2016 is a huge year for the Columbia River Gorge. 100 years ago Oregon celebrated the opening of Route 30 — the Columbia River Highway — and this year we’ll celebrate its grand re-opening as a State Trail with miles of new biking and walking-only paths that open up exciting carfree exploration opportunities.
But even as new pieces of the State Trail are completed, our overuse of cars is killing the Gorge vibe. In an effort to reduce automobiling’s impacts to this historic natural resource we all share, the Oregon Department of Transportation has launched a new public transit line.
The Columbia Gorge Express opens next Friday. The new line will have 12 departures a day Friday through Sunday from the Gateway Transit Center with stops in Rooster Rock State Park (25 miles east of Portland) and Multnomah Falls (30 miles east of Portland). It’s just $5 for a round-trip ticket and bicycle riders are welcome aboard: Each transit vehicle has capacity for three bikes on the rack.
This new transit line comes in response to ODOT’s concerns about traffic congestion and overcrowded parking lots. Popular destinations like Multnomah Falls have reached capacity for single-occupancy cars and people are parking illegally around popular trailheads, damaging wildlife and historic sites. ODOT says over the past two years a lack of auto parking forced the closure of the lot on 181 days — 120 of them on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. In a recent survey (that we posted here on BikePortland) 70 percent of the 1,700 respondents said they’d consider using public transit or parking shuttles to reach the Gorge.
Below is a shot of the new bus taken by a local TV reporter and shared on Twitter. It’s out on a media preview ride today (I was all set to join them but the bike racks weren’t ready yet):
— Kohr Harlan (@kohrhKOIN) May 20, 2016
ODOT is encouraging people to park their cars in one of the 690 spaces available at the Gateway Transit Center in northeast Portland. You can also bike to the transit center and park your rig in one of the available bike racks or bike lockers for added security.
If you use the Gorge Express to cut 30 miles of pedaling off your weekend ride, the roads will be safer and less congested once you get there if this new transit line gains traction.
Service starts May 27th and will go through September 25th. The first departure is at 8:45 am and the last bus leaves Multnomah Falls at 6:00 pm. The trip takes about 20 minutes one-way.
ODOT has committed to a two-year pilot project and they’ll evaluate how it works at the end of 2017. If the response meets their expectations the transit line could expand to Hood River
Check out ColumbiaGorgeExpress.com for the full schedule and more details.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – firstname.lastname@example.org
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