Red fish. Purple raindrop. Green leaf. Which one did you ride?

Introduced in 1978 with the opening of the Portland Transit Mall, the symbols below indicated TriMet service areas. At the time, the service area was organized into seven geographical regions, each with its own Portland-inspired icon: South, green leaf; Southwest, yellow rose; Southeast, brown beaver; West, orange deer; Northeast, purple raindrop; North, red fish; East, blue snowflake.

TriMet Sector Symbols
Seven service areas were created to make it easier for riders to find their destination.

So, let’s say you were in Downtown Portland looking to go to Southeast Portland. You’d catch Line 17 at any “brown beaver” stop along SW 5th Ave. If heading to Northeast, you might catch Line 17 at any” red fish” stop along SW 6th Avenue. The symbols helped people confirm that they were catching the bus in the right direction. They were easy—based on icons, not words or numerals.

Bus stop with purple rain drop
A vintage photo of a bus stop sign with purple raindrop sector symbol.

“I grew up with the sector symbols and loved them. It was this whimsical, Northwest-y, easy-going, almost  mythic way of labeling neighborhoods,” says Jessica Bucciarelli, who handles employee communications at TriMet and a lifelong TriMet rider. “They were practical—I grew up between lines 8 and 9, but if I was Downtown, I could catch almost any purple raindrop and get reasonably close to home.”

Success of the sector symbols were partly due to the fact that they were everywhere. They were on bus stops, schedules, system maps, and even the Yellow Pages. Literally all rider information included these sector symbols. 

Newer-of-the-old sector symbols
Later sector symbol designs.

But, they weren’t entirely intuitive;  people new to our area, for example, wouldn’t necessarily associate a red fish with North Portland. And, if you weren’t starting your trip Downtown—or if you didn’t live in a relatively transit-rich neighborhood—they were not helpful. In 2001, when our online Trip Planner was launched, it was clear what people needed: their bus number. Add to that the fact that many of the routes ran through more than one area.

Glenn Jackson's a purple raindrop!
Glenn Jackson’s a purple raindrop!

We’ve brought the sector symbols back to life by way of t-shirts. And, in commemoration of the t-shirt in the photo below (with Glenn Jackson modeling!), we’ve added this special design for purchase as well. We love the vintage vibe.

Visit the TriMet Gear Store and purchase one today!




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Marisa Scheidegger

I'm TriMet's marketing communications coordinator. I write content for TriMet's web and social media, and customer-facing print materials. When I'm not working, I'm spending time with my husband and two incredibly bright and funny kids.

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