Bus of the People: TriMet’s Line 57
The bus has always been the working person’s chariot.
When others are racing down the boulevards in their Rav4’s and Porsche Macans, people who work hard for a living are on the bus: to go to work, to go shopping, to pick up their kids, to go to the doctors. The bus is there for them as they carry on the heroic struggle of essential work.
While every line in TriMet’s system carries its fair share working class people, Line 57 is no exception. It traverses Tualatin Valley Highway, from Beaverton to Forest Grove, passing by all the apartment buildings, strip malls, box stores, tiendas mexicanas, bakeries, food carts, farms, and construction sites. It stitches together the towns and cities of Washington County, and without it, you could see how the region would be different.
When I drove it two weeks ago, I could tell people depended on this bus, even in the middle of this pandemic, to get to work, to go shopping, to go see their parole officer. While my beloved empty Line 8 trundled down empty streets in a downtown Portland devoid of commuters who are all working from home, the 57 is still carrying all those workers who mask up and never had the luxury to complain about Zoom calls because they still have to show up.
This is born out in the statistics. Line 57 was TriMet’s 8th most used line in terms of weekly ridership in Fall of 2019, carrying 45,430 riders. In late Spring 2020, the 57 had only 21,430 weekly riders, but it was now the 3rd most used bus line in the system, carrying more riders than even the Orange Line MAX train.
So while the rest of the region has been perfecting its WFH outfits, the folks who ride the 57 were still out there, still working, still riding the bus. This line is essential to the region, and it’s too bad that voters turned down Metro’s payroll tax that would have funded Bus Rapid Transit for this line, because it would have improved service immensely for the working people who depend on it. I hope if Metro pursues more funding of transit in the near future, it focuses more on projects that will benefit where the riders are right now, rather than going for expensive rail projects that may not see projected ridership. However, if the Purple Line got built, I wouldn’t complain either.
Operators complain the 57 is dull. It has the reputation out of Merlo Garage of being one of the two worst routes to get there, the other being the 20. It’s not scenic, they say. It’s too busy, they say.
They are right in some respects. The 57 is no scenic drive through a leafy neighborhood or an empty bus bouncing through the suburbs. It makes you work. People ride this bus. The traffic on TV Highway does not want to let the bus merge back into traffic after a stop.
I could go on here about the endless strip malls, the car dealerships, big box stores, fast food restaurants, and grocery stores that go on and on, and believe me that is the majority of the route, but that does a disservice to the 57. This bus is for the people, and the people need groceries and jobs just as much as anyone else.
It starts at Beaverton Transit Center, you pull out and take a right onto TV Highway, your home for the next hour plus. You pass through central Beaverton, a hodgepodge of older buildings, restaurants, and stores. The highway goes on. More strip malls. More stores. Did I just see that place advertising cochinita? Is that place selling paletas? Those inflatable flopping arm guys. I wish that some of it stuck out but as I left Beaverton and went into Aloha I can’t say I noticed any difference besides the numbers increasing on the cross streets.
The highway curves into Hillsboro and from there the route passes the jail, crosses the MAX tracks, and loops into Hillsboro Transit Center. From there, it’s back to TV Highway. The road leaves Hillsboro and for a few minutes you pass some farm fields and it almost looks pastoral for a second before you get to Cornelius. Cornelius feels like a small town in Oregon, with Y’s on either end of it splitting traffic into one way streets.
Cornelius blends into Forest Grove before you know it, and its the mad dash to the end of the line, passing McMenamins Grand Lodge complex, Pacific University’s campus, and the end of the line in central Forest Grove.
A lot of it blends together, and much of it is down a straight, busy, highway, but it isn’t bad. There are some curves, Hillsboro provides some turns to keep you on your toes, and the businesses and towns are more visually interesting then along Powell on Line 9. The speed limit also goes from 35–45 mph for most of it, meaning you get some (for a bus that is) high speed cruising segments in, which also makes it better than the 20–30 mph crawl traffic and PBOT respectively mandate on Division for Line 2.
Then there is the clientele. There are some characters who ride it for a long ways, and it has its fair share of those who talk to themselves, or are going to their court date in Hillsboro. I have heard the late night runs when the 57 had 24 hour service could get interesting. However, it’s mostly folks going shopping or getting to work. There are a lot of businesses and apartments along the way, and this bus connects everything. The people were mostly nice, and I only had to deal with one biohazard during the week.
After hearing it was dull I thought I would get bored, looking at the straight line on the map. I didn’t, though, because every time I did, I would look at a bakery window with pan dulce piled high behind cases, or a dealership with an interesting car on the lot. And it was soooo busy. It had been since before the pandemic when I saw a bus that busy.
My second to last day, a woman got on with her son. She asked if I was new, because she had never seen me on this route before. I told I mostly worked in Portland but I was trying something new this week. She looked at the bus and said it was busy, the bus was always busy, and funny things happened, she said. Sometimes some crazy man or something weird happens. She said it only takes her 10 minutes to get to work, but sometimes it takes longer because you never know what happens.
And that’s why I liked the 57. It went pretty quick, it was straight, but busy, and you can get going pretty fast on it too. And people depend on it. She told me she used it to get to work, to shop, to her son’s school. If she didn’t have the bus, she said wouldn’t know what to do. The 57 exists for her and all the other working people in the world, and it’s an honor driving them. The bus is for the people.
Would I sign it?
I would, the breaks were OK, it was busy enough to keep me interested in driving, and the higher speeds are fun. It’s not the best though, and since it’s a Merlo route, I don’t see myself going out of my way for it.
That bit of farmland between Hillsboro and Cornelius. Figuring out where I want to eat tacos next.
Does it go to Walmart? Yes, in Cornelius.
Does it go to the Bottle Drop? Yes, in Forest Grove and at the Hillsboro Fred Meyers.
Does it go to the jail? Yes, in downtown Hillsboro.
Does it go to the mall? No.
Does it go downtown? No.
Does it go to the MAX? Yes, at Hillsboro TC and Beaverton TC.
It’s the suburbs, so good luck. The creepy Harvey the Rabbit statue in Aloha. Pacific University in Forest Grove. The Mark O. Hatfield Government Center in Hillsboro, western terminus of the Blue Line MAX. Beaverton Creek Wetlands Natural Area. Hillsboro High Shool.
There’s a guy who appears to have some mental health problems that I’ve picked up a lot in Northeast Portland. He’s usually pretty nice to me, I’ve talked with him a few times, and once I found him wandering around the Brooklyn neighborhood confused and I helped him find the bus. I picked him up in Hillsboro on the 57. I say hi and he walks to the back and is talking with himself. He gets off in Forest Grove, after trying to get off at another stop but then deciding it was a bad idea. After he gets off, a woman says, mister, that man did something smelly in his seat. It’s gross. I walk back and the seat has urine on it. Dispatch sends me back to the garage.
Later that day, I find him wandering along Farmington Road in Beaverton on my way to the hospital to start a new route. He sees me and tries walking toward the door of the bus, but I keep driving. It’s like I had radar that day, and he knew how to find me! I hope he makes it back home to Northeast Portland.
This is a personal blog, the views expressed in this blog are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect the views of TriMet.