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Denver’s East Colfax Transit Planning Update

Today I have an update on transit planning for the East Colfax corridor, Denver’s iconic main street. Anyone who has traveled on or through the East Colfax area knows that it is one of the busiest urban areas of the city; however, it is not nearly as efficient as many commuters, residents and business owners would like. As this area becomes increasingly urbanized with major economic and residential developments, the need to improve transit connections in the corridor is vital to meet current and future transit demand and to reduce traffic congestion.

Two weeks ago, Denver Public Works hosted public meetings in Denver and Aurora to gauge the public’s interest in new transit technologies for the area. The three technologies being considered for the corridor are Enhanced Bus, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and the modern Streetcar.

The Enhanced Bus line would be an improvement over RTD’s 15 and 15L service as it would be a newer bus with nearly twice the passenger capacity.

<http://youtu.be/v0xThvUxBJY>

The Bus Rapid Transit option would be similar to the Enhanced Bus line except that one lane of traffic on either side of Colfax would become a dedicated bus lane, similar to what we currently have in the far right lane of southbound Broadway.

<http://youtu.be/9tvB_3WDhMU>

The last option that Denver Public Works is currently considering is the modern Streetcar. This vehicle option would offer a capacity nearly three times greater than an existing bus and could operate in a shared or dedicated lane with electrified cables above.

<http://youtu.be/8ahJFBhNbMg>

All of the options would include amenities such as ticket machines, video screens with arrival information, and more efficient roll-out handicap ramps at each stop, bike storage inside the vehicles, as well as distinctive branding similar to what Dan pointed out in a recent post. These improvements would reduce transit times between destinations along Colfax and offer a more accommodating transit ride for more passengers.

 

The recent meetings, part of the city’s Colfax Corridor Connections effort, concluded the conceptual evaluation phase of the project as Denver Public Works will now begin their Environmental Impact Assessment and Conceptual Engineering Studies. Later this summer, a second round of public meetings will occur to discuss the details, costs and benefits to each of these proposals.

What do you think of these options?

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33 Comments

  1. Kelly says:

    I love the idea of a modern street car on Colfax!

  2. Plansit says:

    Most importantly, they got the alignment correct. —> Colfax.

  3. Larry says:

    Although I’m sure they would all work well, I am partial to the rail based one. I’m not too sure how a dedicated transit lane would work on Colfax. Especially once you get closer to downtown.

  4. Jeffrey Beall says:

    Whatever solution gets ultimately selected, I hope it’s one that has rapid on and off for wheelchairs. It’s not uncommon for a bus trip to Anschutz from downtown to take twenty minutes longer than normal just due to the added time that it takes the wheelchair-bound people to get on and off the bus. And because there are so many social-service agencies up and down the Colfax corridor, there are more wheelchair users on the 15, 15-L routes than on others. Otherwise, you can throw millions of dollars at the new busses, but there will be little additional uptake, because it’s so frustrating to sit on the bus for ten minutes as a wheelchair person gets on and tied down on the bus, and then it’s repeated a few blocks down the road when the person de-boards the bus. The only people who ride the bus under these circumstances are those with lots of free time, such as the vagrants.

    • Robert says:

      Jeffrey, I know exactly what you talking about! All three options have roll out ramps that should take less than a minute to extend, allow for wheelchair boarding and contract. This coupled with building the stations out to the street and the lower busses should save a lot of transit/boarding time. Keeping people from getting on the bus for a two block ride.. not sure if there is anything to about that..

      All three options seem to value this issue, at this summer’s meeting DPW should present the estimated travel times. Personally I holding my opinion until after that presentation.

      • Matthew Mariner says:

        I’m a little surprised that the light rail rolling stock currently in operation is so behind in terms of accessibility. Even as a person without any physical disabilities that would make boarding a challenge, I find the overly steep stepwells in the light rail cars to be somewhat hazardous – and, on snowy days, downright nerve-racking. To boot, the fact that the operator has to exit her cab to facilitate boarding for persons with mobility issues is a little backwards. I’m assuming new rolling stock will not be purchased until the current ones are well past their operational lifespan (some may already be), but hopefully any new investments will follow modern accessibility standards (though this may not be the case with the West line, which appears to have identical rolling stock).

        • Nathanael says:

          Yeah. Denver made a poor choice of light rail rolling stock before the first line opened in 1994, and hasn’t gotten around to correcting the choice.

          Other cities which made the same poor choice, such as San Diego, are now switching to 100% low-floor light rail vehicles.

          To be fair, San Diego made the choice several years earlier; the result is that Denver’s not-really-accessible light rail vehicles have a lot more life left in them. However, the fact that the West and I-225 lines appear to be using the same inaccessible railcars is odd. There must be some sort of grandfather clause or special waiver, since level boarding of all cars is now *required* for new-build light rail systems.

          • Ken Schroeppel says:

            It would be very inefficient to try to have a light rail system that has a mix of low-floor and high-floor vehicles. Therefore, since RTD made the decision to go high-floor back in the 1990s, they just have to stick with it. It was mostly a Downtown issue with curb/sidewalk heights.

      • DenverBo says:

        Jeffery/Robert,

        How about improving the sidewalk and crossing conditions down Colfax, so wheelchair users feel more comfortable travelling for 2 blocks, rather than the whole mess of issues they encounter at the moment. Have you ever tried to wheelchair down Colfax? Or even on crutches? It isn’t pleasant.

        Mobility for less-abled people is very important.

        • Robert says:

          to DenverBo, I think you have a great point. Part of this study that is certainly lacking is the other improvements to the corridor that need to be addressed at the same time in addition to transit related issues. Pedestrian, accessibility, bike related improvements are just as important to this project as the transit technology they choose.

          to all, thank you for the input. These details are exactly what needs to be brought to DPW and RTD’s attention during the environmental impact & conceptual engineering process.

  5. Aaron says:

    Looking at the presentation slides it looks like they have already watered down BRT to the point where it doesn’t come close to resembling what the ITDP would classify as BRT (it’s more like better Enhanced Bus Service). Having peak hour bus lanes where cars can get in and use it as turning lanes, loading zones, and as areas to parallel park just does not have the same reliability of service as a true BRT implementation. Not to mention it doesn’t really have any advantage over enhanced bus service outside of peak hours.

    I have nothing against BRT, but if we are going to make an investment in a mode like that we should do it right (Mason Street Corridor, Cleveland Healthline, TransMilenio, etc). If we have too many conflicts on Colfax that prevent us from implementing BRT correctly to standards adopted by the ITDP it should be eliminated as an option instead of watering it down like most US BRT implementations do.

  6. Karl says:

    Hopefully RTD doesn’t cheap out and eliminate the streetcar or BRT options.

  7. Jim says:

    The modern streetcar has a certain lure, potentially garnering a higher ridership number. The overhead electric and rail embedded in Colfax will solidify its place along Colfax, hopefully solidifying the entire corridor..

    • Mckillio says:

      I don’t think you have to have tracks for a streetcar, just the over head line. What would be really cool is if they could run electricity on their own and it could connect to the 16th street mall.

    • James says:

      Agree. There is nothing like 2 long pieces of steel to solidify someones confidence in investing/riding on a corridor. Bus routes just don’t have that… They are too easy to move and scare/intimidate many novice public transit users.

  8. UrbanZen says:

    At first I was thinking that taking a taffic lane away for a dedicated bus or streetcar would be a total nightmare. But one of the reasons traffic is so painful on Colfax is the nearly complete lack of right turn lanes and stacking for left turns. The more I think about it, I actually believe a single lane with good right and left turn lanes might actually move traffic better. You put the streetcar/bus next to the sidewalk (you’d lose on street parking, but hey…) and add a mid-block raised median where the left turn lanes transition to provide a great pedestrian refuge. A problem could be stacking the right turn lanes on the tracks, so maybe you have to rotate allowing lefts or right every other block. The raised median would be narrower on the streets that don’t allow left turns, but could extend the entire lenght. Would be a bold move, probably too bold for DPW and CDOT.

    • Robert says:

      UrbanZen, I proposed a similar concept during the public meeting and while it is certainly still an option, street parking is heavily valued by the Colfax businesses and residents.

      • UrbanZen says:

        I have no doubt the business owners wouldn’t go down without a bloody battle. I suppose you could put the rail in the median, but that would really mess up the left turns, and its not ideal for pedestrians to board. Maybe put both tracks on one side of the street, seperate with a nice median, and have both auto lanes on the other side. Might just be enough room to squeeze in one lane of on-street parking. You’d have to ban bikes, send ‘em to 16th.

      • Nathanael says:

        Ugh. There’s lots of street parking on the side streets… there’s lots of parking lots…. car storage is not the highest and best use of Colfax St.

  9. Joe says:

    I love the concepts, but I don’t see how they have room or the right-of-way to put in a dedicated lane in such a congested area. It would cost big $$s to buy very expensive properties.

    • DenverBo says:

      How do you deal with congestion? Build a high quality, reliable, frequent public transport service so less people have to drive individually and take up the space. Taking a lane isn’t the worst idea.

    • Robert says:

      to Joe, none of the plans propose expanding the street. If there was a dedicated lane automobiles would just lose one travel lane.

  10. James says:

    I’m a huge proponent of rail and agree streetcars provide the stability and ease of use to encourage development and mass transit usage. My only concern is how do you offer both local and express service with a rail line. I’m afraid that users of the current 15L that come from a long distance outside of downtown will opt out of using a system that must stop every few blocks. Am I missing something?

    • Plansit says:

      Yes. Although Screen 2 doesn’t make it clear, Streetcar (local) would be in combination with Bus (express).

      • James says:

        Thanks. I was thinking it was bus or rail, didn’t realize it would be a combination of both.

  11. Nathanael says:

    Streetcar with exclusive lanes.

    There is PLENTY of room for it. Y’all don’t know what a crowded road looks like.

    • Nathanael says:

      The streetcar lanes can be shared with buses, just not with cars.

      • Ken Schroeppel says:

        Streetcar lines can most certainly be shared with cars. That’s kind of the whole point.

        • Nathanael says:

          Of course they CAN be, but that’s STUPID. What I mean is that, on Colfax, streetcar lanes SHOULD NOT BE shared with cars.

          If you want to improve public transportation, you have to get the unscheduled cars out of the way.

          It’s OK to share lanes with cars on uncrowded streets, but you never ever want your buses, streetcars, or trains to share lanes with cars on busy streets.

          If you don’t have exclusive lanes for public transportation, you haven’t actually bothered to improve public transportation; you’re still treating it as unimportant and treating private cars as all-important.

          • Ken Schroeppel says:

            Um, no, Nathanael, it is not stupid. Most modern streetcar systems operate in mixed traffic, usually with priority signalization. In a few key locations, the streetcar may operate for a short stretch in a dedicated or semi-dedicated right-of-way, but otherwise they generally operate in mixed traffic. There are also high-capacity streetcar systems that generally operate in dedicated rights-of-way, sort of a streetcar/light-rail hybrid, but those are usually used in less dense urban areas where higher speeds and more right-of-way room is available. In denser urban corridors like East Colfax, streetcars almost always operate in mixed traffic. All of Denver’s 200-mile historic streetcar system operated in mixed traffic.

  12. Lisa Amidon says:

    The Modern Streetcar seems it would be way more efficient at moving people up and down the corridor than the bus.

  13. SVC says:

    Great Points Ken. I think they should re-install the Colfax portion of Denver’s historic streetcar system. It would be great If they were able to use old streetcars or replicas. I think it would help Colfax become more of a tourist attraction in addition to providing classy transportation.

  14. Alejandro says:

    They should model this after Market St in SF. Street cars coexist w/ cars. It’s not a fully dedicated lane but cars must turn right every block so in practice they avoid that lane (and the street entirely). If cars can be pushed out of Colfax to parallel streets that would be better.
    It is true that there’s no parking on market st for the most part which is what makes it work…