Tag Archives | heat

Tram on a Hot Summer Day

Over at CommissionerSam.com, a new post is up about the high level of ridership on the Portland Aerial Tram.

Last December, in another conversation over there, a number of critics made dire predictions about the future of the Tram, not only in terms of ridership but also about hot weather.

With those criticisms in mind, I rode the tram yesterday, making a point to note temperatures (on a record-setting 100+ degree day) and make a few observations.

(More about the experience and my conclusions after the flip)

In the December, 2006 CommissionerSam.com Tram discussion, some critics were making predictions of people expiring from heat in tram cars while “packed like sardines”. At least one critic had predicted the city would be forced to spend further millions retrofitting an air conditioning system into the tram.

Observation 1: Ingenuity Prevails

Each tram car already has 8 on-board fans plus passive vents near the floor at the front and rear.

To augment this, tram operators have employed a low-tech solution: Large fans, the kind you can find easily at Costco, sit at the lower landing and blow air through the tram cars every time they open their doors, bringing the temperature quickly to ambient levels. I estimate the cost of this system to be well under $300.00, that’s “hundreds” not “millions”.

Observation 2: Shade is on your side

The lower landing, at 3PM when I rode, was shaded by the nearby OHSU Center for Health and Healing. This resulted in lower ambient temperatures, and in combination with the lower temperatures usually encountered near the river, this helped considerably.

Observation 3: Wind helps, too.

At the upper landing, temperatures felt considerably cooler, and there was a brisk breeze going. Every time I’ve ridden the tram there has been at least a mild breeze at the upper landing.

Observation 4: The actual temperatures

KGW’s official temperature for Portland when I rode, recorded at 2:53pm, was 101 degrees. In each tram cabin, a small digital thermometer had been installed near the ceiling, to record the hottest temperature in the cabin.

The tram operator said that typically the cabins run about 3 degrees hotter than the ambient air by the end of the 3 minute trip. I took a round trip, using both cabins. The final recorded temperature in both (and this is at the ceiling), was 97.7 degrees.

Observation 5: Other People

Riders were not packed in “like sardines”. In fact, as I predicted elsewhere, tram ridership is well distributed and frequent departures mean there is no overcrowding, even with the high level of ridership. (The Tram can move 1,900 people per hour total at full load, which if sustained at peak could carry the entire daily ridership in well under 3 hours.)

On the trip up, several riders were conversing with the operator about temperatures. None expressed the desire to have air conditioning installed, although two were discussing the idea of having windows in the cabins that could open. Somebody made a joke about replacing the glass with chicken wire. Nobody expressed that the temperatures were too hot compared to the outside, and nobody expired of heat exhaustion.


Riding the tram is no different than waiting for the bus on a hot, low-wind day. The lack of air conditioning is an inconvenience on the few days of the year that get this hot, but not life-threatening. If you are able to be out and about in the ambient heat, you won’t have a problem on the tram.

Note: This was originally formatted as a shorter comment to be posted at CommissionerSam.com, but people (including me) have had difficulty posting over there lately… some receive error messages, some receive dropped connections, etc., so I’ve chosen to amplify my remarks over here.