July 13, 2017


by Rosemary

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When we tell people that traffic is as bad in Portland as in L.A., they are surprised -- unless they've been to Portland.

The river, the bridges, one-way streets, bike lanes, lack of parking, and overall congestion make it a difficult place to drive, especially for out-of-towners who wonder why the streets aren't simply north-south and east-west, instead of vaguely diagonal: northeast, northwest, southeast, southwest.

Despite all this, we found it easy to get around, thanks to a friendly public transportation system and walkable neighborhoods, including downtown.

"City Reflections" by Patti Warashina looks relaxed as a MAX train zooms by on 6th Ave.

The transit system combines light rail, streetcars, and buses. The routes make sense, and go places people actually want to go. We rented a house in Tigard, and took the bus downtown. We never had to wait more than ten minutes for a ride.

When I describe the transit system as "friendly" I mean it. Imagine someone trying to catch a bus in L.A., still half a block away from the stop as the bus's doors begin to close. The would-be passenger starts to run, waving and calling out, but the bus zooms away, and who knows how long it will be before another one comes along. Compare this to Portland, where on several occasions we saw the same scenario, except that when the bus drivers saw the person running and waving, they re-opened the door so the passenger could board. The drivers were always patient with people who had trouble finding exact change for the ticket, were willing to answer questions and give directions, and in general seemed like kind-hearted people happy to provide a useful service.

Friendliness appears to be a big part of the culture in Portland. Drivers stop for pedestrians, relax and wait their turn at four-way stops, and don't make it hard for others on the freeway to change lanes. Although traffic could be tough, we didn't often hear anyone honk a horn.

The Shemanski Fountain in the South Park area
offers water to both people and dogs.

The city's "Benson Bubblers" provide fresh drinking water throughout the downtown area.

People lining up at the store would stand aside for others rather than jockey for position. A few times when we paused to unfold a map or stare at the GPS app on our phone, a friendly local would stop and offer to help us find what we were looking for. One nice woman recommended the Portland Art Museum; we took her suggestion and had a great time.

Outside the art museum, an interactive exhibit invited visitors to play decorated pianos.

These solar-powered compactors represent a modern approach to the old-fashioned values of cleanliness and thrift.

Many people display these signs outside their homes to indicate that they take the directive to "love thy neighbor" seriously.

Coming from a city where public libraries are constantly cutting back on both hours and staff, I was amazed to learn that the Central Library is open seven days a week. It has several information desks, tall windows, free WiFi, clean restrooms, and - yes - books.

Nearby Forest Park has over 5,000 acres of beautiful woodland. We enjoyed an afternoon hike on a section of the Wildwood Trail.

Flowers were in bloom everywhere.

Signs at the Ira Keller Fountain warn that is is not meant for climbing and wading, but it's a tradition for families in swimsuits to cool off here on a hot day.

On July 4th, the city put on a huge fireworks display from a barge in the Willamette River. We had dinner with our friend Cheryl and then watched the show from her 19th-floor apartment.
Another way to see the city is from the aerial tram. It was built to transport commuters to the Oregon Health & Science University campus, but it has become a tourist attraction. A round-trip ticket costs $4.70, and the trip is about four minutes each way.

On a clear day, you can see Mount Hood and Mount Saint Helen's.

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