Riding the Bus in Portland: An Essay

Blogger and transit consultant Jarrett Walker paints a picture of Portland's Line 75, a workaday bus serving urban neighborhoods outside downtown. His reflections on radial and orbital journeys are worth a read.

2 minute read

July 5, 2016, 2:00 PM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc

Portland Oregon Bus

radcliffe dacanay / Flickr

Jarrett Walker gives us a thoughtful look at the way buses work in Portland, Oregon. He writes, "Fortunate people often assume that transit is only for going downtown, because that's the only place where driving is difficult enough that it's an option for them. But for most people, transit is for going everywhere across the city, especially to the more economically diverse jobs and opportunities that tend to be everywhere but downtown."

Portland's Line 75 follows an orbital route, intersecting downtown commuter routes but never going through the center itself. "And instead of hauling big volumes of commuters into and out of downtown, [orbital lines] serve thousands of little trips that are all a bit different, among diverse neighborhoods and destinations. It works: these orbital lines are among the busiest in the city."

Walker says most of our thinking about cities focuses on the radial, not the orbital. "Grand narratives about urban history are also about in-vs.-out. Distance from the center has always been a statement about power, even if its significance has flipped every 50 years." 

"The marks of this pulsing oscillation are brutally obvious if you go inward or outward, but if you follow an orbital path, as the 75 does, you encounter more subtlety. History and power flow across the 75 more than along it, but as they do they surge and eddy in fractal patterns, even as a few rocks standing firm against their current."

Monday, June 20, 2016 in Bus75.org

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