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New Columbia Gorge Express will carry you — and your bike — to Historic Highway destinations

Posted by on May 20th, 2016 at 9:22 am

Another way to explore the Gorge without a car.

Another way to explore the Gorge without a car.

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.

Just a 20 minute trip from Gateway to Rooster Rock.

Just a 20 minute trip from Gateway to Rooster Rock.

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.

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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):

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 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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34 Comments
  • Bikeninja May 20, 2016 at 9:43 am

    I would advocate adding trailers to these ” transit vehicles” like the big tour buses use, to hold many more bikes. It seems like transit plus bikes to the gorge is a match made in heaven and 3 spots per vehicle will not be enough. It has always bothered me that to enjoy most mountain biking from Portland we have to partake of the” Demon Karz” .

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    • adventure! May 20, 2016 at 10:30 am

      That would definitely be nice. But it looks like this program is, for now, more aimed at getting all the tourists out of their cars and to stop the crowding of the Multnomah Falls parking lot. It doesn’t seem to be aimed as much to those who want to use it for cycling or hiking purposes. Rooster Rock is not the most prime destination in the Gorge, but it makes sense since they would want to encourage folks to park there in their massive parking lot and hop on the shuttle to Multnomah Falls. (It’s free if you use it between Rooster Rock and Multnomah Falls.)

      It would be nice if they stopped at the Angel’s Rest Trailhead as well, which wouldn’t be much of a detour, and would alleviate the parking issues there. And for those folks who are hiking all day or doing an overnight hike, it would also alleviate the possibility of a car break-in.

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      • Adam May 20, 2016 at 10:36 am

        You might be able to request a stop there? It might be because it takes I-84 not the Historic Highway?

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        • adventure! May 20, 2016 at 10:42 am

          I’m guessing that they stick to 84 from Gateway to Multnomah Falls, and doubt that they do “flag stops” because of that. It doesn’t say anything about that in the FAQ but I can always email them.

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      • Abide May 20, 2016 at 1:23 pm

        Angel’s Rest would be an amazing addition to this service. That parking area is constantly maxed out as well.

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  • rain panther May 20, 2016 at 9:49 am

    Exactamundo.

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  • Adam May 20, 2016 at 9:57 am

    HELL YES!!!

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  • Alan Love May 20, 2016 at 10:12 am

    This is a cool thing. One of my favorite Summer rides is to go from my house in SW PDX to the HCRH to get a beer at Thunder Island Brewery in Cascade Locks. The worst parts of the ride are the urban sprawl of East Portland and traffic speeding through the “scenic and relaxing drive” of the West end of the HCRH. This service allows for bypassing most of that, as the ride East of Multnomah Falls gets less traffic and then it’s on to the car-free section. Looks like I’ll be spending more money in Cascade Locks this Summer.

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  • Adam H.
    Adam H. May 20, 2016 at 10:17 am

    Oh cool! I will definitely be taking advantage of this!

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  • Pat Lowell May 20, 2016 at 10:23 am

    I would love an update on usage of this service at the end of the summer. It’s a cool idea, but I would worry about waiting for the last bus home only to find that all 3 bike spaces were taken.

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  • Adam May 20, 2016 at 10:33 am

    Can’t speak for this bus line on particular, but I’m pretty sure other bus lines with similar vehicles somehow manage to accommodate a couple of extra bikes in the back if necessary if the front racks ate full. I believe I’m thinking of the Tillamook Wave?

    This is an incredibly welcome addition. Traffic (I’m not talking parking, but just traffic lined up) at Multnomah Falls on the historic highway is out of control. We biked to Cascade Locks last summer, and coming back and hitting Multnomah Falls, it was traffic lined up all the way to the Bridal Veil exit. That’s essentially a several mile long line of traffic.

    And the road is so narrow, you can forget biking around it. So much for a pleasant and low-traffic bike route everyone keeps touting.

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    • adventure! May 20, 2016 at 10:43 am

      The road is much better on the weekdays, which is my preferred time to bike the HCRH. Thankfully, I have a couple weekdays off so I don’t see what it can be on the weekends. But even then, there still is some traffic. Thankfully the traffic east of Corbett is almost exclusively tourist/sightseeing, so no one is moving particularly fast.

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  • adventure! May 20, 2016 at 10:39 am

    Add my voice to the chorus of YES!

    As someone who’s worked in a lodging facility for ten years, this service is LONG overdue. I’ve gotten the question “What bus can you take to Multnomah Falls” A LOT over the years, and it always pains me to tell them it isn’t really possible to get there unless you have a car. (Or bike.)

    Now I do have my quibbles, like I wish it was operating seven days a week and maybe through the off-season too. (I’ve seen packed parking lots at Multnomah Falls on rainy Wednesdays in March, so it’s not like there isn’t demand.) I also wish that it offered more stops, like say Crown Point or Angel’s Rest, or maybe went a bit further too, like to Cascade Locks at least.

    And it looks like you can buy a ticket in advance, but you can’t book a specific bus as they are all first-come, first-served basis. So you may not get on the bus you want and have to wait for the next one.

    But those are minor quibbles right now, and hopefully if this pilot program is successful, they’ll improve on it. Right now, I am giddy with excitement that this damn thing finally exists.

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    • Adam H.
      Adam H. May 20, 2016 at 10:43 am

      Hopefully this bus will be able to accept the Hop card next year.

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    • gl. May 20, 2016 at 4:52 pm

      Yes, yes! Crown Point! Cascade Locks! Hood River! More days per week! It can’t happen soon enough, but in the meantime I’m absolutely giddy.

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      • Pete May 22, 2016 at 9:43 pm

        I suspect it would be tough to pencil out year-round trips to Hood River, plus the highway closes and/or is difficult to traverse on a regular schedule in a normal winter.

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  • ethan May 20, 2016 at 10:52 am

    This is great! I was really hoping that they would choose to leave out of Gateway. I think having some more touristy activities in that area will help reduce the crime and that leaving from downtown Portland would make it more difficult to get there for people on the east side of the city.

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  • devograd May 20, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    Awesome! Looking forward to trying out the new bus this summer.

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  • Abide May 20, 2016 at 1:30 pm

    This is so incredibly exciting! I can’t wait to use this service to get some hiking in. It’ll be a helluva lot cheaper than getting a zipcar. Shame the historic highway had to become the 7th level of traffic hell for ODOT to discover public transportation. I took visitors to Multnomah Falls last month and it was a nightmare.

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  • Jonathan May 20, 2016 at 5:19 pm

    This is awesome and will remove so much of the drudgery from a trip to the Gorge. I agree that other destinations should be added, but let’s make this pilot program a success first.

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  • Chris I May 20, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    This is great. Future additions/changes:

    – Increase frequency
    – Extend to Cascade Locks
    – ODOT adds HOV designation to I-84 inside lanes from Portland to Troutdale

    A dream future regional connection would be commuter rail from Union Station to Hood River. Stops at Gateway, Fairview, Troutdale, Multnomah Falls (weekend only) and Cascade Locks (weekend only). Hourly peak service and weekend activity trains using 2-car DMU trains.

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    • Pete May 22, 2016 at 9:48 pm

      Amtrak already runs to Bingen, but the tracks on both sides of the river run freight trains which are prioritized by the company that owns them. One can dream though! 🙂

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      • adventure! May 22, 2016 at 9:56 pm

        There’s no baggage service at Bingen-White Salmon, so there’s no practical way to board/unboard with a regular sized bike. Same goes for the Wishram WA station near The Dalles. Eventually the Empire Builder (the train that goes through there) will have bike hooks, but it’s still unclear if you’d be able to get off with a bike at a station without baggage service. Of course, if you have a folding bike, you wouldn’t have a problem getting off at Bingen.

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        • adventure! May 22, 2016 at 10:01 pm

          Also, you can’t bike across the Hood River Bridge, so if you COULD get off in Bingen, you’d either have to ride WA SR 14 west to Cascade Locks or east to The Dalles to make a river crossing. (Though I have managed to hitch a ride with my bike across that bridge a couple times.)

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          • Pete May 23, 2016 at 3:13 am

            All good points! And I have seen folders riding up some steep nearby hills (State Road once… kudos!).

            It might have been with me… 🙂

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  • GlowBoy May 23, 2016 at 11:54 am

    Thrilled to see this. I’ve biked in the Gorge quite a bit, but always after hauling my bike there in a car. No way, no how would I ever ride the Corbett road, even on a weekday (not that doing it on a weekday would ever be an option for me anyway). This is a great new service, and I hope to use it: although no longer an Oregonian, I’m a frequent visitor-with-a-bike.

    I suspect they’ll need to more formally address the issue of the rack being full for the last run back to Gateway, so people can take the bus out in the morning with more confidence that they’ll make it home that night.

    Of course the Western Gorge as accessed by this bus is still disconnected from Hood RIver and the eastern Gorge where bikes are concerned. No way would I ever ride the freeway shoulder through the Shellrock Mountain area, though it sounds like there will eventually be a trail there. Nor would I ever ride Washington’s SR14 between Cascade Locks and Bingen.

    I’ve considered using the Empire Builder to access the eastern Gorge, since I do have a folding bike and have toured with it a couple times. But it’s slower than a 700c bike and therefore not my preferred touring rig, especially since I usually want to hit some of the awesome gravel roads in the area. Still might do it someday though. For those who are interested, the timing is:
    Outbound Portland 445pm – Bingen 621pm – Wishram 655pm
    Inbound Wishram 730am – Bingen 804am – Portland 1010am

    So if you have a Monday-Friday job but can get part of Friday afternoon and part of Monday morning off – oh, and a folding bike – you can have a 3-night/2-day trip in the Gorge using Amtrak. I would probably look into the Hood River taxi service to get across the HR bridge so that I could put together a loop using both that and the excellent-for-biking The Dalles bridge.

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    • adventure! May 23, 2016 at 12:00 pm

      There IS bus service between Portland and Hood River/The Dalles. And it is bike friendly. The catch is it only runs Tuesdays and Thursdays, so not the most workable option if you are a “weekend warrior”.
      http://www.gorgetranslink.com/regional-thedalles-hoodriver-portland.html

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      • Anna G May 24, 2016 at 9:27 am

        thanks for this info, went to the website but its a bit confusing, the bus only runs once a day ? last one out of hood river is 4.35pm ? not sure if I was reading it right, have you used this service ?

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        • adventure! May 24, 2016 at 10:28 am

          The bus only runs Tuesdays and Thursdays. The eastbound (Portland to The Dalles) leaves in the afternoon, the westbound (The Dalles to Portland) leaves in the morning.

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        • Pete May 27, 2016 at 6:52 pm

          I’ve used this service (from PDX) and adventure has it right; leaves Gateway at 3:30 on Tu and Th. I think it’s an expansion of a program funded primarily for seniors, if I’m not mistaken. I do know someone who used to run a Gorge shuttle service to/from HR and folded it in 2002 after 9/11 trashed the tourism industry for a while. It wasn’t commercially viable back then, but it’d certainly be convenient!

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  • adventure! May 23, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Also, for those that are concerned about traffic on the Historic Columbia River Hwy between Troutdale and Corbett, there are ways to detour off of it, but you have to like some hills. Here’s my preferred alternate if I want to avoid the old highway here. It takes you to just outside Corbett, and at that point the worst of the traffic is over and there’s a decent shoulder.
    https://ridewithgps.com/routes/13927358

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  • Hazel June 1, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    Checked in with Columbia Gorge Express since the only ticket option is a round trip one. If you ride out to the Falls and beyond and want to catch the bus home it’s free. They are only charging for tickets at Gateway. Pretty cool option!

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  • Ravi Bongirwar August 31, 2016 at 1:34 pm

    This is an excellent bus service and a great way to commute to the falls. I would love to see this bus getting extended until Cascade Locks since there are a few cruise companies (like Sternwheeler) that operate from there and for residents and visitors alike this extension would be of great help.

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