One of the cheapest and easiest ways to get around Portland is by bike, and, luckily, the city has the infrastructure to support it. Bike lanes and paths crisscross the city and can get you everywhere from the Pearl District to Northeast Portland safely and with relative ease. That’s all well and good, but if you’re from out of town or thinking of getting into biking for the first time then the transition can seem daunting. Fortunately, Portland State is a big fan of the urban cyclist. With that in mind, here are a few helpful tips for making the most of your bike commute at Portland State.
The first thing you should know about is the PSU Bike Hub. If you’re a student considering commuting by bike this is the first place you should go. At the Bike Hub, 1818 SW Sixth Ave., you can purchase gear, bring your bike in for repair, register for various classes and seminars and more. You can even rent bikes and storage space. And if you find yourself liking it you can sign up for a membership, which will get you a discount on most gear, guided repairs from staff (so that you can do it yourself next time!), and even access to the tools and workspaces in the Bike Hub itself.
Maybe you’re not quite sure you want to start biking. A bike can be a costly investment, after all. If you’re looking to dip your toes into the waters of urban bike ownership then the VikeBike program is just what you’re looking for. For $45 a term you get a refurbished commuter bike with fenders, front and rear lights, a helmet, a U-lock, membership to the Bike Hub and reserved space in one of PSU’s four bike garages. That’s $540 over four years—less than the cost of most new bikes without any of the gear and perks thrown in.
Storage can be a major barrier for new bike owners, especially if you’ve made your home in the dorms (which are historically not spacious accommodations). Luckily, Portland State offers secure bike parking on a term-by-term or yearly basis. The best part is that it’s cheap. For just $15 a term or $45 per year you can opt to lock up your bike in one of four covered garages. Garages are accessible only by scanning your student identification card, all entries and departures are recorded by security cameras and all garages include air pump and repair stations.
Garages only have a certain number of allotted spaces, so make sure to secure one as soon as possible. If you’re working on a strict budget (and what student isn’t?) there is also outdoor bike parking dotted around campus. Outdoor parking comes less recommended simply because Portland’s bike-friendly scene has also bred an equally voracious bike theft scene. If you have to park your bike outside for the night, make sure everything is bolted down with the best U-lock you can buy and that you have removed all accessories like bags, lights and tools. If you’re looking for peace of mind when leaving your bike outside then it might be worth your while to invest in a TiGr lock—a thin, light, transportable bike lock made of titanium that is essentially the bane of bike thieves.
If you’ve decided to move to Portland then you likely already know about the TriMet MAX. If not, then the giant train hurdling through downtown sure was a surprise, huh? The Metropolitan Area Express not only runs through parts of downtown, it also goes as far out as Gresham to the east, Hillsboro to the west and the airport to the north (sorry, but you no longer have an excuse to not meet your family at the airport when they come to town to visit and “just check up on you”). It’s worth familiarizing yourself with the MAX lines (yellow, blue, green, red) and its various stops, as it is a fairly efficient and safe way of getting around not just Portland but the surrounding cities as well.
The cost to ride the MAX is $2.50 for a two-hour pass or $5 for an all-day pass. Tickets can be bought in booklets at most grocery stores (like the Safeway on Southwest Jefferson Street) or one at a time via the various dispensers downtown. It should be noted that the tickets you buy from stores won’t be validated, so you’ll need to validate them at one of the metal validation boxes that sit right next to ticket dispensers. If you get your ticket from the dispenser itself then it will already be validated.
On the bright side, the transit system in Portland largely runs on the honor system. There are no turnstiles like you find in San Francisco or New York. You’re just expected to have a validated ticket that can be presented to a TriMet employee should they ask (and they will). Now, that doesn’t mean you should just walk onto the MAX without a ticket. You can, but at that point you’re risking getting ticketed to the tune of $175 or more.
I’ll be honest with you, both the ticket dispensers and validation machines break down with alarming regularity. TriMet is addressing this issue with a smartphone app this year, but it’s not here quite yet. That means if you’re buying your tickets in booklets or through dispensers, you can potentially be caught in a situation where you simply can’t get to where you need to be because technology has failed you. If you find this happening, or if you just want a more reliable pass, PSU offers a term-long discounted TriMet pass for students called the FlexPass.
The FlexPass will cost you $215 for the fall term and will be valid from September 23 until December 31. To buy a FlexPass you must be taking at least three credits and have a valid PSU photo identification card (because a FlexPass is actually just a sticker that goes on your ID). Your FlexPass will get you onto any form of public transit in Portland, including MAX, buses and the streetcar.
You can think of the Portland Streetcar as the younger sibling of the MAX. While the various MAX lines are designed for high-speed, long-distance travel, the streetcar largely stays downtown and close in on the East side. One of the coolest things about the streetcar is that as a student you are entitled to ride it for free. This is extra convenient when you consider that there are two streetcar stops on campus in the Park Blocks, one for the north/south route and one for the west/east route.
The streetcar is also more geared toward entertainment and sightseers, meaning it goes to some pretty cool places like Powell’s City of Books, Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen, OMSI and all of the great restaurants and shops in the Pearl District. On that note, while the MAX prevents you from making excuses about not being able to meet your folks at the airport, the streetcar is great way to occupy them while they’re in town. It’s so easy to lose people in Powell’s—oops!