Driving in Portland

Follow these tips to cruise around Portland with ease.

CentralEastside_General034_webYou can't drive a boat on Portland streets, but a car with a boat is just fine.

While Portland prides itself on being a city that’s easy to get around without a car, these tips will help you tour the city in four-wheeled fashion.

Major freeways

Downtown Portland is ringed by Interstate 5, the main north-south route from Canada to Mexico, and Interstate 405, a loop that encircles downtown and the Pearl district.

Interstate 84 originates at I-5 on Portland’s inner east side and continues east to Portland International Airport (accessible via the connecting Interstate 205), the Columbia River Gorge and on to Idaho and Utah. I-84 in Portland is also known as the Banfield Expressway, or just “the Banfield.”

Running west to the coast and east to Mount Hood is U.S. Route 26. The westbound stretch is also known as the Sunset Highway and leads to Beaverton, Hillsboro and Forest Grove. Eastbound Highway 26 is dubbed the Mount Hood Highway. Mount Hood is about 55 miles from downtown Portland; the highway continues east to Nebraska.

Oregon traffic laws

Speed limits

If not otherwise marked, the speed limit is 20 mph in business districts, 25 mph in residential districts, 65-70 mph on highways and rural roads and up to 65 mph on interstate highways. Speed limits  vary on interstate highways, but are usually 55 mph or under within Portland city limits.


Left and right turns onto one-way roads are permitted even with a red light, provided you first stop and yield to traffic and pedestrians.

Cell phone use

Using a cell phone while driving is only allowed for adults using hands-free accessories. People under 18 are not allowed to use any mobile communication device while driving; this includes texting or talking on a cell phone, even with a hands-free accessory. Talking or texting without a hands-free accessory is illegal for individuals of any age.

Driving in the central city

One-way & limited-turn streets

When driving in downtown and the Pearl District, you’ll notice the abundance of one-way streets. Watch the signs, and know that the one-way streets generally alternate directions.

West Burnside Street carries two-way traffic, but left turns are not generally permitted. If you need to get to the left of Burnside, plan to take two rights to get on the cross street going the desired direction.

Transit Mall

In downtown, buses, trains, cars and bikes all share the road on the Portland Transit Mall, which encompasses two one-way streets (Fifth Avenue running south, where most right turns are not permitted, and Sixth Avenue running north, where most left turns are not permitted).

Alternatives to the bus mall include Second and Fourth avenues (southbound) and Third Avenue and Broadway (northbound).

Sharing the road

Portland’s many bike lanes, moderate climate and gentle slopes all add up to a lot of bicyclists on the roads.

While sharing the road with cyclists is usually just a matter of common sense and attention to signs, here are some tips to help smooth the way:

  • Always watch for bikes. On streets without bike lanes, or when making left turns, cyclists may mix with cars in the main traffic lanes.
  • Yield to bikes at intersections with green “bike boxes.” Portland has 15 such intersections, designed to prevent collisions between cyclists using bike lanes and motorists making right turns. When the light is red, drivers must stop at the white line bordering the green box, which is reserved for bicyclists. It is not legal to turn right on a red light at these intersections. When preparing to turn right on a green light, motorists should yield to oncoming cyclists in the bike lane.
  • Be aware that the city is testing two other alternatives to traditional bike lanes downtown: the Portland State University Cycle Track demonstration project on Southwest Broadway from Clay to Jackson; and buffered bike lanes on Southwest Oak between Naito Parkway and Ninth Avenue and Southwest Stark between Naito and 13th. These roadways are clearly marked.


Did you know?

  • Oregon is one of only two states in the nation that don’t allow drivers to pump their own gas (the other is New Jersey).

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