Historical Map: TriMet Bus and MAX Routes, Portland, Oregon (early 1990s)

Certainly no later than 1998 as the MAX light rail only consists of the original Westside route (later to be the Blue Line).

Of note is the continued use of the service zone icons – fish, rain, snow, beaver, leaf, rose and deer – that defined Portland’s downtown transit mall for decades. I’ve featured them before on this map from 1978, but it’s on this map where their main failing comes to the fore. Because each icon is colour-coded, each respective service area just becomes a tangled web of lines, all represented by the same colour. Cross-town routes like the 75, – which have their own colour – just go to show how much easier a route is to follow when it contrasts against nearby routes, rather than matching them exactly.

Also a little odd: not naming any of the MAX stations on the map, and labelling regular frequency bus lines against very similarly-colured background boxes, which makes the route numbers a little difficult to discern.

All in all, an interesting look at the earlier days of MAX and the later days of the service area icons. It’s also fun to see which routes have survived to the current day and which have disappeared or been combined into one route (for example, the Fish-1 and Leaf-35 have become the modern day Greeley-Macadam 35).

Our rating: A nice piece of transit history from my adopted city, if a little imperfect. Three-and-a-half stars.

3.5 Stars

Source: Screaming Ape/Flickr

Submission – Fantasy Map: Pacific Northwest (USA and Canada) Regional Rail

Submitted by opspe, who says:

This is my concept for what an integrated regional inter-city rail network in the Northwest could look like, if things had developed that way.  All there is now (regionally) is Cascades, which I ride all the time, but it’s still rather limited.  I decided to include the local commuter rail lines (WES, Sounder, WCE) too.  I also decided to beef up CalTrans a bit - they don’t actually serve Redding, although it’s in discussion.

I sort of based the concept on the National Rail network in the UK, although things had to be scaled up a bit.  The area shown is about 2.5 times the size of the UK, after all.  I decided to include the main communities the lines pass through, rather than have a ton of whistle stops.  To me that makes it feel more…functional, for lack of a better word - more like a proper, seamless system. That being said, I think the scale belies the vastness of the region, so if I were to make smaller-scale maps for individual routes, I would probably include “whistle-stop sections” along the route.  But that’s TMI for an overview.

The routes are all current rail lines, in various states of freight usage or disrepair. I think the section between Juntura and Burns has been scrubbed entirely, but the grade is still there. There are several other minor infrastructure adjustments that would be needed too (downtown Hillsboro comes to mind).

As far as design goes, it seemed best to include some stylized geographical accuracy rather than have it be too rectilinear.  I tried to make the route names somewhat geographic, but I also numbered them for clarity. Route 1 (CascadesExpress) I had imagined as being a high-speed line, as opposed to the more local routes 2 and 3. Together they replace Amtrak Cascades (but keep the name for continuity).

Tumblr and/or Dropbox will likely crush the resolution, but the idea is that it’s supposed to be a big map, such as you would find mounted inside a station, or as a PDF online.

I’m curious what you think of it.


Transit Maps says:

Overall, this is a fine effort, which could just use a little polishing here and there to make it a quite excellent fantasy map. A couple of areas stand out to me for potential improvements:

First, the insets at the top, right and bottom of the map – all for just a few stations each – really make it look like you just ran out of room and didn’t want to go back and rework things. There’s lots of room on a map this big to tighten things up and make everything fit without insets. Even bringing all your stations just a tiny bit closer together across the entire map can create a surprising amount of extra space. For mine, insets should only be used when the complexity of the system at that point can’t reasonably be shown any other way: the inset of the Loop on the official Chicago “L” map stands as a good example of this.

Secondly, you could work a little more on stylizing and simplifying your coastline and rivers. The San Juan Islands look particularly blocky to me, and I think the Columbia River would look so much nicer if it had sweeping curves as it changed direction, rather than the harsh angles you currently have. Remember, the style of your background should complement your route lines, not draw attention away from them.

I also think the thick black border around your legend is a little heavy handed, but that’s a very minor thing.

One thing on the operational aspect of your system (which I don’t normally comment on too much, preferring just to focus on the technical and aesthetic qualities of the map)… I’m not sure any regional/commuter rail system would ever run a route one way up one side of a river and the other direction on the opposite bank like you’ve done with Line 12 in British Columbia. It’s just not at all practical for users! Imagine if I live in Agassiz, and I commute to Vancouver each day: I drive my car to Agassiz station and catch the train. Coming home, I can only return to Chilliwack, which is nowhere near where I left my car. Maybe there are shuttle buses between the two stations, but that just seems incredibly inefficient. I would suggest that most regional rail systems would have one route along the side of the river that serves the most people, or maybe – just maybe! – they’d split the service (but halve the frequency) in both directions on both sides of the river.

Anonymous Asked
QuestionHi Cameron. Do you have any plans to update your 'Rail Transit of Portland' map with the new transit/pedestrian bridge and new MAX line down to Milwaukie? Are you waiting till the line opens? I love the map and would like to buy a print once it's updated. Thanks! Answer

That version of the map is basically done, as can be seen here on Flickr — the line down to Milwaukie is shown as “under construction”. I still need to revise the colours used for the streetcar lines to match the official ones as this map was made before they had finalised them.

Then, I will have to wait until the line is opened to see what the final route configuration of the Orange Line will be. I’ve chosen to show the line as a logical extension of the Yellow Line (as I personally believe that’s what it should be!), but it seems that TriMet wants it to be its own, separate route designation. I’ve heard differing reports of where the line will terminate/turn around/change into a Yellow Line train, so I’m just going to have to wait, I guess…

Historical Map/Photo: Installing an Enormous Northern Pacific RR Map, 1917

A fantastic photo that shows a huge map being installed through a window at the Northern Pacific offices in St. Paul, Minnesota. The short article that accompanied the photo when it was first published in Popular Mechanics in February 1917 says:

A railway map of enormous size was recently installed in the immigration department of the Northern Pacific Railway offices in St. Paul. It measures 69 ft. long and 11 ft. wide and required the services of nearly a dozen men to carry it. The map shows that portion of the United States between the eastern boundary of Minnesota and the Pacific coast, and the entire Northern Pacific Railway system, including practically every station on the line. The whole representation is done on such a large scale that even the lettering used in the names of the smallest towns can easily be read several feet away.

Despite its great size, the map appears to be pretty coarsely executed. The presence of what looks like large handwriting — it’s not sign writing, but is written in a natural hand — across the top of the map leads me to think that this is some kind of photographic enlargement from a much smaller original map, although I have no idea how such large prints would be accomplished with early 20th century technology.

Source: Making Maps: DIY Cartography

Historical Map: Southern Pacific “Red Electric” Tracks in Downtown Portland, c. 1920

Scanned from the book “The Red Electrics: Southern Pacific’s Oregon Interurbans" by Tom Dill and Walter Grande.

This handsome map shows the routing of the Southern Pacific’s electric interurban trains through downtown Portland from their northern terminus at Union Station. These trains, popularly known as the “Red Electrics” after their distinctive carriages, ran from Portland all the way down the Willamette Valley as far as Corvallis, 85 miles distant. Service started in 1914, extended to Corvallis in 1917 and ceased in 1929; just 15 years later.

These big, heavy trains ran right down the middle of Fourth Avenue from Union Station with an intermediate stop at Stark and Fourth. At Fourth and Jefferson, the lines split into two services: the “Westside” route served Beaverton, Hillsboro, Forest Grove and Carlton, while the “Eastside” line served Oswego, Sherwood, Newberg and Lafayette. The two routes connected in Saint Joseph, just north of McMinnville, and then continued to Corvallis.

Of further interest, the map also shows the route of the competing Oregon Electric company, running down 10th Avenue and Salmon Street. Their terminus station was at 10th and Hoyt (the train barns still exist, repurposed as fancy loft apartments on either side of 10th Avenue), with stations at 10th and Stark, 10th and Alder, Salmon and 5th/6th, and Jefferson and Front (modern-day Naito). Also seen is the incredible network of streetcar lines at the time, visible on almost every downtown street!

(Source: jackonflickr/Flickr)

Historical Map: TriMet Bus System Map, Portland, Oregon, 1978

Not much use for route planning: this map was really made just to show how the routes that ran into the city centre were grouped into geographic regions and denoted by a colour and an icon. While stops along the transit mall are now marked with boring old letters, back then these cheery and oh-so-1970s symbols guided you to the bus stop you needed. Also very 1970s: the tightly-kerned Avant Garde typeface.

(Source: TriMet’s “How We Roll” blog)

Updated: Aerial Photo Transit Map of Portland, Oregon — Now with Bus Routes!

Taylor Gibson’s aerial photo map of Portland’s rail and streetcar routes is one of the most popular posts ever on Transit Maps, so I thought I’d pass on this update to it, which now shows the bus network as well. The colours used match the official TriMet system map, although Taylor hasn’t shown peak hour-only services like the 51 up through Council Crest.

What this view really shows to effect is Portland’s grid-like bus network, which you can read more about (and learn why it’s so good) on Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit blog.

(Source: Submitted by Taylor to the Transit Maps Facebook page)

Submission - Unofficial Map: Portland, Oregon Rail Network by Taylor Gibson

When Taylor sent through his aerial photo map of Portland the other day, he also submitted this very interesting isometric map of the city’s rail network (MAX, WES and streetcar). Tyler is a self-proclaimed “total newbie at making transit maps”, but this is definitely a pretty solid effort.

Highly reminiscent of this isometric map of Stuttgart (Oct 2011, 5 stars), the 30-degree-angled route lines allow station labels to be set horizontally without clashing with each other, even in the congested downtown area. The only real problem area is the almost unavoidable mess created by the four separate “Pioneer Square” stations right in the middle of the map. I’ve noticed that these have been consolidated into one “mega-station” on TriMet’s new in-car maps, and that’s definitely a cleaner, more sensible approach to the problem in my eyes.

I also see a little influence from my own map of Portland’s rail system: both in the layout of the legend, and the fact that Taylor has decided to show the new MAX line to Milwaulkie as an extension of the Yellow Line, rather than the commonly expected “Orange Line”.

I do have a few minor criticisms: text in general is a little small and hard to read, although I can see how larger text would cause layout problems (perhaps a condensed typeface could solve this), and there are a couple of confusing label clashes: the parking symbol for Gateway TC is right on top of the station marker for Parkrose/Sumner TC, for example. It’s also a little sad to see the streetcar relegated to thin unlabelled lines, but the space limitations of the map almost demand this treatment.

Still, for a “newbie”, this is pretty darn awesome. Great work, Taylor!

Submission - Aerial Photo Transit Map of Portland, Oregon

Submitted to the Transit Maps Facebook page by Taylor Gibson. While nowhere near as complex as the New York system featured previously, it’s still an interesting look at a successful rail transit system.

For those unfamiliar with Portland, the thicker lines (Yellow, Green, Blue and Red — shown here as pink for visual clarity, I think) are the MAX light rail, while the thinner aqua and lime green lines are the Portland Streetcar, which has recently expanded to the eastern side of the Willamette River (the top half of this photo).

Eventually, the aqua “Loop” streetcar line will cross back over to the western side of the Willamette at the extreme right of this photo via the new transit-only bridge that is currently being constructed. The bridge will also carry buses, pedestrians, cyclists and the new Orange MAX line.

(Photo Source: DubbaG/Wikipedia — Creative Commons License)  

Official Map: Portland MAX Horizontal Strip Map

The newest rolling stock used on Portland’s MAX light rail (Siemens S70 cars, known as “Type 4”) has enough room above the doors to display a horizontal version of the system map. Types 1 through 3 don’t have this space, and instead display an unwieldy portrait-oriented version of the map that bears little resemblance to geographical reality.

Interestingly, this map is not the same as the official system map found on TriMet’s website or ticket machines (despite sharing the same orientation and very similar proportions) but instead is yet another completely different layout. Wisely, the information on the map has been simplified down to the essentials — route lines and stations. Even the WES Commuter Rail has been omitted: there’s simply a note at the Beaverton Transit Center station noting that transfers to the weekday rush-hour only service can be made.

However, the map is also arguably the most geographically accurate version that TriMet has made: the Red and Blue lines take a big detour southwards from Sunset TC to Beaverton TC on the west side, just like in real life. Similarly, the Blue Line’s realignment from alongside I-84 to E Burnside St after Gateway TC makes an appearance. Even the slight changes in direction at either end of the Blue Line are reminiscent of actual geography.

Finally, of particular interest to me is the map’s striking use of 30- and 60-degree angles. Hmmmm, where have I seen that before?


  1. Camera: iPhone 5
  2. Aperture: f/2.4
  3. Exposure: 1/120th
  4. Focal Length: 4mm