Blue and Red lines, traveling along Morrison Street (westbound) and Yamhill Street (eastbound) through the core of the business district. However, on August 30, 2009, the Yellow Line shifted to a new north-south alignment through downtown that has been constructed along the Portland Mall (see Green Line).[10]
  • The Green Line runs from Clackamas Town Center, in the Clackamas area, north along I-205 for 6.5 miles (10.5 km) to the Gateway transit center, where the Blue and Red Lines meet. From Gateway, it joins them and travels westwards to downtown Portland along the 1986-opened tracks extending to the Steel Bridge. From there—a new junction on the bridge's west deck—the Green Line uses 1.8 miles (2.9 km) of new tracks passing Union Station and running mainly along the transit mall for the remainder of its route through downtown, sharing that routing with the Yellow Line and terminating at Portland State University.[9]

The next proposed MAX line is a 7.3-mile (11.7 km) extension south from the Portland Mall to Milwaukie. Officially named the "Portland–Milwaukie Light Rail Project", it has not yet been assigned a final route color.[11] TriMet maps suggest it may be the Orange Line, but it is more likely to be opened as an extension of the Yellow Line. It would cross the Willamette River on a new bridge and then turn southwards, passing through Southeast Portland along a combination of existing railroad right-of-way and SE McLoughlin Blvd., to downtown Milwaukie. The terminal station would be at Park Avenue, just south of downtown Milwaukie. At the end of March 2009, the Federal Transit Administration approved the start of preliminary engineering work for this new line, and TriMet hopes to begin construction in 2011 and open the line in 2015.[12]

Portland Streetcar

A Portland Streetcar

The Portland Streetcar runs on a 3.9-mile (6.3 km) route from Legacy Good Samaritan Hospital at NW 23rd Avenue through inner-Northwest and Southwest, including the Pearl District and Portland State University, to the new South Waterfront neighborhood, where it connects to the Portland Aerial Tram. The first portion of this modern-streetcar system opened in 2001.[13]

The last funding needed for a planned $147-million expansion, a 3.3-mile (5.3 km) second route serving the east side, was given tentative approval in April 2009,[14] and construction of this new line began in August 2009. See Portland Streetcar (Future expansion) for more detail.

In the longer term, area urban planners hope to make use of the right-of-way preserved by the Willamette Shore Trolley to more than double the length of the first streetcar line with an extension of about 6 miles south to Lake Oswego.[15][16]

Commuter rail

The 2009-opened Westside Express Service, or simply WES, connects the cities of Wilsonville, Tualatin, Tigard and Beaverton. It is one of only two suburb-to-suburb commuter rail lines in the country (along with Miami). Rather than electric railcars like those of MAX, the line uses FRA-compliant diesel multiple units running on existing Portland and Western Railroad freight tracks. The first rides open to the general public took place on Friday, January 30, 2009, and regular service began on Monday, February 2, 2009.[17]

Portland Aerial Tram

Portland Aerial Tram car descends towards the rising South Waterfront district.

A more unusual form of public transportation, the Portland Aerial Tram, is an aerial cableway used to connect the South Waterfront district with Oregon Health and Science University on Marquam Hill above. The cableway is two-thirds of one mile (1 km) long and was opened to the public in January 2007.


Portland has earned multiple "bicycle friendly city" awards[18][19][20], including being awarded platinum status by the League of American Bicyclists[21]. Portland also has the highest rate of bicycle commuting to work of any major American city with 4.2% of workers commuting to work by bicycle in 2006.[2] Portland's reputation as a bike-friendly City was enhanced by The Yellow Bike Project, a 1994 civic engagement action and the brainchild of Portland, Oregon activist Tom O'Keefe. After watching the documentary "Sex Drugs & Democracy", O'Keefe proposed painting donated bikes - repaired by at-risk-youth served by the Portland based Community Cycling Center - bright yellow, and deploying them for free use around Portland. "Gratis Pedalis Feralvus" was a tongue-in-cheek slogan for the quirky eco-transportation project. O'Keefe enrolled fellow environmental activists Joe Keating and Steve Gunther along with two Community Cycling Center employees into promoting and supporting the project. Project launch: On a weekday in East Portland, in front of a local radio station, a press conference was arranged by United Community Action Network (UCAN) Directors O'Keefe & Keating. They presented about a dozen bright yellow bicycles for free distribution. Local media showed up and that night's evening news featured what looked like scores of bright yellow bikes ridden by a variety of Portland characters. A local Earl Scheib franchise painted the bikes at no charge. The bikes' tires, spokes, pedals, chains, and even the handlebars were all painted mustard yellow.

The project was one of the first community bicycle programs in the United States. The Yellow Bike Project was reported in the New York Times, received editorial condemnation from the Wall Street Journal (an affront to private property rights) and culminated in a nationally broadcast Yellow Bike story on the CBS News Magazine 48 Hours. The Yellow Bike Project provided nearly 400 free bicycles available for unrestricted use in downtown Portland in its first six months. Though The Yellow Bike Project inevitably suffered from theft and vandalism of the bikes, in a broader sense the Yellow Bike Project was an amazingly successful publicity generator for Portland, Community Bicycling Programs and The Community Cycling Center. The Community Cycling Center, which helped to operate the Yellow Bike Project, has since developed its Create-a-Commuter program, which provides 375 free bicycles per year to individuals.[15][16] Some of Portland's bicycling advocates have participated in Critical Mass and Zoobomb activities.

An important milestone in Portland's utility cycling infrastructure was the expansion of the sidewalks of Hawthorne Bridge in 1997, which significantly improved the safety and ease of bicycle commuting across the Willamette River. Other bicycle-friendly projects include blue-painted bike lanes, and the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. A more recent project will bring covered bicycle parking to the popular southeast Hawthorne Boulevard shopping district[22], and bicycle access to the Morrison Bridge is planned to be improved[23]

2007 Tour de Fat group ride.

Portland is developing a network of bicycle boulevards to make cycling easier and safer. The east side of Portland is particularly well-suited for this technique due to its consistent grid of north/south and east/west streets. The boulevards are defined with a combination of street markings, signs, and better signals for crossing busy intersections.[24] In addition, the city has painted sections of hazardous bike lanes blue, in order to try to prevent car-bike crashes.[25] More recently, the city has installed experimental bike boxes that allow bicyclists to wait ahead of traffic at red lights.[26]

In 2004, a bike path along the Sunset Highway between Sylvan and Cedar Hills was completed, helping to link Beaverton and downtown Portland.

Overall, bicycle use in Portland has been growing rapidly, having nearly tripled since 2001. Bicycle traffic on four of the Willamette River bridges has increased from 2,855 before 1992 to over 16,000 in 2008, partly due to improved facilities.[27].


Portland Cascadia Pedicabs, and Pdx Pedicab, operate pedicabs in the downtown area. Portland Cascadia Pedicabs operates 35 pedicabs, and PDX operates 8 pedicabs in 2008.[28][29] Pedicabs offer safe, fun, and environmental transportation. Pedicabs are also used for special events. Pedicabs also collaborate with local public agencies such as the Portland office of Transportation, the Portland Old Town Arts & Culture Foundation, and the Old Town Chinatown Neighborhood Association to provide pedicab-led audio tours.[30]


According to a city video, in 1994 Portland became the first city to develop a pedestrian master plan.[31] Blocks in the downtown area are only 200 feet long, making walking pleasant. Many streets in the outer southwest section of the city lack sidewalks; however, this is partially made up with various off-street trails.[32]


State highways, numbered as Interstate, U.S and Oregon Routes, in the metropolitan area include:

Portland is also well known for the highways that it didn't build, or removed altogether, such as Interstate 505, the Mount Hood Freeway, and Harbor Drive.


The large number of bridges in Portland has given the city its "Bridgetown" nickname.

Willamette River

Bridges over the Willamette River, listed north to south:

Columbia River

Bridges over the Columbia River, listed west to east:


A pedestrian bridge over I-5 following under the Portland Aerial Tram is approved, funded, and expected to be complete at the end of 2010. See Gibbs Street Pedestrian Bridge.


Skateboarding and roller blading are welcome methods for travel around town. Downtown Portland includes signs labeled "skate routes" to aid the urban skater.[33] The Wall Street Journal stated Portland "may be the most skateboard-friendly town in America."[34]

Portlanders living downtown or in nearby neighborhoods have car sharing as an alternative, through Flexcar, which acquired Carsharing Portland in 2001. As of 2005, there are over 5,000 members sharing 70 vehicles which are located in neighborhoods such as the Pearl District, Old Town Chinatown, the Lloyd District, Hawthorne, and Brooklyn.

Rail service (intercity)

Long-distance passenger rail service to Portland is provided by Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, with trains stopping at Union Station. Amtrak routes serving Portland include the Coast Starlight (with service from Los Angeles to Seattle) and the Empire Builder (with service from Portland to Chicago), along with the Amtrak Cascades trains, operating between Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Oregon.


Portland's main airport is the Portland International Airport (IATA: PDXICAO: KPDX), located in the northeast quadrant, near the Columbia River, and 20 minutes by car from Downtown. PDX is also connected to the downtown business and arts districts by the MAX Red Line.

The Port of Portland's Hillsboro Airport (IATA: HIOICAO: KHIO) is an executive and general aviation airport located in Hillsboro, Oregon, and it the second busiest airport in the state. It is connected to the metropolitan area by MAX Blue Line, and is the starting point for many corporate and charter flights, including Nike, Inc. and the Portland Trail Blazers NBA team. Hillsboro is currently being considered for commercial traffic to relieve the increasingly congested PDX.

Troutdale Airport also serves the area. Portland is also served by Wiley's Seaplane Port, a private seaplane base on the Willamette.

Portland is home to Oregon's only public use heliport, the Portland Downtown Heliport (ICAO: 61J).

See also


  1. ^ Timothy Egan (May 31, 1987). "FOCUS: PORTLAND; SO LONG CARS, HELLO PEOPLE". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-12-14.  
  2. ^ a b U.S. Census, American Community Survey 2006, Table S0802
  3. ^ "Fareless Square Map". TriMet. Retrieved 2007-07-05.  
  4. ^ Rose, Joseph (January 22, 2009). "Weave through TriMet's work in downtown Portland". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2009-05-30.  
  5. ^ Redden, Jim (January 12, 2007). "Bye-bye, bus mall as we know it". Portland Tribune. Retrieved 2009-05-25.  
  6. ^ Rivera, Dylan (May 26, 2009). "Buses return to Portland's revamped transit mall". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2009-10-01.  
  7. ^ "Light-rail operator training begins on Portland Mall". Portland Business Journal. May 1, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-01.  
  8. ^ Tribune staff (August 28, 2009). "New MAX line opens downtown". Portland Tribune. Retrieved 2009-10-01.  
  9. ^ a b Rivera, Dylan (September 12, 2009 (online); September 13, 2009 (print edition)). "Riders pack MAX Green Line on first day of service". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2009-09-17.  
  10. ^ "MAX Yellow Line: Route and schedule changes effective August 30, 2009". TriMet. August 29, 2009. Retrieved 2009-10-01.  
  11. ^ "Portland–Milwaukie Light Rail Project". TriMet. Retrieved 2009-05-30.  
  12. ^ "FTA approves Preliminary Engineering for Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project". TriMet. April 1, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-30.  
  13. ^ Portland Streetcar: Streetcar History
  14. ^ "Feds give $75 million for Oregon streetcar". Portland Business Journal. April 30, 2009. Retrieved 2009-05-20.  
  15. ^ Metro: Lake Oswego to Portland Transit and Trail Alternatives Analysis
  16. ^ Van der Voo, Lee (April 2, 2009). "Portland-to-Lake Oswego streetcar plan rolls ahead on fast track". Lake Oswego Review. Retrieved 2009-04-09.  
  17. ^ Leah Weissman (February 5, 2009). "WES' first day — 'I plan on using it every day'". Beaverton Valley Times. Retrieved 2009-03-13.  
  18. ^ MSNBC North America's most bike-friendly cities
  19. ^ Bicycling magazine, Best Cities for Cycling (2008)
  20. ^ Scan of 2006 Bicycling magazine Best Cities for Cycling
  21. ^ Portland Tribune: Bike group gives Portland 'platinum' award
  22. ^ Hawthorne Boulevard Project, City of Portland
  23. ^ Morrison Bridge Bicycle & Pedestrian Improvements, Multnomah County
  24. ^ BTA: Bicycle Boulevards Campaign
  25. ^ Blue Bike Lanes Report, City of Portland
  26. ^ Bike Boxes, City of Portland
  27. ^ Portland Bicycle Counts 2008 (PDF), City of Portland
  28. ^ Pdx Pedicab
  29. ^ Portland Cascadia Pedicabs
  30. ^ Eco-Tourism in Old Town Chinatown, The Heart of Portland, Oregon, Old Town Chinatown neighborhood
  31. ^ Portland Walks - Be Safe
  32. ^ SW Urban Trails SW Urban Trails
  33. ^ [1]
  34. ^ Dougherty, Conor (July 30, 2009). "Skateboarding Capital of the World". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2009-07-31.  

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