Faces From The Neighborhood

Car Free in Portland: An Afternoon on the Waterfront

May 30, 2017 | Places & Neighborhoods
Bike on Kayak Dock on River

Driving in Portland is frustrating at best. I frequently see erratic and dangerous driving, and getting across the river feels impossible at times. We’ve all been there, sitting in a long line of cars just trying to go grocery shopping. But, there’s another way to get around that’s actually enjoyable. The last 10 days or so I’ve been going car free in Portland as much as possible. I’ve been having a blast.

The Tourist at home

Last weekend I headed down to Portland’s waterfront sans automobile. I hopped on Trimet’s Line 15 from my neighborhood down to the Hawthorne Bridge. From there, I headed out for a stroll along the water, taking a loop around both sides of the river. I felt a sense of freedom the moment I boarded the bus. When I got off the bus and began my walk, I felt like a tourist. It was almost like seeing Portland for the first time – again.

Of course, the waterfront was busy and bustling on one of the first sunny Saturday afternoons after the long, wet winter. First, I noticed several orange Bike Town bikes out and about after their winter hibernation.

Bike Town bikes on lawn at waterfront
Bike Town at the Waterfront

Then, I just started looking around, as if on vacation. I noticed fountains, museums, and monuments I had forgotten were there. I heard people laughing, bikes passing by, and birds calling above. I looked across the river, and I saw the floating walkway on the east side waterfront. What an incredible thing to have in my city! I understood why tourists flock here and decide to settle in the city so quickly.

Savoring Portland

Soaking it all in, I started to fall in love with Portland all over again. I headed toward the Steel Bridge, taking a slight detour through Saturday Market and down Ankeny Alley. Busy outdoor seating from cafes and pubs filled the sidewalks. Pedestrians owned the area, laughing and meandering to and fro. For a moment, I toyed with the idea of booking a hotel room and just spending the night. I wanted to savor what the city has to offer.

From there, I continued to the Steel Bridge and headed back the east side of the river. Despite the roaring noise of I-5, I got lost in the beauty of it all. I spotted a family of ducks taking an afternoon swim. The river, full of winter’s runoff, sparkled as the city’s skyline reflected on it. Visitors, or residents, were also enjoying the river.

Ducks on river below the Steel Bridge
Ducks enjoying the day

The freedom of going car free in Portland

As I approached home after a stress free day in the heart of Portland, I began to think. I started wondering if it’s our cars that stress us, and not the busy streets or lack of parking. Maybe car free is how cities are meant to be experienced, even the cities that we call home.

Perhaps, the car is a necessary intruder into the city landscape. We believe our cars offer freedom to get around when we need to go quickly. Yet, once a city grows up, the car ends up a nuisance. It separates us from life in the city and its beauty and rhythm.

Almost instinctively, I started contemplating how I could arrange my life so I could spend more time car free in Portland. I wanted to spend more more time being in and part of the city. Sometimes, walking, cycling, or taking the bus actually takes less time. More often, it takes more time, but I’m beginning to believe it’s time well spent. We live in what I believe one of the most beautiful and vibrant cities in the US. Why not enjoy what Portland is offering us on its terms for a change?

Do you ever go car free in Portland?

Lisa Ratzlaff

Lisa Ratzlaff is a web designer who loves telling the amazing stories of interesting people and businesses in Portland, Oregon. Her web design business is Share Your Story Media, where she builds powerful websites for small service-based businesses that help them succeed online.

Lisa Ratzlaff