Welcome to Portland, Oregon

Transportation

Portland naked bike ride, Image: drburtoni on Flickr

Biking

One of my top motivators for moving to Portland was its cycling infrastructure. In close-in Portland (how you define this is a little vague...), there is all kinds of infrastructure, from bike lanes to dedicated paths, signals, and neighborhood greenways (residential streets intended for cycling and low-speed, non-thru traffic). Within a large chunk of the city, you can get anywhere on a bicycle - and in my opinion, reasonably safely.

Neighborhood greenways are shown in green.

As a bonus, for the most part, Portland drivers are accustomed to seeing cyclists, and sharing the road with them. The city is certainly not without its asshole drivers, but everyday, practical city cycling is very common here.

The World Naked Bike Ride is here, it happens every year, and it's a lot like other group rides except some people are naked. It's also a great litmus test for what offends people.

If you are new to Portland, consider joining a few Pedalpalooza rides. Pedalpalooza is a series of themed rides that happens all summer. Bowie vs. Prince, Impromptu Poetry, LGBTQ, Parliament Funkadelic vs. The Meters? You are likely to find it here.

In the summer, PBOT (Portland Bureau of Transportation) run Sunday Parkways events, for family-friendly rolls through town.

Not accustomed to practical cycling (commuting, errands)?

Completely understandable. While this kind of cycling may be the norm in parts of Europe, this is not Europe. The best way to get started, I believe, is to take some leisurely rides when you are not in a hurry. East of the Willamette River, it is mostly grid streets. So is relatively easy to find your way. Northeast and Southeast, and Northwest and Southwest Portland are divided by Burnside Street. I recommend starting East of the river, it's a bit less confusing. Or join some Pedalpalooza rides.

Other resources

  • Bike Portland. All things cycling, cycling advocacy, keeping an eye on PBOT (Portland Bureau of Transportation).
  • Portland Street Trust. Expanding transportation choices to reduce dependence on drive-alone trips and make our streets safer where motor vehicles interact with other street users.

Trimet: Light Rail, Bus, Trolley

Trimet is the umbrella agency for light rail (MAX trains), trolleys, and regular old buses. The Trimet website has a pretty nice trip planner. Space permitted, you can bring your bike on all Trimet transit. One Pass To Rule Them All, also known as the Hop Card, gives you access to all these forms of transit. You can re-up the card online.

Light Rail map

Light rail, aka, the MAX

Within the city, MAX does a great job of moving you along a few primary corridors. However, large areas of the city are not reached directly by light rail.

Bus

The city offers numerous bus lines that can move you just about anywhere. The main disadvantage to the bus is that it can be slow, with less frequent service at night.

Courtesy Cleveland CTA (same racks there)

Bus + Bike or MAX + Bike

All buses have a rack for two bicycles on the front. This is really convenient if you want to ride your bike in one direction but use the bus for a return trip, or if the weather changes abruptly. You can also bring your bike on the MAX if it's not super crowded.

FX Bus takes you far East. (Not to the Far East, however)

FX2 Superlong bus

Portland recently added the "FX2" bus line, featuring extra long articulated buses, a rapid line from downtown all the way to the suburb of Gresham. I've ridden these buses in Los Angeles, and can confirm they don't actually wheeze like an accordion when going around corners.

Trolleys

I don't have much to say about the trolleys, as I hardly ever ride them. They serve a limited area, but if you are on their route and need to get from point A to point B, they should do just fine.

Don't forget walking!

Many parts of Portland qualify for the 15 minute city concept. That is, a neighborhood or region of the city where nearly everything you need access to in a given day is within a 15 minute walk, bike ride, or bus ride. In my neighborhood (Boise), I can access the following within 15 minutes:

  • Several grocery stores, from regular to bougee*
  • Pharmacy
  • Numerous coffee shops (duh)
  • Urgent care clinic
  • Carwash
  • Restaurants and food carts
  • Post office
  • Parks
  • UPS Store
  • Auto mechanic
  • Gym/yoga/pilates
  • Vegan ice cream (it's actually quite good!)

* (Bourgeois): Whole Paycheck or New Seasons.

Dogs over 50 lbs may legally drive in Portland (parking lots only).

Driving

First, the big question: do you need a car here?

That depends on a lot of things. If you don't need to regularly travel long distances, you can comfortably get along just fine without a car. However, as much as some might imagine it to be, Portland is not a car-free paradise. Many people drive, especially if they live somewhere poorly served by mass transit (outside the city core, or in the suburbs). Many others don't seem to be aware that they live in a 15 minute city, so they will fire up the car to drive 2 miles.

Car sharing options

Getaround, Turo, Free2Move all operate in the city. If you need a car for a few hours or a few days, these services can be very convenient. Cars are simply parked in the neighborhood, often right on the street, and using an app, you unlock the car and get on your way. No waiting in line at Hertz or Avis.

You can also list your own car at Getaround, if you have an affinity for sketchy companies and even sketchier drivers.

Do I drive?

Yes, I'll use a car for a few things:

  • Suburban destinations, where using mass transit could take three times as long, or in some cases, just won't get you there.
  • Longer trips, especially in cold and/or heavy rain.
  • Getting outside the city for nature activities.

Auto theft

Portland has a problem with auto thefts. Don't leave anything of value visible in your car, it may get nabbed. Shout out to PDX Stolen Cars, a volunteer effort to reunite stolen cars with their owners.