Guide to Commuting in Portland
Odds are, if you’re thinking of moving somewhere in America, you’re moving to Oregon. That’s simply a fact. It’s one of the most inbound states in the country, and for good reason. With fast-growing metropoles like Seattle and Portland, Oregon’s economy is booming. Nowhere is this more prevalent than Metro Portland, which has seen housing prices rise for the last 6 years. However, this astounding growth comes with its own unique set of drawbacks. Namely, such a huge population growth tends to lead to congested streets, and Portland is no exception. In 2019, the Texas Transportation Institute ranked Portland as having the 14th (out of 90) highest congestion in the country compared to the other large Urban Areas (between 1 & 3 million) Despite that, Portland has managed to maintain a commute time that’s the 7th lowest in America (just under 30 minutes). Much of this is due to the excellent public transportation that the city has developed over the years. Buses, light rail, streetcars, and, of course, one of the largest networks of bike paths in the country (measuring at over 374 miles of bikeways) make one of the most congested cities in the country easier to get around. The second reason is Portland has the second-highest number of work from home employees in the nation.
The TriMet bus system is a sprawling behemoth with over eighty lines that will take you anywhere in the city. It’s particularly useful if you’re moving into the suburbs, as many of the bus lines connect with the trains that take you straight into Portland. If you’re willing to leave your car behind, this system can get you all around the city in no time flat. The most popular lines run every fifteen minutes, so you don’t really have to worry about missing one, as there’s always another one coming down the line. If you’re planning to a tight schedule, though, the TriMet website has a planner that can help you get where you need to go, exactly when you need to get there. One drawback is the MAX light-rail service ends at midnight.
Portland residents spend an average of 24.2 minutes commuting to work. This is lower than the national average, suggesting that commuters spend less time in traffic. Not only that, but the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 71 percent of Portland workers are still driving to work alone. If you currently live in or plan on living in the Portland metro area, carpooling is a sustainable option that could save you time and money. Arranging a carpool can also save you from biking during the 154 rainy days Portland sees annually. If you own a vehicle and plan on driving to and from the office every day, carpooling is something to strongly consider.
The best thing about the Portland area’s public transportation system is that all the different parts work in tandem with each other to make your commute easier. If you move to Beaverton or Oak Hills, you can catch a bus to the Sunset Transit Center and the MAX red line will have you downtown within a half an hour. These transit centers are scattered throughout the metro area and are a perfect hub for commuters to get to and from the city, as well as anywhere else in greater Portland. MAX also serves the airport from all over greater Portland.
The MAX light rail system runs all around the metro area and is perfect for getting around for your day-to-day needs. Riding it is ultra-convenient. Trains come every 15 minutes, sometimes even quicker. You can buy tickets in the stations themselves, or purchase tickets on the TriMet Tickets App.
The WES Commuter Rail runs less frequently, but it picks up the slack during the intense rush-hours in Portland for commuters between Wilsonville thru Beaverton and into downtown Portland. It only runs on weekdays during the morning and afternoon rush-hour, but it can make commuting to and from work much easier. If you’re moving to Portland, it’s a good idea to work out how and when to use this system. Luckily both of these services are run through TriMet, and the planner and ticket app will work for both MAX and WES services.
Around the city center itself, you can take the Portland Streetcar. It’s a shorter loop, and there are interactive maps telling you exactly when the next car is coming around. It also has its own mobile app where you can purchase tickets, and even store them for future use.
One great thing about all these systems working in concert with each other is their Hop Fastpasses. With these, you can buy hourly, daily, or monthly passes to ALL of these services (including busses) which make it much easier to switch between them while saving money at the same time.
As I mentioned before, Portland has one of the largest networks of bike paths in the country. This map is a great resource for finding your way around them. Somewhat appropriately, it also has the largest number of cycling commuters relative to its population (2.5%). SE and N Portland have one of the highest number of commuters. This has been something the city has been pushing, for quite some time, as it is one of the best ways to deal with both increased congestion and reduce the impact of cars on the climate. Fortunately, the weather is on your side here. While it may not be as hot year-round as places like Los Angeles, it rarely drops below freezing, even in the winter months, and during the rainy season, it’s still dry well over half the time.
The public transportation in the city is also designed to accommodate cyclists. There are secure bike lockers where you can leave your bike if you have to get onto a bus or train. If there’s space, and you don’t want to leave it behind, you can even put your bike on the bus or train with you in one of their designated spaces. However, these do tend to fill up at rush hour and during big events like games and concerts, so plan accordingly.
Portland is a busy place, which is why so many people want to move there. However, the city has put a dedicated effort into mitigating the problems of that growth in environmentally friendly and sustainable ways without building more freeways. It’s one of the more controversial topics. I hope this guide has given you some insight into how you can make the commute work for you.
Guest Written with Julia Cohan