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In the World of Tomorrow

April 27, 2010
Portland's Aerial Tram

Portland's Aerial Tram arrives at OHSU (Orin O'Neill photos)

“It’ll be 35 minutes,” said the lady behind the pharmacy counter. Why it would take that long to take two vials of insulin out of a refrigerator, I don’t know. But it would give me plenty of time to ride the tram.

A bit of background: OHSU, the Portland VA Medical Center and Doernbecher & Shriner’s Children’s Hospitals are all built on Marquam Hill. Which is amazingly steep.

There’s also no room for expansion. So, someone hit on the idea of building additional space for OHSU on the South Waterfront. But how would people get from place to place quickly?

By aerial tram, of course.

I mentioned Marquam Hill is really steep, didn’t I? Did I mention there’s only one road leading up to the hospitals? It’s a fun ride on the GTS, but the wisdom of doing this in an area that is as earthquake-prone as any on the West Coast would seem suspect. I guess the land was free.

And while there is a bus that runs from downtown to the VAMC, there’s no direct way to the South Waterfront. Besides, an aerial tram would be really cool. And might be enough of a tourist attraction to pay for itself.

Buying tickets for the tram

The ride down is free, but the ride up will cost $4.00 if you don’t have an OHSU badge.

Naturally, there were cost overruns and much political wrangling prior to the tram’s completion. But since going into service, it seems to do its job without leaving people stranded, or breaking cables, or anything like that.

The system was designed and built by a company that built similar systems in the Swiss Alps.

Really, the ride is not unlike an elevator with great views.

Downtown Portland, from the aerial tram

When I was a kid, predictions of life in the World of Tomorrow usually included aerial trams. There was one at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, and Disneyland had one that took you from one end of Tomorrowland to the other.

That vision never included the shuttle vans that substitute for the tram if wind speed goes over 50 mph.

So in the world of 2010, an aerial tram still qualifies as weird. Favicon

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