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.
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.
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.
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). 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. The transit mall reopened to buses on May 24, 2009, and operator training runs on the new light-rail tracks took place during the late spring and summer. 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. The new MAX Green Line opened 13 days later, on September 12, and it also serves the downtown transit mall.
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. 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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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, including being awarded platinum status by the League of American Bicyclists. 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. 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. 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, and bicycle access to the Morrison Bridge is planned to be improved
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. In addition, the city has painted sections of hazardous bike lanes blue, in order to try to prevent car-bike crashes. More recently, the city has installed experimental bike boxes that allow bicyclists to wait ahead of traffic at red lights.
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..
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. 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.
According to a city video, in 1994 Portland became the first city to develop a pedestrian master plan. 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.
The large number of bridges in Portland has given the city its "Bridgetown" nickname.
Bridges over the Willamette River, listed north to south:
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. The Wall Street Journal stated Portland "may be the most skateboard-friendly town in America."
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.
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: PDX, ICAO: 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: HIO, ICAO: 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.