Yesterday I got a sneak peek at how bikes mix with the gleaming and futuristic new Portland Aerial Tram. Built by a cooperative effort between PDOT and OHSU, the new tram carries people from a new OHSU health center on the South Waterfront up to OHSU’s Kohler Pavillion.
I was joined by PDOT tram project manager Art Pearce, a rep from ODOT, PDOT bike coordinator Roger Geller, and volunteers from OHSU’s Bike Commuters Group.
Before we got on the tram, we took a look at the new bike facilities at the Center for Health & Healing. OHSU has put two secured (ID badge needed) bike parking cages in the parking garage and two outdoor bike racks directly adjacent to the lowertram tower.
Only one of the outdoor racks has been completed and it was completely full, even in this freezing December winter. I think planners might have vastly underestimated the need for bike racks near the tower. Many of OHSU’s estimated 5-600 bike commuters will use the lower tower as a park-and-ride because there’s no reason to have their bike up on the hill.
Once it was time to board the tram we rolled our bikes right on. The pod was spacious (there’s no seating) and currently bikes can be placed anywhere there’s room. Unlike on MAX trains, there are no hooks and/or markings to show where bikes can go. Pearce said they don’t want to be over-regulatory and for now they will keep this laissez-faire approach.
Our pod was far from full and our three bikes posed no problems, but I can foresee issues arising when space gets tight. I know this is a problem on the MAX and I doubt doctors in white lab coats would appreciate sharing their space with bicycles.
There’s also a permanent operator/attendent so — unlike the MAX — when and if tensions arise over space, having someone official step in will be helpful.
The ride was silent and the tram affords exciting panoramic views of Mt. Hood, the Willamette River and the city skyline. As we approached the upper tower at Kohler Pavillion I was curious to learn how bikes would get through the new building and onto Sam Jackson Park Road and other destinations.
Currently, there are three options available to bicyclists once they’ve disembarked from the tram pod. You can take an elevator down to Campus Drive or continue on through Kohler Pavillion and Sam Jackson Park Road. But this is where it gets tricky.
The most direct and obvious route is to wheel your bike directly through the halls of Kohler Pavillion and down a ramp to Sam Jackson Park Road. But according to Art Pearce, this is a “tenuous situation” because OHSU has some reservations about maintaining a clean, “hospital environment” while letting sometimes muddy and greasy bicycles in the hallways. They are also worried about people riding their bikes in the building (although I seriously doubt anyone would do this).
As long as people with bicycles are respectful, I’m sure they’ll continue to allow access through the hospital. After all, there’s really no difference (in principal) between a dirty bicycle, muddy feet, or even dirty wheelchair wheels.
If you want to completely avoid going inside Kohler Pavillion, the other option is to go directly from the tram tower onto an outdoor terrace on the east side of the building. This terrace leads you to a long set of stairs where OHSU has kindly installed a bike gutter that you can roll down. Once at the bottom of the stairs you can find your way to Sam Jackson Park Road.
The official public grand opening of the tram is scheduled for January 27-28th. According to Pearce, because they are expecting such large crowds, bicycles will not be permitted on the trams that weekend.
After that, everyone is free to give the tram a try. But if you’re planning on a joy ride, make sure to bring $4 for a ticket. There are no one-way fares, and unless you have an OHSU badge or an appointment with a doctor, you’ve got to pony up.
I’ve heard some talk about a “PillBomb” (a la ZooBomb), but unfortunately I think the steep ticket price might keep the frugal mini-bikers away.
Whatever kind of bike you ride, the completion of the tram has set into motion a lot of new issues about how to integrate bicycles into the new development on the South Waterfront. As construction continues and bike facilities are added, these issues will continue to bubble up to the surface. For example, Basil Christopher from ODOT told me they have already received calls from cyclists having trouble making their way from the Ross Island Bridge down to the tram tower.
Overall it was a good experience and I hope bicycles continue to be intelligently integrated into this and other South Waterfront projects..