Does anyone in Portland work during the summer?

City streets are eerily empty in August.


Boarding the MAX yellow line is part of my routine commute. I snag a seat by the window and watch as the train quickly fills with commuters, coffee and compact mirrors in hand.

But there’s been a marked change recently. There are more empty seats, and outside, the hustle and bustle has slowed to a crawl. Commuter traffic has declined, bike commuters have hung their helmets and food cart lines seem to move more quickly.

The lull is noteworthy enough to have attracted the attention of my co-workers.

“Does anyone work in Portland during the summer?” asked editor Linda Baker after cycling to work last week.  “The roads are deserted!”  Research editor Kim Moore, who also bikes to work, made the same observation.

We decided to check in with the experts.

The Oregon Department of Employment doesn’t have statistics on when employees take their vacations.  But Dominic Moore, President of Flux Resources, a Portland staffing firm, says he notices “an uptick in vacations around major holidays [adding time off to paid holiday time] to spend extra time with family, spring break — and August before school goes back into session."

"It’s sort of a ‘last hurrah,’” Moore says.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation doesn’t track commuter traffic. And the Oregon Department of Transportation doesn’t have stats on seasonal variations.

Reports from other cities indicate traffic patterns do change during the summer.

People don't necessarily drive less in July and August, but they do get behind the wheel at different times of the day. So while there is an emptying out of the streets during the morning and evening commutes, more people are driving during the afternoons: taking their kids to the pool, visiting museums, etc.

And as Portland residents flee the city, highway congestion also increases, says Don Hamilton, ODOT spokesperson.

“Especially on three-day holiday weekends and right before school, that traffic is heavy,” Hamilton says.  “August is the busiest month of the year because people are on vacation.” 

Our local vacation habits seem to run counter to larger workforce trends. The average worker only takes 11 days off a year — and only in short bursts, with the average vacation time amounting to 2.34 days. Now employers are changing vacation policies to allow for unlimited time off. Some are even forcing workers to take their accrued PTO.

That doesn’t seem to be a problem here in Portland.

Judging from my morning commute this week, people seem to be getting a few days head start on the Labor Day weekend. Portland Public Schools' early start date this year doesn't seem to have made much of a difference.

Here in the OB offices, we're gearing up for the post-Labor Day return to traffic Hell. But for now, that old adage appears to be true. Portland is the place young people go to retire. At least during the summer.

Katy Sword

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