CHRIS KATTERJOHN Commentary: Let’s emulate user-friendly Portland

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I travel a fair amount for both business and pleasure, and I’ve been to several major U.S. cities. Most of the time, I return from these adventures thinking that wherever it was I visited had nothing on Indianapolis. In fact, I usually think those cities can learn a lot from us.

This time, it was different. I’ve just returned from a place that’s doing a lot of things right … a place that has employed some ideas and programs our city would do well to emulate as we continue our quest to become a meeting and tourist destination.

The city: Portland, Ore. Overall impression: userfriendly.

On a recent vacation to the Northwest, my daughters and I spent three days and nights in the city and were impressed by how easy it is to get around. If our city planners haven’t made the trip, they’d be wise to do so.

At the top of the list is public transportation. Portland has a system that is light years ahead of ours and most every city I’ve been to.

The city employs a three-pronged attack: the TriMet bus service, MAX light rail and the Portland Streetcar system. A visitor can ride interchangeably on these three lines anywhere within the “fare-less square” of 331 city blocks … for free.

Most of the city’s hotels, restaurants and shops and many tourist attractions lie within the free district. But if your sightseeing plans take you outside the designated area-say, to the Japanese Gardens in Washington Square-you can buy an adult pass for only $3.75 and go anywhere you want all day long.

What’s more, you can buy these tickets at numerous automated kiosks throughout the city and pay by credit or debit card. If you’re a bicycle rider, you’ll find a place on board most of the vehicles to hang your bike. And by the way, the light rail system goes to and from the airport all day long.

If you have a rental car, Portland makes parking relatively easy. For starters, the city owns seven downtown garages with 4,000 parking spaces. If you make a minimum $25 purchase at any one of 700 participating businesses, you can park for two hours for free.

Better yet, Portland has deployed solar-powered parking meters-one in the middle of each city block-to replace the traditional one-per-space metal meters. What’s best, these so-called Smart Meters accept credit and debit cards, so there’s no need to fumble for pocket change.

Depending on the meter and the district, you can buy from 90 minutes to five hours worth of parking. When you make your payment, you get a printed receipt, half of which you put on the driver’s side dashboard. If you return to your car with time remaining, you can park somewhere else with the same receipt until your purchased time expires.

For those who want to use Portland as a home base for travel along the West Coast, the Amtrak Cascade passenger train travels between Portland and Seattle three times daily. Amtrak also offers daily trips to Vancouver, B.C.; San Francisco; and Los Angeles.

Last, but certainly not least, the Portland airport is a beautiful piece of work. Efficient design and excellent architecture make it a pleasure to fly in and out of. Great restaurants and shopping areas; free wireless Internet access; art, sculpture and musicians; and general cleanliness make your wait time most enjoyable.

But the best thing about the airport was picking up and returning our rental car. The companies’ counters are a 60-second walk from baggage claim, and the cars themselves are an escalator ride up one floor from there. Internal signage made picking up easy, and outside signage made returning even easier.

I hope the designers of our midfield terminal have made a trip through the Portland airport. We can learn a few things from that city.

Katterjohn is publisher of IBJ. To comment on this column, go to IBJ Forum at www.ibj.comor send e-mail to

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