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The Aerial Tram will close for 38 days next summer

Posted by on October 17th, 2017 at 1:14 pm

Go By Bike shop in South Waterfront-9

The Tram reflected in an OHSU building as seen from the Go By Bike valet lot.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

I know it’s eight months away, but I thought you might want to start saving up for an e-bike…

The Portland Aerial Tram will close for track maintenance from June 23rd through July 30th, 2018. That’s 38 days where you’ll have to find a different way up the hill. If you need or want to bike up to Marquam Hill for the campus and facilities of Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU), your ride will go from 180 seconds to about 30 minutes. Or maybe not (keep reading).

The Tram is a crucial link between South Waterfront and Marquam Hill for 7,000 daily commuters. OHSU data shows that of the 10,000 employees who work on the hill, about one-fourth of those who take the tram use a bike to get to campus. The Go By Bike valet at the base of the Tram averages over 328 bikes in its parking lot every day.

If a bunch of people decide to hop in a car during the closure this summer, it could be a mess. Not only are the roads leading to Marquam Hill relatively narrow, parking is extremely limited (Metro has reported an eight-year waiting list and an average monthly fee of $128) and spots must be maintained for patients and their visitors. Hopefully a large percentage of people will continue to bike. But it won’t be easy…


Dotted line shows Tram route, grey line shows the bike route (ouch).

Without the Tram to whisk bike riders up the hill, the option is a circuitous route that includes riding on SW Barbur and Terwiliger and over 400 feet of elevation gain.

OHSU Transportation Options Coordinator John Landolfe says he’ll help soften the blow by educating people on other ways to make the trip. He has helpful advice on everything from walking (30 minutes) to carpooling and ride-sharing (about 12 minutes) on a special webpage about the closure. “Every option is on the table to increase biking to Marquam Hill, and sustain it during the tram closure,” Landolfe shared via email today.

How about e-bikes? They’re quickly gaining popularity in Portland and this seems like a perfect application for their use.

We’ve recently seen headlines about Jump Mobility electric bike share launching in San Francisco and Washington D.C.. Jump is an off-shoot of Social Bicycles, the company that supplies Portland’s Biketown bikes. Asked if Portland might see the battery-powered bikes any time soon, Dorothy Mitchell, general manager of Biketown’s operator Motivate Inc., said, “It’s something we’re having conversations about, but no official word yet.”

If Jump wanted into the Portland market, it seems like arriving as the savior to a dreaded detour would be the perfect time to do it.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and

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  • Chris I October 17, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    If they really want to limit congestion, they should close Sam Jackson Pkwy to all traffic except emergency vehicles, and an every 10-min shuttle between South Waterfront and OHSU. The shuttle would still take a long time to get up the hill, but will at least offer an option for those that can’t ride or walk up the hill.

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    • Stephan October 17, 2017 at 1:44 pm

      Second that! And make it 3-5 minutes during rush hour.

      Oh, and e-bikes is a nice idea but not very effective when the street is totally congested. Yes, yes, I know Terwiliger has “bike lanes” …

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      • Kyle Banerjee October 17, 2017 at 3:07 pm

        You guys really don’t seem to understand how many people are up here. That’s nowhere near enough capacity. I don’t know how many people are on the hill, but OHSU has over 15,000 employees. Plus there is the VA Medical Center, Shriner’s Hospital, patients, people who visit them, and there are others who live up here.

        Some of my coworkers already walk down the hill if they’re going into town because it’s the fastest option. This will get way worse, so many of my coworkers just plan to walk when the tram is shut down. Walking the hill is no big deal and is the best option for able bodied people not on wheels — takes about 25 min for a normal person but I expect that will be slower as I expect crowded trails.

        People get all worked up about how difficult it is to ride up the hill but these are people who probably haven’t tried. If you have the type of low gearing so many commuters have, it’s very doable for mere mortals — one of the other riders I encounter is a woman on an unassisted cargo bike. In a worst case scenario, you could always walk your bike for a bit. Total elevation gain is only about 400′ from PSU, 500′ from the river

        All the options Bald One mentions are viable, but I predict Sam Jackson will be too choked to be usable unless you can ride off road so better to drop on Terwilleger.

        If you don’t like traffic and have good legs, ride up to Fairmount and drop down to OHSU. Likewise, you can climb up to Fairmont when leaving and descend via small residential roads.

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        • Alex Reedin October 18, 2017 at 10:47 am

          The shuttle should be every minute or multiple times per minute then. It’s incredibly inefficient to have single people in private cars clogging up the road for 45 people in a shuttle bus. I don’t know the area super well, but on the map, it looks doable for the City and OHSU to restrict private car access to the area to come from the “back ways” (Marquam Hill road or SW Homestead Dr / Bancroft / 6th) and have Terwilliger be buses/ambulances/etc. only from SW US Veterans Hospital Rd. to Sam Jackson.

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  • Kittens October 17, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Or you can take the bus. It runs like every 10 min during RH.

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    • I wear many hats October 17, 2017 at 1:57 pm

      Buses are completely gridlocked every rush hour. Walking is faster. As is riding a bike.

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    • rick October 17, 2017 at 2:02 pm

      Bus 61 and 64 only run one-way for rush hour.

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  • bikeninja October 17, 2017 at 1:42 pm

    Don’t jump on that ebike purchase quite yet. If 25% of the 7000 commuters that take the tram daily arrive by bike then 5250 arrive at the bottom of the hill via car, streetcar or max. All those people will have to come up the hill in additional buses, ubers, or cars. The narrow road up to OHSU will be much more clogged and dangerous than it is now. The only solution I see is to bring back those big Pan Am Chinook helicopters they used to fly first class passengers from midtown to JFK back in the 1960’s and 70’s. That or plan your vacation for next summer.

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    • Kyle Banerjee October 17, 2017 at 4:41 pm

      If anything, the road will be perfectly safe owing to traffic that won’t even move at walking speed.

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      • CaptainKarma October 18, 2017 at 1:32 pm

        Except for the carbon monoxide .

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  • John Liu
    John Liu October 17, 2017 at 1:44 pm

    Doesn’t seem like any big deal. Bike, bus, share Uber, etc.

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    • rick October 17, 2017 at 2:01 pm

      the largest employer in Portland. The tram connected people during the snow and ice storms.

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  • Lester Burnham October 17, 2017 at 1:58 pm

    Well we seemed to get by for a long time before the tram so we should be just fine.

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    • Kyle Banerjee October 18, 2017 at 6:16 am

      Things have changed a lot. There has been an effort to move a lot of operations off the hill.

      The practical effect is that there are many, many people on the hill and a lot of people that have to have to do things both at the top and bottom of the hill.

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  • rick October 17, 2017 at 2:01 pm

    This is yet another reason why PBOT and Parks dept need to rebuild the trails that connect Barbur Blvd to Terwilliger ! Legit crosswalk of Naito at Gibbs Street.

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  • Bald One October 17, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    I always preferred riding both up and down to OHSU on Sam Jackson, but when traffic was choked, and exhuast fumes and shoulder crowding made this difficult, then going up on Terwilliger was easier. Also, at night, SJ not too well lit. If you have to go all the way to the top of campus (VA Hospital, Library, Mac Hall and Research Buildings) then entering at Casey Eye on Terwilliger and use a shortcut of the parking garage elevator located behind Doernbechers – can be a welcome break from the extra climb.

    Third option is the single track trail behind the Y (now Under Armor) – avoids a lot of the distance on SJP, but not sure if this trail is still accessible…

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    • I wear many hats October 17, 2017 at 3:24 pm

      shhhh about that trail, its foot only, but often sees tires (very steep riding however)

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    • soren October 17, 2017 at 3:28 pm

      there is no shoulder on sam jackson park rd.

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      • Kyle Banerjee October 17, 2017 at 4:18 pm

        Not a problem in general and will be totally irrelevant during the repairs. On a good day when roads are clear, bikes move as fast as cars going down SJ. Going up is not awesome as the roads are narrow with poor visibility around curves, but everyone moves slowly. Terwilleger is a good alternative with a decent shoulder that adds only a little bit to the climb time. During the winter, debris washes onto the road but it will be clear in summer.

        My expectation is that SJ will be so backed up during the repairs you’d be nuts to take it either down or up. Whenever traffic is mucked up, the tailbacks reach far up the hill — sometimes all the way into the OHSU campus. Even if the tailback only goes halfway up the hill, your best option is to ride right back up the hill and drop on Terwilleger.

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        • soren October 17, 2017 at 4:49 pm

          * no shoulder
          * 8+% grades
          * 3 blind S-curves
          * speeding and corner-cutting by drivers is common

          i do not know a single person who commutes up sam jackson park rd on a daily basis.

          the descent is also risky due to poor visibility and the frequent presence of muck, fine gravel, grease, leaves, and/or ice at the s-curves. i have crashed twice (albeit in 5000+ trips) and know multiple OHSU employees who have suffered severe — even traumatic — injuries.

          i doubt more than a few percent of people who bike commute to ohsu ride up or down sam jackson park road on routine basis.

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          • Kyle Banerjee October 17, 2017 at 5:29 pm

            I think you’re right that few people ride this stuff. But it’s really not nearly as bad as people imagine. I take this daily — I’ve never had problems with speeding vehicles going down. In fact, the consistent problem I have with them is going too slow.

            I quit climbing up SJ in favor of Terwilleger up sometime back, but I used to climb SJ all the time. There is a short section of steep grade on campus drive just above Terwilleger. But most commuters are rocking gear ratios sufficient for crazy steep stuff. Having said that, anyone who doesn’t have multiple rings in front and a cassette in the rear won’t have any fun.

            Muck, gravel, leaves, ice, road damage, etc are issues in the winter in the dark and wet. Surfaces are good in the summer, but I expect traffic on SJ will be so slow that Terwilleger will be the best option by far.

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            • soren October 17, 2017 at 6:01 pm

              close calls where oncoming traffic cut the corner into my lane while descending.

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              • I wear many hats October 18, 2017 at 7:58 am

                Strobe lights help immensely when going faster than 20 mph. It negates all the idiot pills people are consuming when sit behind the wheel. People actually see you and behave appropriately.

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              • Kyle Banerjee October 18, 2017 at 10:19 am

                Strobes help immensely under certain conditions, but they are of limited utility for the corner cutters soren mentions. Once it gets dark, I run a bright light with a night pulse on the bars plus a bright spotlight on my helmet which is handy for illuminating areas in front of drivers on the other sides of blind corners.

                Pill hill has an especially large concentration of confused drivers with degraded skills owing to the unbalanced demographics associated with needing more intense medical care.

                Most people who are coming up from the waterfront would probably be better served by walking up the hill than riding as it will take about the same amount of time. It takes both fitness and effort to save much time on a bike going up.

                This thread has reminded me that I still need to resolve a bet with my boss that it can be faster to climb from the base of the hill on a bike than to take the tram. The tram itself might be fast, but the logistics of loading/unloading and walking through the building are significant. I suspect that whoever wins/loses will only do so by a minute or two.

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            • Kyle Banerjee October 18, 2017 at 6:33 am

              Yes — I also get this regularly.

              The blind and sharp curves put vehicles on or sometimes over the line so you have to be further out on the apex than a normal descending cyclist would take. Despite conditions being generally good, you can also encounter small loose stuff and gravel and you really don’t want to fall on a blind curve.

              As you point out, conditions can be treacherous especially in winter and dark. At least they have fixed those huge deep cracks up higher that were there for years — they got a coworker who was severely injured and lost part of the use of his hand.

              Terwilleger is probably a better choice for most cyclists and all the commuters I know take that instead.

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          • Bald One October 18, 2017 at 10:10 am

            Yeah, I wrecked going downhill on SJP, also. Just about this time of year – wet leaves. Slid down the pavement for over 100 feet…. not fun, was okay.

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            • soren October 18, 2017 at 11:36 am

              i slid out on sand at the second s-curve and spent an awful lot of money on tegaderm. also, a slow-mo cartoon-like crash just past shriners on ice. it’s a very good thing that ohsu recently started closing SJP to bikes during icy weather.

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            • Kyle Banerjee October 19, 2017 at 9:50 am

              The curves, especially with debris, ice, etc in the winter and the dark are no joke.

              However, I would add that there are a wide variety of very common but underrated threats. For example: anything metal, frost (especially on paint — including that designed especially for bikes), and invisible hydrocarbon slime from rotting biomass. These any many other threats are everywhere. Once it gets cold enough, sporadic black ice is everywhere and the bridges are much more dangerous. All these things can happen anywhere — especially separated infrastructure where heat from vehicles and tires don’t mitigate freezing and push debris away.

              Over the years, I have personally witnessed a number serious bike crashes not involving vehicles which appeared to directly result from failing to recognize common threats. This is one of the specific reasons I strongly believe we should always try to raise awareness of how people can be safer rather than pretend cycling can ever be safe if done without a certain level of consciousness.

              Last winter tough because we had ice for so long. Fortunately, one of my rigs is safe enough on that Hardly a silver bullet, but at least I never have to worry about a sudden and violent bone shattering fall. Rode this every day to work except for the first two when I skied to work and back (not as fun as it sounds — 2 hrs each way hauling аss over rocked up surfaces requiring considerable ski repairs). Would have preferred mass transit, but it was non functional for 8 days straight which is why I’m done with them.

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  • JR'eh October 17, 2017 at 2:15 pm

    E-bikes aside, if you have an eight year waiting list for parking, your rates are too low.

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    • chris m October 18, 2017 at 8:27 am

      From a public policy point of view I’m inclined to agree, but employers have to be very careful about using price to apportion things. Hospitals already have to deal with a lot of tension relating to the relative status and compensation of various folks in the medical field, I’m sure that pricing the parking at a rate that’s punishing for all but attending physicians wouldn’t help any of this… at least the wait list impacts everybody roughly equally.

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    • Kyle Banerjee October 18, 2017 at 10:29 am

      This is a complicated issue — and not all units tell prospective employees.

      Some people don’t learn until New Employee Orientation. Seeing the shock and awe in their faces is absolutely hilarious, though probably not to them.

      BTW, these spaces aren’t cheap at all, it’s just for a hunting permit, and they all fill up. The good news is that these parking fees help fund bike facilities such as the bike valet and the free to OHSU employees bike share (separate from Biketown).

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    • Jay Dedd October 18, 2017 at 10:59 pm

      Too low? Some of the highest paid, most influential people park for free *and* vault the waiting list via administrative loopholes. (That’s why the waiting list doesn’t move.) Meanwhile, some of the lower-caste, lowest paid people — say, housekeeping staff from ethnic areas far to the west and east where riding is more challenging and TriMet doesn’t serve as well — must pay in full. And despite claims of breaking even, parking revenue exceeds cost by a healthy margin (some say a third), with only camouflage and nothing credible offered by the administration about where the overage goes.

      Sure, a little of it funds bike stuff. But is class warfare an acceptable price?

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      • Kyle Banerjee October 19, 2017 at 11:22 am

        I wouldn’t think of it as class warfare but rather a reflection of the reality that space is tight enough that a huge percentage must get here by some mechanism other than driving. Ignoring that parking is part of the compensation package necessary to attract some people with rare skills, the nature of responsibilities in hospitals is that it is more important for some people to be able to get here quickly and conveniently than others.

        I’m aware of only one person in my department who can drive up the hill — she is a regular staff person who has simply been here long enough. Neither my boss nor my boss’ boss has such privileges.

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        • Jay Dedd October 20, 2017 at 12:38 am

          Wow, that sounds like just about the ideal environment for a classless system in which people would get parking passes based not on fees, but on how crucial their direct presence is to patient care (and research) — a standard that could include both the highly specialized and those whose methodic work prevents infectious outbreaks (that is, housekeeping).

          Yet instead, you have highly paid people parking for free, but the working poor paying through the nose. It’s an awfully strange embodiment of “diversity, equity and inclusion.”

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          • Kyle Banerjee October 20, 2017 at 3:32 am

            Why should someone who has no more skills than a trained monkey have more driving privileges than well over 90% of the rest of their department?

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            • Jay Dedd October 21, 2017 at 2:08 pm

              The answer: because it’s those limited skills, methodically applied on-site, that prevent outbreaks of nasty stuff like MRSA and worse in a hospital environment. That is, those limited skills are crucial to patient outcomes. It’s telling that the concept seems to elude you in favor of something like academic pecking order.

              More specifically: Thanks, I guess, because it’s hard to imagine a retort better than “trained monkey” to corroborate that there really are class/caste hostilities coursing through OHSU administration — which in turn implies something about administrative policies, including parking. Again, it’s a hell of a way to demonstrate “inclusion.”

              (Counting you as administration because you’re not a clinician or a lab research person — not implying that you personally dictate parking policy.)

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          • chris m October 20, 2017 at 8:14 am

            Parking is not free just because the employee doesn’t pay out of pocket for it. It is a negotiated benefit.

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  • Buzz October 17, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Tram up, bomb down. They let me take my folding bike on the shuttle bus last time the tram was down for service…

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  • todd boulanger October 17, 2017 at 3:07 pm

    Wow!, what a 10th Anniversary birthday gift to its riders…talk about testing how effective a service is until it ain’t open. It will be interesting…hope the TDM planners are as creative as the 1997 Interstate Bridge trunnion repair closure.

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  • pdx2wheeler October 17, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    Why don’t they do what they did with the Sellwood Bridge? Take the existing tram and scoot it over, then build a second tram in its place. Once the second trams about ready switch everyone over to it, then disassemble the first one. Super efficient.

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    • hotrodder October 17, 2017 at 3:28 pm

      Why disassemble the second one?

      (The cynic in me was thinking “I wonder if OHSU is playing a little passive aggressive hardball to get a second tram built!”)

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  • Mossby Pomegranate October 17, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Find some private property up near the hospital and park your RV or “tiny house” on wheels. Eudaly will give you a pass.

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    • todd boulanger October 17, 2017 at 5:54 pm

      OHSU can allow up to 3 such tiny homes…so y’all better apply tomorrow!

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  • Jim Lee October 17, 2017 at 6:53 pm

    Don’t jump on that ebike purchase quite yet. If 25% of the 7000 commuters that take the tram daily arrive by bike then 5250 arrive at the bottom of the hill via car, streetcar or max. All those people will have to come up the hill in additional buses, ubers, or cars. The narrow road up to OHSU will be much more clogged and dangerous than it is now. The only solution I see is to bring back those big Pan Am Chinook helicopters they used to fly first class passengers from midtown to JFK back in the 1960’s and 70’s. That or plan your vacation for next summer.
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    I once rode that helicopter from JFK to the top of the PanAm building.

    Great idea! OHSU already has a helicopter pad.

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  • Douglas K October 18, 2017 at 9:00 am

    Long term, they should build a second tram from OHSU to PSU over Duniway Park and Sixth Avenue. Connect to MAX at Jackson Street. That way, when one tram is down for maintenance the other can absorb some of the overflow. Crow-flies distance is about the same as the existing tram, so the cost should be in the same ballpark.

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    • Stephen Keller October 18, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      You thinking the oval on SW Jackson between 5th and 6th for the landing point?

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      • Douglas K October 18, 2017 at 5:40 pm

        That would be preferable. But it depends on whether the tram would run above private property or not. To keep it entirely in public right-of-way and still run in a straight line from the 9th floor of OHSU to PSU, I think the tram would need to run slightly diagonal above Sixth Avenue north of Sheridan. That means the landing point might be just west of Sixth.

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        • Kyle Banerjee October 19, 2017 at 6:21 am

          I never understood this part of the controversy.

          You don’t own the airspace above your property — though one should reasonably expect anything overhead should be at a reasonable distance. That this is so much more of a privacy concern than windows facing a public street where people are more likely to actually look is beyond me.

          When one lives in an urban environment, it is not a realistic expectation to not have to deal with people. Rural areas afford more space and privacy.

          I can’t see another tram. What makes the existing tram work is that lots of people can arrive via car, bus, streetcar, and bike and there are lots of people who need to go between the bottom and the top. An additional tram would be lightly used as it would serve mostly commuters and there’s some question as to how they’d get to/from the base.

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          • Douglas K October 19, 2017 at 7:44 am

            You do in fact own the airspace above your property. Up to about 500 feet, although the exact distance hasn’t been nailed down by the Supreme Court. A tram running above private property would preclude future development above a certain height. So if OSHU wanted to build a tram above private property, they’d need to pay for it.

            I doubt that a tram served by two (maybe three) MAX lines and multiple buses would be “lightly used.” Many people commute to OHSU on a daily basis, and the transit mall would be a much more convenient transfer point for the vast majority of commuters than South Waterfront. Right now, it’s a five block walk from the Aerial Tram to MAX and the buses that use Tilikum Crossing. A PSU tram station would cut that to one block for MAX and 3-4 blocks for many buses.

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  • Steve October 18, 2017 at 7:54 pm

    What happened to the crosswalk they were going to put on Whitaker to get across 99W? PBOT had a group bike ride around the time the Gibbs Pedestrian Bridge opened, and we stopped at those stairs where Whitaker ends at 99W. The ride leaders described a crosswalk there as well as another at Barbur to get to the trail to OHSU. That Barbur crosswalk was built, but nothing has happened with the 99W crossing.

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  • Eric Leifsdad October 23, 2017 at 9:20 pm

    Trimet’s SW corridor light rail is going to drop patients and employees on Barbur and expect them to walk up some series of escalators or tunnels+elevator. Maybe we better get that funicular built.

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