Navigating the TriMet system (Portland)
February 11, 2019 7:32 PM   Subscribe

This is me. I think I've done pretty well on the plane piece, and now I'm wigging out looking at the public transportation system.

I live in a small/medium city where everyone drives because the public transportation system is abysmal. Periodically I hear about a committee to improve it, but it's mostly been the same for 30+ years. Portland's public transportation, on the other hand, looks excellent; but I am completely overwhelmed ny what I have found/researched. It looks like a huge area and I don't know where to start. I've been on the tri-met page all day trying to figure out where I should go to get where I need to go. The park and rides alone, oh my! I should add that I've ridden the subway in NYC, Boston, and DC -- but not for years (almost as long as since I've flown).

I think it would be better to ride than drive, mostly, but I just can't seem to wrap my head around how to start, where to park. I'm going to see a few people south and west of Portland, so I will need the rental car some, but probably not all the time. I will be one day at the convention center and one day at the art museum, yeay! So questions: Can I get a map? I emailed and the friendly folks at tri-met referred me to the page, but I really can't tell from there. More questions: Where's a good place to put the car (I see some of these park and rides fill up by 7:30 or 8:00 a.m.) while I ride? Are there any that aren't overcome by commuters, where I could get a spot later?

Bonus points if you are, or know, a Portland Metafite and want to actually take me around and show me how to move (as my friends in NYC did).
posted by intrepid_simpleton to Travel & Transportation around Portland, OR (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I live in Portland, but on the outskirts of town -- more in the suburbs.

I find it easiest to use the Google Maps app -- either on my phone or on the computer -- and use the "transit" button option. You can take TriMet directly from the airport to the Convention Center. Not sure about the art museum. If you are staying at a hotel, they should have parking although if you are in the city, they will probably charge you a daily rate to park. There are Park & Rides, lots of parking garages downtown, and a fair bit of street parking. Note that if you park on the street, they are in the process of changing our parking system -- I had to download an app to pay for parking last time I was downtown. There is also Uber/Lyft and taxis if you decide you don't want to get a rental car.

I am not sure where you are coming from -- I moved here 15+ years ago from the SF Bay Area. In my experience, people are quite friendly drivers. Honking is rare. You can't pump your own gas, FYI, which is kind of nice if it is raining/snowing.

If you like books, you may want to check out Powell's bookstore which is huge.
posted by elmay at 7:49 PM on February 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Portland Metafite here! Yeah, use Google Maps and ask it to map you via public transportation. The art museum is easy to get to from the convention center; both are near the green Max line and other bus options.

For what it’s worth: I’ve lived here several years and rely heavily on Google Maps transit directions.

Just get a Hop Card (the transit card) and you should be all set.

Are you sure you need a rental car? Could you take a Lyft to go see your friends?

I can’t really speak to Park and Ride. Where are you staying?
posted by bluedaisy at 8:11 PM on February 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I also came from a no-transit small town to Portland. The first thing I did, on the first day I got here, was ride the MAX from the airport to downtown and pick up maps (full system and individual lines) at the TriMet office in Pioneer Square.

My first and foremost advice would be, don't try to grok the whole system at once. Just focus on where you happen to be and where you need to go, one trip at a time, using the tools below to guide you. I promise it'll be easier than you think!

- The TriMet website has a feature that lets you plug in your starting address, your destination address, and a time (either your preferred leaving time, or the time you need to arrive somewhere) and it will tell you the best line(s) to take, where the stops are, etc. Google Maps has a similar feature now.

- If you have an Android phone (I assume there's something similar for iOS), you can download the TriMet Tracker app that helps you find nearby stops and tells you when the next bus/train will arrive there.

Have fun!
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:20 PM on February 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm a relative newbie to living in Portland - spent the first 40 years of my life living in the Gorge, transplanted here a little over a year ago.

These guys are definitely right on the "use Google maps" advice - it's SO MUCH SIMPLER than the Trimet website, and it's pretty darn accurate. (Those paper maps and schedules just confuse the absolute heck out of me - I'd have given up if they were my only resource - but Google maps made sense. So long as you click the right form of transport... It's always fun to start wondering why all of a sudden what should be a 20 minute ride turns into a several hour jaunt because I somehow told it I was walking... :) Use the Hop Fastpass so that you don't pay more than $5 a day. You can put an app on your phone for that, too, if you want.

My collage-age son prefers the Moovit app rather than the Trimet one for "exactly when will my bus actually arrive" info... not entirely sure why. But mentioning it so you know another option that works. He still uses Google maps for planning trips.

If you end up renting a car and driving, both Google Maps and Waze apps are pretty helpful and accurate around here. Pretty equal all things considered, in routing and timeliness, so it doesn't really matter which you prefer.
posted by stormyteal at 8:47 PM on February 11, 2019

Best answer: Easy there friend, you'll be fine. Thousands of people come to Portland every month and figure out how to get around. And you can do it too! Sounds like your cloud of overwhelm has two main headings:

Q1. How do I Trimet?

A1. Go here. Put in your current location and where you want to go. Go to the bus stop or Max station. Pay the fare. Get off at your stop.

Q2. What about the car?

A2a. In downtown/commercial neighborhoods: Use Google Maps to find paid parking.

A2b. In residential neighborhoods: If there's a Park & Ride lot, try that; if it's full, find parking on a nearby street. If there's a meter (it may be down the block), pay for parking, and put the ticket inside your passenger side window.

Oh, and if you're having a hard time finding a parking spot, throw three coins out the window as an offering to Portlandia. Good luck!
posted by ottereroticist at 8:54 PM on February 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Another part of your question I'm hearing is how to mix modes -- if you have a car and there are two park and rides nearby, which one is better (based on time of week -- likelihood it'll have filled up, availability of parking nearby, or based on frequency of transit from there to where you want to go)?

This is not something that Google Maps does currently, so it might be helpful to let us know where you're staying. (And if you haven't chosen lodging yet, people can probably advise on that to maximize transit ease).
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:19 AM on February 12, 2019

Where are you staying?
posted by Automocar at 6:52 AM on February 12, 2019

Response by poster: I got to this game real late (as in, I think people make their reservations a year ahead of time). My travel agent offered me a flea trap motel for $300, so I thought way outside the box and made arrangements to stay at a monastery west of Portland.
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 9:24 AM on February 12, 2019

Response by poster: (Monasteries are the best kept secret in the Western world. They are quiet and inexpensive, and I'm writing my next book about them.)
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 9:37 AM on February 12, 2019 [1 favorite]

I thought way outside the box and made arrangements to stay at a monastery west of Portland.

Can you please be specific? "Monastery west of Portland" can mean Beaverton, which is on the MAX line, or it can mean near McMinnville, which is a full hour drive from downtown in the middle of the country.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:14 AM on February 12, 2019

I'm guessing Mt. Angel?

Some convenient places to park would be the Clackamas Town Center mall / MAX stop, the Gateway MAX stop (more connections, can park on street in nearby neighborhood once Park N Ride fills up), or maybe Gresham near the blue line MAX. If you just want to avoid driving downtown, you can probably park at the Lloyd Center Mall or in neighborhoods to the north/east and take the light rail into downtown.

I like the (free) Transit app because it displays route options better and it will tell you when your stop is coming up and when to get off. It will also show you lines near a location and their other stops, which can help you backtrack to where you might want to park. Google Maps is fine, too. I don't know of any good options to handle multi-modal transit. The Trimet website is not particularly user-friendly on mobile, use the app only for tickets and not for figuring out routes.
posted by momus_window at 11:44 AM on February 12, 2019

If you don't get a hop card you can buy tickets on the TriMet phone app. The 2-hour tickets are $2.50 but you have to buy 2 at a time. There are also day passes available there.

I rarely take the Max but I know that all bus stops have a stop number posted there and you can text the stop number to a number (also posted at the bus stop) and it will tell you when the next bus is coming. IMHO for arrival times, this is way more accurate than Google's arrival times.
posted by bendy at 3:38 PM on February 12, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks, all. I feel so much better now.
posted by intrepid_simpleton at 7:33 PM on February 12, 2019

Depending on how far west you mean, the Sunset Transit Center in Beaverton has a giant parking garage and would be a decent place to stash your car while you take the Blue line MAX into Portland to go to the art museum (a short walk or streetcar ride from the Blue Line) or your conference (similar, albeit from a different stop).
posted by janell at 10:12 PM on February 12, 2019

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