Portland Will Grow — But Without Adding Cars

portland cyclist

Nine miles of new bus and streetcar lanes. Thirty miles of new and upgraded low-stress bikeways. One thousand fewer parking spaces. That’s what’s on tap for central Portland after a 3-0 City Council vote yesterday.

The congestion battle plan, called “Central City in Motion” [PDF], would maintain the current amount of space for car traffic — roughly 39 percent of the city’s overall land — but remove parking spaces so that 6 percent of the land area would be set aside for bus and bike lanes, up from the current 4 percent. It is aimed at managing congested in the rapidly growing central city area, which encompasses about five square miles.

The $72-million plan includes 18 major projects, each of which adds either bike or bus lanes or both. These projects, city staff says, will increase the total people-carrying capacity of the streets by an average of 60 percent.

To move more people in the same amount of space, Portland is trying to convert people into more efficient vehicles. Image: Portland DOT
To move more people in the same amount of space, Portland is trying to convert people into more efficient vehicles. Image: Portland DOT

Sustainable transportation advocates in Portland are calling it a huge win.

Portland officials say the plan is needed because they anticipate big growth in the central city in the next two decades. Over the 5-square mile area, the city projects a 130-percent increase in residents and a 40-percent increase in jobs over the next 20 years. Without growth in the number of people using bikes and buses, that would lead to a 47-percent increase in traffic.

“We can’t add new streets, but we can use the streets we have more productively,” the city wrote in its plan.

Graphic: City of Portland
Graphic: City of Portland

Portland takes inspiration from the plan from Seattle, which has added 60,000 jobs in its downtown area this decade without increasing the number of cars on the road, thanks largely to strong transit investments.

Bus and bike lanes increase the potential carrying capacity of Portland’s streets, but only time will tell if the new street treatments are enough to motivate people to take full advantage, Sightline Institute’s Michael Andersen pointed out.

The plan promises to “create or improve more than 30 miles of low-stress bikeways,” and make safety improvements at 100 intersections. Since nearly half of the traffic crashes that result in fatalities or injuries take place in central Portland, the plan promises to greatly improve safety as well.

The plan was the result two years of public engagement from city planners.

23 thoughts on Portland Will Grow — But Without Adding Cars

  1. Next logical step given incredible advances in electric vehicle design: build and lease highway-capable short narrow track vehicles to offer single and duo occupant highway commuters road and weather protected vehicle option to drive and park in narrow lanes and parking spaces.

  2. This isn’t going to work without bringing back the 3-7 minute rush hour headways of the 90s and possibly the local/express buses on the longer routes. Trying to run TriMet like it’s Tulsa Transit with 30-60 minute rush hour headways is absolutely unacceptable and a real step backwards from 30 years ago.

  3. Portland’s more an extended suburb than a city anyway, despite there being a few tall buildings. There’s oodles of space. If they’d start building residential in town, they wouldn’t need to commute so far.

  4. You’re right and you’re wrong. While most of the city is suburban in character. The areas these improvements target are actually already very densely populated: between 12,000 and 19,000 people per square mile (which not quite Manhattan density is in line with San Francisco). These improvements will allow even more people in those areas. I should also point out Portland is currently in top five for number of construction cranes- So they’re adding a ton of medium rise and high rise buildings, particularly in this downtown core.

  5. Simply put, Portland caps building heights that limits the amount of people who live in the downtown area. You can’t treat yourself like New York,San Fransisco, and Seattle. You limit how many people live in these areas by having grossly wasted space above our heads. Portland is a small thinker and always have been, until you build up to bring the capacity of people needed to take advantage of the public transportation. It’s just more crowded roads. Also the cost to ride public transportation is very high, if one has a family. It cost way more to ride bus/max then it does to drive.

  6. I disagree, Portland not on the per capital level San Fransisco is in it’s core. That’s just wrong, just because you see a crane doesn’t tell you how big a building will be, it’s poor sitting planning by limiting building height. Let the market decide how big a building should be, just another way Portland limits jobs, growth, and the use of the public transportation they want to grown. Time will come when they will build up by that time, it’ll be to late. Portland really is, a suburb of a bigger city, except it’s supposed to be the big city

  7. I think they should put more people in the areas that are now exclusively commercial. Making dense places even denser hardly seem necessary.
    Take Mall 205, for example, which is struggling. The parking lot on the South side of the mall is barely used.


    You can see several oversized vehicles and skid tracks in the google image, all obvious signs that the place is mostly empty. Why not build a four story apartment building there?

  8. So that’s why TriMet keeps cutting service and no longer offers 3-7 minute rush hour headways on major lines, even though they did 30 years ago. And also offered over 100 routes with headways Dominos’ would be hard pressed to deliver a pizza to faster to any given stop.

  9. If only Portland had San Franscisco’s transportation infrastructure. TriMet blows goats for bus fare then walks home because walking is faster.

  10. The spirit of this is awesome. Also, making the streetcars run more in dedicated lanes is key, and they’re doing that. I have the same notes about the design, however, that most cities except maybe very recently Boston still haven’t gotten into their heads-
    1. Protected bike lanes (heck, all bike lanes) need protected intersections. They require no more space and are much safer, clearer and more comfortable.
    2. Stop putting bikes on the road-facing side of parking. Less protection, + dooring.

  11. Bullshit. Add in the cost of your car, depreciation, gas, insurance, parking, and then the of course the external costs that society pays when you drive (injury, pollution, wasted space, etc) and bus/max is way cheaper. Just because you send in a check for it monthly instead of paying it when you enter a vehicle doesn’t make driving cheaper.

  12. Do you put a price on your time just the time save is 10 thousand easy. also are you taking a bus to go to beach or Mt. Hood are you renting a car. I dont make payments I own. Go get a family of 5 for a month and use public transportation. $5 a day per person, does your kid have friends, sports, gotta get groceries. Add it up, then talk to me Rob

  13. Check out the article it links to. There’s nothing about taking away parking spots. Instead, it’s about increasing transit service, particularly buses.

    I’ve often thought on-street parking is sort of a third rail for planners – don’t mess with residents’ parking. Bravo to Portland!

  14. Portland is often interesting and different. I recall in the mid 70s it was called a “failed city” with dead downtown, ugly warehouse districts… but they rejected a proposed “Mt Hood freeway” (a beltway whose traffic and induced sprawl would have helped obscure the mountain so I thought it should have been called the “No Mt Hood freeway) instead starting the MAX light rail line. Soon after, converting a riverside boulevard to a park and establishing a large free-fare transit zone in the central city. Plus, consistent with its outdoor culture, bike infrastructure.
    All this has made Portland a victim of its own success. Too much population growth and sprawl despite urban growth boundaries. Still I wish I had bought property in the depressed 1970s, too late! Maybe Providence can learn a thing or two from this.

  15. Kevin Withers thanks for putting that out there. I have lived in Seattle and the Seattle area since the mid-1970s and I have watched efforts to add bicycle lanes and more mass transit get rejected or slowed down. Finally things are picking up speed. But the traffic in Seattle is often a huge nightmare. The other day it took me 2 hours to drive from West Seattle to downtown. Something that without traffic should have taken at most 30 minutes. Portland was wise to start making major investments in mass transit decades ago, Seattle was very dumb not to do the same. Instead they have waited for disaster to hit to finally motivate some of the needed change. Oh and the new underground tunnel that is supposed to help will replace what are now 2 – 4 lanes in each direction with only 2 lanes in each direction with no exits or entries in the main downtown which will lead to even more major traffic jams in the downtown from people being forced to exit far from where they want to be and then having to crawl in traffic to where they used to be able to exit to more directly. And yes you could say that having let it get this bad will force more use of bicycles and mass transit. But those options still have a way to go to catch up with the need and demand now.

  16. I’d be very interested to know what lines Trimet ever had 7 min. headways on, much less 3 min.? Thanks.

  17. 57 FOREST GROVE, 12 SANDY BLVD and 12 KING CITY were 7 minute rush hour. Banfield MAX and (briefly, basically until the 58X SUNSET HIGHWAY EXPRESS was closed, the 57 FOREST GROVE truncated to Beaverton, and the 58 CANYON ROAD went into service as 15 minutes or worse with buses half the length of what they were replacing) Westside MAX were 3 minutes at rush hour (and before Beaverton Central opened, it wasn’t uncommon for trains to stop briefly at the signal next to OR 217 near Walker Road to wait for the signals through to Millikan Way to go green for a train calling at Beaverton Transit Center, which occasionally happens now when a Blue train that’s been riding the yellows since Gateway wants to continue into Track 2 at BTC after a Red Train flipped the points to go into Pocket A).

    Washington County traffic has largely increased fundamentally due to TriMet’s service cuts in the last 20 years. There used to be more capacity in places people actually live and work, now everybody’s funneled into terrible service on long headways on the abandoned Oregon Electric Railway line, almost entirely uninhabited 20 years ago and now largely inhabited by 1%ers that can actually afford to live near transit (and drive to avoid the plebs).

  18. I lived in Phoenix for 4 years. I put 2 tanks of gas a week into my car. I moved back to Portland and live 5 miles from the city center. I put 1 tank of gas every 2 months into my car. Transit is far more relaxing and easy in Portland. If I lived below 39th Street, I probably wouldn’t need a cat at all. N

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