Support BikePortland

ODOT eyes expansion of Gorge bus service after successful first year

Posted by on October 24th, 2016 at 10:31 am

Half of the four-bus fleet.(Photo: ODOT)

Half of the four-bus fleet.
(Photo: ODOT)

Turns out there are other ways to solve auto overcrowding and congestion than spending billions on freeway expansions.

The first season of the Oregon Department of Transportation’s Columbia Gorge Express bus service has “far surpassed” expectations, the agency announced this morning. “The public response highlighted a significant demand for transit service in the Gorge.”

Launched in May as a way to relieve serious overcrowding of private cars in the Gorge, the service carried more than 30,000 people between the Gateway Transit Center, Rooster Rock State Park, and Multnomah Falls. The service was offered for 18 weekends and it was the first year of a two-year pilot project. There were initially three, 20-seat buses, with a third, 53-seat bus added in July. All four buses had bicycle racks that ODOT says were “used every day.”

We're going to need a bigger bus.(Photo: Kate Laudermilk)

We’re gonna’ need a bigger bus.
(Photo: Kate Laudermilk)

Advertisement

A survey of riders underscored how vital and popular non-driving options are for people throughout the region. Here are some selected survey results from ODOT:

75 percent who started at the Gateway Transit Center said they chose the service even though they had a car.
25 percent of riders said the bus was their only transportation option for visiting the Gorge.
63 percent of Gateway Transit Center riders started their travel on public transit.
63 percent of riders came from outside the Portland area.

This bus service didn’t just provide options for people who needed it, it also improved access for people who still chose to drive. ODOT says over the past two years overcrowding has forced closure of parking lot at Multnomah Falls 181 times — 129 of which were on Friday, Saturday or Sunday.

With this success, ODOT plans to make changes and improve the service. In a statement released today the agency said they’ll move the transit stop closer to existing bus and light rail stations, provide new shelters and benches at the two stops in the Gorge, and have a staff person at stops to answer questions. In 2018 ODOT says they’ll consider expanding the service to Hood River with new stops possible at Bonneville Dam, Cascade Locks, the Eagle Creek hiking area, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

BikePortland is supported by the community (that means you!). Please become a subscriber or make a donation today.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

56 Comments
  • Avatar
    rick October 24, 2016 at 10:39 am

    privatize Amtrak

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      dan October 24, 2016 at 11:00 am

      To what end? In any case, they’re not subsidized a tenth as much as automobile companies or bus lines, which benefit from all the highway infrastructure built for them.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Avatar
        John Lascurettes October 24, 2016 at 11:46 am

        Amtrak is privatized. And while receives some subsidies, the subsidies are barely even a fraction as much as airports or the airlines — or, as Dan points out, those of the auto and oil companies and infrastructure.

        We love to beat up Amtrak in this country because of how bad we perceive it is — somewhat rightfully so. But it was because the US Government removed nearly all of its privileges and subsidies when the airplane and airport came along — that is what crippled rail in the US. And the US Interstate system was another nail in that coffin.

        I learned all this going down a deep Wikipedia hole one year. It’s a fascinating read: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amtrak

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • Avatar
          Dave October 24, 2016 at 3:22 pm

          My wife and I are Amtrak users whenever possible. Amtrak does a great job considering the weights attached to their ankles–sharing tracks with freight, waiting on sidings while freight goes by, having one particular party in Congress wanting to take their subsidy away with the tiniest excuse.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

          • Avatar
            John Lascurettes October 24, 2016 at 4:57 pm

            After having travelled all over Europe in 2003 — almost entirely by rail — I would LOVE to use Amtrak to travel more. Business class (for the legroom and power outlet) between Portland and Seattle is only a pittance more than the coach fee (unlike flying) and is super stress free.

            Recommended Thumb up 0

            • Avatar
              Greg Spencer October 25, 2016 at 12:41 pm

              Yep, in Europe you take rail access for granted. And last summer, when we were stuck in car traffic going out to Multnomah Falls one weekend, I sat and looked at those empty train tracks and wondered what the hell was wrong with this country. It’s a real mess, but of course, the ODOT bus is step in the right direction. We’ll try that next time.

              Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Avatar
        rick October 25, 2016 at 10:20 am

        The Japanese privatized some passenger rail service. 200 mph and bam the passengers get there without the headaches of so many subway and Amtrak lines in the USA. Amtrak doesn’t run on weekends on the busy line between D.C. and Boston.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      Dick Pilz October 24, 2016 at 11:12 am

      Amtrak runs on the Washington side of the Gorge. Plus, the tracks they run on ARE privately owned. So, we should FORCE the Oregon side to allow passenger trains? Doesn’t sound like privatizing to me.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Hello, Kitty
        Hello, Kitty October 26, 2016 at 5:06 pm

        Yes.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      Todd Boulanger October 24, 2016 at 12:41 pm

      Rick,…remember why Amtrak was started (Nixon’s administration)?!…20 of 26 of the private US railroad companies “sued” (paid a token fee) to get out of the passenger (“people as freight” ) business while keeping their freight business …along with any federal land and facilities that Congress (and state governments) had given them to start many of these passenger/ freight lines back in the day…an important issue out in the west. Other rail firms soon went into bankruptcy…then Conrail was born.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amtrak

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Avatar
        rick October 25, 2016 at 10:22 am

        and the Japanese privatized passenger rail in an process from the 1980s to the 1990s. The excitement of 200 mph.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Robert Burchett October 24, 2016 at 11:00 am

    Amtrak? That leap was beyond my powers!

    (segue)

    Kind of heartwarming to have ODOT discover transit!

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Adam H.
      Adam H. October 24, 2016 at 11:47 am

      This is not ODOT’s first foray into public transport. They currently run a state-wide network of buses.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Avatar
        q`Tzal October 24, 2016 at 3:50 pm

        Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa!
        I’ve lived here since 2003 and haven’t heard of this.
        Where has ODOT been advertising this service? Because they suck at it.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • Adam H.
          Adam H. October 24, 2016 at 4:35 pm

          I think I found it once when I looked up transit directions to Astoria on Google Maps. The schedules don’t seem great – only two buses a day – but might might be useful for a weekend trip to the coast. You can book tickets through the Amtrak website.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Allan Rudwick October 24, 2016 at 11:14 am

    I will say that bike + bus to the gorge was fun. I would do it again. continuing to hood river seems like an obvious move. One thing that happened when i was riding it was: the bus passed the multnomah falls stop because it was full. This shouldn’t be possible with this service. They need to figure out how to let the buses into mult. falls even when the lot is full

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      dan October 24, 2016 at 11:28 am

      Agreed! That seems like it’s the whole point of this bus!

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Ted Buehler October 24, 2016 at 11:37 am

    Great news!

    Jonathan, (or anyone else in the know), who are the administrative contacts at ODOT on this that might appreciate letters of support?

    Ted Buehler

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Adam H.
    Adam H. October 24, 2016 at 11:45 am

    This is excellent news. Expansion to Hood River should be a no-brainer as well.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Kyle Banerjee October 24, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    The Gorge bus service needs to be expanded. I usually discourage friends from visiting that area because traffic is absolutely ridiculous and there are plenty of other great places to visit that aren’t nearly as crowded.

    The buses won’t help with crowding, but at least they provide a better option for getting there and back.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Adam October 24, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Excellent news! Hell, even expansion to Cascade Locks, stopping at John B Yeon State Park on the way would be major (this stop would serve the hugely popular Elowah Falls.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    TonyJ October 24, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    We have lots of people in our city, and maybe a few on council, who would usually argue that the solution to congested parking lots at the Falls is to build more parking, maybe a garage.

    I’m glad we didn’t and I think that the results show something very interesting that should give us pause when thinking about similar issues. It’s very common for some people to cite the impact that parking fees will have on the poor, or the impact not building 1:1 parking in apartments will have on single moms, the elderly, or any number of other similar populations. What always frustrates me is that rarely is the argument made for providing transportation equity to children, people who can’t afford to drive, and people who feel uncomfortable doing so (or can’t) for various reasons.

    This highlights that we can make better choices that reduce car dependency and provide more equitable access to resources. It doesn’t hurt that it makes it easier for the people who DO decide to drive, as well.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Adam H.
      Adam H. October 24, 2016 at 1:55 pm

      Totally agree. I wish that when discussing socio-economic transportation equity that our city councilors – Fritz in particular – would argue for improving transit rather than adding parking and reducing the cost of parking. If the problem is that “the bus doesn’t run that late” then why isn’t the solution “make the bus run later” rather than “parking should be free at night”?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      Dave October 24, 2016 at 3:23 pm

      Funny how that’s the only time some politicians will profess a concern for working and/or poor people!

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      Adam October 24, 2016 at 3:27 pm

      I think the solution is to ELIMINATE parking at the Multnomah Falls Lodge on the Historic Highway. If motor access was only possible via the I-84 freeway, the Historic Highway would have one tenth of the traffic congestion problems it currently has.

      It was simply not built to handle the kinds of capacity it currently experiences in summer.

      And don’t even get me started on trying to bike it at 2pm on a Sunday. To call this one of the State’s premier recreational bike routes is a joke.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Avatar
        Kyle Banerjee October 24, 2016 at 5:04 pm

        Dude, that won’t fly in a million years and will make stuff worse anyway. That parking instantly already gets overwhelmed and people park all over the historic highway so it only would amplify what already happens.

        The whole reason this area has a problem is not because there is too much or not enough parking. It’s because 2.5 million people visit Multnomah falls per year. There is not enough room for that many vehicles/people, but everyone insists on trying anyway. It’s going to take way more than a few buses to noticeably improve that situation.

        If you like solitude and a peaceful ride, there are a lot of places to make that happen, but this is the wrong area for that unless you go at times when others won’t want to be there.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • Avatar
          Adam October 24, 2016 at 6:24 pm

          I disagree, respectfully.

          Look at the Grand Canyon for an example. They banned cars from huge swathes of the South Rim, and the only option to get to the trailheads is by public transit.

          You’re correct in that people will continue to drive here if given the option, but remove that option, and people will still come. Considering HUGE numbers of visitors to Multnomah Falls are tourists coming for day trips, buses from Portland make TOTAL sense.

          You have a very outdated, American perspective on how we access our popular tourist destinations. We need to be looking to places like Europe, where transit is far more integrated into huge visitor destinations.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

          • Avatar
            JeffS(egundo) October 24, 2016 at 6:51 pm

            Yes, the (closed to motor vehicles) Grand Canyon south rim shuttle service is a great model for what the Gorge falls area could potentially be with some dedicated funding and political will. You say fuggedaboudit on a summer Sunday afternoon, but I’ve been through there on summer weekdays when the traffic was backed up from Multnomah Falls for over a mile. It’s ridiculous, and beyond the point where some traffic management intervention needs to happen. The ODOT bus is great, but it’s past the point where this is going to have any noticeable impact on the overcrowding.

            And, to be clear, closing this section of the historic highway to motor vehicles would be to the benefit of all, not just bicyclists. People I spoke to on the Grand Canyon and Zion shuttles uniformly praised the Park Service for banning autos, and understood why it was necessary. Small sample size, true, but I think people get it, even the most auto-oriented.

            Recommended Thumb up 0

            • Avatar
              Kevin October 24, 2016 at 11:11 pm

              Political will? Well, it’s a great idea, at any rate. Too bad it won’t happen anytime soon.

              Recommended Thumb up 0

              • Avatar
                Eric Leifsdad October 25, 2016 at 10:45 am

                Thanks for the “political won’t”, now where’s the will?

                Recommended Thumb up 0

            • Avatar
              Adam October 25, 2016 at 7:56 am

              Agreed.

              Recommended Thumb up 0

          • Avatar
            Kyle Banerjee October 24, 2016 at 9:14 pm

            I agree it makes total sense to bus people in, but there really have to be a lot more to make it work. But closing parking accomplishes nothing unless the bus service is in place first.

            It needs to be the best option. It needs to be convenient. And until that happens, getting people to take it is a tough sell.

            I personally think that whole area is hopeless and only go early in the morning when the weather is bad. If you go early enough under such conditions, there is no traffic and you get the trails to yourself (or really close to it).

            Recommended Thumb up 0

        • Avatar
          Alex Reedin October 24, 2016 at 6:25 pm

          Yep – it will take more than a few buses. It will take a lot of buses! (As well as what Adam proposed so that people actually take them). A truly robust, convenient bus service combined with the knowledge that you’re probably not getting a parking spot at a peak time would probably move a lot of people to take the bus instead. Indeed, that is the only thing I can imagine that would solve the traffic issues on the Historic Highway (not for the benefit of people biking mostly – but for people driving to places other than Multnomah Falls).

          Is it so horrible to dream about something that is a political reach but would actually solve the problem rather than nibbling at it?

          Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Avatar
        Middle of the Road guy October 25, 2016 at 1:47 pm

        No kidding about the traffic leading up to the Falls. All those people trying to get into a parking lot with no spaces for them.

        And they don’t seem to like the cyclists who ride by them.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • Avatar
          Adam October 25, 2016 at 8:29 pm

          But that’s part of the problem as a cyclist – you CAN’T ride by them. The road narrows considerably between Wahkeenah Falls and Multnomah Falls, and goes up onto an elevated overpass. Pedestrians are banned from walking this section because it is so narrow. As a cyclist, there is no way to get around the cars backed up for over a mile on the Historic Highway.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    GlowBoy October 24, 2016 at 1:29 pm

    This is great. I didn’t ride the Gorge Express this year, but I did ride the Mount Hood Express in August, and was impressed with the quality of service.

    One reason I didn’t ride the Gorge Express is I would have wanted to go to Cascade Locks, not just to Multnomah Falls. I’m hoping that future service will expand to Cascade Locks. (Yes, I know you can get to Stevenson on a bus and walk across Bridge of the Gods, but the schedule is more confusing and it first requires an extra bus trip to Fishers Landing). Locks is becoming a real outdoor epicenter in many ways: way more camping opportunities than the Multnomah Falls area, it’s a town with services, it has a burgeoning mountain bike scene, and it’s centrally located in the zone of safe bike opportunities in the Gorge. If I can get to Cascade Locks easily on the bus next year I’ll definitely do it.

    Of course we’d all love it if the service continued to Hood River too, but I’d put Locks at a much higher priority. Greyhound already offers daily service (which I have used) to Hood River, and that bus blasts by CL without stopping.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      Adam October 24, 2016 at 3:28 pm

      I didn’t know Greyhound went to Hood River. Who knew?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Avatar
        GlowBoy October 24, 2016 at 4:33 pm

        Yes, the Dog runs along most major freeways, including I-84. This twice-a-day run doesn’t end at Hood River, which is just one stop along the run to Boise. Along the way to Boise, Greyhound also stops in The Dalles, Stanfield, Pendleton, La Grande, Baker City, Ontario and Nampa. But not Cascade Locks.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Avatar
        Pete October 27, 2016 at 6:11 pm

        Me. I also know they don’t have a bus stop readily accessible from PDX. This is the one I currently use, but it only runs on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I have to kill some time working at PDX while waiting for it: https://rideschedules.com/schedule.html?95174

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Caitlin D October 24, 2016 at 2:13 pm

    Woo hoo! Glad to hear that the program was a success this summer and that it will be improved next year.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Chris I October 24, 2016 at 3:03 pm

    After service is expanded, ODOT needs to take the next step and add some priority for the busses. The first change would be to close the small parking lot at Multnomah Falls and make it bus-only parking. The traffic backups from that lot slow everyone down.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      Adam October 25, 2016 at 7:58 am

      That’s actually a pretty good idea! Although the road is narrow and windy. I wonder if large tour busses could navigate it?

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Avatar
        RobotGirl October 25, 2016 at 12:07 pm

        They can and do. And then they sometimes arrive to the lot to find cars have taken the three designated bus parking spots. The rangers ticket them yet they don’t move. Rumor has been that next year ‘something’ would be changing in regards to bus access on Hwy 30 but no news has come through yet.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

        • Avatar
          GlowBoy October 25, 2016 at 12:23 pm

          Sounds like ODOT needs to add a tow truck to the fleet.

          Tow the miscreants’ cars back to an impound lot in Portland. Fortunately, when they come back and find their car gone, the Gorge Express will be there for them to ride into town to retrieve their vehicle.

          Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Mike October 24, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    At the same time ODOT is either supporting or vaguely neutral on an unnecessary 3rd bridge in Salem that only benefits people in Dallas an West Salem but will cost mid-valley residents at least $500 million. Too bad ODOT can’t be supportive of non-auto transportation everywhere.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      Chris I October 24, 2016 at 8:06 pm

      That project is such a boondoggle. And check out the bungled HWY 20 project between Corvallis and the coast if you want to see a total disaster.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Douglas K. October 24, 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Any chance of ODOT extending a bikeway along the freeway from Troutdale to Multnomah Falls? I know the Historic Columbia River Highway is deemed a bike route, but it involves challenging hills and scary narrow shoulders. Not exactly welcoming to casual riders. A flat bike path out the Gorge to Multnomah Falls could make for a great day trip. Could be another way to reduce car parking too.

    Also:

    “There were initially three, 20-seat buses, with a third, 53-seat bus added in July”

    I think you meant “fourth, 53-seat bus”

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      Adam October 25, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      That would be a great next step. Especially since the new bike/ped bridge was built in Troutdale over the Sandy River on I-84.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      Mike Sanders October 25, 2016 at 12:59 pm

      And a bike route on the flat to Multnomah Falls might include a spur into Rooster Rock State Park, which is accessible right now only to / from the I-84 freeway. That would make sense. Extending that trail to the Gorge Trail to Hood River, The Dalles and at least Boardman / Pendleton would also make sense, too.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Avatar
        Pete October 27, 2016 at 6:14 pm

        Lots of articles on BP on the progress that’s being made on that trail. Still waiting to figure out how they’ll make it past Mitchell Point.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    Brian October 25, 2016 at 5:42 am

    How many bicycles does each bus hold? Being able to take a bus out to Hood River to mtb would be great, if they can make that happen. I would MUCH rather actually enjoy the Gorge while driving through it than having to pay attention to the road. That would be worth some $ to me.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      Robert Burchett October 26, 2016 at 11:36 am

      The photos from an earlier BikePortland article show a triple rack.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Avatar
      Pete October 27, 2016 at 6:16 pm

      And of course, how many kites and boards can it hold? 🙂

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar
    rachel b October 25, 2016 at 10:39 pm

    I’m very happy about the shuttle and anything that gets cars off the road, but seeing what’s happening to Oregon’s parks and (no longer secret) spaces gets me so anxious, angry and blue. Never worried about it ’til the last 10 or so years! I know it’s the increasing numbers of visitors, but why are so many of them so destructive now? It’s a trample and leave mentality for too many. “Experience Collectors.” The conservator mentality of Oregon’s past has given way to a truly obnoxious consumer mentality. Egged on by TravelOregon, of course.

    I’m strongly for limiting humans in our parks, national and state. This recent light ‘n’ fluffy article about Zion considering tourist limits mentions the destruction of the landmark at Cape Kiwanda. The bajillion self-important FB and Instagram posts of all the twits posing on it (pre-tumble)just reminded me of how everyone seems to regard Oregon now–‘as a photo op for the gallery of my wonderful, curated life.’

    http://www.cntraveler.com/story/zion-national-park-may-start-limiting-tourists

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • Avatar
    Joao June 27, 2019 at 6:35 pm

    Bike and Bus Schedule, very.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Avatar