Best planning and implementation toolbox


Purpose of Tool:

The Portland Aerial Tram carries commuters between the University of Oregon’s Health and Science campus and the Marquam Hill neighborhood.

Image Source: Tim Jewett for Travel Portland, online:
Activity center transportation refers to a transportation system that is designed for circulation to or within an activity area, such as a large office park or campus, which minimizes or eliminates the need for short car trips within these areas. There are two main types of operations systems used for activity center transportation: the first type uses small vehicles that are operated at a high frequency and whose routes vary depending on the traveler’s origin and destination, and the second type uses larger vehicles or trams on fixed routes between stations. Activity center transportation is designed to provide door-to-door mobility for commuters, solving the ‘last mile’ problem that often deters individuals from utilizing public transportation. It can also alleviate parking issues by providing access within activity centers from satellite parking facilities.

Benefits of Using Tool:
Activity center transportation offers significant potential toward improving the mobility of employees and visitors or other users within an activity center, such as an office park or campus, as well as reducing vehicle trips to the activity center by increasing the use of public transit for travel to the site. Other regional and community benefits associated with activity center transport may include the following:
  • Encourages ridesharing and provides viable alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle commuting,
  • Reduces traffic congestion and therefore reduces pollutants such as CO2 and other green house gas (GHG) emissions that result from automobile use,
  • Presents a flexible and cost-effective alternative transit mode, particularly in linking areas that are not well served by public transit, and
  • Decreases demand for employee or student parking on site, where parking spaces can be in short supply, or allows for excess parking lots to be removed and replaced with infill development.

    Steps Involved to Use Tool:
    Activity center transportation systems can be implemented by a transit provider, municipality, institution, or business development as part of a commute trip reduction program. A transit agency may also implement or manage some types of activity center transportation systems, depending on the scale of the service area. Steps for implementation will include:
  • Outline program goals (e.g. trip reduction for employees, circulation from adjacent transit station, increased access to nearby commercial service, etc.)
  • Determine a feasible routing and mode of transport, (e.g. fixed guideway system, tramway, electric vehicle shuttle, etc.).
  • Determine funding and establish an implementation schedule.
    Special Requirements to Use Tool: Some activity center transportation modes, such as tramways, are not specifically designed as park-and-ride facilities because there is not enough land available for a parking facility. To ensure the most efficient and effective operation of any activity center transportation system, creating strong linkages to satellite parking facilities or other community-wide public transit must be addressed when designing the system.

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    The effectiveness of activity center transportation depends on providing appropriate incentives to office park workers, such as providing opportunities for ridesharing or subsidizing transit usage to reduce single-occupancy vehicle commuting. In arriving to work via an alternate mode of transport, an employee will rely on the activity center transport to make transit connections and/or to get around during midday, including leaving their office building to run errands or eat lunch.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
    In January of 2007, the City of Portland opened the Portland Aerial Tram connecting the activity center destinations of Portland’s South Waterfront District, where Oregon Health & Science University’s (OHSU) Center for Health & Healing is located, to the top of Marquam Hill, the site of OHSU’s main campus. The three minute and 3,300 linear feet journey and panoramic views of the surrounding area have made tram ridership soar. Easy transfer connection points between the aerial tram and Portland’s street car system have encouraged the use of public transit and decreased individual automobile trips to campus. Additionally, the street car and tram systems accommodate bikes, which encourages multi-modal commuting practices.

    Portland Aerial Tram
    Marquam Hill Campus at Oregon Health & Science University
    Portland, OR 97202
    (503) 494-8283

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
    The ridership rate of activity center transportation can be correlated to a reduction in single-occupancy vehicle trips within that area. For example, the Portland Aerial Tram ridership has exceeded expectations since it opened in 2007. 92 percent of riders are students or faculty commuting between the two OHSU campuses, and when the aerial tram was opened to the public (i.e. those outside of the OHSU community) a 54 percent increase of one-way riders was observed. The revenue for the tram overall was also high, coming in nine percent above the projected amount. It is estimated the Portland Aerial Tram annually eliminates two million vehicle miles, saving 93,000 gallons of gas and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1,000 tons.

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
    See the following sources for more information:
  • Darwin G. Stuart, Strengthening Transportation of Urban- and Suburban Activity Centers, 1983. Online:
  • Steve Raney, Major Activity Center PRT Circulator Design: Hacienda Business Park, 2006. Online:
  • D.H. Maund, Parametric Study of Activity Center Transportation Systems, Highway Research Board, No. 367. Online:
  • Portland Aerial Tram, Helping to Move People and Ideas, 2007 Annual Report. Online:


    1 An activity center is loosely defined as a major office, commercial, or residential high density center that is planned as an integral unit and, once built, can match or exceed in total daily population that of many other mid-sized central business districts, approximately 25,000 to 100,000 persons daily. With the exception of CBDs, the primary mode of travel to an activity center is a single-occupancy vehicle. (Stuart, 1983, As presented in Mixed Use Cores, 2006.)
    2 D.H. Maund, Parametric Study of Activity Center Transportation Systems, page 1.
    3 Tram Ridership Exceeds Expectations, page 1. Online:
    4 Portland Aerial Tram, 2007 Annual Report, page 1.