The Most Scenic Commute in the U.S.

Take a ride with NPR's Jane Greenhalgh on one of "the most scenic rides in America", according to host, Steve Inskeep. Patients, staff, and visitors to Ore. Health and Science University enjoy the free, aerial tram ride to the top of a Portland hill.
October 28, 2013, 6am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Join Greenhalgh, Senior Producer of Science Desk for National Public Radio, as she "glide(s) up 500 feet in the air in a gleaming silver gondola for a 3,300-feet, three-minute sky tram ride with beautiful views" of Portland to Oregon Health and Science University on the summit of Marquam Hill, the state's only academic health center and Portland's largest employer. [Listen here.]

Access to OHSU, a 125-year old institution, has been limited by the windy, two-lane road, and once they arrived, parking is limited, so planners considered alternatives.

They considered a streetcar, a dedicated express bus lane, even a tunnel, but Mark Williams, vice president of campus development, says by far the best option was the sky tram, which opened in 2007. It's linked to the city and surrounding suburbs by an extensive public transportation system. Commuters have several ways to get here. They can drive and park, take the light rail to the streetcar (which stops just feet from the tram), walk or bike.

And bike they do. Greenhalgh speaks with neuroscience student Nora Hammock, one of 170 cyclists that valet parking operator, Kiel Johnson, had parked this morning, free of charge.

"It's the best. It's so lovely to be able to ride up and drop my bike off," Hammock says. "It's safe and dry the whole time, and I get to ride to work in one of the most unique transportation systems."

With limited parking on campus, the tram showcases how off-site parking works with public transit to provide access to a dense work site.

But down at the bottom of the hill, just on the other side of Interstate 5, is a big swath of flat land perfect for parking and for the medical center's expansion. All that was needed was a quick way to get people up and down.

Finally, you will not hear, "Watch the closing doors, please" on this tram ride. Instead, listen for "As we pass the tower, we will your balance..."

Check out other aerial tram systems in the world, either operating or proposed, posted here from London, HamburgRio de Janeiro, and New York

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Published on Friday, October 25, 2013 in NPR
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