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Project: Rail Transit of Portland, Oregon

Rail Transit of Portland, Oregon

Here’s a new transit diagram that I’ve been working on for a while now – a unified rail transit map for the place I live, Portland, Oregon. Portland is blessed with fantastic public transportation, but I’ve always felt that the official TriMet system diagram fails to fully show this, even after its recent redesign.

The official diagram only shows TriMet’s services – the MAX light rail and WES commuter rail – relegating the important Portland Streetcar to a pathetic, unlabelled, light brown squiggle through downtown. As the Streetcar is currently expanding across the Willamette River in the form of the Streetcar Loop, I feel it is even more important to show its full extent and interaction with TriMet’s services. As both systems honour each other’s fares, there’s absolutely no reason not to show both systems on one diagram.

So that’s what I’ve done – my diagram shows the TriMet/Streetcar system when all currently proposed work has been completed. This includes the Portland-Milwaukie light rail extension, the full Portland Streetcar loop and the extension of the MAX Yellow Line into Vancouver over the new I-5 bridge. Works in very early planning stages – such as the Lake Oswego Streetcar extension – are not shown. I’ve also shown Amtrak routes and the Aerial Tram for the sake of completeness, even though they fall somewhat out of the scope of the main purpose of the diagram.

Although many people are unofficially calling the Portland-Milwaukie light rail project the “Orange Line”, I’ve decided to show it as extension of the Yellow Line. Arbitrarily ending the southbound Yellow Line at Union Station and changing the train to an Orange Line train for the rest of its southbound journey doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If the Blue Line can keep the same colour for its entire length, so can the Yellow Line.

Unusually, I decided to use 30- and 60-degree angles for this diagram, instead of the usual 45 degrees. This more accurately reflects the geography of Portland’s downtown, where the MAX tracks form a distinctive “cross shape” as they all converge on Pioneer Courthouse Square.

One minor problem with the diagram is the huge amount of distortion the further away from the city centre you get: Wilsonville should be way off the bottom of the diagram, and should be shown as being on the banks of the Willamette River, as should the stations near Milwaukie. However, these diagrams are always a trade-off between geographical accuracy and clarity – I think I’ve struck a good balance between the two.

My original design for this looked much different (see the last picture in the gallery above), but when I reworked it in a second draft to tighten up some spacing, I decided to work with a black background that is somewhat reminiscent of TriMet’s new signage on the downtown Transit Mall (see picture 5 above).

As always, comments are more than welcome. Large, 4000-pixel wide, version of the diagram can be found on my Flickr stream here.

Oh, and for a laugh, have a look at this simplistic version of the MAX diagram I did way back in 2008.


  1. Pingback: Updated: Portland Unified Rail Map, September 2012 | Cameron Booth

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  4. Megan Richardson

    I think I speak for at least an urban planning friend of mine who’s obsessed with our transit system and myself when I say this would be lovely as a poster…please let me know if you end up putting it up for sale in any way (postcard? print? commemorative button?)

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