A brand new Denver Union Station
A brand new Denver Union Station

While visiting Denver in June, I thought I’d resurrect the old ‘report card’ series here on STB.

Denver may not seem to have much in common with Seattle. Sea level, water-bound, temperate, and hilly Seattle is a stark contrast to the Mile High, dusty, rain-shadowed, and flat landscape of Denver. But we are both relatively young pioneer cities, Denver is our nearest peer city in population, and both cities are progressive islands in a sea of moderate/libertarian suburbs. And yeah, we both have legal pot. So perhaps some comparisons can be useful.

As a transit advocate, it’s an exciting and informative time to visit Denver, which is in the midst of a once-in-a-century transformation. Light rail lines opened in 1994, 2000, 2002, 2006, and 2013, (and one was suspended in 2009), and six more light and heavy rail lines are slated to open in the next few years. The ongoing Fastracks project is the most ambitious transit expansion in the U.S., and the most intense period of construction is currently underway. When originally conceived, the project promised 119 miles of rail in every direction, all to open in 2016; and the original price tag, just under $5B, was 14 times cheaper per-mile than our University Link. Even when rising costs (~$7B now) and the recession pushed back portions of the project for years, many projects (The Gold Line, the I-225 Line, a small segment of the Northwest Line, and the East Line to Denver Airport) are still on track for 2016, and a shortened version of the North Line will open in 2018. Daily ridership on the 6 lines is 87,000 on its current 48-mile system.

Denver's 2018 Rail Network Overlaid with Seattle
Denver’s 2018 Rail Network Overlaid with Seattle

The low cost of construction should give away some hints of the system’s drawbacks. In particular, Denver decided to build trains wherever it could and with no tunneling and with minimal ROW acquisition. The result is just as you’d expect. The ride is fast, smooth, and comfortable.  Total station dwell time is a blissful 15 seconds, and there are few at-grade crossings. But there is often a significant  last-mile problem. Since lines were built next to freight mainlines (C, D), adjacent to I-25 (E, F, H), in a preserved gulch (W), or on the surface (all lines Downtown), station area walkability is often poor and there is too much parking. However, I was encouraged by the level of TOD I was seeing at Broadway, Osage, and other stations.

The new W-Line  (2013) in particular was a disappointment. It runs through a natural area, adjacent to single-family homes, and through undeveloped lots before terminating at palatial government building in ‘Golden’ (3 miles from Downtown Golden). And the W-Line cannot run more than 15-minute headways by design, since RTD built only a single track for its last 3 stations (even a single-track bridge!).  It was discouraging to see so much rail being built solely for regional mobility while existing dense corridors are bypassed, such as Capitol Hill, or the Highlands, or Colfax Avenue.

The lines currently in operation are thus very BART-like, with 4 infrequent suburban termini serving 2 corridors in the urban core. The base frequency for RTD’s light rail lines is 15 minutes but varies in strange and unfortunate ways.  For instance, the stretch between Broadway Station and 10th/Osage hosts 5 of the 6 lines up to every 3-5 minutes. This  ultra frequent chokepoint, with multiple conflicting crossovers, requires bunching trains on their own segments to achieve even 3-minute headways. The cost is significant. For instance, though Union Station has 8 trains per hour off-peak, they leave 3 and then 12 minutes apart, cutting the effective frequency in half for those traveling to shared stations.

With a borrowed monthly pass, I set out from Englewood on the C-Line, one of two peak-only light rail lines. As we raced a mile-long oil train, it struck me that I was riding coal-powered electric light rail, and I remembered that transit is only a relative environmental good and isn’t a panacea on its own. But arriving at Union Station cheered me up: it’s spectacular. The original 1881 structure remains, anchoring a massive redevelopment that includes a 7-track open train hall (see photo above), high-rise apartments and offices, two free Downtown circulators, and two light rail lines. And underneath it all? A massive 22-bay bus station serving local, express, regional, and intercity routes.

I walked into the underground bus station, and I saw what should be in every Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel station: immediate and prominent departure information. Greyhound departures are integrated with this display, and the inside board even tells you which bus to take to connect with the Southwest Chief train 200 miles away in Raton, NM. Though I’m no fan of loop-de-loop transit centers, placing this one directly underneath the future train platforms makes a lot of sense, especially in a city with occasionally harsh weather.

IMG_2353
Westlake Station, anyone?

I walked out of the bus concourse, waited a few minutes, and watched the Chicago-bound California Zephyr arrive 2 hours late. As a terminal station like Los Angeles Union Station, intercity trains have to wye and slowly back in, and due to land constraints this cannot be fixed. But honestly, Amtrak is an afterthought compared to Fastracks. I walked back into the bus station and took bus #20 10 minutes to my Five Points AirBnb.

The eastbound Zephyr at Denver (with private car attached)
The eastbound Zephyr at Denver (with private car attached)

The next day I rented a B-Cycle and rode to Cherry Creek mall on an errand. I’m a daily Seattle bike commuter, and I found it so intimidating I rode on the sidewalk. Average Denver road speeds were just much higher than Seattle (35+ even on residential streets), one-way streets prevail, and there is too little traffic calming. Every street felt like riding on 23rd Avenue. Not wanting to bike more, I took the 83L bus back to Downtown. I was impressed by the structure of RTD’s bus routes. “Limited” routes like the 83L are like our 66, “express” routes are peak only, and “regional” routes are lettered like light rail. Seattle adopting a similar hierarchy could differentiate ‘express’ routes like the 7X from the 592, for instance.

All local and limited buses are ‘local’ fare ($2.25), express buses and inner suburban light rail are ‘express’ fare ($4), and regional buses and the outermost light rail stations are ‘regional’ fare ($5). Differentiating fare categories by service type for buses and by zones for rail seems to work well here. Retail passes are flash passes, while EcoPass (like our ORCA Passport) and CollegePass (UPass) users have smart card validation.

Denver has an amazing and beautiful urban core with an amazing future ahead of it. The great Union Station area will be a transformative hub in the most historic part of the city. Its southern (and soon northern) suburbs enjoy fantastic access to the city thanks to rail, but are unappealing and generic cities on their own, with the exception of cute historic areas in towns such as Littleton or Arvada. The East Corridor the Denver Airport will go a long away into fixing the trek to one of the furthest-away urban airports in the U.S.  But my overall impression was to resist being blown away by their quantity of urban rail and their speed of expansion, and grateful for subarea equity. Seattle will get more genuinely urban rail because of it, and Denver and its regional transit body are a good example of what our rail future would  look like without it.

Modes Used:

  • Bus (15, 20, 83L, MallRide, SkyRide)
  • Light Rail (C, D, E, W)
  • Lyft (1 trip)
  • B-Cycle (4 trips)

Grades:

  • Overall Land Use: B (urban core), D (everywhere else)
  • TOD: B-
  • Ride Quality: A+
  • Speed: A+
  • Frequency: A (shared segments), C (suburban termini)
  • Customer UX: A
  • Fares & Passes: B
  • Station Quality: A
  • Station Area Quality: C
  • Parking: D (too much)
  • Bike Facilities: B

96 Replies to “Transit Report Card: Denver”

  1. Denver is sprawling compared to Seattle and the suburbs are large. The light rail is almost completely useless to those living inside the city and the buses are a nightmare. I was shocked their airport bus to downtown is only hourly for much of the day.

    1. How does bus use compare with light rail use in both the city and the suburbs? Are there a lot of express buses from the suburbs to the city, or have they been supplanted by light rail? In general I find BART types systems to be a poor value for two reasons: they don’t do a very good job in the city, and they really don’t cover enough of the suburbs to provide for much value there either. I’m sure there are exceptions — suburban clusters — which at least work for the latter.

      1. There are several adjacent suburbs with sprawling populations of +100k. Denver might have a similar population to Seattle but it’s also twice the landmass in size. It’s very car oriented. People generally drive everywhere unless they live downtown and made a conscious decision to not own a car.

        The bus depot is great and union station is too. Seattle could learn a think or two about user-friendly finishing touches. RTD is not a model we should follow. RTD is doing the best they can given the land use situation in that region.

      2. The sprawl in Denver is really tremendous and terrible. It’s worse than LA sprawl, though not as bad as Houston sprawl.

        Given the situation, RTD really is doing pretty well. The absence of a Colfax line is glaring, but every other important route is at least on the planning radar.

        The hope is that building some of these regional lines will start to concentrate development — which has sprawled across ranches and fields — near the stations.

        The most important lesson to take from Denver’s planning process is this: nearly everyone wants a train. When offered a bus instead of a train, the local government gets angry. (If you have a city government that doesn’t want a train, don’t give them anything, they’re hopeless.)

      3. Don’t forget that where BART goes through San Francisco-right under Market Street, the city’s busiest corridor, there is not only a light rail line serving several dense neighborhoods one escalator ride up into another tunnel, but also a whole network surface transit, diesel and trolleybus and historic streetcars another flight up.

        From Sacramento to the first BART stop above Oakland, Caltrain’s service is good, and frequent. Every commuter train, same double deck caliber as Sounder, has a bistro car, where, incidentally, in addition to snacks, they sell transit passes.

        But since Caltrain has no trans-bay service at all- I usually ride BART from as far out as possible. Faster.

        MD

      4. Mark, Caltrain goes up the SF penisula from San Jose. The regional rail from Sacramento is the Amtrak California Capitol Corridor.

      5. And then they don’t use their trains, Nathanael.

        Total ridership is appalling for the amount of hype the system has received. Off-peak ridership is near-nonexistent.

        BTW, all those buses in the 22 bays in the just-built bus dedicated-access terminal facility — not to mention all the buses in the run-down mirror terminal at the other end of downtown — some of them actually go places! With people on them! (Shocking, isn’t it.)

      6. As a NYer for whom Denver was a second home during my late 20s & early 30s, I’m quite familiar with how the place has developed. It’s in an area that is constrained not by land but by water (or lack thereof). Denver is a case of retrofitting an urban rail transit network on a core region that outside of downtown and near-in neighborhoods like Highlands, Five Points, and Capital Hill (yes, theirs has a REAL capital on it!), developed largely on a suburban pattern.

        But there is a pent-up appetite for more urban development, not only around the Union Station area. There’s a whole blog about it http://denverinfill.com/blog/ Keep in mind that many of the lines, like the W, are still brand new. The acid test will come 5, 10 years from now, when you can judge if these lines really did stimulate transit-oriented development.

        It’s easy to forget that when private subway companies like the IRT & BMT did their build-out in NY from 1900-1920, most of the areas were still countryside. Even in Manhattan, where most of the Upper West Side did not develop until after the IRT Broadway/7 Ave line came in after the First World War.

        So let’s not jump to hasty conclusions and pronounce Denver FasTracks DOA. Yes, it’s regrettable that Colfax, which has the crowded 15 bus, didn’t get a line this time around (ironically it was part of abortive proposals that got voted down in the 80s), but that would have priced this ambitious starter system way out of the water and nothing wouldn’t have gotten built.

        Gotta start somewhere…

      7. The “NY Subway Greenfields” comparison has always been a red herring in discussions of TOD. Immigration was measured by daily boatloads; New York was expanding in all directions and everybody knew it. Meanwhile, it was and remains far easier to develop swaths of “countryside” en mass and according to your chosen spatial arrangement than it is to remake already-built-up areas according to refined design principles.

        This is especially true if you’ve routed every inch of your transportation investments along the ass-cracks of the urban environment (freight-line barriers, highway medians), which can never be remade as places people would wish to be.

        I’m actually really glad that (per your blog link) people in Denver are thinking holistically about urban infill, and how to shift civic thinking in order to both permit and encourage movement in that direction. That seems a lot smarter than Seattle’s combination of arbitrarily-designated, history-effacing city “growth quarantines”, plus vague hopes for Magic TOD in distant Federal Way and Issaquah.

        But I have no doubt that the authors of the infill blog will concede that remaking their environment is an uphill battle, with zero resemblance to the time when New York tripled its population in 30 years, and when miles of dense urbanity could sprout from little more than a developer’s dream and an unlimited supply of dirt-cheap immigrant labor.

      8. d.p.: Most of those buses in that transit center in Denver have essentially no people on them. Those are mostly the “regional” buses. Less popular than regional trains, much less popular than local buses, and ferocious money-suckers. Most of the local buses in outlying areas are pretty unopular too. There’s a few really popular bus lines, mostly in the central business district, a few expresses, and along Colfax. The really successful one is the mall shuttle, but of course it’s free.

        The rail, by contrast, is heavily used. I am judging by boardings per hour. Refer to 2012 Family of Services Tables and Charts, on this page:
        http://www.rtd-denver.com/ServiceDevelopment.shtml

        RTD does nice analytics.

        Denver’s been a land use disaster. Denver is really, *really* sprawled out and frankly rather hard to serve by public transportation period. And I can point to plenty more really poor choices. Some of them were made by CDOT, such as major expressway expansion simultaneous to and adjacent to at least three of the rail lines. But there’s also the decision to route additional lines right next to expressways.

        But frankly the rail is more successful than the buses when dealing with this atrocious land use. Just a fact. Some serious effort is finally being made to address the land use, by the Denver Infill Blog types and local developers, but there’s hundreds of square miles of sprawl stretching outside that area.

        The bias towards regional services and away from (more valuable) local services should be obvious, and it is a problem. Perhaps one you recognize in Seattle?

      9. I’m not even going to bother dismantling every ounce of your counterfactuality, i.e. essentially your entire comment.

        Yes, the two urban bus terminals are for commuter routes and even inner-city buses. I’m not even sure where the intercity buses you think they’re for dock… because I’ve never seen them.

        As you may have noticed, the new Union Station complex spent an enormous amount of money and space both enabling and prioritizing bus access, even to the point of marginalizing the light rail platforms more than a quarter-mile from the very fringe of the downtown.

        I suppose they did that because the buses are empty, huh?

        Meanwhile, RTD light rail has some of the worst usage metrics of any new system of its level of extensiveness. Boardings per platform hour? Awful. Boardings per mile? Sub-Charlotte, or the equally sprawling San Diego. Off-peak trains? Ridiculously fucking empty.

        You are delusional, reality-warping rail-freak, Nathanael. Which is too bad, because you’re a pretty good store of worldwide rail knowledge, and you’re probably an otherwise nice person. But you are increasingly incapable of writing a comment in any corner of the internet that bears any resemblance to reality.

      10. dp,

        On the subject of empty buses, I’ve noticed at an anecdotal level that many buses downtown operate empty. Many customers from Routes 0, 6, 10, 15, and 15L alight from the bus at Civic Center Station and walk over to the Mall shuttle, even though the bus they were on continues down 15th, one block away!

        Doing something (hand-waving here) with the Downtown alignments, even posting a clear, color-coded map like Metro Transit in Minneapolis used to have (until they inscrutably removed the system map from their website with the opening of the Green Line) would help in informing RTD’s current and potential customers of spacious alternatives to the often-crowded Mall shuttle.

      11. Oh, I agree, Z. The whole RTD system is an inscrutable mess. All modes equally.

        But our Ithaca-based rail-fiend friend (who has never been to any of the places he blathers on about, since he only ever travels by Amtrak) decided that Denver’s rail has been so successful that all of the bus services and sparkling new bus facilities must be totally superfluous, because no one uses buses to get to or from downtown anymore! (Why? Because they’re not rail, of course! And all good things in life begin and end with rail!)

        FWIW, RTD has started advertising a parallel “rapid” circulator shuttle, a block over from the MallRide shuttle. I still think circulators are stupid and RTD’s downtown-access approach is irritating.

    2. Thanks, I’ve been to Colorado many times over the past few years and that’s exactly true.

      They have massive highways that deliver almost all of passenger traffic…everything from the airport to business to stadiums.

      There is no significant transit to major destinations like CU-Boulder.

      There is no commuter rail to burgeoning satellite cities like Fort Collins.

      Every day the bedroom communities of Colorado Springs pack the roads.

      1. Thats not true – my wife recently visited Boulder and twice rode a regional bus from the Denver airport to Boulder (using RTD). It ran as late as 1am, I believe. That is a 45-mile trip, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the region. Here in Portland, we have nothing comparable like that.

    3. To put some numbers on it, the US Census every ten years calculates the size and population of urban areas, irrespective of political boundaries. For 2010:

      Denver urban area (which excludes Boulder): 2,370,000 people, 668 square miles, 3,550 people/mi2.

      Seattle-Tacoma urban area (which excludes Marysville): 3,060,000 people, 1010 square miles, 3,030 people/mi2.

      So the service areas that ST and RTD are attempting to serve has similar population densities, although the Denver urban area is smaller in population and land area.

      For the cities proper, both Seattle and Denver has populations of about 650,000, and the City of Denver has an area of 153 square miles while Seattle has a area of 84 square miles. So, the City of Seattle is quite a bit denser.

      1. If you’re looking at Seattle-Tacoma, the appropriate comparison is Denver-Boulder-Longmont-Loveland-Fort Collins-Greeley. :-( Yes, the sprawl is that bad; if you take the right route it’s housing developments nearly the entire way.

    4. Not only is it infrequent, but SkyRide (Denver RTD’s airport service) is ridiculously expensive at $11 from DIA to downtown Denver. I was there for a conference, and four of us attendees sprung for a cab for less money, less waiting, and a drop-off right at our hotel.

  2. Denver’s rail system would seem to be right up the alley of STB’s “Sage of Kent”

    1. All they really need to do is run a Sounder style train up and down the existing freight lines from Fort Collins down to Pueblo (yes — for those of you who used to watch old style late night broadcast TV, and sat through the many PSAs pointing to PO Box xxxx, Pueblo, Colorado … it does exist…I had a burger there). And then an East-West route from Boulder to the airport.

      Unfortunately, no doubt like here, their planners no doubt constructively hamper real rail transportation due to the machinations of liberal politicians and greedy developers, rather than building what people really want or need.

      1. Nope.

        Basically, BNSF prevented the passenger rail line to Boulder by quoting astronomical prices for the use of the route.

        As for the Loveland/Ft. Collins route, it was firmly backed by all the local cities and is in all their plans, but the state government refused to provide money.

        That’s the history, FWIW…

      2. Oh, as for Pueblo: Pueblo wants service but Colorado Springs doesn’t. And the line from Denver to Colorado Springs and Pueblo is *extremely congested* with coal trains, so the freights don’t want passenger trains on it at all. That’s why that route has been a non-starter.

      3. John, they don’t charge passenger trains any more than other trains. I believe it is illegal to charge more for one type of cargo than another. BNSF charges market rate, for better or worse.

      4. Thanks for the nostalgic belief there are any liberal politicians anymore, John. Tell me, when was the last time you heard any Democrat say “working” instead of middle class? Which itself is becoming a sad memory.

        Only species more extinct are the moderate Republicans of exactly the breed that started the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle.

        Who didn’t call themselves liberal, but just were. And could not have anticipated in their worst nightmares who took over their party. Sewers? Commie plot to deprive Americans of their Constitutionally protected shovels. Trains? Scare horses to death.

        Combat shovels? Read World War I hand-to-hand. Sharpened spades much better than bayonets because they didn’t get stuck and did much worse damage. So: right to keep and bear, for at least two civic purposes? Put the sticker across my windshield!

        Wheeled transit? Laws mandated dismantling and burying a car before a horse saw it. Locomotive? Too bad they took so long to cool off, sending countless horses to the glue factory.

        And considering where real political money is in America, I’ll trade you the budget behind private car transportation for rail with platinum rails. Any real capitalist, and his pet politician, would break your wrist with one blinding grab.

        Mark

      5. they don’t charge passenger trains any more than other trains. I believe it is illegal to charge more for one type of cargo than another. BNSF charges market rate, for better or worse.

        That only works for Amtrak, as they were formed with the agreement that Amtrak would only be charged an incremental cost for train operations. Other passenger trains are outside the scope of price controls.

        Generally, though, passenger trains are expensive for the freight railroad to operate as they can’t be scheduled around a “whenever we are able to let it move in the next few hours” type schedule that is used for freight service. They also take up just as much track space as a freight train with 110 cars and representing profitable freight movements that don’t fuss about rough track or being stuck on a siding for a few hours.

        This is why Metrolink in Los Angeles purchased the track from the fright carriers and operates it they way they want to, for passenger service.

      6. The idea of a Sounder-style service up and down the Front Range has been under consideration for many years–though Fort Collins and Loveland (in Larimer County) lie outside the RTD district. A big problem is BNSF. The rail line has been single-track forever. (Even in the early 20th C. the Denver and Interurban ran its cars on the then Colorado and Southern tracks without a dedicated line.) Boulder and Louisville and Broomfield city governments all feel ill-used by the pattern of Fast Tracks development. Indeed at present the Northwest line of heavy rail appears to be ‘on hold’ for the foreseeable future and a sort of Bus Rapid Transit is proposed through adding lanes to US 36. The feeling of many citizens of Boulder and Broomfield Counties is that they have been paying their sales tax so that others may ride trains.

        A footnote to the heavy rail story: Boulder planned a “Transit Village” near the intersection of 30th and Pearl Sts where the the BNSF mainline makes a curve SE to NE (it’s the location of a onetime junction of a spur into central Boulder). Well into the planning process, it was discovered that safety guidelines prohibit new stations with curving platforms, so that the station for the transit village would needs be moved up the line by a block or two. The new ‘transit village’ or center is not central to Boulder and there are concerns that the present very good RTD bus services from Denver and from DIA would be diverted to the new location, by-passing the CU campus and downtown Boulder which are major O&D points. It turns out that even in Colorado, it’s an imperfect world.

      7. @Glenn

        So why doesn’t Amtrak operate Sounder? Would it have been cheaper? Cascades is already paid for by the state.

  3. It sounds like there are two things from Denver we could use:

    1) Huge interactive bus kiosk showing arrival and departure information. We have that in bits and pieces (e. g. Northgate) but I completely agree, we should have that for just about every light rail station.

    2) 15 second dwell time.

    1. The DSTT tunnel signage is amazingly unfriendly at giving directions. ST posts signs about being in a station (duh) and barely tell anyone which way the train is going. Try to find that “Southbound” or “Outbound” or “To Airport” words the next time you’re waiting for Link train anywhere on the system other than when the train is arriving. It’s basically indicated in only a few places and mixed in with other signage. Other systems have big signs telling you what direction the trains on the platform go, while ST chooses to put up “Welcome to (wherever)” as if the riders don’t know that they are at a rail station platform..

      So what’t the effect? I’m almost always asked by someone what direction the train is going every time I ride. Many times they are on the right platform, but ST doesn’t want riders to be reassured. They just want to say “welcome”.

      I feel sorry for those people who find themselves on the wrong platform and only find out when the train is arriving. Of course they have to then run up the escalator to the to the other platform (in side platform stations) then run down stairs to get to the other platform. Of course by then, the train they meant to take left.

  4. Even with a huge amount of parking, again not hard when your whole service area just has to be paved to be a parking lot, how do they manage to get enough ridership to justify a system that really sprawls so far in any direction?

    Unless I’m not reading carefully enough, what is their yearly ridership, out of how many people in their service area?

    We really need to know Denver’s funding source, and the politics behind this project. My family on both sides lived a little more than a generation in Denver, starting in the early 1900’s. In memory, I’ve seen it maybe four times. In the ‘fifties, it was a classic cow, cowboy, and mining town- with an extensive trolleybus system featuring beautiful new red Brills with green interiors. Exciting Western city for a kid from Chicago to visit.

    By my last visit in the ’80’s, I honestly could not stand the place. It seemed like its whole living was speculative real estate. Malls as far as the eye could see, old residential neighborhoods including ours wiped out by same, a freeway next to my aunt’s home looking like a canyon caused by classic erosion. There’s something sci-fi about so much infrastructure through such a Martian landscape.

    Normally, that amount of transportation through someplace that empty results from either the military or a few unbelievably corrupt politicians with a lot of seniority. Or maybe oil or coal. So while it could be too much to ask for, if there’s anything progressive at all about our area, shouldn’t progressivity itself have given us more transit than we’ve got?

    On the subject of needless deficiencies: What really is wrong that we can’t do something as easy as it is affordable by an area with our intellect: get decent communications for our system?
    There’s honestly something pig-stubborn built into transit’s makeup here that over the years Metro and Sound Transit have been here, we can’t get that.

    Progressive means strong belief in and attachment to action- not just a passing description of what’s happened in spite of self-inflicted persisting missing necessities.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Funding source is sales tax; RTD has the power to levy a sales tax, after a ballot measure.

      I’m not entirely sure why Denver as a whole boomed. There is a lot of oil and coal but it’s been there since the 20s; there hasn’t really been an expansion. Denver went through booms and busts due to oil prices from the 50s through the 80s.

      I can say that people moved there because of cheap land, but I can’t tell you why *businesses* moved there. There was a deliberate effort made by the city government starting in the 1990s to attract more stable industries, and it was apparently successful.

      1. We’ve still got Boeing, albeit less of it. And we’ve got Microsoft and Amazon. Would like some suggestions about the kind of stable business you’d favor.

        If it’s the kind that really likes to locate in a sagebrush desert flat enough for subdivisions to the curve of the earth- doubt the amount of bulldozing and brush-burning in the Puget Sound region would be worth the cost.

        What do you think we could attract that would stay here long enough to be stable. A basketball team, maybe?

        Mark

      2. Denver has good weather, so it benefits from the sunbelt migration (any maybe some California migration), and it is sort of isolated. There isn’t much in the way of large cities for a long way, Dallas, Kansas City, Phoenix and Minneapolis, so it has a large small town catchment area for attracting young people.

      3. In a service economy, which is what the US is increasingly becoming (think restaurants, lawyers, yoga instructors, accountants), businesses move to where the people are, instead of the other way around. People are moving to the sunbelt, and so the jobs go there too.

      4. Denver housing costs (they are starting to increase) have also been phenomenally low. Part of that is there is near limitless land to the East and somewhat to the North and South. And the city is landlocked only on that East side (the mountains).

        However, I think what is really driving Colorado is what is driving everything else on the interior of America. Pervasive broadband, and the idea people no longer feel they “have to be in a city” to get much of the culture, quality of work and amenities of the city.

        I expect to see more of these Migrations to Nowhere (and yes, I realize I stand alone in that opinion).

      5. John Bailo, you do recognize that Denver and the Front Range Corridor is the most expensive non-coastal housing market in the US? Larger cities such as Chicago, Dallas, and Houston have significantly lower housing prices than Denver.

      6. Mark: I was simply saying that the City of Denver realized that they were having booms and busts due to the oil market, and tried to attract businesses which were more stable than oil. Which they did. I don’t think this is a problem which Seattle has, since Seattle has never been dependent on anything as volatile as oil or mining.

      7. “There isn’t much in the way of large cities for a long way, Dallas, Kansas City, Phoenix and Minneapolis, so it has a large small town catchment area for attracting young people.”

        That may be an important reason for the expansion of Denver; if you live in a smaller town anywhere for hundreds of miles in any direction and want to flee to the big city, Denver’s the easiest and nicest big city to flee to. There’s Salt Lake, I guess.

      8. Nathanael, there is a hug boom in the oil and gas industry in the Denver Julesburg-Basin that runs from Cheyenne to Colorado Springs. The natural gas play has been fairly big for years, but in the last 3-4 years the additional growth has been spurred by the Niobrara Shale. It is one of the biggest shale plays in the United States and 4 of the biggest operators in the basin have set 2014 spending at $2 billion each. Oil production has increased from 30 million barrels annually in 2010 to the current rate of 70 million barrels. If regulation doesn’t slow growth too much, then 250 million barrels annually should be attainable. ConocoPhillips is just now expanding the field east of Aurora and South toward Douglas county on the south end of the Metro.

        RTD used the FTA’s Private Public Partnership financing pilot for Fastracks. If it works I’m sure it is going to be the new model for large regional development projects nationwide.

        I would love to see a streetcar down east Colfax and South Broadway with a line breaking off either line going to Cherry Creek via the Capital Hill area. I really feel some ROW is necessary with the Broadway line. At some point sooner that many expect, I think a short cut and cover subway line from Civic Station down 17th street to Union Station is going to be needed to ease capacity of the 16th street Shuttle and the new Circulator, which is already running with a higher capacity than was expected. I feel that bringing all these new lines into Union Station is going to cause congestion to the point it will severely slow ridership growth on all lines. I often ride the southeast lines into the downtown area. I would much rather come up Broadway with ROW/Subway into the CBD and have a 1 block walk. This is apposed to spending nearly the same time on the train and exiting only to have to wait for a Shuttle down the Mall, which can take 20 minutes, and then still have to walk. Like you touched on earlier, Denver has been a suburban style big city that is very automobile oriented. That is changing very quickly and many of the new people moving to the region except and expect urban density growth. I know a short subway line is a dream now, but I really do believe it’s going to be necessary much sooner than the 40 years I hear people talking about.

    2. They may be flat, but they have ski slopes and other recreation nearby.

      Also, they truly are a speck of progressiveness in a sea of libertarianism. Wyoming? North and South Dakota? Kansas? Montana? Arizona? Utah?

      New Mexico is the only other state that has some progressive pockets, and those are very tiny in population.

  5. “All local and limited buses are ‘local’ fare ($2.25), express buses and inner suburban light rail are ‘express’ fare ($4), and regional buses and the outermost light rail stations are ‘regional’ fare ($5). ”

    Pay attention Metro! I would gladly pay $4 for the 17x or 18x to/from Ballard. If you offer ‘premium’ services (faster times) charge a premium price.

    1. I totally agree. When I was taking the 28x downtown it would have been worth $4 to me. Plus, with fewer stops and fewer boardings, that extra fare would really help with farebox recovery ratios.

    2. One way or another, Metro needs to run more buses between Ballard and downtown during the peak period in order to handle demand – that is what the peak period means. They can either do it by running more D-line buses or by running the 15X and 18X. Since the latter are faster, they are cheaper for Metro to operate and, as long as they fill up, are providing the needed capacity just as much as more trips on the D-line would.

      If the fare for these trips were raised and people switched to slower services to save money at the farebox, thereby forcing Metro to convert a couple of 15X trips into D-line trips, the result would be a worse passenger experience and possibly worse for Metro’s finances as well.

      On the contrary, Metro has chosen Ballard as the only Urban Center forced into a significant deviation to get downtown (and by extension, almost anywhere that isn’t along the way towards downtown). It should be the 15X, not the 15 local that should be running all day – there is plenty of alternative service in the areas the 15X skips, and the 15X still serves lower Queen Anne anyway (with slightly more walking) via stops along Elliot.

  6. Every time I visit my friends there and we pick a place to go eat, they say, “I don’t know, someplace with good parking.” And when they use the light rail, it’s only to park at the station and then go into downtown. They might have decent transit, but when your land use policies don’t line up with your transit policies, I have a hard time believing it works for the average resident.

    1. The land use in Denver has been a disaster for a very, very long time.

      RTD has been around for a while, but spent its first decades like the worst public transit agencies of the period, absorbing collapsing private bus companies, cutting service, and proposing goofy “personal rapid transit” schemes. A lot of the Denver bus lines date from before RTD was founded, as in so many other cities.

      The first vote to improve public transit in Denver in 1973, but 80% of the money was dedicated to “PRT”, which of course never happened. (Anything sound familiar? Monorails?….) The 16th St. Mall, the most productive route in Denver, was opened in 1979; insane all-bus policies continues for another decade, before someone managed to convince the city to actually rebuild some train routes in 1994.

      A cautionary tale from Denver: bus-only lanes were constructed on I-95 north from Denver. They were converted to “HOV” lanes. Then they were converted to “HOT” lanes. Bus lanes don’t stick around — they usually get incrementally converted closer and closer to general purpose lanes.

      1. …And then they finally built rail, did it badly, and solved nothing.

        Oh, whoops… You meant to imply that rail is an inherent panacea, no matter where it goes and no matter how few trips it’s good for, didn’t you?

    1. I’ve wondered that too. My guess is that it’s part of a larger nomenclature for lettering regional service. “A” is airport service with 5 routes (AA, AB, AF, AS, AT), “B” is Boulder service (B, BV, BF, BX), C/D/E/F/H are the core of the light rail system (and “G” will be reinstated with the launching of the I-225 line, “J” is Longmont/Boulder service, “L” is Longmont/Denver, “N” is Nederland/Boulder, there is no
      “O” because it would look too much like the 0-Broadway bus route, “P” is Parker/Denver service, “R” is Brighton/Denver, “S” is Denver/East Boulder, “T” is Boulder/South Denver Suburbs, “W” is the West light rail line, and “Y” is Lyons/Boulder.

      I don’t know if they’re planning on lettering or naming the new extensions opening in 2016/2018, but if so they’d have I, K, M, Q, U, V, X, and Z available.

      1. Seriously, they’re going to reinstate the G line?

        What, did the 5 people who happened to live in a cul-de-sac near the south segment and happened to work in an office park three sky-bridges from the east segment throw a tiny riot outside RTD offices? Talk about 1-seat insanity!

        Denver really is a Mile-High Seattle — they’re both places of profound delusion where self-image (forward-thinking, solution-minded, lovers of beautiful natural environtments) rarely intersects with the reality (stubborn, egocentric, wasteful).

        Full disclosure: I have an obnoxious Coloradan uncle in the G line sprawl.

      2. The I-225 line will be a much-improved version of the old G line (not that that’s saying too much!). It will run from Lincoln to the Fitzsimmons campus in Aurora where it will meet the East Line for an airport transfer.

      3. I believe I’ve posted a map of the “Fitzsimmons campus” station area here before. It’s totally useless, and nowhere near any actual campus buildings. To make things worse, the airport line won’t stop there, instead going next to the highway a mile and a half to the north.

      4. Fitzsimmons is where no train can come with 3/4 of a mile of any building, because “vibrations”… right?

        With zero truly adjacent anchors, and zero walkshed at any point along the way, the future “G” will do little better than the former “G”. It’s the ultimate sprawl-to-sprawl rail-injection disaster.

      5. Yeah, I agree it’ll be the worst route in the system, and really only exists because it serves Denver’s largest suburb (Aurora) and because of the worst kind of highway-centric rail planning (“trains along all the interstates!”) I wouldn’t mind a north-south Aurora line so much if you actually get to Denver from there without traipsing back to either Arapahoe or Fitzsimmons. No, from Aurora the urban core of Denver will continue to be a slog on Colfax via the unimproved Route 15/15L (9 miles), whereas the rail trips are plainly inferior, either 14 miles (G + Airport line) or 21 miles (G + H line).

      6. Barman: U-District station, Capitol Hill station, Beacon Hill station, Rainier Valley, Northgate. Not your freeway-bound trains to nowhere, even if some segments are.

      7. Some letters are “shared” between light rail and regional buses. A few years ago, RTD renamed many regional bus routes to have two letters, to avoid LRT/bus confusion:
        CV/CS/CX are for Conifer, a southwestern exurb. Until a few years ago, an unrelated CC bus ran up Coal Creek, a canyon between Boulder and Golden.
        DD and DM are Boulder – East Metro routes; DD services Colorado Blvd, DM services Fitzsimmons
        EV/ES/EX service Evergreen, an exurb west of Denver.
        GS connects Boulder to Golden directly.
        HX is East Boulder to Civic Center Station
        M is now known as the BOLT, between Boulder and Longmont.

      8. “I don’t know if they’re planning on lettering or naming the new extensions opening in 2016/2018, but if so they’d have I, K, M, Q, U, V, X, and Z available.”

        The East Rail Line is going to replace most of the airport services, so it’ll take over “A”. (“AT” becomes East + I-225, “AF” becomes East, “AS” becomes East, “AB” is probably going to be replaced with East plus B, “AA” will proably get a new name.)
        The Gold Line and Northwest Line will probably get new letters.

        “Seriously, they’re going to reinstate the G line?”
        They’ve claimed they will; I bet this will last less than three months, although some G trips may continue to exist if they creates some form of operational convenience.

        “No, from Aurora the urban core of Denver will continue to be a slog on Colfax via the unimproved Route 15/15L (9 miles), whereas the rail trips are plainly inferior, either 14 miles (G + Airport line) or 21 miles (G + H line).”

        The G + Airport line is likely to be faster. The 15L takes roughly 30 minutes from the south end of downtown to Colfax & Billings. But if you’re going from the end of downtown near Union Station to “Aurora Metro Center”, the 15L takes 51-57 minutes. Assuming no delays. The rail route can probably beat that even with the 15 minute headways and even if the transfers aren’t coordinated, which they should be. (Being separated from car traffic is worth a lot.)

  7. Some say that light rail to an airport is the most vital alignment a transit system can have. Question. Since a line to the airport is a “no-brainer,” as many claim, tell me, which of Denver’s light rail lines goes to their airport?

    1. The airport line is almost complete and will open in 2016. It will be electrified heavy rail and will run up to 79mph.

    2. Denver’s airport location is something else. When I visted in the early 2000s, it was thirteen miles of emptiness to the airport. The highway had signs, “10 miles to airport”, “9 miles to airport”. There was a city bus but it was $13! I don’t remember if it was hourly; I think half-hourly but I’m not sure. The underground bus station already existed, and a free 2-minute bus from the station down the main street, and a couple light rail lines.

      BTW, when the DSTT was being designed, one alternative was for a large bus station at each end and a frequent trolleybus in the tunnel, similar to Denver’s layout. That was quashed because suburbanites didn’t want to transfer at the edge of downtown.

      1. What you remember was the now-closed Market Street Station, an underground bus hub 1/3 of the way across downtown, with sort-of-easy access from Auraria and Speer but nowhere else.

        Or maybe you remember Civic Center Station, the run-down and weirdly undetectable hub built into a hillside park at the east end of downtown, which continues to serve buses from the north, east, and south.

        Neither of those should be confused with the new underground bus hub at Union Station, at the western end of downtown, nor with the light rail spine that crosses downtown laterally 2/3 of the way from Union Station to Civic Center, nor with the other light rail hub that claims to be at Union Station but is really ¼ past the very fringe of the urban core.

        Confused yet?

        Did I mention that downtown Denver is barely a mile across?

        Basically, despite being the nexus of essentially all transportation in the city and region, downtown Denver access is fragmented and confusing and basically annoying as fuck, even if you don’t need or intend to transfer (and triply so if you do). The “mall ride” has more in common with the parking shuttle at Disneyland than with a legitimate connective mass transit service, though at least it provides a sense of kinetic momentum to the 16th Avenue Mall, which is otherwise dangerously close to devolving into another windswept “pedestrianization” failure at many hours of the day.

        ———

        BTW, did you notice that the bathrooms at DIA double as tornado shelters? That airport is so freaking far east of Denver and the Rockies that, meteorologically speaking, it’s practically in Kansas!

      2. Isn’t that the joke? That Denver really needs an airport in the same state?

        To be fair IAH is almost as far from Houston and Dulles is actually further from DC.

      3. The downtown situation in Denver is absolutely ridiculous. To their credit, lots of locals have complained about some of this stuff repeatedly.

        And to be fair, it’s just as awful to try to drive in Downtown Denver. Despite the excessively wide streets. They’ve created a horrible maze of incomprehensible one-ways and flyovers.

    3. I don’t remember anyone saying that it is the most vital alignment a transit system can have, but in the case of Seattle the airport happens to be in the way of stuff to the south, plus it is a hugely important regional transportation hub, so it makes sense to go to it.

      In the case of Portland, the airport line was about #8 on the list of priorities but a private developer put up some money to get it to his development on the east side of the airport property, so it only made sense to continue it from there to the terminal. Then, they had the misfortune to open it on September 10th, 2001.

      Very few cities in the USA actually have good transit to their airports. Just ask New York City about the ridership on their subway line to LGA.

      1. Airport transit runs the full spectrum from easy and convenient (Seattle, Portland, SFO, Minneapolis, both Chicago airports, Salt Lake City) to downright awful (Laguardia, JFK, LAX, San Jose, Denver etc.)

      2. Airport transportation easy and convenient in Seattle? If one is going to and from Downtown, Beacon hill or Columbia city via limited, rather light rail, certainly; but other than those areas, you’re at the mercy of less than stellar cabbies, who are hard pressed to take cc’s or know exactly how to get you from the airport to your destination, utilizing a friend or relative who can drop you off or pick you up at the airport, or sparing the cash of parking at the airport. Ease and convenience is quite variable for airport commutes around here.

      3. The airport was around #8 on Seattle’s list, too, but it bubbled to the top because it was fairly cheap to get there from Rainier Valley (no big bridges or tunnels) and because of the suburban focus of our light rail system. Generally speaking, going to the airport should be low on the list for most cities. Heavily tourist dependent cities (like Honolulu or Las Vegas) might be exceptions. So, too, are cities that have airports pretty close to the heart of the city (Vancouver). But for most of them, you probably should do a lot more work and build a lot more before you get out to the airport. For example, O’Hare didn’t get a station until 1984, which means, unless I’m mistaken, that the busiest airport in the world didn’t have a rail line into the second biggest city in the U. S. at a time when airport travel was just about as busy as it is now.

      4. The most convenient airport transit I’ve ever seen was in Frankfurt. (That’s Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany.) The S-Bahn station is essentially next to the ticket counters. The long-distance station is only slightly further away.

        London Heathrow does pretty well too, with the Tube stations in the basement under the center plaza of T1/2/3 and directly under T4 and directly under T5.

        I have never seen anything resembling this at any US Airport, though Minneapolis comes closest.

        Even Chicago gives you a gratuitous walk from the end of the L to the ticket counters, and you only get to one of many, many terminals. Philadelphia *almost* does it right, but there’s a roadway between the railway and the entrance.

      5. Well, St. Louis is literally on the roof; the escalator goes right from the platform to the main security area.

        Of course, St. Louis light rail is also weird, slow, cheaply built constantly and uncomfortably auto-braking, doesn’t go many places……

      6. And here are six other North American connections as close (or closer) than the Frankfurt one: https://seattletransitblog.com/2013/04/26/st-board-rubber-stamps-bellevue-decision/#comment-323914

        The O’Hare Blue Line stop is in the right place, by the way: equidistant from Terminals 1, 2, and 3, and connected by dedicated passageways to each of them. It’s as good as that retrofit was going to get: if you’d spent significantly more to put it in the basement of Terminal 2, it would actually have been further from 1 and 3 as a result.

    4. I said an airport station should be among a region’s top priorities. But not necessarily the singlemost highest priority. Basically, if a region cares about international trade, tourism, and commerce (people bringing business or coming to launch companies here), it wil have an airport station on a frequent rapid transit network, not some half-assed bus like the 194 that got caught in traffic and was infrequent evenings/weekends and stopped running completely at 9:30pm. But that has to be weighed against other needs and limited funding.

      If we were designing Link from scratch, the highest priority would clearly be downtown – U-District, because that’s the only segment that can’t keep up with demand even with the most frequent primary routes (71/72/73) and a plethora of secondary routes (43/49/70/255). Extend that to Stadium because it’s adjacent to downtown and the ballgame traffic jams are worse than rush hour.

      A second priority tier would be Ballard, Bellevue, and SeaTac. Those are the largest other urban villages and/or ridership generators, plus the airport advantages mentioned above.

      A third priority tier would be Northgate, Greenwood, Lake City, Rainier Valley, West Seattle.

      I’m less sure about where Burien, Kent, Lynnwood, Kirkland, and Redmond fit in because there are wide debates on them with good reasons on both sides. The north end (Northgate, Lynnwood) also has other things going for it, namely truncating bus routes and handling capacity, so that gives it an edge over the others.

      1. Sorry, I disagree. There are certainly cities that rely on tourism (like Honolulu and Las Vegas) and thus will have servicing their airport close to the top. But Seattle has done quite well with regards to trade and commerce despite having a poor ride from the airport. Trade and commerce bigwigs don’t care — they ride in limos. Little wigs put up with a poor ride from the airport, and then go about judging the city on its own merits. If folks told you that Ballard and Capitol Hill are two places “you should check out” in Seattle, then it doesn’t help that you can’t get from one to the other unless you endure a really long bus ride, rent a car, or huff and puff your way on a bike. But taking a cab or a bus from the airport isn’t that big of a deal (as long as the cab isn’t too expensive or the bus isn’t too slow and infrequent — oops, guilty on both counts).

        Anyway, other than that, I agree with your list, pretty much. Somewhere in there I would add stations in the Central Area and South Lake Union. One way to do that would be to replace the Metro 8 with a tunnel, but that would probably only make sense if the north-south lines are really good.

        I would scratch West Seattle from the rail list — it is just too expensive and there is nothing along the way and not enough when you get there. Serving parts of Queen Anne makes more sense. Like West Seattle, it is hard to serve all of it, but each spot there is likely to be a much greater value. West Seattle gets served the way the suburbs should be served — via fast, frequent bus service connecting to a really good transit center. Then spend the money to provide good bus service to those areas. Most of the time, this isn’t that hard because the state has already built (or is in the process of building) HOV lanes for the major corridors (I-5 I-90 and 520). You might need to add some bus only freeway ramps and that sort of thing, but in most cases it isn’t that hard to serve a lot of those areas really well (since they tend to be very spread out and grew up around the freeway). As it turns out, the airport could have been served really well with a system like that. Take an express bus to a station at SoDo (HOV or bus lanes the entire way) then ride the train(s) to Queen Anne, Ballard, Belltown, Seattle U, Broadway, South Lake Union, etc. Right now people have a fast ride to the airport and then call a cab unless they are staying downtown.

      2. I would just mention that stadiums are often not the best use for rail service. Often, people carpool to stadium events, and rarely are there enough train sets to carry a large proportion of the attendees – especially when games or concerts end and everyone hits the train station at about the same time. Another consideration is how often the stadium gets used.

        Another vital consideration for preferred rail service is of course parking supply and pricing. Parking costs are a big reason why transit is popular to Downtown Seattle and Bellevue. Seattle has already implemented parking restrictions around Rainier Valley stations to cut down on parking intrusion by others, so it’s a natural side issue for rail construction. If we are going to discuss new rail line priorities, we should make it clear to the residents in those areas that parking charges and/or restrictions are part of the deal. This plus a minimum density scoring would actually guide the most preferred ST3 corridors, as the parking issue is a good litmus test about how excited a community would be to have rail.

      3. For what its worth, Denver Int’l Airport transit mode share is comparatively high. The reason is the SkyRide buses; instead of one route to Downtown (which is still provided by the AF), five routes hit major Park-n-Ride lots throughout the metro area. Suburban residents who would otherwise drive all the way to the airport if they would otherwise have to travel Downtown instead have a short drive to a Park-n-Ride lot and a bus ride to the airport.

  8. I lived the last 2 years in Boulder and I found the lack of LR service from Denver a major blow to their system. Major universities can’t be left out of the loop otherwise system becomes highly subsidized and attains a low ridership visibility which has a way of turning off voters. Fast tracks got snared by BNSF (what transit system doesn’t have to fight freight rail lines for rail access) and hence is piece-milling their way up the hill. They should have bit the bullet and made it a priority over other routes, a la Seattle/UW and Phoenix/ASU. Same holds true for a front range commuter rail, if they want to maximize benefits they need a line to Fort Collins and down to Pueblo. Given Denver’s un-West Coast city like density they have to get the ridership where they can and not force it down the sprawls throat.

  9. One more absurdity you failed to mention, Zach:

    The extreme fragmentation of service patterns, and the failure to think in terms of a usable network, leads to near-pointless frequencies between 10th & Osage (the “combined segment” barely a mile south of downtown) and Union Station. This connecting segment never runs at better than 15 minutes, and sometimes falls to 30.

    The result is that transfers between the west line and the south lines (which in many cases would require a second long-headway transfer one stop later) become impossible in practice. So a person coming from the west and heading to the sortakinda-TOD-retrofitted complex around Englewood station is SOL.

    Also, I wouldn’t expect to see people transferring from the southern light rail lines to the northwest commuter train any time soon. For some reason, the reconstruction of Union Station involved knocking the light rail platforms almost a quarter of a mile away!

      1. Here we are, getting ready to spend billions on our own highway parking lot shuttle off to the hinterlands of Lynnwood and Issaquah. Next I imagine we’ll tunnel through the mountains to reach Ellensburg. Meanwhile folks in Ballard will continue waiting for their delayed buses, stuck in traffic on the slow 3 mile jog south (bring a book!)

      2. Sound Transit’s service area ends at Issaquah. (And Everett, Woodinville, Renton, Kent, Auburn, Puyallup, Lakewood.) So no Link to Ellensburg. If ST is ever expanded, it would most likely be to Thurston County. The second-most likely is taking over the Everett-Bellingham regional buses or a shuttle train there. Anything beyond that is much less likely.

      3. Note that there is currently no rail line planned for Issaquah. While there is one planned for Lynnwood Snohomish county is paying for everything North of 185th.

        Given the political layer-cake that is Sound Transit, if there is money to build rail to Ballard there will be money to build something East of Lake Washington. Chances are the ridership potential will be low given that the largest potential ridership generators have already been served by East Link. While further BRT and express bus infrastructure is probably the best use of Eastside funds (with the exception of Downtown Redmond and possibly the Renton portion of a Burien-Renton line), if more rail on the Eastside is what is needed to get further tax authority and to pass ST3 then so be it.

        If you want to hate on the projects serving locations outside of Seattle, go right ahead but realize by doing so you are making it far less likely that Ballard will see any sort of rail transit within any of our lifetimes.

      4. We’ve been over this. A combined package of minority useful + majority useless will fail when put to a tri-county vote.

        We’re only getting more urban rail by severing the funding process. Better to get used to that concept now.

    1. I noted this sort of fragmentation in paragraph 5:

      The base frequency for RTD’s light rail lines is 15 minutes but varies in strange and unfortunate ways. For instance, the stretch between Broadway Station and 10th/Osage hosts 5 of the 6 lines up to every 3-5 minutes. This ultra frequent chokepoint, with multiple conflicting crossovers, requires bunching trains on their own segments to achieve even 3-minute headways. The cost is significant. For instance, though Union Station has 8 trains per hour off-peak, they leave 3 and then 12 minutes apart, cutting the effective frequency in half for those traveling to shared stations.

      1. Indeed, you did touch on it.

        But it’s actually worse than your paragraph suggests. Your uneven headways appear to include the West line, which does not reach 10th/Osage and therefore does not intersect with any lines other than the C or E.

        The C is a part-time-only service. When it runs, it is (evenly) staggered with the E service, for a (combined) 15-minute headway. When the C does not run, the E plies the connecting segment alone at 15- or 30-minute headways.

        At no time are there trains running 3 or 12 minutes apart between Union Station and 10th/Osage.

      2. Ah. We’re both correct. The point I was trying to make was that the Osage chokepoint limits frequency elsewhere too, for example between shared stations such as Union Station and Auraria West. The uneven headways there seem to be required in order to interline the E with the D/F/H. (The Union Station-Broadway corridor doesn’t slip to 30-minute service until 10pm, btw. Still bad, but not awful.)

  10. You listed B-share among your modes of transport, but no explanation of how and when you used the service.

    1. The next day I rented a B-Cycle and rode to Cherry Creek mall on an errand. I’m a daily Seattle bike commuter, and I found it so intimidating I rode on the sidewalk. Average Denver road speeds were just much higher than Seattle (35+ even on residential streets), one-way streets prevail, and there is too little traffic calming. Every street felt like riding on 23rd Avenue. Not wanting to bike more, I took the 83L bus back to Downtown.

      I suppose I could have been more descriptive. I took 4 B-Cycle trips generally within the Downtown/Five Points/Cherry Creek areas, but I also rode down University all the way to DU. I found the bikes heavy but serviceable, good for short trips but unpleasant for the long ride to DU, and with a really reasonable fare of $8/day.

      1. Denver-area bike infrastructure is all about the intra-suburban and intra-geological-feature pathways. You can travel tremendous distances in tremendously pleasant conditions, and the network is cohesive and well-mapped. But as with the rail system, the bike trails are all about long-distance commutes or recreational journeys, and basically irrelevant to the urban bike-share coverage area or to journeys on utility-style (heavier, slower) bikes.

        And heaven help you if you need to ride a major arterial to reach your nearest trail. It is actually quite common for “bike commuters” to “park-and-ride” at a suburban trail access point. So odd to see lots full of suburban assault vehicles idling for the day next to a scenic greenway.

        Oh, those Denverites, they do love their “natural way of life” so!

  11. Denver, Dallas, San Francisco, and even Portland took the same approach to transit – build to the suburbs in whatever corridor is available. The advantages of this approach is these cities have redundancy in case of a 70s style fuel shortage, construction did not take multiple generations, and people have alternatives to driving. The disadvantages are generally low ridership and a system that could probably be replaced with a lower cost commuter bus network with the same result and more flexibility. Long term

    Seattle and Houston have done a better job putting the transit where the people are instead of simply the cheapest places. This will likely lead to systems that are better used in the long term and do more to stimulate development, but it does take longer to plan and has more potential to anger existing communities (such as Bellevue or the communities along the University Corridor in Houston). It definitely helps that both cities also have bus systems and great managed lanes to provide flexible and fast commuter services from the suburbs.

    1. In practice, in Denver, the commuter bus network existed prior to the construction of the rail system, and THE BUSES COST MORE TO OPERATE.

      I do try to emphasize this because people get confused and say things like you said. Fact is, on regional routes with any sort of volume at all, rail is cheaper to operate.

      In Denver, the people weren’t anywhere — regional routes are low-density all the way every way, with the arguable exception of East Colfax. Placing rail lines in a gulch or next to an expressway makes it rather harder for the people to move next to the rail line, which is a big error, but they would have gotten equally bad ridership in the first decade or two on any other regional route.

      You can argue that Denver should have focused on local routes downtown rather than regional routes. If you do, you would be correct, of course. I haven’t figured out exactly why the politics prevented it, but the politics most certainly did prevent it. Perhaps it was simply due to what a tiny fraction of Denver’s regional population lived downtown or nearby. Seattle may be able to avoid that due to higher population in downtown and nearby areas; I hope so.

      You could also argue that Denver should have focused on different regional routes, targeting Boulder early. Certainly Boulder thinks so, and given the university, it should be a successful route. The reasons this didn’t happen seem kind of like random historical accidents.

  12. Perhaps if driverless vehicle technology improves, robot taxis for the first/last mile could complement the Denver rail to create some sort of usable system…

  13. There has been a huge boom in the oil & gas industry in the Denver Julesburg-Basin for the last 3-4 years. It runs from Cheyenne to Colorado Springs. The natural gas play has been fairly big for many years, but the addition of the Niobrara Shale has spurred growth the last 3-4 years. It is one of the biggest shale plays in the United States and the reserves are very promising. The 4 biggest operators in the basin have set 2014 spending at $2 billion each, which will only add to the 120,000 plus jobs the industry supports in the region. I have been working in this basin for the last 10 years and can’t even begin to explain how much it has grown and changed for the better. Oil production has increased from 30 million barrels annually in 2010 to the current rate of 70 million barrels. If regulation doesn’t slow growth too much, then 250 million barrels annually should be attainable. ConocoPhillips is just now expanding the field east of Aurora and South toward Douglas county on the south end of the Metro.

    RTD used the FTA’s Private Public Partnership financing pilot for Fastracks. If it works I would think it has the potential to be the new model for large regional development projects nationwide. As far as the North line goes… I don’t even know what to say. I guess freight lines have to cover themselves from increased liability brought on by the Chatsworth accident, but the price seems a little steep. Regardless, RTD dropped the ball on this one. Business 101 would point out that there should have been a lot more discussion and much more put in writing before they came to us for tax increases and an expansion of the RTD Region. However, the Boulder-Longmont line doesn’t have very impressive ridership estimates. I assume it’s partly because of the length and direction of the line. I know the cost is much higher to extend the north line, but that is the most efficient way to add northern Boulder county and easily expand further toward Loveland/Ft. Collins. Not to mention southern Weld county is currently experiencing some of the largest growth rates in the front range. I’m not sold that they have completely exhausted all potential avenues of the north line.

    I would love to see a streetcar down east Colfax and South Broadway with a spur breaking off either line going into Cherry Creek via the Capital Hill area. I really feel some ROW is necessary with the Broadway line. At some point sooner that many expect, I think a short cut and cover subway line from the Civic Center area down 17th street to Union Station is going to be needed to ease the capacity of the 16th street Shuttle and the new Metroride. I’d rather see the shuttle used to transport mall patrons than CBD and state workers. At some point the congestion coming out of Union Station is going to hurt ridership growth on all lines. Additionally it would be a boon for ridership to offer direct service in a faster mode from the intercity and southern lines. I would much rather ride up Broadway directly to my final destination in the CBD or Civic Center Park area with some kind of ROW and below grade tunneling. This is apposed to spending nearly the same time on the train and either walking from the Central line or waiting for a Shuttle down the Mall from Union Station, which can easily take 20 plus minutes. Denver has been a suburban style big city that is very automobile oriented in the past, but that is rapidly changing. I think ridership is only going to grow at an exponentially growing rate. It’s amazing the number of people I know that only take the train to games or downtown when they consume alcohol. They love their cars, but as the lines offer more convenience I believe you will see many more people lose their keys during the day as well. I know a short subway line isn’t needed now, but I really do believe it’s going to be necessary much sooner than the 30-40 years I hear people talking about. One issue a lot of people don’t consider is the ever growing possibility of sudden and incessant energy prices. I’d rather pay upfront for a convenient and efficient mass transit system that not only spawns growth, but also one that can be expanded quickly without great capital infusion.

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