Transportation in Portland, Oregon

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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.[1] 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. In the United States, 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.[2]

Commuting statistics for major U.S. cities in 2008.[dated info]

Mass transit[edit]

Portland has a comprehensive public transportation system. The bus and rail system is operated by TriMet, its name reflecting the three metropolitan area counties it serves (Multnomah, Clackamas, and Washington). Portland's rate of public transit use (12.6% of commutes in 2008) 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 others, such as Baltimore and Seattle.[4]

Buses and bikes in downtown Portland.

Within the downtown area (the city center) 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) were added, bus stops spaced farther apart, and the left lane opened to general traffic (but with right turns prohibited).[5] 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.[6] The transit mall reopened to buses on May 24, 2009,[7] and operator training runs on the new light-rail tracks took place during the late spring and summer.[8] 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.[9] The new MAX Green Line opened 13 days later, on September 12, and it also serves the downtown transit mall.[10]

From 1975 to 2010, all of downtown Portland was in Fareless Square, a fare zone within which all rides on buses, light rail and streetcars were fare-free, and starting in 2001 this zone also covered a portion of the adjacent Lloyd District. In 2010, free rides became limited to light-rail and streetcar service – no longer covering bus service – and the zone was renamed the "Free Rail Zone".[11] In September 2012, the fareless zone was discontinued entirely, due to a $12 million shortfall in TriMet's annual budget.[12]

Ben Holladay was the first person to offer public transportation to the city of Portland when in 1872 he opened the Portland Street Railway Company, a horsecar line on First Street extending to a garage at the end of Glisan.[13] In 1882, a second horsecar system was built for Third Street.[14] Ferries such as the O&CRR Ferry#2 were used to cross the Willamette River before the construction of the first Steel Bridge in 1888. At that point, rail expanded into Albina and East Portland. Horsecars took passengers across the river and steam trains took them further into the suburbs,[15] but both modes were soon replaced by electric streetcar lines, the first of which began operation on November 1, 1889, between St. Johns and Portland.[16]


TriMet operates a fleet of 603 buses on a network of 79 bus routes.[17] Twelve of the routes are designated "Frequent Service" bus routes, with more frequent schedules than other routes.[17] Originally intended to have buses scheduled every 15 minutes or less all day, every day (including weekends and holidays), budget cutbacks in 2009 caused TriMet to change "Frequent Service" routes to have 15 minute or less wait times only during weekday peak usage times in the morning and afternoon.[18] In August 2014, TriMet reintroduced 15 minute or less wait times at all times during weekdays on Frequent Service routes, with the stated goal of reinstating weekend 15 minute or less wait times on these routes.[18]

TriMet's bus fleet is made up of 30' and 40' buses, with half of the buses older high-floor models built from 1990–1994 and 1998, and the other half are low floor buses manufactured from 1998 to current.[19] In 2012, TriMet reinstated its annual bus purchase program and will have only low floor buses in rotation by 2017.[20]

TriMet's bus routes also include express buses from downtown Portland to South Beaverton, Sherwood and Oregon City, and express buses from Marquam Hill to Beaverton, Tigard, Southwest Portland, and Milwaukie. TriMet also has several "cross-town" routes that do not serve downtown Portland. The bus network operates predominately in a hub-and-spoke network starting with the downtown Portland transit mall, and includes outlying transit centers in Portland's suburbs.

In addition to the fixed-route service, TriMet operates a paratransit service known as LIFT which operates 254 minibuses and 15 sedans offering door-to-door service for citizens who cannot access regular TriMet services.[17]

MAX light rail[edit]

Main article: MAX Light Rail
A Siemens S70 MAX train, in service on the Blue Line
Since 2009, the Portland Transit Mall has been used by both MAX and buses.

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

  • 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 (24 km) 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 (9.0 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 Commuter Rail.
  • 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 had been constructed along the Portland Mall (see Green Line).[21]
  • 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.[10]

The next MAX line will be a 7.3-mile (11.7 km) extension south from the Portland Mall to Milwaukie, currently under construction. Officially named the "Portland–Milwaukie Light Rail Project", it has not yet been assigned a final route color,[22] but is tentatively being called the Orange Line.[23][24][25][26] It will cross the Willamette River on the Tilikum Crossing and then turn southward, passing through Southeast Portland along a combination of existing railroad right-of-way and SE McLoughlin Blvd., to downtown Milwaukie. The terminal station will 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 began construction on July 1, 2011,[27][28] and plans to open the line in September 2015.[27][29]

Portland Streetcar[edit]

Portland Streetcar
Main article: Portland Streetcar

The Portland Streetcar is a two-line streetcar system serving the central part of Portland—downtown and the areas immediately surrounding downtown. The system's first line opened in 2001 and, with later extensions, now follows a 3.9-mile (6.3 km) route[30] from Legacy Good Samaritan Medical Center 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.[31] In 2012, this route was given the designation North-South Line, or NS Line.

The system's second line opened in 2012 and extended service across the Willamette River to the Lloyd District and the Central Eastside.[32] It is named the Central Loop Line, or CL Line. The federal share of funding for this $148-million project, a 3.3-mile (5.3 km) extension and fleet expansion,[32] was approved in April 2009,[33] and construction began in August 2009. See Portland Streetcar (Eastside line) for more detail.

The Willamette Shore Trolley is a seasonal, volunteer-operated heritage streetcar service established in 1990 – after a 1987 trial run – for the purpose of preserving an approximately 6-mile (10 km) former Southern Pacific railroad right-of-way running south from Portland to Lake Oswego for possible future transit use. Plans to extend the Portland Streetcar along the right-of-way were mothballed in early 2012, but remain under consideration for the long term.[34] The right-of-way was acquired by a consortium of local governmental entities in 1988 for this purpose.[35]

Commuter rail[edit]

WES Commuter Rail connects the cities of Wilsonville, Tualatin, Tigard and Beaverton. It is one of only three suburb-to-suburb commuter rail lines in the country,[citation needed] along with Tri-Rail in Miami and the Inland Empire-Orange County Line operated by Metrolink between San Bernardino and Oceanside, Calif. 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.[36]

A few commuters use Amtrak to commute to Portland from Oregon City or Salem: in 2011, daily ridership between Salem and Portland reached 24,146 boardings.[37] While the schedule is very limited, the 20-minute ride from Oregon City is faster than any TriMet option, and tickets are cheaper.[37]

For intercity rail service to Portland, including Amtrak service, see the section below on Intercity service.

Portland Aerial Tram[edit]

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

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.


Bicycle use in Portland has been growing rapidly, having nearly tripled since 2001; for example, daily 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.[38] Approximately 8% of commuters bike to work in Portland, the highest proportion of any major U.S. city and about 10 times the national average.[39]


According to a city video, in 1994 Portland became the first city to develop a pedestrian master plan.[40] Blocks in the downtown area are only 200 feet (61 m) long. Many streets in the outer southwest section of the city lack sidewalks; however, this is partially made up with various off-street trails.[41] A 2011 study by Walk Score ranked Portland the 12th most walkable of the fifty largest cities in the United States.[42]

The Gibbs Street Pedestrian Bridge, a new pedestrian and bicycle bridge over I-5 near the Portland Aerial Tram, opened in 2012.[43]

Traffic flow[edit]

Many roads in Portland are one-way; roads in downtown Portland (Southwest Portland bounded by I-405) are virtually all one-way, forming a grid of alternating street traffic: for north-south roads, odd-numbered avenues (1st, 3rd, etc.) are southbound, while even-numbered avenues (2nd, 4th, etc.) are northbound, and similarly east-west streets alternate. This is partly due to the roads downtown Portland being relatively narrow (64 feet (20 m)).[clarification needed] This grid extends a short way west across I-405 into Goose Hollow, terminating at SW 18th Street/PGE Park, and extends to some degree north across Burnside into the Pearl District, particularly with the north-south streets extending into Old Town.

Most roads on the east side are two-way, but there are a number of one-way pairs along major routes: Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd (MLK)/Grand Ave (4th and 5th Ave), and 11th/12th east-west pairs are connected with bridges, with NE Couch/Burnside forming a pair east of the Burnside bridge from 3rd to 14th avenues, SE Morrison/SE Belmont forming a pair from the Morrison Bridge to SE 25th Ave, and SE Madison/SE Hawthorne forming a pair from the Hawthorne Bridge to SE 12th Avenue.


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

Notable highways never built, or removed altogether, include Mount Hood Freeway, Interstate 505, and Harbor Drive.[44]


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

Willamette River[edit]

A pedestrian and bicycle bridge over S.E. McLoughlin Boulevard in Portland.

Bridges over the Willamette River, listed north to south:

Tilikum Crossing is the name for a bridge under construction across the Willamette.[45]

Columbia River[edit]

Bridges over the Columbia River, listed west to east:

Intercity service[edit]

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.

BoltBus began offering Portland's first curbside intercity coach service in May 2012, with Seattle as its first destination.[46]


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 city's first airport, Swan Island Municipal Airport, opened in 1927 and closed in the 1940s.

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 the MAX Blue Line, and is the starting point for many corporate and charter flights, including Nike, Inc.. Hillsboro is currently being considered for commercial traffic to relieve the increasingly congested PDX.[citation needed]

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).

Other alternatives[edit]

Portlanders living downtown or in nearby neighborhoods have car sharing as an alternative, through Zipcar, which acquired Flexcar in 2007.[47] As of 2005,[dated info] 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.

Skateboarding and roller blading are welcome methods for travel around town. Downtown Portland includes signs labeled "skate routes" to aid the urban skater.[48] The Wall Street Journal stated Portland "may be the most skateboard-friendly town in America."[49]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Timothy Egan (May 31, 1987). "Focus: Portland; So Long Cars, Hello People". The New York Times. Retrieved July 31, 2012. 
  3. ^ Where the car is not king, a 15 August 2006 BBC News article on Portland transportation
  4. ^ "American Community Survey 2006, Table S0802". U.S. Census Bureau. 
  5. ^ Rose, Joseph (January 22, 2009). "Weave through TriMet's work in downtown Portland". The Oregonian. Retrieved April 15, 2013. 
  6. ^ Redden, Jim (January 12, 2007). "Bye-bye, bus mall as we know it". Portland Tribune. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  7. ^ Rivera, Dylan (May 26, 2009). "Buses return to Portland's revamped transit mall". The Oregonian. Retrieved October 1, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Light-rail operator training begins on Portland Mall". Portland Business Journal. May 1, 2009. Retrieved October 1, 2009. 
  9. ^ Tribune staff (August 28, 2009). "New MAX line opens downtown". Portland Tribune. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  10. ^ 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 September 17, 2009.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  11. ^ "Better have that bus fare today; Fareless Square ends". Portland Tribune. January 4, 2010. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  12. ^ Bailey Jr., Everton (August 30, 2012). "TriMet boosts most fares starting Saturday; some routes changing". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 1, 2012. 
  13. ^ Labbe, John T. (1980). Fares, Please! Those Portland Trolley Years. Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, Ltd. p. 18. ISBN 0-87004-287-4. 
  14. ^ Labbe, p. 19
  15. ^ Labbe, pp. 20–21
  16. ^ "Cars Running By Electricity; Formal Opening of the Portland–St. John's Line Yesterday". (November 2, 1889). The Morning Oregonian, p. 7.
  17. ^ a b c "TriMet-At-a-Glance 2014" (PDF). TriMet. February 2014. Retrieved 2014-09-10. 
  18. ^ a b >"Frequent Service". TriMet. Retrieved September 9, 2014. 
  19. ^ "Bus Vehicle & Fleet Facts". TriMet. 2009. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved January 3, 2013. 
  20. ^ "The first batch of 70 new buses rolls into service Tuesday, July 23". July 22, 2013. Retrieved September 10, 2014. 
  21. ^ "MAX Yellow Line: Route and schedule changes effective August 30, 2009". TriMet. August 29, 2009. Retrieved October 1, 2009. 
  22. ^ "Portland–Milwaukie Light Rail Project". TriMet. Retrieved May 30, 2009. 
  23. ^ "Regional Rail System Map 2012" (PDF). Dept. of Public and Government Affairs, Clackamas County, OR. Retrieved September 1, 2012. 
  24. ^ Rose, Joseph (June 5, 2012). "TriMet's Orange Line light-rail construction will disrupt Southeast Portland traffic for a year". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 1, 2012. 
  25. ^ Spitaleri, Ellen (August 14, 2012). "Seeing Orange". The Clackamas Review. Retrieved September 1, 2012. 
  26. ^ Harbarger, Molly (July 15, 2011). "MAX line brings change, downtown development". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 1, 2012. 
  27. ^ a b "Construction Updates". Portland–Milwaukie Light Rail Project. TriMet. Retrieved September 1, 2012. 
  28. ^ Rose, Joseph (June 30, 2011). "Construction begins on new light-rail bridge in Portland that will go up 'piece by piece'". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 1, 2012. 
  29. ^ Oregonian staff (May 22, 2012). "Federal officials commit $745.2 million to Portland-Milwaukie light rail". The Oregonian. Retrieved September 1, 2012. 
  30. ^ Morgan, Steve. "Expansion for Portland's MAX: New routes and equipment", pp. 38-40. Passenger Train Journal, "2010:1" issue (1st quarter, 2010). White River Productions.
  31. ^ Portland Streetcar: Streetcar History from
  32. ^ a b Redden, Jim (September 22, 2012). "East side streetcar service begins". Portland Tribune. Retrieved December 27, 2012. 
  33. ^ "Feds give $75 million for Oregon streetcar". Portland Business Journal. April 30, 2009. Retrieved December 27, 2012. 
  34. ^ Bailey Jr., Everton (January 25, 2012). "Lake Oswego officially suspends streetcar plans with goal of retaining Willamette Shore right-of-way for future transit use". The Oregonian. Retrieved February 28, 2014. 
  35. ^ "Lake Oswego to Portland transit project: Willamette Shore line right-of-way". Metro. Retrieved February 28, 2014. 
  36. ^ Weissman, Leah (February 5, 2009). "WES' first day — 'I plan on using it every day'". Beaverton Valley Times. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  37. ^ a b Rose, Joseph (March 5, 2012). "Amtrak gaining popularity among commuters who ride between Portland, Oregon City and Salem". The Oregonian. Retrieved March 6, 2012. 
  38. ^ Portland Bicycle Counts 2008 (PDF), City of Portland
  39. ^ Dougherty, Conor (May 16, 2009). "'Youth Magnet' Cities Hit Midlife Crisis". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved October 18, 2010. 
  40. ^ Portland Walks - Be Safe from the City of Portland website
  41. ^ SW Urban Trails, a website of the neighborhood coalition for southwest Portland
  42. ^ "2011 City and Neighborhood Rankings". Walk Score. 2011. Retrieved Jan 23, 2013. 
  43. ^ Koffman, Rebecca (July 12, 2012). "New pedestrian and bicycle bridge across Interstate 5 opens Saturday in Southwest Portland". The Oregonian. Retrieved August 10, 2012. 
  44. ^ Young, Bob (March 9, 2005). "Highway to Hell". Willamette Week. Retrieved December 19, 2012. 
  45. ^ "Portland–Milwaukie Light Rail Bridge Fact Sheet/December 2010" (PDF). TriMet. December 2010. Retrieved January 23, 2011. 
  46. ^ Lindblom, Mike (May 7, 2012). "Low-cost bus line to Portland on track to compete against Amtrak". Seattle Times. Retrieved May 8, 2012. 
  47. ^ "Seattle's Flexcar merges with rival Zipcar". Seattle Times. October 31, 2007. Retrieved January 23, 2011. 
  48. ^[dead link]
  49. ^ Dougherty, Conor (July 30, 2009). "Skateboarding Capital of the World". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved July 31, 2009. 

External links[edit]