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Portland vs. Seattle

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Old 10-16-10, 03:58 PM
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trailz 
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Portland vs. Seattle

As a midwesterner (chicago area) considering a move to the pacific northwest within the next 5 years, my wife and I have begun learning about Portland, and it's great bicycling and public transportation infrustructure. In fact, we just spent 4 days there, without a car, and made use of some bicycles at the Ace Hotel.

While I've been in Seattle a few times, and really enjoyed it, it's been a few years— prior to my current bicycling interest.
Can anyone speak to how Seattle compares to Portland in terms of bike lanes, number of bike commuters, number of bike shops, public trans throughout the neighborhoods, etc.?

We're aiming to be car free once we move.

Thanks
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Old 10-16-10, 07:07 PM
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My qualifications -- I have lived in Seattle for 10 years, and also lived in Chicago for 7 years. I have visited Portland a number of times but never biked there.

First -- IMHO, either Seattle or Portland is 100x better for cycling than Chicago. I would say the only advantage Chicago has is the train system that goes way out into the suburbs. Otherwise -- for both commuting and recreational riding, either Seattle or Portland is better than Chicago. In terms of shops -- both places have great bike shops (there are at least 40 in King Count, Wa., last time I looked).

But in terms of bike commuting and public transit my impression is that Portland is better. There are certainly a number of neighborhoods in Seattle that would easily accommodate a car-free existence, but in general I think more of Portland is more accessible via bike and transit than Seattle.

Sounds like you have a lot of time to do some research -- a couple of things to research that compare the two:

1. Bike tourist and bike author Willie Weir, who lives in Seattle, went to Portland last year and wrote a couple of things and gave some public radio interviews here in Seattle comparing Portland to Seattle's biking infrastructure. His impression is that Portland is better. I think you can probably find some of his Portland vs. Seattle commentary online.

Here's a Seattle radio station's interview w/Willie: http://www.kuow.org/program.php?id=18898

A video Willie did about Portland: http://bikeportland.org/2010/02/12/w...lie-weir-29483

2. Likewise, some grad student here in Seattle did an elaborate mapping project last year comparing the "bikeability" of Seattle to Portland, and said that because of the arrangement of hills in Seattle that Seattle would always inherently be less bikable than Portland. I found this via a Google search again a couple of weeks ago so I know it's out there (try using "GIS" in the search).

BTW, I bike all over Seattle and the surrounding areas, and commute to work, so I'm not knocking Seattle. You asked which is "better" for a car free lifestyle, though, and my impression is that we lose out to Portland. But if you have a strong reason to prefer Seattle, you'll certainly be able to manage a car free lifestyle here.

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Old 10-16-10, 09:12 PM
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Originally Posted by BengeBoy View Post
...
2. Likewise, some grad student here in Seattle did an elaborate mapping project last year comparing the "bikeability" of Seattle to Portland, and said that because of the arrangement of hills in Seattle that Seattle would always inherently be less bikable than Portland. I found this via a Google search again a couple of weeks ago so I know it's out there (try using "GIS" in the search).

BTW, I bike all over Seattle and the surrounding areas, and commute to work, so I'm not knocking Seattle. You asked which is "better" for a car free lifestyle, though, and my impression is that we lose out to Portland. But if you have a strong reason to prefer Seattle, you'll certainly be able to manage a car free lifestyle here.
It always amazes me that the presence of hills makes people think someplace is less bikeable. Of the few car-free people I know, the only ones who are not overweight are the ones who seek out hills to ride over. Since one of the most popular reasons given for cycling is health and fitness, it would seem that hills would make a place more bikeable, not less.

I also note that most of the places I have lived put the major roads and expressways along the flattest corridors and leave the hills for secondary/tertiary roads. Secondary/tertiary roads are, you know, the ones most of us prefer to ride on. Who would trade a few hills for higher car volumes?

Okay, back to the topic at hand. I have never lived in Seattle and have barely visited. I am often in PDX for both business and pleasure. Anyone considering moving there for its claims of bike friendliness really needs to spend more than a few days there. It does have a growing number of city residents using bikes, and that is good. Unfortunately, the bulk of the people in Portland on any given day do not reside within the Portland city limits. This creates a situation where there are just enough cyclists to be a nuisance to the carcissists but not enough for the benefits of critical mass, thus you will experience a fair amount of bike hate. If you move there and add to the number of cyclists, hurray for you; you are hastening the day when people outnumber cars and are thus part of the solution. Just be sure to remove the rose-tinted glasses before you commit.
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Old 10-16-10, 11:05 PM
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Originally Posted by B. Carfree View Post
It always amazes me that the presence of hills makes people think someplace is less bikeable.
Whatever. Let the author of the study know.

http://bikeintelligencer.com/2010/04...e-to-portland/
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Old 10-16-10, 11:17 PM
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Originally Posted by B. Carfree View Post
Okay, back to the topic at hand. I have never lived in Seattle and have barely visited. I am often in PDX for both business and pleasure. Anyone considering moving there for its claims of bike friendliness really needs to spend more than a few days there. It does have a growing number of city residents using bikes, and that is good. Unfortunately, the bulk of the people in Portland on any given day do not reside within the Portland city limits. This creates a situation where there are just enough cyclists to be a nuisance to the carcissists but not enough for the benefits of critical mass, thus you will experience a fair amount of bike hate. If you move there and add to the number of cyclists, hurray for you; you are hastening the day when people outnumber cars and are thus part of the solution. Just be sure to remove the rose-tinted glasses before you commit.
I live across the Columbia River from Portland and I frequently ride from here to and through the city core. In the 15 years I've lived here (I grew up in California) I have never once experienced "bike hate" to any degree.
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Old 10-16-10, 11:44 PM
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Originally Posted by Jeff Wills View Post
I live across the Columbia River from Portland and I frequently ride from here to and through the city core. In the 15 years I've lived here (I grew up in California) I have never once experienced "bike hate" to any degree.
I have to agree. I live in the Seattle area, and was going down to PDX/Beaverton very frequently for work this last year. I took my bike with me and rode. Never an issue at all. I did miss the hills of Seattle though.
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Old 10-16-10, 11:48 PM
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DISCLAIMER...I live in Seattle but have spent many days biking in Portand.

Hills do make a difference....and if moving from Chicago to Portland/Seattle it's a pretty dramatic change. That being said I'd say that the majority of Portland is flat IF you live downtown, north, northeast, or southeast sections of the city. If not you'd better have a pretty big granny gear. In Seattle there are huge hills but you can usually get around them...at least for awhile, but be prepared to climb no matter where you go. It's not like Colorado mountain climbing but there are pretty steep hills...especially downtown.

As far as cars vs. traffic I think I've been honked at once in the last five years and I ride in traffic in the city nearly every day. If you are predictable and polite you'll get along fine. Seattle/Portland drivers are used to lots of bikes and in my opinion are very accomodating.

Portland probably beats Seattle in the bike lane competion, however, both cities are set up pretty well for bike commuters. There are certain streets to stay off of but once you figure them out you'll be fine.

Overall, both are great cities to bike in. Lots of great shops, lots of bikes, and lots of great places to ride...and the scenery isn't bad.
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Old 10-16-10, 11:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Bogester View Post
It's not like Colorado mountain climbing but there are pretty steep hills...especially downtown.
I used to live/train/race in Boulder and I would say that we are right up there, if not a little trickier due to our road moisture....Western Colorado is very dry and dusty and starts at 5000 feet of elevation compared to us at sea level.

Enough of Colorado talk though.
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Old 10-17-10, 02:07 PM
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I live here in Federal way and just started (Road) cycling. I use to take my Canondale to Portland and ride around to visit my son. Never had any issues what so ever. So far I have been honked at twice here in Seattle and at home. They were compliment honks and not "Bike Hate" honks. The wife and I rode around Mercer Island and cars would take their time trying to get around us. I honestly hate Portland because of the traffic and can see more danger riding a bike there because of that. We seem to get more aggressive and impatient in stand still traffic. Also good luck with your move.

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Old 10-17-10, 05:09 PM
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If biking is your only consideration, then Portland. It has a slightly better climate (some may challenge me on that one) and is only 2/3 of the population or something like that, considering the metropolitan area. You can check those facts, too.
Do you have to make a living? For that, Seattle wins. Also the Seattle airport has better connections to everywhere else than Portland.
I've lived in Oregon and Washington most of my life and like both cities.

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Old 10-18-10, 11:03 AM
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Publiuc Transportation is much better in Portland than here. They have had light rail there for 20+ years and we are just begining with ours.
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Old 10-20-10, 04:43 PM
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I've lived most of my life in the Seattle area. My work began taking me to Portland several times a year about 5 years ago, and on each trip I'm usually able to fit in a few hours of cycling, or even a full day if I'm there over a weekend. This by no means makes me an expert on Portland, but I've ridden in most of its neighborhoods and have gotten a good "feel" for the differences in cycling between the two cities.

Both are good cities to cycle in, but I agree with previous posters that Portland has the edge over Seattle. I'll focus on three factors that stand out to me:

1. Geography. Seattle is a complex collection of hills, valleys, and lakes with Puget Sound and Lake Washington squeezing in from either side on the east and west. As a result, Seattle grew up almost as a collection of small subcities that started on different parts and eventually joined together. The joining wasn't always gracefully achieved, and some parts of the city can be a pain to reach from other parts due to barriers of water, steep slopes, and limited throughgoing arterials. The geography of Portland is much simpler- generally speaking, its largest hills are on the west side of the Willamette, and most of the downtown and eastern half lies on relatively mild slopes. There are geologic reasons for this that I won't go into here, but the result is it's generally easier to get from one part of Portland to another by bike (with the exception of the hilly western neighborhoods) than it is in Seattle.

A minor aspect of geography that I find pleasing about Portland is the steep hills that arc around its downtown block the worst of the wind during winter storms (not true out on the Columbia or east!). The downtown section of Seattle is exposed to Puget Sound and is much windier as a result. This may be one reason why Seattle doesn't have anywhere near the curbside dining you'll find in downtown Portland.

2. The downtown areas. For historical reasons I'm not familiar with, downtown Portland was designed with a much denser street grid than downtown Seattle. The effect of this is that intersections are much closer together, preventing vehicle traffic from doing much more than 20mph anywhere. In downtown Seattle, the grid is more spread out, so traffic speeds tend to be much higher. This isn't a problem for most cyclists, but I find downtown Portland much less stressful to ride in than downtown Seattle as a result.

3. The cycling culture. Niether city is an Amsterdam, but every time I visit Portland and ride it, whether by day or night, there are always larger numbers of cyclists everywhere than I see in Seattle. I don't know whether this can be attributed to a larger political support of cyclists in Portland vs. Seattle or just the fact that it's easier to get around due to the geography, as mentioned above.

Sorry this is so long, but I've always found it interesting how the two cities evolved into having quite different characters.

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Old 10-20-10, 05:37 PM
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Thanks all! Some great and articulate responses to my original question. One other detail I've looked into is bike advocacy. Portland seems to have a strong eye forward for this. I sense that Portland has a lot of pride in it's 'bike city' badge, now competing with Minneapolis (of all places). If you know, how does Seattle compare with advocacy groups?

Here in Chi-Town, we've got Active Transport Alliance fighting for us. I've been a member for years, supporting as much as I can. But the sad part is, our group is so marginalized by other priorities, it's almost embarrassing.
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Old 10-21-10, 11:48 AM
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Originally Posted by B. Carfree View Post
It always amazes me that the presence of hills makes people think someplace is less bikeable. Of the few car-free people I know, the only ones who are not overweight are the ones who seek out hills to ride over. Since one of the most popular reasons given for cycling is health and fitness, it would seem that hills would make a place more bikeable, not less.
People sweat more on hills. This means you might now need a shower at work, and all the complexity that brings in.
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Old 10-21-10, 12:06 PM
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I like Seattle Public Transit better - it's cheap and easy to take a bus from Seattle to Tacoma and Oly! Seattle has a couple of routes that run practically all night. Tri Met routes are wrapped up around 1:30am, IIRC. And the water taxi and ferries are RAD!

I like cycling in Portland better. Downtown Seattle has far more hectic traffic than downtown Portland, IMO. Seattle has more choke points which hinders your ability to take neighborhood streets, as you'll have to get on a big busy road to get across the freeway or lake or canal. So you'll frequently have a couple miles of tolerable riding, then a couple miles of heart attack riding, then maybe hook up with a bike lane for a bit. And it's WAY easier to get lost in Seattle.

And, yep, as long as you don't live in SW PDX, or commute across the West hills serious hills are generally less of a concern in Portland than Seattle.
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Old 10-21-10, 01:23 PM
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Oh, and Seattle has no State income tax. Portland has no sales tax.

Cost of Living's a tad higher in Seattle.
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Old 10-21-10, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by LesterOfPuppets View Post
And, yep, as long as you don't live in SW PDX, or commute across the West hills serious hills are generally less of a concern in Portland than Seattle.
Really, even if you do commute across the West Hills, I think the average Seattle route is probably worse. Plus, you can take MAX across the hills (if you want to avoid some of the best riding in the city).

I would definitely agree that Seattle has better public transportation.

I'm a bit concerned that Portland's bike advocacy is losing steam. The advocates are still active and engaged, to be sure, but I feel like there's a growing discontent with bicyclists among the non-cyclist in the city that is starting to influence the politics. It also feels like we lost power in city hall when Sam Adams went from being champion of bicycling in the transportation department to being mayor. Portland probably still edges out Seattle in this respect.
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Old 10-21-10, 04:07 PM
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One more thing, Seattle has an all ages helmet law, where as Portland is 16 and under, maybe 18 and under I forget.
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Old 10-21-10, 04:16 PM
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born and raised in seattle (one of the only few)
goto portland alot. love it. would never move there tho.

better food in portland.
funner hills in seattle (never too long to kill you)
more hipsters in portland
more yuppies in seattle
tall buildings in seattle
better neighborhoods in portland
way better public transport in portland
more jobs in seattle

i'll have more later.
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Old 10-21-10, 07:37 PM
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oh, perfect timing.

these three blog posts really talk about how great the biking is down in portland:
http://seattlebikeblog.com/tag/portl...out-of-biking/
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Old 10-25-10, 11:00 PM
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If car-free is the only consideration, I'd go for PDX. Flatter and more bike infrastructure means that hauling cargo-type loads is easier. Seattle has less harsh winters, (less snow/ice), but the summers aren't as warm.

That said, I prefer Seattle. I've ridden in both areas, and I don't like summer heat so Seattle is perfect. There's a "warm" summer time, and maybe a couple scattered days equalling a week and a half when it's "hot". PDX gets a lot of hot summer days.
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Old 11-01-10, 12:44 PM
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I'll buck the trend in this thread, and recommend Seattle. It's a much nicer place to be.

* Portland has a river. Seattle has an ocean. Or salt water, anyway, on an inlet.
* Portland has Mt Hood. Seattle has Mt Rainier.
* On a clear day ( I know ... ) you can see three national parks from downtown Seattle.
* Seattle has a better economy.
* Seattle feels like a medium sized city. Portland, to me at least, feels like part of the rust belt.
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Old 11-01-10, 01:40 PM
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* Seattle has a better economy.
* Seattle feels like a medium sized city. Portland, to me at least, feels like part of the rust belt.
I disagree that Portland feels like part of the rust belt, but agree that Seattle has the larger (I'm not so sure about 'better') economy. Again, history and geography played a part here. Portland never had to fight for its existence in the way Seattle did; from very early on it was obvious that a large city- and only one- would be built at the junction of the Columbia and Willamette rivers, capturing all the trade and river traffic there. Seattle, on the other hand, was only one of several settlements that started in various inlets of Puget Sound, all competing to be the big dog. As a result, it had a long fight to capture companies and capital to gain dominance, and the momentum of that rush can even be felt today in the economic importance of large companies like Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks, etc. So yes, it probably does have a 'better' economy. Portland, having avoided some of that pressure, seems to be a little more laid back and retains a more regional flavor. Just my opinion; worth about as much as it cost to write.

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Old 11-01-10, 01:57 PM
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Originally Posted by donglecorn View Post
more hipsters in portland
What's a "hipster"?
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Old 11-01-10, 03:08 PM
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