Filed Under:

How To Solve A Sky-High Commuting Conundrum

Play associated audio

Imagine a hospital on top of a mountain. How would doctors and patients get in and out? In Portland, Ore., commuters don't have to drive up a twisty, two-lane road to get there. Instead, they glide up 500 feet in the air in a gleaming silver gondola.

Portland's aerial tram connects the south waterfront down near the river to the Oregon Health and Science University on top of Marquam Hill.

For nurse Sara Hone, it has changed her commute. "I love it. I can't imagine a time without it," she says.

On a bad day, the trek up the windy hill could take up to 45 minutes. Now it's a 3,300-feet, three-minute sky tram ride with beautiful views of the city.

"OHSU, through somewhat an accident of history, wound up being built on Marquam Hill, which is essentially the top of a mountain," says Mark Williams, vice president of campus development.

In 1880, a railroad company bought the land for a depot without looking at it first; then, realizing it would be too difficult to use, later donated it to OHSU. The hospital started small 125 years ago but has now grown to be a huge enterprise. It's the only academic medical center in Oregon and the largest employer in Portland.

"We have slowly but surely occupied this entire mountaintop. We are essentially landlocked and capped. We can't build anything new to meet any new demand until we knock something else down," Williams says.

And there's no place to park. 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.

"We can't function having a brain surgeon spend 45 minutes in traffic and call that a viable campus to get from one place to another," Williams says.

They considered a streetcar, a dedicated express bus lane, even a tunnel, but Williams 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 for cyclists, there's free valet parking, run by Kiel Johnson. The service is popular. Neuroscience student Nora Hammock is one of his customers.

"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."

And for patients — and anyone who works on the hill — the sky tram ride is free.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

National Museum of African American History Opens Its Doors

More than 100 years after it was originally proposed, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is opening its doors in Washington, D.C.
NPR

While Everyone Was Partying At Woodstock, I Was Stuck At Schrafft's

The chain restaurant that catered to women helped redefine how Americans eat, according to a new book. For NPR's Lynn Neary, it also defined how she did and didn't fit with the counterculture.
NPR

Newspaper Endorsements Matter Most When They're Unexpected

The New York Times endorsed Hillary Clinton on Saturday, but an endorsement that came the day before from a smaller paper may matter more to its readers, for the simple fact that it was unexpected.
NPR

As Our Jobs Are Automated, Some Say We'll Need A Guaranteed Basic Income

How will the economy provide economic opportunities if employers need fewer workers in the future? A growing number of people in Silicon Valley are saying the only realistic answer is a basic income.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.