Thursday, June 26, 2014

No Car? No Problem! - Our Trip to Portland, Oregon

Hello everyone! We are back from Oregon and feeling - well, pretty tired, to be honest, but that's because we had a fantastic time on our vacation. The first few days of our trip were spent in Portland, and it's true what they say - the dream of the 90s is alive and well there. When you're in Portland, the prevailing attitude is No car? No problem! Needless to say, we fit right in, and our decision to forego a rental car while we were in the city was a smart one. (We did drive a rental car when we left Portland to drive to Bend for the wedding weekend. It's also worth noting that we took Uber to and from the Will Rogers Airport on each end of our journey, which was easy, efficient, and cost-effective as always.)

Portland International Rose Test Garden
Once we arrived at PDX, we were immediately taken care of transportation-wise. The MAX, which is Portland's light rail system, leaves directly from the airport, so we were able to hop right on with our luggage to head to our hotel. Before we got to the MAX, however, we passed a group of several FULL bike racks, as well as a "bike assembly area", which must be a place where you can make adjustments and repairs to your bicycle before or after riding. It seemed to us like the airport employees overwhelmingly took advantage of the opportunity to cycle to work, which makes sense in a place where it's made so easy to do so. As we rode away from the airport on the MAX, we could see many paved trails available for cyclists in addition to the bike lanes on the roads.

That's a lotta bikes outside the airport.

Bike assembly area
That's what I'm talking about! The bike assembly area.
As we approached our MAX stop, the light rain progressively worsened, and by the time we stepped off with all of our luggage, we were assaulted by a full-on downpour, complete with hail. Our umbrellas provided pitifully little shelter for us and our huge suitcases, and our feeling of unpreparedness was compounded by the fact that everyone around us seemed blissfully impervious to the rain. The citizens of Portland were splashing around in sandals without umbrellas or waterproof jackets, riding bikes and going about their activities while we dragged our sopping luggage behind us and tried desperately to figure out which way we were headed, blinded not just by the rain but also by our sense of disorientation in a new city. Luckily, the torrent let up a bit once we were under our bus stop shelter, and we were able to hop on our bus with ease.

Once we got to our hotel and unloaded our belongings, we headed back out to explore the city. We were struck immediately by two things: first of all, we were shocked at how many dang cyclists there were. People were biking everywhere! At any one moment, we could look around and see at least 3 or 4 people on their bikes nearby, and it was clear that the vast majority of them were commuters - as in, not pros wearing kits and training, just regular people toting backpacks and traveling from place to place running errands. Bike racks were located *everywhere* and I rarely saw an empty one.

WAIT HERE, CAR. Bike lanes at intersections in Portland.
Secondly, we found out that being a pedestrian in Portland is the easiest thing in the world. There are sidewalks, crosswalks, and crossing signals everywhere, and furthermore, most of the crossing signals are automatic - as in, you don't have to press a button when you get to the crosswalk. The signals switch with the traffic lights. If there's a green light in the direction you're going, then the walk sign is on, period. Furthermore, drivers take pedestrian (and bike) right-of-way very seriously. Cars never creep into the crosswalk, and they always allow pedestrians to cross without trying to beat them or cut them off. Even when a sidewalk crosses a driveway, cars leaving the parking lot are very patient to let oncoming walkers cross before proceeding. This attitude is, to say the very least, refreshing. Being a pedestrian among a culture that accepts you wholeheartedly has interesting psychological effects; namely, it made us want to be better pedestrians. We never jaywalked or took any other kind of shortcuts; we always waited patiently for our signal, because we always knew the signal was coming, and that the surrounding cars would let us take our turn to cross. It was a surreal experience for us.

John on our riverfront bike ride.
The next couple of days were spent in much the same manner, but we did cross the river to spend more time downtown. The same alternative transportation infrastructure applied to the bridges across the river; we didn't experience a single bridge that was built only for cars. They all featured bike lanes and sidewalks, period. We meandered and eventually made our way to Washington Park, a huge, lush park that's home to the Portland International Rose Test Garden and the Portland Japanese Garden. Both of these attractions are beautiful, but we would particularly recommend the former, where hundreds of varieties of roses are grown in pretty structured gardens, and you can see it all for free.

Pioneer Square - an amazing public space. Note the MAX in the background.
We also got the opportunity to take a 7+ mile hike in Forest Park, which is an incredible wilderness experience considering that it's still an actual part of the city. Our path crossed the road a few times, and about half of those times, there was a bus stop located right off the path. You can literally take a bus to the middle of a hike in the woods in Portland. Furthermore, once we reached the end of our hiking trail, we were able to hop directly onto the MAX and take it right back into downtown. Being able to do this was an unparalleled luxury for the two of us.

Need to take a bus to the middle of the woods? Go right ahead!

Sequoias in Forest Park... IN Portland.
In Portland, we were constantly surrounded by alternative forms of transportation. Yes, there were plenty of cars and traffic, but there were ALSO many other options, and at times, we could look around to see the MAX, the streetcar, and several buses, as well as many people walking and cycling. The buses run out to the suburbs and multiple lines run every 15 minutes in those areas. Public transit is truly a viable option in Portland, and because of the positive culture surrounding it, people of every age, gender, race, and socioeconomic class make use of the many forms of transportation. What's happening in Portland is what I imagine to be close to the ideal of urban transportation, and I believe that Oklahoma City could take several lessons from them in order to develop into a world-class city of the future.

Stay tuned for our next post, a summary of what we see as the takeaways of our trip - the lessons that OKC could take from Portland to build a more pedestrian-friendly city with greater transportation options.


  1. Oh my gosh, I seriously wish I knew about this blog earlier. This is fascinating. I love, LOVE LOVEEE (could I say that more) Portland. It seems like the perfect place to live, mainly for the easy transportation. You are missed greatly by the way.

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