Which makes for a better downtown car-free life? Portland or Seattle?
March 18, 2010 10:53 AM   Subscribe

Living without a car: Would you choose downtown Portland or downtown Seattle?

I'm asking anonymously because I don't want to let people know I'm thinking about moving, but I am.

I don't drive. I prefer living right in the center of the city where transit options are best. I also prefer the pace of city life. I've lived in downtown Portland but I wish it were bigger. So much of Portland life seems to be focussed on the east side of the river.

I really like Seattle, but I've only been there as a tourist. I worry if I moved there and built a life, would friends avoid coming downtown to visit me because of the hassle of traffic and parking?

What are the benefits and drawbacks of living in one downtown versus the other?

Throwaway email, just in case: thinkingaboutthinkingaboutit@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Travel & Transportation around Portland, OR (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Portland. I live in Seattle, and I don't consider it's public transpo very good at all. Plus the downtown area isn't really great to live in anyway.
posted by xmutex at 10:54 AM on March 18, 2010

I have lived in both Portland and Seattle. Portland wins, no question.
posted by krisken at 10:57 AM on March 18, 2010

Portland, without any doubt.
posted by blucevalo at 11:03 AM on March 18, 2010

Adding, mainly because of this.
posted by blucevalo at 11:05 AM on March 18, 2010

I live in Portland, so I am a tiny bit biased--but even regardless of that, I vote for the Rose City. East Portland is not as scary as everyone on the west side seems to think, unless you go past 82nd. There are lovely neighborhoods in the Hawthorne/Woodstock/Clinton areas of SE to visit and then cross back over the next river to downtown. The buses are safe and relatively frequent, depending on the line, although you're never going to get away from the peesmell.
posted by opossumnus at 11:09 AM on March 18, 2010

I'm biased as well, because I also live in Portland - but it really is a fantastic city. All the hype is not for nothing. The public transportation is quite good - and even better if you have a bike.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:14 AM on March 18, 2010

From Portland, living on the East Cost. I'd vote Portland, though I do love Seattle - I just think Portland is probably the better choice in terms of public transit and the like.

That said, if you can swing it I'd highly recommend Vancouver BC - bigger than Portland, smaller than Seattle, and all-round awesome.

Man, I miss the PNW :(
posted by alaijmw at 11:15 AM on March 18, 2010

I live in Seattle and I'd still say Portland. Downtown Seattle is more of a place to avoid than to visit, and patches are surprisingly sketchy at night. Downtown Portland is a lot of fun in my (limited) experience there.

That said, semi-downtown neighborhoods in Seattle can be pretty awesome. No idea if that's true in Portland, but it seems like most of the fun fades out quickly as you get further out.
posted by zvs at 11:21 AM on March 18, 2010

Portland's bus system kicks the ass of Seattle, if only because Transit Tracker gives you reliable real-time bus arrivals -- whereas with Sound Transit, it seems to be anybody's guess when a given bus will show up.

I think downtown Portland (especially up near PSU) is a much more pleasant place to live than downtown Seattle.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:37 AM on March 18, 2010

I live in Portland and have not had a car for over a year. I can attest to the fact that it's pretty easy to be car-less in Portland.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 11:50 AM on March 18, 2010

Seattle's downtown public transit is, essentially, buses. The only trolley system is a short, "boutique" stretch just north of downtown, centered around the biotech companies (and eventually Amazon) that operate around Southlake Union. Portland has a much more extensive and diversified public transportation system.

Parking in both cities is kind of difficult, but that's true of any city, I'd think.

The neighborhoods outside downtown Seattle are interesting. But buses are the only real option for getting around. There's a light rail system south of downtown, but it runs to the suburbs and the airport. There's a summer ferry from downtown to West Seattle, but you still need a bus to get to the main stretch of bars and restaurants and other West Seattle action.

We have a few friends we visit in Tacoma. We go to Tacoma more than they come to Seattle. It's a half-hour drive by car, one hour by train. Tacoma is a bit rough around the edges but undergoing some revitalization. Culturally, it has a decent art scene and the people who live there are, to me, on the whole a bit more interesting and colorful than the average Seattlite. Depends on what your interests are. As in Seattle, buses are the public transportation option, with a rail connection to Seattle.

I'd say Portland is a better option for city living on the basis of being able to get around. But in my experience there seems to be a lot more homelessness in downtown Portland that makes it feel a little more run down than Seattle, so other factors may come into play.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:51 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think actual downtown Seattle would be a kind of crappy place to live. Most of the surrounding neighborhoods within walking distance are really nice, but if you really want to be in the most built up part of downtown definitely Portland. (Lived in Seattle for years, eventually moved back to a smaller town because I don't really like living in a city.)
posted by ecurtz at 11:53 AM on March 18, 2010

I would say Portland, with the busses, the streetcar, and the MAX. You can (and a lot of people DO) fly out of Portland by getting on the MAX and riding to the airport.

I have a friend on Bainbridge Is. who works in Seattle, taking the ferry over and then walking up the hill to her work, but she drives over if she has to go anywhere else then downtown or the Seattle Center area.

Portland is WAY more bike-friendly, also, partially because it is not quite as hilly.
posted by Danf at 11:57 AM on March 18, 2010

I live in downtown Seattle (pike and boren, so edge of capitol hill/first hill) and have no car. My roommate recently sold her car. We both get to work (Redmond and Franklin respectively) on the bus, and there are grocery shops in walking distance (bus there if you're lazy).
I work at Microsoft, so many of my friends live on the Eastside (Kirkland, Woodinville, Bellevue). But they still come and visit me, or the others who live near me, because we live in the city and there is stuff to do around our house.
I'd say the biggest problem is getting to bars/houses in the Greenlake/Aurora area, and getting to sports fields. Fortunately for sports there's always the rest of my team going, so I get a ride and try and buy beer for them.

I haven't lived in Portland, but Seattle is definitely pretty good to live downtown in.
posted by jacalata at 12:02 PM on March 18, 2010

I lived in downtown portland and downtown seattle. I moved from portland to seattle because portland just felt too small and limited, both in terms of things to do, and in terms of job opportunities.

Portland downtown is much more walkable than Seattle downtown. It's flatter, it's more compact, and it has fewer 'dead zones'. I very much miss the light rail in Portland because I worked on the rail line, and so it was a dead simple commute once it was going.

I didn't notice people avoiding coming over, when I lived in downtown Seattle. If anything, my place ended up the default starting zone for all my friends who got jobs and houses out by MS, when they'd come into town for the evening. Compared to when I lived in downtown st louis, the danger factor of downtown/belltown is a bit oversold in the local media.
posted by nomisxid at 12:26 PM on March 18, 2010

This isn't really a fair comparison. As most people have mentioned, you don't really want to live in downtown Seattle, you want to live in one of the neighborhoods bordering downtown: Capitol Hill, Wallingford, Ballard, etc. CH is definitely the closest. There are lots of interesting things going on in that neighborhood, plus, if you're in the western portion, downtown is very much walkable.
posted by Cogito at 1:43 PM on March 18, 2010

I lived without a car in Capitol Hill for two years and had no problem getting anywhere except sports fields, which again is easily solved by teammates. Downtown Seattle really has nothing going for it, unless you're the overpriced luxury highrise type. Living on the hill means you're (at most) a 15-20 minute walk from the city center but surrounded by better things to do closer to home. Given the existence of Cafe Presse on 12th, I don't see why anyone would ever need to head into the CBD.

I've never lived in Portland but I have friends who do. I love it down there, but I feel like once you get out of the CBD there is a whole lot of sprawl. And despite my current tiny location, I do prefer the variety a bigger city gives you.
posted by clipperton at 1:55 PM on March 18, 2010

try this: www dot walkscore dot com

plug in an address and it rates it by how near basic necessities are.

seattle is very doable without a car - especially if you live near the major public transport arteries. I live near the university so I can get to anyplace in the city in about 15 minutes or less. There is a bus to bellevue and a bus to tacoma that both leave within two blocks from my front door every 15 minutes.

If you don't live near the major arteries, it might take you another bus to get to a transit hub.
posted by nihlton at 1:59 PM on March 18, 2010

also, downtown seattle is pretty useless. TONS of great stuff in the surrounding neighborhoods though.
posted by nihlton at 2:00 PM on March 18, 2010

Portland hands down. They just GET public transportation as an ethos.

I lived in Seattle for 10 years. I moved from the East Coast and when I got here I didn't ahve a car for a very long time. Seattle is reasonably doable without a car, and more so now in the advent of ZipCar and the like but it's not as smart as PDX. The bus system in Seattle is just not logical. The thing you can't do there is make intelligent connections. So you can get a bus from the east side to downtown, but you'll just miss your connection and then have a 30 minute wait until the next one. That's the kind of thing that makes people buy cars. So yeah if you have to just take one bus in one direction the schedule is probably fine. If you try to to north-south and then connect east or west, things that a logical, well-planned transportation system would let you do, your life will just suck eggs.
posted by micawber at 2:07 PM on March 18, 2010

p.s. I also do not see how you can term downtown Seattle "useless". Sure, Belltown is one block now but it's not like there are no clubs or restaurants or move theaters down there. In 1995 there was nothing in downtown Seattle and you didn't want to live there. By the time I moved downtown (to make an east side commute bearable) it had plenty going on.

Personally I find the UDist ugly, dirty and useless. To each their own.
posted by micawber at 2:08 PM on March 18, 2010

Lived in Seattle without a car. Some of those hills are BRUTAL on a bike. Haven't lived in Portland, but I've visited.

I'd choose Portland in a heartbeat.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 2:16 PM on March 18, 2010

I'm going to avoid the question of which is better because I don't know enough about Portland. The downtown area proper in Seattle is pretty small. People who want city living but work downtown will often live in Capitol Hill, First Hill, or Belltown instead, which are short walks, and are either where you would want to hang out or are closer to it than downtown.

Even my friends with cars in Seattle (and many don't have them) are pretty conversant with the bus and pretty happy to take it to denser areas.
posted by grouse at 2:54 PM on March 18, 2010

I've been in Seattle for ten years and spent one of them with no car. It worked but I wouldn't really suggest it. My neighborhood (Capitol Hill) had everything I needed for day-to-day life, but there's no transit system in Seattle (unless you count buses) so getting around the larger city was a total pain in the ass. Steep hills everywhere mean bicycles are a lot of work.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:19 PM on March 18, 2010

the UDist /IS/ ugly, dirty. not useless though. A ton of independent movie theaters, book stores, improv theater, a million different international cheap and delicious food options, clothing stores, bars, etc etc.
posted by nihlton at 4:14 PM on March 18, 2010

Do you need job? Seattle. Otherwise, Portland.

(Live in north Seattle, work in Downtown/Belltown, went to school in PDX, still visit 3-4 times a year)
posted by Good Brain at 5:13 PM on March 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Portland. And I'm just about the biggest Seattle booster on MeFi. As has been said, Portland's mass transit system is loads better than Seattle's. And that makes a huge difference.

But more than that, downtown Portland is square. Pioneer Square to Belltown is long and narrow. If you live in the middle of downtown Portland you're a 10 minute walk from most everything. If you live in the middle of downtown Seattle (which I think is an office building) you'd be a 20-30 minute schlep to the bars and restaurants on 1st and 2nd in Belltown.

I do think Seattle is being undersold here, though. Seattle has far more restaurants downtown, more stores, more theaters. And yes, tons of jobs in Seattle.

And I work in the U District. I've seen it go from a heroin shooting gallery to... it's still a heroin shooting gallery. But I remember when you had choices other than teriyaki and Thai for food.
posted by dw at 12:03 AM on March 21, 2010

« Older Lawyers & Rainmaking   |   Iron Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.