Portland Transportation History

Portland Transportation History

Newspaper archives, research from historians, generational trends — we love looking back as much as looking forward. Scroll down for stories that help put our current transportation policies and projects into perspective.


In 1934, The Oregonian’s ‘Let’s Quit Killing’ campaign declared a war on traffic deaths

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on April 17th, 2015 at 8:55 am

drive safely

The citywide campaign, which asked residents to pledge to drive safely and recruited citizens to report illegal driving behavior to the police, was created by The Oregonian and the Oregon State Motor association.
(Newspaper images: Oregonian archives at Multnomah County Library)

Slow-moving, prosperous and desirable arterial streets are nothing new; they’re just a return to the traditional ideas of our great-grandparents.

And here in Portland, a citywide goal to take public responsibility for traffic fatalities isn’t new, either. In the 1930s, as they felt their city changing fast, our great-grandparents’ generation responded with what became a nationally-known campaign that was strikingly similar to Vision Zero or the Dutch Stop de Kindermoord movement of the 1970s.

[Read more…]

As Clinton Street’s bikeway turns 30, locals plan a celebration

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on March 16th, 2015 at 3:04 pm

Guerrilla diverters on SE Clinton-9

Major arterial.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Whether you see it as a battleground or a workable compromise or a national model, the Clinton Street bikeway is one thing for sure: beloved.

A group of Clinton Street fans are meeting at SE 30th and Division Saturday to plan a party this summer that will celebrate this iconic bike route and everything it’s brought to the mix of residential and commercial uses that have made Portland’s Hosford-Abernethy and Richmond neighborhoods what they are.

[Read more…]

130 years of Portland’s transportation history in one chart

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on February 3rd, 2015 at 11:27 am

portland mode share chart

(Image: DEIS for I-80N – a.k.a. Mt Hood Freeway – via City of Portland)

When you step back far enough, the history of transportation starts to look less like a river — constant progress toward a final, permanent destination — and more like waves crashing against a beach.

That’s the point of this chart. It pops up in the world of Portland planning from time to time, most recently in a slideshow by city planner Mauricio Leclerc about the history of parking in Portland. If you’ve never seen it before, it can be a mind-bender.

[Read more…]

From the Portland city archives: A tall bike on Union Avenue in 1980

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on August 12th, 2014 at 8:22 am


Kickstand included.
(Photo: City of Portland Archives)

Tall bikes look great in sepia, too.

[Read more…]

Sam Oakland, leader of the ‘Shift of the 1970s,’ dies at 80

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on April 1st, 2014 at 9:55 am

Pioneering Portland bike advocate Sam Oakland
received a Bud Clark Award for lifetime achievement
from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in 2001.
(Photo courtesy BTA.)

An often-forgotten forefather of Portland’s street-level bike advocacy movement died last week.

Sam Oakland, an English professor, poet and author who rode his bicycle to work at what was then Portland State College, started rallying bicycle riders to attend City Hall hearings in the late 1960s and led citizen actions in support of Oregon’s groundbreaking 1971 Bike Bill.

“There just wasn’t a lot of advocacy going on at that time,” said Karen Frost, who followed in Oakland’s steps 25 years later as the first executive director of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance. “He was really kind of a prime mover.”

He called his volunteer network the “Bicycle Lobby,” and referred to himself only as its “clerk.”

[Read more…]

From The Oregonian, Jan. 1, 1895: ‘Reign of the wheel’

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on January 2nd, 2014 at 8:25 am

An 1899 newspaper ad for a Portland bike shop, from a
presentation by local bike historian Eric Lundgren.

The first issue of The Morning Oregonian in 1895 included an article that holds up wonderfully well.

It was published one year before the first organized bicycle recreation association formed in Portland; two years before 800 local donors crowd-funded the city’s first dedicated bike path on North Williams and Vancouver Avenues; four years before Oregon governor-elect T.T. Geer bought a bicycle of his own and led the charge for road improvements through the state.

And 119 years later, this short case for the merits of biking still feels like the perfect way to kick off a year of progress.

[Read more…]

What caused Portland’s biking boom?

Michael Andersen (Contributor) by on July 2nd, 2013 at 3:57 pm

Chart by Rutgers University professor and noted bicycle researcher John Pucher. This was one slide from a presentation he gave last week in Seattle.

[Read more…]

1967 National Road Championships were ‘Portland’s Finest Hour’

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) by on May 24th, 2013 at 3:20 pm

Cover of October 1967 American Cycling magazine
shows the nation’s top racers at Alpenrose Velodrome.
(Photos by Peter Hoffman)

While many people think of only bike commuters and naked rides when the topic of cycling in Portland comes up, our city also has a proud tradition when it comes to racing. We shared a glimpse of that legacy back in 2011 through James Mason’s amazing photographs of the local racing scene in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. Now we’ve come across another interesting artifact of our racing past: The 1967 issue of American Cycling magazine that featured Portland on its cover.

Portland earned this cover spot for hosting the 1967 U.S. National Road Racing Championships. The competition took place over two days at the newly opened Alpenrose Velodrome and the infamous 1.7 mile circuit in Mt. Tabor Park.

The man who wrote and photographed that story for American Cycling is Peter Hoffman. Hoffman is 76-years old now and he lives in Beaverton (just over the hill from Portland). After seeing our story on James Mason’s racing images, Hoffman scanned his old issue of American Cycling and posted it online. Hoffman was publisher and editor of American Cycling for six years. It became Bicycling magazine in 1968 and Hoffman was its editor for that first year. (Read more about the history of American Cycling here.)
[Read more…]

Bicycle license tax, separated bikeways in Oregon’s 1901 ‘Bicycle Path Bill’

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) by on August 28th, 2012 at 1:37 pm

“… it being the object and intent of this act to provide for pedestrians and bicycles a highway separate from that used by teams and horsemen.”— Excerpt from House Bill 63

The more I read about Oregon’s tenth governor, T.T. Geer, the more intriguing this man becomes.

As we shared back in 2009, Governor Geer was the man who put bicycling on the map in Oregon at the turn of the 20th century. He served as governor from 1899 through 1903 — right in the midst of what many consider the golden age of bicycling in America. Today I came across an email from reader Larry H. that included a PDF of a piece of legislation Geer pushed through in 1901 known as House Bill 63; also known as, “Oregon’s Bicycle Path Bill.”

I knew Geer was bike-oriented, but never realized just how broad his bike policies were until I read the text of HB 63 this morning. I found it fascinating. Many of the provisions included in the bill — a tax on bicycle riders, ongoing revenue for infrastructure, and so on — are things we are still debating 111 years later.
[Read more…]

State of Oregon plans ‘Governor’s Ride’ to mark historic event

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) by on January 25th, 2012 at 1:33 pm

Governor Geer, bike lover.
(Photo: Oregon State Library)

Remember Oregon’s tenth governor, Theodore T. Geer? He’s the great Oregonian who, in May of 1900, rode his bike from the capital in Salem to Champoeg to establish a monument to an historic vote that took place there in 1843. That vote paved the way to Oregon statehood and the monument stands today as the focal point for the Champoeg State Heritage Area.

To honor that ride and Governor Geer’s role in the founding of Oregon, the State of Oregon Parks and Recreation Department is organizing a bike ride that will retrace his route. The inaugural “Governor’s Ride 2012,” will be part of Champoeg’s annual “Founder’s Day” festivities (which have taken place at the monument since 1901).

Champoeg State Heritage Area Park Ranger Bob Woodruff got in touch with us to share more… [Read more…]