Portland Transit Mall

In 2013, about 2.3 million people lived in the Portland region. Over the next 20 years, another 400,000 to 750,000 more residents are expected. To handle this influx, the region has continued to invest in transit and has expanded the light rail system to 52 miles of tracks serving 85 stations.  Keeping cars off the road alleviates traffic congestion and the need to build more freeway lanes. In 2013, TriMet estimated that bus and MAX light rail service throughout the region eliminated about 207,300 car trips every day.

The Portland Transit Mall is the heart of the region’s transit system. It exemplifies a long-standing commitment to developing a sustainable transportation system that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and meets residents’ needs, while managing the region’s growth and creating a livable future.  

Portland’s 1972 Downtown Plan created the vision for a transit mall with exclusive bus lanes and widened landscaped sidewalks. At the time, Portland had significant air pollution problems. Carbon monoxide and ozone levels exceeded air quality standards and smog hovered over Portland. Cars clogged the streets and parking lots covered entire blocks. Encouraging the increased use of mass transit, reducing reliance on the automobile and building the transit mall were key strategies for cleaning Portland’s air and meeting the city’s goals for an economically-viable and accessible downtown.

The Portland Transit Mall is a pair of one-way streets along SW 5th and SW 6th Avenues in downtown Portland that are the center of the regional transit system operated by TriMet. The mall first opened in December 1977, with bus stops serving riders traveling to and from destinations throughout the three-county region. A $220 million renovation in 2009 revitalized the transit mall, reconstructing the roadway pavement, installing new shelters, and adding MAX light rail trains.

Landscape architects are a key part of the design legacy of this landmark transit street. To design the original 1977 transit mall, landscape architects Lawrence Halprin & Associates joined a team led by Skidmore Owings and Merrill. For the 2009 renovation, landscape architects, architects, and urban designers from Portland design firm Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership (ZGF) led the design process. The 2009 project also included landscape architecture and environmental design firm Mayer/Reed, which developed the new transit signage and landscape design; Lango Hansen, the landscape architects for the south terminus; and TriMet staff landscape architects to coordinate design and construction.

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