Portland Aerial Tram: A Swiss Gift to Portland

I recently had my first experience on the Portland Aerial Tram. When the city began working on the Tram, there were many resistant parties and protests including one home owner who got a little carried away and added a huge sign to the roof of his house that read, “Fuck the Tram”. The truth is, I thought it was funny that someone would take such a disliking to a truly amazing feature in the city. After riding the Tram, I still feel this way, but I do see why home owners below the Tram might be upset that their privacy has been decreased. Still, I believe that the city was thoughtful in adding it.

The plan for the Tram began because Oregon Heath and Science University (OHSU) was quickly outgrowing its upper campus buildings and needed “to meet increased patient, education and research needs.” OHSU saw the underused property along the South Waterfront as an opportunity to grow within Portland. After years of research and discussions, the city and OHSU settled on the Tram. It was a connection that would not only help OHSU, but would support a growth in economic development of the South Waterfront.

The Tram cost over $57 million to build, most of which was paid for by OHSU, and the rest ($8.7 million) was collected over time through ticket sales.

The project was designed by Angelil/Graham/Pfenniger/Scholl, based in Zurich, Switzerland, and Los Angeles. The custom-designed cabins were made by Gangloff Cabins of Bern, Switzerland. Seeing the silver bullet-like Tram cruise overhead feels a little like spotting a flying saucer. From inside the bullet, the view is amazing. It might be the only place in the city that has such a wonderful vista view of the river and the downtown area.

“The Tram cabins travel 3,300 linear feet between the South Waterfront terminal adjacent to the OHSU Center for Health & Healing, and the upper terminal at the Kohler Pavilion on OHSU’s main campus. Traveling at 22 miles per hour, the Tram cabins rise 500 feet for the three-minute trip over I-5, the Lair Hill neighborhood, and the Southwest Terwilliger Parkway.”

If you haven’t made this trip, I highly recommend taking the MAX train to the Rose Garden Arena stop and walking the Eastbank Esplanade to the South Waterfront terminal. The walk along the river is always nice and while slipping up the side of the west hills of Portland you can reflect on your journey from high above.

Tickets for the Tram are $4 round trip and well worth the trip.

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