Ask TriMet: Are Cars Allowed on MAX or Streetcar Tracks?

Jan 17, 2020

There is a moment of anxiety you may have had if you’ve ever driven in Downtown Portland: “Wait… can I drive on these tracks?”

You’re not alone: Any downtown is a challenge to drive through, and with light rail and streetcars (plus buses, Uber and Lyft, more cars, bike, e-scooters and pedestrians) in the mix, Portland’s can be especially stressful.

So, what’s the deal? Where can you drive? And how can you tell the difference? 

🛑 Don’t drive on MAX tracks

Don’t drive on MAX tracks, even when there’s not a MAX train coming. 

MAX has an exclusive right-of-way — the path it runs on is for trains alone, no cars allowed. MAX also has its own traffic signals. This separation from other traffic helps MAX stay on schedule while crossing through Downtown

More importantly, MAX and cars need to stay apart from each other for their safety. MAX needs half a city block to stop at 15 mph, the speed limit for trains on the Transit Mall. If cars were allowed to drive on MAX tracks, or turn right across them, they could end up in the path of a MAX train when it’s not anticipating them. A serious collision could result if the operator isn’t able to brake in time.

🚦 You can drive on Streetcar tracks

Portland’s streets treat streetcars the same as an auto — practically speaking, a streetcar is a car on rails. A streetcar will follow the same signals and road rules as other traffic. It’s safe for cars to drive in the same lanes streetcars use (unless, of course, signs or road markings say you can’t).

MAX vs. Streetcar tracks: What’s the difference?

There are a number of signals, signs and markings that can help you quickly understand which lanes are not for cars.

The road itself is going to be your best source of guidance — look for painted markings that tell where you can drive. In some areas, you’ll even see brick lanes made of stone pavers. The different road surface is telling you that the lane is not for cars.

 

Here’s some of the road markings and signs you may see, and what they mean:

White Diamonds

White diamonds mean special restrictions apply, aka no cars.

 

“White diamond on MAX tracks”

A white “T” or “Bus Only”

A white “T” means Trains Only (you’ll often see this painted right after an intersection).

 

“Bus Only and Transit Only lanes”

Double-solid white lines

Double-solid white lines means it is illegal to cross (versus a single white line, which just discourages it).

 

“Double-solid white lines”

Broken white lines

Portland Streetcar operates in normal, everyday lanes. You’ll see the usual broken white lines — same as a passing zone on a highway — next to the tracks. That means it’s okay to drive on them.

 

“Broken white lines”

Watch for signs giving specific directions, especially when turning

In the most crowded areas of Downtown (such as around Pioneer Courthouse Square), you’ll see road signs like “No turns” or “Right two lanes 🚆and 🚍 only.”

“Right turn into far lane”

“Right 2 lanes bus and train only”

Look for arrow-shaped signals

Some traffic lights on one-way intersections are green arrows, instead of a regular green circle, to emphasize the appropriate flow of traffic.

 

“Green arrow signal and No Turns sign”

Know where you are

Have a good memory? Here are the main streets where MAX and Streetcar run.

MAX

  • 1st Avenue
  • 5th Avenue
  • 6th Avenue
  • Morrision Street
  • Yamhill Street
  • Lincoln Street

Streetcar

  • 10th Avenue
  • 11th Avenue
  • Harrison Street
  • Lovejoy Street
  • Mill Street
  • Moody Avenue
  • Northrup Street
  • Broadway and Broadway Bridge
  • Grand Avenue
  • Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard

 

Driving downtown can be stressful, but there are plenty of visual clues to help you out. And if you ever want to take a backseat and avoid the worry, we’re here to do the driving for you. 😉

Alyssa Flynn

Alyssa Flynn

Copywriter

Spends her free time reading and going to bar trivia, and gets her best ideas while riding the bus.

flynna@trimet.org | All posts

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