If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like to be essentially chauffeured around in a completely empty bus through downtown Portland at rush hour, you should check out the new 63 route at around 4:45 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon. On May 15, TriMet launched an expanded TriMet Line 63-Washington Park/SW 6th route, which now goes all the way to Pioneer Courthouse Square to fetch passengers bound for the International Rose Test Garden and Portland Japanese Garden. From there, riders can link up with the now-daily year-round Washington Park Free Shuttle.
Portland Monthly sent its new-to-Portland, relatively-new-to-public-transportation, seemingly-perpetually-unprepared-but-thrives-in-chaos intern on a mission to test out the route extension, just in time for summer. Read on to avoid: blisters, getting stranded in Washington Park, being barred from entering the Oregon Zoo, and, overall, to ensure that your transit trip goes a lot more smoothly than this one did.
1. Do not depend on the Google Maps transit button to get you where you need to go. It will betray you. Instead, refer to this little map.
Although the Line 63 bus is decorated with a massive illustration of Washington Park, has the words “Washington Park” printed on every possible angle, and has only one downtown pickup location—Pioneer Courthouse Square—I had a very difficult time tracking it down. My usually trusty transit button did not register the Line 63 route as a method of transportation from where I was (likely because the downtown extension is still so new), which led to my partner and me missing the 4:15 bus and quite literally chasing it down SW Yamhill Street, before defeatedly returning to Pioneer Courthouse Square. There, just a few steps down from where we were initially standing, we discovered a transit screen that informed us the next Line 63 bus would depart in 30 minutes. The more you know.
2. Bring some snacks, or buy some while you wait for the bus you just missed.
The oatmeal chocolate chip cookie from Potbelly Sandwich Shop on SW Sixth Avenue, a cookie for which I did not initially have high hopes, is actually quite incredible and a must-buy-and-quickly-stuff-in-tote-bag before departing from Pioneer Courthouse Square. Trust.
3. Enjoy the very rare, VIP experience of riding the TriMet bus solo, or turn it into an accidental, low-budget date night with your partner.
While you’re at it, think about how the bus driver might feel when no one gets on at a stop. Are they disappointed? Relieved? And are they expecting you to initiate awkward Uber-esque conversation with them if you two are the only people on the bus? Or instead, maybe take the time to look out the window dramatically and pretend you’re in a rom com. Or just simply enjoy the freedom of staring wherever you please without fear of making too-long eye contact with a bus-taking stranger. The choice is yours.
4. Don’t expect to see many roses at the International Rose Test Garden quite yet. Although the bloom season is May–September, on this particular rainy afternoon in late May, it was a lot more garden than rose.
The Line 63 bus dropped us off at the International Rose Test Garden, although you can choose to get off at the base of Washington Park and walk your way up instead (why) or at the Oregon Holocaust Memorial. If you’ve never been to the International Rose Test Garden (like me) and are expecting Instagrammable Rose City–tier greatness, maybe wait a bit longer before your 2022 visit. If you are, for some reason, opposed to seeing roses—perhaps you have a bee allergy or something—and you decide to make the trip pre-peak bloom, you may witness a sweet little chipmunk enjoying a meal, the teeny-tiniest mouse in existence (probably) hiding under a single leaf, a toddler making engine revving noises while pushing his baby brother around in a stroller, or a chihuahua sporting a pink parka to avoid the rain.
5. If you ignored my previous oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recommendation, grab a snack at the candidly named “Beautiful Oregon #1” snack station before hopping aboard the Washington Park Free Shuttle.
“Beautiful Oregon #1” snacks include “string cheese, pickle, and organic hard-boiled eggs (2).” Although the options were tempting, we decided to board the yet again empty shuttle, instead of walking across the street to what should have been our next stop—the Portland Japanese Garden.
6. Maybe don’t go on a Tuesday.
The Portland Japanese Garden is apparently closed on Tuesdays ... which was news to me. So, instead, we hopped on the shuttle and embarked on probably the most beautiful bus ride I’ve ever been on. Washington Park, is, according to my partner, “probably a great place to do acid.” We passed by the Washington Park Archery Range (a terrible place to do acid) that neither of us knew existed, and added it to our PDX bucket list. We were then pretty much kicked off at the next stop by the shuttle driver who, when we did not immediately get off the bus, asked, “Where are you guys going? My shift is over.” So, we awkwardly and unexpectedly got off at the Oregon Zoo.
7. Also, maybe don’t go on a Tuesday at 4:45 p.m.
The Oregon Zoo, along with pretty much any attraction you’d have to pay for, was undeniably closed. Confused as to what the shuttle driver expected us to do at the clearly closed zoo, I noticed some movement inside the zoo gift shop, so I went to investigate. I asked the ticket person if we could go to the gift shop, to which their answer was, sadly, “no, the zoo closes in five minutes.” But, hot tip, you can, apparently, enter the zoo gift shop without a zoo ticket—just not five minutes before they close, I suppose. Sigh. OK, maybe “barred” was a bit of an exaggeration. But it was annoying.
8. The Washington Park Free Shuttle tracker kinda sucks, but visiting the Hoyt Arboretum was definitely worth the somewhat stress-inducing wait.
Chalk it up to user error if you want, but we quickly gave up on using the shuttle tracker on the park website (reachable by a QR code scan). When the next shuttle driver eventually rescued us from the closed, rainy zoo, we headed to the Hoyt Arboretum—a must-stop. Considering that I was wearing Doc Marten platform loafers, a hike was not on the agenda, so we instead found refuge on a secluded bench overlooking the grassy knoll and the few who came more prepared for walking. It was gorgeous and peaceful and lovely, and made my blisters à la loafer worth it.
9. My final, and probably most important, FYI is that although the Washington Park Free Shuttle runs until 7 p.m., the TriMet Line 63 only runs until 6 p.m. We did not know this.
For a very on-theme-with-the-rest-of-the-trip end to the day, we ended up back at the International Rose Test Garden at around 6:40 p.m., with both of our phones somehow under 5 percent battery. It was there that I realized my mistake—the TriMet bus was not coming back for us. We were stranded. And then it started pouring rain. So, me, my soaked sweater, my equally-soaked boyfriend, and my blisters made a seemingly never-ending walk down the hill to catch the 15 bus before our phones died. I ended up using my last 2 percent of battery to call a Lyft to come pick us up from some random neighborhood we walked through because I was afraid our phones would die before we could make it to the bus, which, I’m very aware entirely defeats the point of a transit trip. But alas, it had to be done.
With some proper planning, the right shoes, and a charged phone, you can have a better trip than I did—even at 4:45 p.m. on an off day. Just grab someone you enjoy spending time with and get to the International Rose Test Garden stop before the last bus back to downtown leaves at 6 p.m. And don't forget that oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.