Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Taking bikes on the new tram

Posted by on December 19th, 2006 at 12:49 pm

[Watch video coverage by
CrankMyChain Cycle TV.]

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.

My bike ride on the new Tram

[Full racks near tram tower.]

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.

My bike ride on the new Tram

[Inside the tram pod.]

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.

My bike ride on the new Tram

[PDOT’s Art Pearce]

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.

My bike ride on the new Tram

[The bike gutter.]

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.

[Wheeling onto the tram pod.]

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..

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  • tonyt December 19, 2006 at 1:02 pm

    And so begins the bikeportland.org/crankmychain media empire.


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  • bobby December 19, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    I know that Mr. Pearce is an avid bicycle commuter. It is good to have such a person in a position of influence at PDOT!

    He is also quite handsome!

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  • Austin December 19, 2006 at 1:22 pm

    That was awesome! Its so good to see video come to BikePortland.

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  • TR December 19, 2006 at 1:32 pm

    A great story as always Jonathan and I loved the video. I hope you get to claim that hefty fare as a business expense.

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  • sara December 19, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    Being able to park at the waterfront will be nice when it’s so cold or so hot that my legs don’t want to take me up the hill. I hope that OHSU continues to allow bikes through the building to the elevator because the bike gutter, while thoughtful, is a pain to use.

    Thanks for covering the tram from a bike perspective!

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  • Dabby December 19, 2006 at 3:26 pm

    I am so happy to be able to say I will never take the “SHAM”.
    And, this article while well written, well points out the obvious problems that come along with such a gross expenditure of Portland money.
    Already, before even really being open to the public, not enough bike parking. And secure, covered parking only for ID badges? That is crap. Offer it to everyone.
    $4 cover. I hope they have a disco ball and lit dance floor, ’cause that is outrageous. OHSU is obviously trying to recoupe the outrageous cost by overcharging those who’s tax dollars are what really made this come together.
    I give the bikes through the hospital hallway 5 weeks before it is shut down. OHSU will discover what water that comes off a brake pad does to white floors. Wheel chairs do not have even close to the capability to make grime like a brake pad does.
    Bike gutters.
    We have them in other locations. They are ludicrous, silly things that actually make it more difficult to move your bikeup and down stairs.
    I am glad to see your article on the “Sham”.
    It brings to light much of what i have expected fro this tram, and from OHSU.
    But, I don’t even trust the doctors up there, so why would I ride it anyway? The last time I went there for medical treatment, it ended up badly.
    Lucky me…

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  • PFin December 19, 2006 at 3:28 pm

    PillBomb! I used to pillbomb four days a week from the BICC Library. Great ride down the back (north?) road.

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  • JV December 19, 2006 at 4:25 pm

    “I doubt doctors in white lab coats would appreciate sharing their space with bicycles.”

    Seriously?? This is one of the more surprising (and, I hope, inaccurate) things I’ve seen you write in a while. You’d be surprised how many of those bike commuters *are* physicians…..


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  • amanda December 19, 2006 at 4:28 pm

    Sad to hear that the bike gutters are hard to work with — I’ve never seen them and they looked pretty cool here. Is it just the fact that you’re dealing with gravity that makes it difficult or something else?

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  • Brad December 19, 2006 at 4:41 pm

    Four bucks to ride that thing?! Nice going OHSU! What a clever way to keep poor people, illegals, and indigents out of your hospital.

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  • Dabby December 19, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    They are set so close to the rails of the stairs generally, as the picture shows, that your handlebars are continously catching on the railing.
    Unless your handlebars are set at just the right height, it really does not work.
    If they sacrificed a little more stair area, set the gutters back from the rail more, it could maybe work.
    But, I am sure, due to disability acess, this would not be possible. The elderly and handicapped would not be able to reach the rail.

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  • SKiDmark December 19, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    Actually if you Zoobomb legally it will cost you about four bucks, cuz 4 runs takes about 3 hours and the MAX tickets are good for 2 hours. I usually buy an all-day pass on Sunday.

    It WILL happen. There will be a Zoobomb outing to that hill, very soon.

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  • Dabby December 19, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    Yes but they will never allow you to take all those bikes on the tram.
    They probably have a contingency plan for that already written.
    Denial of passage due to liability.
    But, Zoo Bombing is so Sunday.
    It is Tuesday today. Live in the now.

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  • Caroline December 19, 2006 at 5:53 pm

    I must agree with JV’s post #8 – not only are many doctors bike commuters and cyclists, but showing up with your bike gets them all hot.

    Besides, doctors are too busy to care about what’s on the floor. And there’s always nurses to clean it up. 😉

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  • Caroline December 19, 2006 at 6:01 pm

    Oops. That last comment of mine (#14) had to do with mud on the floor from bikes, but might equally apply to white coats. Doctors shouldn’t wear their nasty white coats out of the clinics or hospitals anyway. I’d be afraid of what *I* would catch touching *THEM* not vice versa.

    Hopefully people with wet wheels would be polite enough to carry their bikes. (So that nurses don’t have to mop the floor after them.)

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  • Jonathan Maus December 19, 2006 at 7:55 pm


    About my comment:

    “I doubt doctors in white lab coats would appreciate sharing their space with bicycles.”

    I was simply trying to communicate how cramped space on the tram pod might night be appreciated by everyone. Singling out “doctors in lab coats” was not meant as a statement about them disliking bikes.

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  • erikv December 19, 2006 at 11:25 pm

    Good. I was just about to ask about the very same thing.

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  • Elian Gonzalez (Cuban Exile) December 20, 2006 at 2:34 pm


    I saw those bike racks outside the lower building and it looks like they offset those racks about 3 feet too close to the building. Though I could be wrong, it appears that those racks are designed for bikers to put their front wheel over the bar of the bikes for efficient locking with a U-lock. Because they are too close to the building, there is not enough room to put the bike wheel over the rack.


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  • sara December 20, 2006 at 2:47 pm

    amanda, another problem I have had with the bike gutters, aside from gravity and being too close to the handrail, is that they are raised above the stairs slightly, so that with my short stature I have a hard time holding onto my bike. It’s much easier to just carry my bike down the stairs, or find another route.

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  • Jonathan Maus December 20, 2006 at 8:09 pm


    It seemed to me that the racks worked just fine the way they are. What I think is funny is how developers always try and re-invent the wheel when putting in bike racks. Why not just make them a standard design that works very well?..but I guess variety is the spice of life and all that…

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  • jeff s December 21, 2006 at 11:04 am

    RE: wheel gutters

    When walking my bike, I always stand to the left; standing to the right of the bike is very awkward for me. Anyone else experience this “handed-ness”, or whatever you call it?

    I would be virtually unable to use a wheel gutter if I had to stand to the right of my bike as the person descending the stairs (in the photo)is.

    Also, designing the gutter so that the bike can naturally lean away from the railing could help.

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  • patrick December 22, 2006 at 5:43 pm

    hey jonathan

    those “bike racks” are actually benches without the seats and backs. Go around the other sides of the building and you can see completed versions. Holly and I had been using them as bike racks and laughing at how much they _look_ like a bike rack, but function so terribly.

    If they’re actually planning on passing them off as bike racks, well, that’s just silly.

    Not to be a wet blanket. I love the tram and look forward to riding it.

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  • kaaren January 6, 2007 at 12:52 am

    bikes on the tram
    through the halls
    on the elevators

    anyone who knows ohsu
    knows we got over that long ago!

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