One of the challenges you will face moving to Portland, y is figuring out how to get around Portland. Especially when it comes to avoiding rush hour traffic or navigating public transit. Fortunately once you’re able to understand the basic layout of Portland and the various transportation options available getting to where you need to go efficiently becomes fairly simple. You’ll also have a better idea of where you should live whether it’s in Portland Vancouver (just across the Columbia River) or any of the surrounding suburbs.
Transportation in the Big Five
With the Willamette River winding north and south through the middle of the city Portland is divided into five sections: Northwest and Southwest on the west side and North Northeast and Southeast on the east side. Burnside Avenue cuts across the city horizontally serving as a dividing line between north and south.
This makes Portland somewhat easy to navigate as the city even prefixes its street names with a handy N NE SE NW or SW depending on the area. The artsy NE Alberta Street for example is in Northeast section while Providence Park home of the Portland Timbers professional soccer team is on SW Morrison Street in downtown. Colloquially you’ll often hear Portlanders refer to places as being “in Southeast” or “up in Northwest.”
Due to the fact that the Willamette meanders to the west as it meets with the Columbia River Portland also has a north section that contains historic St. Johns neighborhood the hip Mississippi Avenue and sleepy Kenton.
Getting around town in your car
If you do need to use a vehicle it’s worth noting that Portland has three interstate highways running through it: I-5 I-84 and I-205. I-5 runs north and south coming down from Vancouver moving through downtown Portland and heading south toward Salem. I-84 runs east and west with its western terminus at I-5 heading east to the suburbs of Gresham and Troutdale and the scenic Columbia River Gorge.
I-205 runs north-south east of Portland’s city core and serves as a 37-mile bypass route of I-5 allowing commuters to avoid traveling through downtown especially during times of heavy traffic. Both I-5 and I-205 connect Vancouver in the north to Portland and its suburbs in the south.
Portland is also known for its bridges—all 11 of them—that allow commuters to move across the Willamette River. It’s important to note that five of these bridges have lifts so the occasional large vessel or tail sailboat passing through may cause minor delays. When this happens during rush hour it can add a few minutes to your commute time.
You should also keep in mind that one of the bridges the newly opened Tilikum Crossing is for pedestrians bicyclists and public transit vehicles only—so it’s not an option for motorists.
Exceptional public transportation
A recent study ranks Portland tenth for heaviest rush hour traffic of all metro areas in the country. Fortunately residents also have access to one of the top public transportation systems nationwide in TriMet with light rail and buses in addition to the Portland Streetcar and Portland Aerial Tram.
TriMet serves Portland and its suburbs with its MAX light rail offering five different lines for commuters. The Blue line runs from downtown Gresham to the east through several east neighborhoods and downtown Portland and all the way out to Beaverton and Hillsboro on the west end. The Red line has a similar route but instead of Gresham its east end is at Portland International Airport in Northeast.
The MAX Green line connects downtown (starting at Portland State University) to the outer southeast neighborhoods along with the suburb of Clackamas. And the Yellow line moves from PSU through downtown and up to the northeast neighborhoods of Boise-Eliot Piedmont and Kenton stopping at the Portland Expo Center.
The newest MAX line is Orange which opened in September 2015. The line runs from PSU downtown through inner southeast and all the way down to Milwaukie.
In addition to light rail Portland has a comprehensive bus system with 79 routes running through all of the city’s neighborhoods and most of its suburbs. Nearly all of TriMet’s buses are equipped with bicycle racks and riders may also use a mobile ticketing app to purchase tickets and track arrivals.
Traveling across the bridge
When commuting to and from Vancouver there is an I-5 Express route run by the city’s C-TRAN system getting you to the Portland City Center in roughly 30 minutes.
For travel within the Portland downtown area an option is the streetcar which has two main loops running through the west and east inner core of the city. The streetcar’s North/South line moves from NW 23rd Avenue through the Pearl District and downtown and to the South Waterfront in southwest Portland. There’s also the A and B loops which connect the east and west sides of the Willamette River moving across the Broadway Bridge to the north and the newly opened Tilikum Crossing to the south.
And for those who need to get to Oregon Health and Science University in the West Hills there’s an aerial tram from the South Waterfront offering a quick four-minute trip that allows riders some astonishing views on their way up.
One of the many nice aspects about living in Portland is just how easy it is to get around. In fact depending on traffic it may only take about a half-hour to get from one end of the city to the other. But before you make the move take into account the Rose City’s transportation infrastructure and layout to ensure you choose the right neighborhood for your needs.