Denver Proposes Arterial BRT on East Colfax

The Colfax Corridor Connections project held two public meetings last week, following a year of extensive modeling and analysis, to review the “preliminary locally preferred alternative” of arterial bus rapid transit on Colfax between Auraria and the Anschutz Medical Campus, with all-day service and using exclusive lanes during peak hours. Previous public meetings described the screening out of non-traditional urban corridor options, and options that would only be appropriate in areas with vastly higher capacity needs. This third phase closely analyzed the three remaining alternatives: enhanced bus, modern streetcar, and bus rapid transit.

The three alternatives, which would replace today’s 15L service, would all feature distinct low-floor vehicles with multi-door boarding, off-board ticketing at bulb-out stations, real-time passenger information at stations, signal priority at intersections and frequent operations with 5-minute headways.

Image source: City of Denver: www.ColfaxCorridorConnections.com

Image source: City of Denver: www.ColfaxCorridorConnections.com

In keeping with the Denver Strategic Transportation Plan’s direction to use multimodal improvements to increase the person-trip capacity of our streets (a true multi-modal evaluation, rather than older methods counting vehicle capacity), this study used DRCOG’s Focus Travel Model, an activity-based demand model, to estimate total corridor person-trip demand under the remaining alternatives. By evaluating alternatives with an eye towards total corridor person-trip demand, and confirming that the proposed service can meet the demand generated by the new service, BRT demonstrates nearly all the capacity benefits of the streetcar alternative at approximately 25% of the capital cost and at lower operating cost.

The lower capital cost of the BRT alternative means that the project would be appropriate for federal Small Starts or New Starts funding (total capital costs of less than $250 million), which have relatively low local match requirements. The project team told attendees that the very good “cost effectiveness” for this alternative  – a number calculated based on an Federal Transit Administration formula for an all-inclusive cost per rider – shows that it would be highly competitive for federal funds, driven by the high ridership on the corridor.

A key feature of the BRT and streetcar alternatives is exclusive use of one lane in each direction during peak hours. This is critical to alleviating the unpredictable arrival times of buses on Colfax which today “bunch up” due to getting caught in traffic – a situation that would only get worse without the dedicated lanes as traffic and demand increase over time. The modeling estimates that daily transit demand would only increase from 22,000 today to 26,000 in 2035 with no action, or to 33,000 with an enhanced bus option in shared lanes. But transit ridership would increase to 43,000 per day under the BRT proposal with peak-hour exclusive lanes. (Streetcar with peak-hour exclusive lanes would be similar, with a small further increase due to slightly shorter end-to-end times and a passenger bias to use rail.)

Another way to look at the higher person-trip capacity on Colfax with these improvements is to realize that the demand for east-west travel will exist whether or not the improvements are made – but without the improvements, Colfax won’t be able to carry as much of it, meaning increased traffic in adjacent neighborhoods and less economic activity on Colfax.

Is it a bold proposal? I would say it’s a bold, smart proposal. It’s a bold proposal because it will take real political will, backed by the support of urbanists, to walk our multimodal talk and make choices such as peak-hour dedicated lanes to optimize for person-trip capacity on this key urban corridor. We cannot let our elected leaders become paralyzed with fear of offending those who only think about the world as a single-occupant-vehicle driver. It’s a smart proposal because it captures nearly all of the benefits possible at a reasonable price with a good shot at near-term funding.

This should be just the first in what becomes Denver’s new direction to lead on transit planning throughout the city.

~~~

Joel Noble is a Denver native who focuses on neighborhoods, transportation and city development topics through his many volunteer roles. He is President of Curtis Park Neighbors, Co-chair of the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation‘s Transportation Committee, a Boardmember with the Five Points Business District (FPBD), and a member of the Denver Planning Board. He has been an active participant in developing area plans, business district plans, streetcar and transit plans, and in the citywide Zoning Code Update. Joel believes that there is great power in bringing community together with city departments and other agencies to develop vision and to implement plans for the future of our city. Professionally, Joel works in IT as a systems engineer.

By | 2016-12-27T20:09:01+00:00 September 3, 2014|Categories: Infrastructure, Revitalization, Transit|Tags: |59 Comments

59 Comments

  1. Aaron September 3, 2014 at 9:41 am

    It may be the best solution for Colfax based on cost, and ridership modeling, but I wouldn’t call it a bold solution. Bold would be true BRT from an optics perspective, or a streetcar from a cost perspective. The peak hour bus lanes with enhanced bus is wholly justifiable and needed, but has some underlying assumptions that make it too clinical and flawed from a psychological perspective.

    Overall the preliminary preferred alternative is an improvement and something worth fighting for, but falls short of the visionary or bold solution that we could have on that corridor.

    • Jim Nash September 14, 2014 at 5:50 pm

      Aaron, if you’re looking for “bold,” so are we all. Joel, in the excellent debate below, the rancor from me is directed at city officials — but I know you feel it, too, and I both apologize to you for the harsh tone of my comments, and thank you for opening this critical subject.

      Denver politicians and planners are about to chose what I feel is a wrong direction for inner-city transit along our big streets, which will set a “standard” for what we experience and expect all over the Mile High City.

      Will cheaper, BRT buses run along East Colfax, or more expensive streetcars? The template’s already in place, with dedicated bus lines along Broadway. If the proposed Colfax BRT raises ridership — and it will, some — the BRT model will become the ciy government’s standard for Broadway, because it’s more “affordable” than streetcars.

      Here’s the crux of the city’s decision coming down on Colfax: The Union Station project — bringing suburban commuters and DIA travelers INTO Denver on trains is a tremendous UPGRADE for the city. Now, the mayor and his allies and planners want to DOWNGRADE transit for people who live and work IN the city — where the highest concentrations of people need to be served.

      Buses de-grade a street’s atmosphere. Bus lanes along Broadway have made very little contribution to the Big Street scene — which is the way we experience and “know” our city. Broadway lacks a unique Sense of Place, which streetcars give a main street. Buses make it feel like Nowhere.

      Planners are telling politicians the virtues of building a cheap, lower-grade bus system, rather than focusing on the long-range image and development potentials in streetcars. Bottom line, if Denver builds busways along East Colfax, we can all forget about a re-birth of streetcars on our Big Streets.

      It all gets down to what kind of a city we want Denver to be. Unique, futuristic? Or just so-so, just “affordable?” That choice is being made by our city government right now. What do you want?

  2. steve September 3, 2014 at 10:16 am

    My issue with this study is it (probably due to FTA requirements) only looked at transit has a tool for moving people. While that is a large part of the equation, it is not the only benefit of enhanced transit. Missing from the analysis was the place-making and economic development impacts of the different modes. I believe they looked at potential increase in land values, but that is just one of many potential indicators for economic development.

    • Jason September 5, 2014 at 9:53 am

      Steve, I totally agree.

      • Andy Baldyga September 7, 2014 at 9:51 pm

        I agree as well.

  3. Joel Noble September 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Aaron: I’m not sure why this wouldn’t be “true BRT” in your mind. It’s clearly an application of BRT on an arterial, which is inherently different than BRT in a highway (or less urban) context. I have a question about the “brand messaging” if US-36 BRT and Colfax BRT are both called BRT in Denver, since they’ll be such different services. Without dedicated lanes for a big portion of the route and at important times, it wouldn’t make sense to call it BRT.

    What I’m seeing in the proposal seems to tick all the BRT boxes — we’ll just need to ensure they don’t get “value engineered” away moving towards implementation. Which will take advocacy.

    • Aaron September 3, 2014 at 4:04 pm

      The dedicated lanes are my biggest gripe but there are others. Although peak hour lanes may meet the minimum US federal definition for a certain grant it doesn’t meet several other BRT international/US definitions. By most definitions it’s watered down to the point of it being enhanced bus, just like RTD’s US-36 implementation is (although US-36 is express enhanced bus).

      When it comes to BRT on 36 Phil Washington has even acknowledged it isn’t “full” BRT in a Citylab piece on Union Station. The last thing I want is Denver to be where RTD is now in that RTD has something they called BRT but it isn’t going to be, and at the same time RTD is trying to sell more BRT to a very skeptical Boulder county. It doesn’t work, and your confusion on the brand messaging is exactly the issue I am hoping to avoid.

      True/Full BRT is the TransMilenio, Cleveland Health Line, LA Metro Orange Line, or the more recent Mason Street Corridor in Fort Collins. They have some degree of physical separation keeping cars out, and they are mostly running on fully dedicated lanes (not HOT lanes or peak hour lanes) going through popular urban/suburban corridors (not a major freeway).
      If we ever propose a true BRT implementation and all we have to point at locally is Colfax and US 36 people may not want it, because they hear BRT and think they are getting something along those lines. So we are setting ourselves up for future failure if we ever want to advocate paying the premium for that full/true BRT level of bus service.

      What is proposed for Colfax is a desirable solution on its own (Despite lacking boldness or vision), and we should call a spade a spade when selling it to the general public. It’s enhanced bus with peak hour lanes, or if we need slick branding just call it the “ECo ( for East Colfax) super-mega-speedy-bus improvements”or something.

      • Joel Noble September 4, 2014 at 7:22 am

        Thanks, Aaron. I appreciate your perspective. As you said, it might be the best solution for Colfax based on the goals, which is the conclusion I’ve gotten comfortable with over the course of the project. A question at both public meetings I went to was why they didn’t opt for full-time dedicated lanes (other than crossing to access parking or to turn). The answer seemed to be that at off-peak times there isn’t congestion resulting in a significant transit benefit to keeping the lane dedicated, so the effect of the reduced person-trips on the corridor from auto trips wouldn’t be justified by a transit benefit (all-day dedicated lanes raises the transit ridership demand by 1,000 person-trips per day, while reducing the auto person-trips by 7,000 per day, compared with the proposed peak-hour alternative).

        On US-36, I was surprised that they weren’t going with low-floor multi-door vehicles for “BRT”, as noted i the CityLab article you referenced. As I heard it, the ride quality and noise at highway speeds for the tested vehicles was far worse than the single-door coach vehicles RTD has used for regional routes. The loading/unloading time is, however, incredibly slow as people queue in the narrow aisles.

        I’m less concerned on US-36 about the shared (HOT) facility if, as promised, the dynamic pricing for toll use and the effect of going to HOV-3 means that the BRT never experiences traffic delays in the HOT lanes. It’s an “if”, but given that it’s how the project is getting funded in the context of astonishingly limited public support to pay for road infrastructure, it’s well worth trying. I can see a role for advocates to raise heck if it doesn’t operate as planned with buses not being able to maintain full speed.

        It seems to me that the branding question for both East Colfax and US-36 in the Denver metro area is arguably more important than just wondering if people will be confused as to what BRT does or can mean — it’s whether or not a new rubber-tired service (with its own moniker, BRT or otherwise, to associate new impressions with) can be so different and good that it breaks through the regrettable stigma so much of the public has around buses. If not — if it’s not much better that city buses in ways the public appreciates — we’ll have lost a great opportunity to break through the stigma and open up public transportation to a much larger audience without it necessarily having to be rail. BRT isn’t the only thing that can break through, of course. Boulder’s HOP, SKIP, JUMP, etc. proved that. But I hope that Colfax and US-36 BRT similarly open up another large set of “choice riders”.

        I really like your idea to give the East Colfax service a name (ECo or something else), and move away from the numeric route name, when making this kind of investment. It sends a surprisingly strong message, and is much more memorable for new or potential riders. It certainly helped in Boulder. I’ve also heard some discussion in Cherry Creek about harmonizing the route numbers going between there and downtown into a simpler, more memorable route name of some sort, although I don’t think that kind of change is being actively planned yet.

        Where do you think the good opportunity areas are for full (or “heavy”) BRT in Denver?

        • Nathanael September 8, 2014 at 6:20 pm

          Given what they’ve spent (wasted?) on US 36 buses, it’s quite interesting that Boulder, Lafayette, and even Broomfield politicos are getting up and saying “We didn’t pay taxes to RTD for buses; give us the rail you promised”.

          It’s worth thinking about it.

          You will never “break through the stigma” of buses, because *buses are inherently worse* than rail. That’s not to say you can’t make better bus service, and you should, because there are lots of routes which simply don’t have the sheer numbers which are needed to justify rail. There’s really no point in rail unless you can routinely fill multiple cars (every streetcar should be longer than an articulated bus).

          However, Colfax — Colfax HAS the huge number of riders which you want for rail. Build the rail, and use the subsequent savings on operating costs (and increased ridership) to fund better buses on less-well-patronized routes.

          Buses are inefficient for high-volume routes. They’re also unpopular. I don’t know why “planners” are obsessed with them.

          The model used by the “planners” is obviously nonsense, and was probably calibrated deliberately to sandbag the project. The auto trips would not go away: many would probably divert to parallel roads, FWIW.

          The idea that about the same number of people would ride buses with part-time lanes as streetcars with exclusive lanes indicates that they haven’t calibrated the rail bias. This looks like the sort of model which led Minneapolis to vastly underestimate the popularity of the Green Line light rail when it opened. (Afterwards, Minneapolis had to increase the rail bias in their model by about 50% in order to match reality.)

          Mark my words: if Denver wastes money on this timid, bus-obsessed proposal, they’ll find that it has much worse ridership than they expected, and they’ll have to go back and fight to build a proper exclusive-lane streetcar afterwards anyway.

          God damn the BRT bait and switch. WHY do planners fall for it? Are they being paid by bus manufacturers? Or by gasoline/diesel/CNG interests? Or what?

          • TakeFive September 9, 2014 at 9:58 am

            “subsequent savings on operating costs…”

            That’s a fantasy. Not sure the operational savings are that significant but in any event all transit requires subsidies and you ignore the capital costs fact that rail will be four times as much.

            BRT uses a light rail type coach and for commuting is proving to be both successful and popular. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TvZXRxnZIQk

            There’s also growing discussion around the efficacy of “streetcars” at CityLab: http://www.citylab.com/commute/

            The biggest issue with respect to Colfax (and any additional transit) is funding. Unless you’re willing to wait a couple of decades to address the need?

  4. Joel Noble September 3, 2014 at 1:02 pm

    Steve: Yes, they looked at potential economic development effects. PUMA did what everyone seems to think was a very good job at a very difficult task of estimating ranges for economic development that could be driven by the remaining alternatives. The summary info is at the links in the article. There was significant overlap in the ranges between BRT and streetcar, but the upper end — which may or may not be realizable — is higher for streetcar.

    In the handout materials on the site, Denver Public Works does say that this implementation will be done such as to not preclude conversion to streetcar in the future. While the funding question doesn’t make that seem likely unless some vast re-think of the land uses near the corridor occurs over time, it’s interesting to note that they’re leaving that door open. I’ve heard from folks in Community Planning and Development that they too want to be sure conversion isn’t precluded.

    Unlike most center-city modern streetcar applications, this is a long 10-mile route with vastly different character (current and in adopted plans) along the route. I think that drives down the realistic economic development opportunities while driving up the costs. Now, if we were talking about Broadway between downtown and I-25, that might be a very different story.

  5. Corey September 3, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    This type of bus line seems like a good idea for Colfax if they build it from Auraria all the way to Anschutz, because Colfax is a relatively narrow street and the distance seems to long for a streetcar to be financially viable. However, a streetcar is an absolute necessity along Broadway and Lincoln to I-25, with a branch to Cherry Creek. A mix of modern and vintage streetcars would be really nice.

    • TakeFive September 5, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      Well said.!

      One thing I learned from Joel is that this project “would be appropriate for federal Small Starts or New Starts funding (total capital costs of less than $250 million), which have relatively low local match requirements.” My understanding is that both these programs have been popular at the state level and are more likely to continue to be funded when the next Congress gets around to finally redoing the Transportation funding bill next Spring (hopefully).

      • Nathanael September 8, 2014 at 6:22 pm

        Looks like they sandbagged the streetcar options in order to keep the estimated costs under the limits for the program.

        Understandable, but still a really gross error. Don’t screw up your planning just to deal with a one or two year program size restriction.

  6. Jim Nash September 3, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Joel, thanks for a very thought-provoking article. You make a strong case for the lower-cost advantage of an East Colfax BRT, versus a streetcar line. But you also mention a critical factor: “a passenger bias to use rail.” It flows from the old adage that rail is ridden by “commuters” and buses by “losers.” Middle class professionals versus low-income workers. Fair or not, it’s deeply felt by most people that riding a train is a different experience than riding a bus.

    Streetcars make a main street seem more important, a Big Street — something buses just can’t do. Even though they cost a lot more than buses, streetcars are a much better long-term investment for Denver than BRTs.

    In LA, the Metro Orange Line, from the North Hollywood subway terminus, 20-some miles to the West San Fernando Valley, along a dedicated (exclusive) busway on an old freight rail right-of-way has far-exceeded all ridership expectations. The articulated buses and bus stops depicted in your article are almost exactly like the Orange Line. It was built as a much lower-cost alternative to what was originally planned as an extension of the Metro subway system.

    But ironically, now that a much denser West Valley “downtown” is being promoted, there’s momentum building to “upgrade” the Orange Line BRT to a cross-valley rail line — either light rail or a heavy-rail, above-ground extension of the subway line that now ends in NoHo.

    So the perception in Los Angeles — and in romantic cities like San Francisco and New Orleans — favors streetcars and other rail, not buses. Ask yourself, when you watch travel programs or look at photos of cities in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, Do you see streetcars, or buses?

    In considering the future of East Colfax, I look at the dedicated bus lanes along Broadway south from Downtown, and I’m disappointed. Our Big Streets should be served by streetcars, not buses. They’re a much classier choice for Denver. Lower cost isn’t the only standard to consider for Colfax.

    • Joel Noble September 4, 2014 at 2:08 pm

      Hi, Jim,

      The modeling, which I’m told by the project team did include a rail bias factor, estimates only a small incremental demand increase for streetcar over the recommended alternative. (45,000 rides per day on transit in the corridor in 2035 for streetcar vs. 43,000 for the BRT proposal). I was surprised by the small effect. Part of it seems to be that the BRT with features as described, including lower end-to-end travel time and all the other upgrades, attracts quite a few more riders than the existing 15L already, and the incremental bump above that to switch to rail due to “rail bias” just isn’t that large. Another factor may well be that there’s an upper limit to the potential demand in this corridor based on zoning and adopted plans’ future density projections. East Colfax is a fairly “thin” commercial corridor, backed up by low-scale residential on both sides in most areas, so it makes sense to me that the projections of potential demand could well be maxing out.

      I consider myself a streetcar enthusiast, and I too think we will find the right places to implement central-Denver streetcar, likely ones that include larger unrealized development potential on shorter routes. It’s a big investment, and will make sense if there’s a big incremental benefit.

      That said, while I know what you mean regarding a stigma around buses, I don’t think we can achieve our goals as a city if we assume that the ONLY way to attract more choice riders is to use rail — the opportunities are too few and the costs are too high. We have to ALSO improve the rubber-tire options in ways that matter to riders and attract more choice ridership.

      In addition to considering services that include BRT features, close to home I think we need to really study what Boulder did with the HOP, SKIP, JUMP, etc. — there are lessons in there waiting to be learned. RTD bus service had very low ridership in Boulder before, but today people of all economic levels ride those services — it’s been a total transformation. A lot of it has to do with the service features (frequency, attractiveness, routes connecting activity centers), a lot of it had to branding, a lot of it had to do with policy (downtown Boulder employees ALL get transit passes), and I’m sure there’s more.

      • Jim Nash September 4, 2014 at 9:40 pm

        Joel, a wider view of the East Colfax corridor reveals that it not only connects Downtown to the Anschutz Medical Center — with thousands of health care jobs — it also traverses Capitol Hill, the most densely-populated neighborhood in Denver. People will gladly walk 3, 4, 5 blocks to board a streetcar, if it takes them right downtown, or to Anschutz. If you only measure the “store front” development potential of Colfax, you don’t see big numbers. But if you count the many, many thousands of potential riders living within walking distance of Colfax, you get huge ridership potential.

        Frankly, I think the studies that justify BRT — rather than streetcars — along East Colfax are deliberately skewed, drastically UNDER-estimating rider potential — to favor the mayor’s preferred, cheaper BRT proposal. I ask you, and all Urbanists, are you really satisfied with the low-grade bus lanes dedicated for Broadway? I’m not.

        • TakeFive September 5, 2014 at 1:43 pm

          Jim… One side of my brain agrees wholeheartedly with your thinking. The other side? Not so much.

          The biggest issue is funding. There’s no money, Honey. The pungent whiff of winds now coming from Washington is not (likely to be) so transit friendly. A Modern Steetcar along Colfax would cost near $450 million. The last “Better Denver Bond” issue was for $550 million and funded over 300 projects all over the city. Additionally, there are other City of Denver priorities to consider.

          As for access to Anschutz/Fitzsimons many will have rail transit options including those who live at Stapleton.

        • Adam Cauchi September 15, 2014 at 12:35 pm

          As an active member of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, I for one have never, nor will I ever, take a bus in Denver. If there was a streetcar running up and down Colfax at most hours of the day, my girlfriend and I would be more than happy to utilize this multiple times a week. Colfax has a handful of great music venues, restaurants, and many other hidden gems.

          Currently, we have to drive downtown when wishing to attend a play at the Buell Theater, grab food at the new Union Station, or just walk around on a Friday night. Giving people like us the opportunity to walk a few blocks and take a nice ride downtown would be AMAZING!

          Many gripes from the Capitol Hill neighborhood center around transportation. Millennials, like myself and my girlfriend, are extremely opposed to uneventful transportation, such as buses. Allowing us to take a quick, enjoyable ride in a streetcar from Capitol Hill to other sections of Denver IS the way to encourage more Millennials to move to this wonderful city.

          If we wish to take the large influx of money, of those moving to this great place, and spend it on a temporary solution to our transit problems, we should go with buses. If we wish to make this city something beautiful and timeless, please, for the love of Denver, implement more streetcars.

          • Dan September 20, 2014 at 12:38 pm

            This is kind of a bizarre post. You’re making it sound like you’re too good for buses, which is ridiculous. And seriously — you live in Capitol Hill and drive downtown? There’s a serious car culture in Denver (probably imported from California) that has to change, unfortunately. People in larger cities (San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston) have great bus systems that hundreds of thousands of people use daily. I’m sorry buses are “uneventful” for you, but every great city needs to have a great bus system before they can think about moving beyond that.

            As to this conversation, this proposal is fairly close to true BRT, but I would prefer to see dedicated bus lanes and high frequencies 24/7. There’s been a huge street car craze in the country the past few years, so I totally get the desire to bring that to Denver. However, most of the street cars don’t have dedicated ROW and sit in the same traffic the buses do. Personally, I’d like to see a cut-and-cover light rail subway along Colfax, but I know that won’t be happening any time soon.

      • Nathanael September 8, 2014 at 6:05 pm

        Don’t believe the modeling.

        This looks like a “sandbag model”, designed specifically to sandbag the rail option. It’s very common to get dishonest models like this when the politicos want them.

        The same model is claiming that part-time bus lanes will be effective? It’s obviously a broken model. In practice, part-time bus lanes are neither respected nor enforced, and if the people doing the study had done their HOMEWORK, they would have noticed this.

      • Nathanael September 8, 2014 at 6:27 pm

        “Another factor may well be that there’s an upper limit to the potential demand in this corridor based on zoning”

        So fix the zoning.

        Colfax, at one point, allowed for 7-story commercial buildings; I’ve seen some of them dating from 100 years ago. The commercial area doesn’t need to be wide in order to build upward… if it’s connected properly by a frequent, reliable, high-capacity, streetcar.

        Colfax is a better streetcar/light rail route than, frankly, almost all of Denver’s entire light rail system. It has the volume, the continuous built-up status, the opportunity for more. And some idiots who call themselves planners think that it’s only suitable for BUSES?

        What the hell is WRONG with Denver, to put it impolitely?

        Buses are for the branch lines, the transverse routes, the *low capacity* routes.

  7. David September 5, 2014 at 4:44 am

    If we are going to make the effort to claim dedicated transit lanes during rush hour, why not throughout the rest of the day as well? This would allow for better street design (median or curb separated busway?) and send a message that Denver prioritizes mass transit.

    • Nathanael September 8, 2014 at 6:06 pm

      Because Denver doesn’t prioritize mass transit. That’s the message this study is sending *loud and clear*.

  8. Scott September 5, 2014 at 9:37 am

    I think all the theorizing and overly technical jargon used in this discussion simply disguise the fact that Colfax is NOT the place for any rapid-transit type of “upgrade”, whether it be a BRT bus or trolley line. Here’s why: (1) there are way too many absolutely necessary traffic lights and pedestrian crosswalks between Auraria and Anschutz to even allow for so-called rapid transit to take place (by the way, the think the present Colfax Ltd. line is about as good as it’s gonna get); (2) dedicated lanes, even during certain hours of the day and night, will not work because everybody has to obey the current traffic lights/pedestrian crossings, and thus have to travel at the same pace as everybody else; (3) all the major north-south streets that bisect Colfax will still be in place since they cannot be re-routed without enormous extra cost; and (4) all the neighborhoods bordering Colfax include tens of thousands of folks who walk or bicycle through the area, which is already congested with too much traffic of all sorts (trucks, cars, motorcycles, etc.), and use Colfax commercial enterprises (restaurants, shops, theaters) as neighborhood resources they can get to without busing or driving. If the City truly wants high-speed transit along the Colfax corridor, I suggest they build a raised Fast-Tracks-type elevated line, or just stop fixating on cutting 10 mere minutes off the trip from Auraria to Anschutz. Colfax is working out just fine the way it is–I suggest all you meddling city planners just leave well enough alone and do something that is actually feasible and actually desirable for the neighborhoods you pretend to be serving.

    • Jim Nash September 5, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Scott, data-driven planning bureaucrats lack the common sense in what we can all see with our own eyes: Colfax is pretty narrow, for dedicated BRT lanes or streetcars, going in both directions. And you are right that traffic drags along Colfax, with all the crossing stops. And building either system could likely make streetcars along Broadway-Lincoln and Speer-First a harder sell, because travel times on East Colfax will not be reduced much, if at all.

      Both Broadway and Speer are big, multi-lane streets, which would nicely accommodate street rail. It would be far wiser for Denver planners and politicians to drop the Colfax plans for now, to plan and spend instead towards linking Downtown, the Golden Triangle, Capitol Hill and Cherry Creek, the biggest activity centers. Build the most-needed, most effective streetcar loop now, serve the most riders, and get the most bang for the taxpayers’ bucks. Seems obvious, right?

      But hey, these transportation studies are all about numbers, and they have little to do with common sense. Leaders use common sense. Bureaucrats hide inside data. The dedicated bus lanes along Broadway already point in the direction Denver is headed, guided by people who can give us a lot of numbers, but can’t see where we’re going.

      And again, Scott, you are right — the simplest, most obvious things that need doing are often studied to death, to justify bureaucracies, while we wait for our leaders to lead.

      • Nathanael September 8, 2014 at 6:09 pm

        Colfax is effin’ enormous. Isn’t it at least FIVE LANES WIDE EVERYWHERE? Plenty of room for a streetcar or light rail.

        Your reference points for street width in Denver are just off — everything in Colorado is super-wide. Try visiting San Francisco or New York City, or god forbid, London, if you want to understand what a narrow street is.

  9. Scott September 6, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Thanks, Jim, I thought perhaps I might be the lone opposition to this Colfax “plan”, which as you say has been ill thought out and ill conceived all along. For $115 million I would think there are a hundred better projects they could be spending our marijuana sales tax on! Current City government seems all to concerned about “urbanizing” (whatever that means) and gentrifying (we know what that means–just look at the newest architectural wonders in Highlands, LoHi, Rino, South Broadway west, which all look like they were designed by the same monkey), and “urban infill”, another euphemism for what’s happening in Cherry Creek with four new high-rises in process and the developers are streaming in to get their way wherever they wish.

    City Council and the Planning Dept. seem quite giddy about all this, but it’s just driving up housing and rental prices and creating yuppie infill where there used to be comfortable old neighborhoods where one could afford to live. Seems like everyone’s in lockstep with the Mayor, whose abominable hotel addition to the south end of DIA (only now being scrutinized as a phony contractor deal) will not only forever obscure the airport’s award-winning architecture but also become the Mayor’s albatross and legacy. Well, ’nuff said, except to add that you are rightly focusing on street rail along much wider thoroughfares than Colfax.

    • Jim Nash September 6, 2014 at 4:27 pm

      Scott and all, just this week Los Angeles City Council is considering funding to help trigger a “public-private partnership” to build a long-awaited 4-mile streetcar loop through Downtown LA. (“Streetcar line’s cost estimate shaved,” LA Times, Wed. Sept. 3/14.) A consultant firm says the city over-estimated the downtown trolley’s cost by $55 million. A city tax district and federal money would be supplemented by private investment money, for the $270 million system, including land for a maintenance facility.

      At its zenyth nearly a hundred years ago, the Red Car streetcars criss-crossed the five-county LA metro area with more than 12-hundred miles of track. (Denver’s streetcar system reached about 250 miles, at its peak.)

      The car capital of the universe has been building all kinds of rail alternatives to driving, but is still years behind the rail-reset transit curve, compared to Denver. That’s partly because of the sheer size of LA — with so many big, separate activity centers, which are hard to link up with trolleys, on streets already packed with cars. Rail here will forever be playing catch-up with the car-bus world, the overwhelming transportation mode for Angelenos. The biggest feature on this landscape is the freeway.

      Over the next decade in Denver, riding rails will be a real choice for many people, instead of riding on wheels. Union Station is a huge step in Denver’s rail reset. Now, people are finding ways to live in many areas of the city — without having a car. And what’s most encouraging now is that people are seeing the value of streetcars, and thinking about where they should go in Denver.

      As rail into Union Station brings in more and more people from the suburbs, inner-city people are now expecting the same alternatives to driving. That alternative is the streetcar, which shares roadway with cars, but encourages high-density development along rail lines. The planning and building of trolley lines along Denver’s biggest streets will kick infill development into high gear.

      Thanks again, Joel for your article, which points to why it’s so important that we maximize our big streets with streetcars. And that means we really need to let our mayor and city council know we want their leadership to get it done.

    • Andy Baldyga September 7, 2014 at 10:23 pm

      Broadway has had a dedicated bus lane for over a decade. Has anyone even noticed? Has the corridor benefited from it? Why would a dedicated bus lane that has not brought significant development or improved the pedestrian environment on Broadway be a desirable solution for Colfax?
      We have the opportunity to learn from the dedicated bus lanes of Broadway and skip to a better solution. One that not only accommodates existing and projected ridership but also the thousands that live nearby but won’t ride a bus. Jim is correct, people will walk longer distances to catch a ride on a streetcar. That ride doesn’t have to be all the way to Anchutz, because unlike Broadway, Colfax has multiple grocery stores, music venues, restaurants and hospitals, etc. in between.
      This is an opportunity for the city and the mayor to be bold and visionary. The Colfax corridor is not a commuters corridor that focuses on getting from point A to B, like 36. But rather a real urban corridor that connects you to your school or work in the morning, lunch at midday and your grocer, restaurant, day care, bar, home, etc. In the evening. Getting from A to B is not as important as getting on and off of a mode of transit, that is plant, reliable, and has sufficient capacity as you make your way through the day.
      The fact that Colfax connects Auraria and Anchutz, and national Jewish hospital, and Johnson Wales university, and Aurora, and is mid way between Lowry and Stapleton, and has extremely high transit volumes, and vehicular volumes, and pedestrian volumes, should warrant it receive a solution beyond a fancy bus in a dedicated lane.

      • Joel Noble September 8, 2014 at 10:06 pm

        Yes, this could be MORE bold and visionary, no doubt. And much more expensive without a lot of incremental benefit, at least as far as the best demand modelers in the country can determine. I know people love rail — I love rail. But my gut impression on that drove me to ask questions about the modeling and approach over the last few weeks (the main points of which are included elsewhere on this page, in the article and comments), rather than to assume it all must be wrong. Reading others’ comments, that’s clearly not the only possible approach.

        Will this be like the peak-hour bus lanes on Broadway? This proposal is much more than that. Features like signal priority, level boarding at multiple doors, off-board ticketing, having the stations come out to meet the transit vehicle rather than the vehicle maneuvering over to the sidewalk and then back out into traffic (which also gives passengers will finally a place to be when boarding and alighting other than blocking the sidewalks) are all superior to what’s on Broadway. And it’s a much different corridor — much more space-constrained than the embarrassment of width Broadway has (and underutilizes), so the opportunities to do even more on Broadway — please! — are less abundant than on Colfax.

        You’re a highly respected voice in the community, and closely aware of Colfax. If you study the work of the project team to date, and ask questions, and you still think there’s a better approach that can credibly be funded, I’m sure people will want to hear your thoughts and reasoning.

        • Andy Baldyga September 11, 2014 at 10:42 pm

          You are correct, this would be better debated in person rather than these text boxes. But, after reviewing the previous presentations again I would be interested in learning more about the future of the regular 15 bus. As I understand it, the 15L will be replaced with BRT, that certainly improves the long distance travel opportunities from Auraria to Anchutz. How about the regular 15 bus? will it just stay the same? I hope not. The 15 is actually the line that I feel should be replaced with a streetcar. Maybe it doesn’t go all the way to Anchutz, but streetcar could really take the 15 service to the next level. If this study and proposed solution only improves one of the 2 busses on Colfax, I feel only half of the answer has been provided.
          Some of the data from the very early analysis show that while many riders travel between Anchutz and downtown. Many others travel in between. Addressing these shorter trips in between the multiple destinations along Colfax will create a street that is unique, vibrant and sustainable in the long term.

          Economics, if connecting Louisville, or Longmont or even Boulder to Denver via rail can make financial sense. Colfax should be an easy decision. The distance traveled is shorter and the ridership is double or triple.

          I am not certain a streetcar line will be economically successful in the first 20 years. But, I am pretty sure they will be in years 20 and beyond. The economic investment difference at adjacent properties with rail will be greater with streetcar than any bus line. Buildings, residences, and businesses will be more likely to locate adjacent to the rail lines that a bus line.

          I have continually heard people get excited about rail proposals, I have yet to see the same level of excitement over anything with rubber tire technology.

          This is a long term proposition that should be studied as such. There are 2 heavily used bus systems on Colfax today. The solution needs to address the characteristics of both of those systems without degrading the other. BRT may be the solution for the 15L. What is the solution for the 15?

          To quote Ryan “Get it done Denver, don’t compromise”

          • Joel Noble September 12, 2014 at 8:18 am

            Yes, I agree that a shorter section of the 15 could make sense for streetcar, and would more closely resemble what streetcar is typically used for — frequent stops, central area operations, aimed towards maximizing attractiveness of a very local service. A very different thing than the regional limited-stop focus of longer runs like the 15L.

            How far would such a Colfax central streetcar go? Wherever it ends creates a point where one service stops and another has to pick up. At Colfax and Colorado Boulevard? Further west than that? Lots of questions.

  10. Jerry G September 7, 2014 at 1:24 pm

    Scott, I am not going to argue with you about your opinion on Denver’s recent growth spurt and its possible outcome. However, there are some misconceptions in your opinions. Housing prices are rising because those neighborhoods are desirable places to live. People want to live there and that creates demand. That demand results in increased housing costs. Developers are just taking advantage of the situation and trying to meet that demand. NYC and SF are not expensive places to live because there are tall buildings. There are tall residential buildings because a lot of people want to live there. If the city of Denver were to stop those developments, those wannabe residents are not going to just disappear. They would either move to other areas of the city or move to the nearest suburb and then commute to those desirable neighborhoods. The traffic would just get spread out. Of course, demand would still increase and prices would still rise. Eventually, though, enough people would have move to the inner suburbs and businesses, shops, restaurants, etc. would follow them there. Just like it did in the 70s. Nobody would want to live in the city, housing prices would then drop and you would then have your affordable neighborhoods again. I do not think that is a very attractive outcome.

  11. Ryan September 7, 2014 at 10:00 pm

    Colfax is really the wrong street to be focusing on for any transportation project. As others have said, it’s too narrow to allow for any meaningful improvements. A circuit, occupying a dedicated lane, on 17th and 13th would serve the neighborhoods surrounding each so much more, and both have more than enough room for such a project.

    You want to improve Colfax for businesses? We need to be taking over parking lots to build new real estate, installing bike lanes, and incentivizing new housing projects. Too many people are bent on keeping it “the meanest street in America”, and it doesn’t have to be that way. Improving a neighborhood is not always gentrification; sometimes it’s just progress.

    Yeah, the increases in rent and home prices are not fun right now (and believe me, it affects people my age more than most), but the real estate market will catch up. You can only reach so much pent-up demand before housing developers soon saturate the market and even everything out. In the meantime, employers will have to start matching the salaries of traditionally higher-priced cities to attract and maintain talent.

    A real streetcar would be such a great investment in our local infrastructure. Our East-West thoroughfares are in such terrible need for such a solution — not the band-aid that is a slightly improved bus. The tax revenue in this city is only going to increase as the population booms, and a streetcar system is going to be a fantastic way to spend that money.

    Get it done, Denver. Don’t compromise.

    • Nathanael September 8, 2014 at 6:29 pm

      The businesses won’t let you take over the parking lots… until you build them a frequent, reliable, exclusive-lane *streetcar* so that their customers can get there….

      Colfax is extremely wide, by the way. Your perceptions in Denver are just off. Look at the width of Market Street in San Francisco for a mental corrective.

    • Jim Nash September 8, 2014 at 8:36 pm

      Well said. Thanks, Ryan.

    • Joel Noble September 8, 2014 at 9:48 pm

      Ryan, I just can’t agree with you that Colfax is the wrong street to focus on “for any transportation project”. It is already the most traveled transit corridor in the region, and with investment can be made more successful in carrying the anticipated 25% increase in trip demand between now and 2035. Even as narrow as the street is. Without such investment, it will fail and traffic will be forced elsewhere, off the increasingly unreliable transit, and into the neighborhoods where the passengers provide no economic value to the streets as they pass through. The transit service is already fraying — just talk to any regular 15/15L passenger about the lack of schedule reliability.

      Things like signal priority, dedicated lanes (at the very least during peak times), level boarding at multiple doors, off-board ticketing, having the stations come out to meet the transit vehicle rather than the vehicle maneuvering over to the sidewalk and the back out into traffic will all increase capacity and reliability. And passengers will finally have a place to be when boarding and ailghting other than blocking the sidewalks. All that’s not worth doing? Those aren’t “any meaningful improvements”?

      Yes, get rid of surface parking where it still exists on Colfax. Yes, incentivize projects to realize sites’ zoning potential with significant housing provided on the upper floors. Yes, improve bike facilities (although lanes ON Colfax may not be the best decision for either capacity or safety — and the best alternative isn’t clear either).

      But really, moving transit off of Colfax where we WANT all those passengers driving all sorts of life and activity, and pushing them instead onto 17th (residences on one side, park on the other) and 13th (housing), where the 22,000 transit person-trips per day (and 26,000-45,000 by 2035) aren’t participating in the vibrancy of the main mixed-use corridor? Maybe we’re not understanding each other, because that sounds like the opposite of a good idea.

      Yes, streetcar on Colfax would be an even bigger, bolder investment than the City’s proposed alternative. But look at the reality of the truly capped potential along most of the 10-mile stretch of Colfax being studied — it’s not all dense as Capitol Hill, not by a long shot. And that changes the equation immeasurably, in light of the far, far greater cost. It’s very contextual — it has to be considered in context particularly of the planned land uses, and the context in this study is 10 miles long.

      This is becoming a conversation better had in a bar than in little text boxes.

      • Joel Noble September 8, 2014 at 10:10 pm

        Also re: alternate east-west alignments — there’s a summary of the other alignments studied on the project site under “Screen 2”, which contains some bullet-point pro/con items for 17th, 13th/14th, etc. In case you wanted to see what they considered when evaluating those.

        • Ryan September 9, 2014 at 10:07 pm

          Hi, Joel. Thank you for pointing me to “Screen 2”, and thank you for putting so much effort into expanding public transportation on Denver streets. I don’t mean to sound argumentative; just want to discuss why the larger, one-way streets aren’t being considered for new east-west public transit. To me, it seems like these all have much more room for growth (all the while impeding less traffic), and are close enough to Colfax for it to receive plenty of residual benefit.

          I’m just blown away by the rush hour use of the light rail downtown. Every time I ride my bike past the platforms, they’re just jam-packed with conscientious commuters, but it’s so obvious they’re coming from the suburbs. The residents of Denver proper need that exact quality of transportation option for getting around a five-mile radius of downtown — something that will take us to the store on Thursday, the ballgame on Friday, the bar on Saturday, the park on Sunday, and back to work on Monday. Anything designed to replace the 15L isn’t that, and it’s not large enough in scope to fulfill the vision I have for the city.

          I’d rather hang on to the money, seek additional funds, and do it right — even if it’s a few years down the line.

      • Jim Nash September 9, 2014 at 9:26 am

        Joel, suggesting we all retire to “a bar” to discuss this — rather than “in little text boxes” — is an insult to your urbanist colleagues, who present a broad spectrum of thoughtful viewpoints. I think we all smell a pro-bus agenda in your planners’ studies, which are trying very hard to sell us a pig in a poke.

        We want streetcars on our big streets, Joel — not more buses.

        At the heart of it, followers of this blog are focused on the kind of city that’s being created around us. Buildings matter, because they remain, as landmarks. We know that transportation planning in Denver has been critical in shaping the landscape along transportation routes. Rail lines are doing a lot more than just serving our city — they are SHAPING it.

        These phoney ridership studies by planners only reflect what they think is going on now — and they ignore the bigger picture, the long-range potential for Denver’s big elements.

        This is why leadership, and vision is so important. If the mayor’s administration is for a cheaper bus-lane route along Colfax, it shows how little vision it has for Denver’s future.

        Broadway is Exhibit A of what we DON’T WANT on our big streets: More low-grade buses, which feel second-rate, depressing. And those bus lanes do not inspire monumental architecture.

        We want streetcars. Sure they cost more, but they’re worth it, because they lay out a unique format for the kind of unique streetwall we know will follow, in the buildings along a street rail route.

        Joel, rather than having a couple drinks, you should think about all this feedback from your co-bloggers as expert testimony, the kind that planners and politicians get — and often ignore — in public hearings. This is your city talking back to you, Joel. I hope you’re paying attention.

        • Joel Noble September 12, 2014 at 9:08 am

          Jim, I certainly meant no insult, as I hope you know. It’s exactly because I hold you all, including the other bloggers here, in such high regard that I was becoming concerned with the fact that it’s clearly so easy to talk past each other and have the “temperature” rise in web forums like these. That tendency for misunderstanding seems not to happen as much with higher-bandwidth communications in-person. But of course that doesn’t scale up, and we need to make the most of these “little text boxes” as well.

          Just in case it isn’t clear — I’m a blogger here, and I plan to write about various transportation topics that I think are important to keep track of and raise public interest in, as our city grows. I’m not on the project team, nor am I in Public Works or any transportation agency or department. I’ve followed this and other projects closely because I care a lot about transportation projects and I want to help open up successful communications between the public and the agencies and departments involved in planning and operating these facilities.

          Do I think the demand forecast studies are “phoney” (and worse, as some others’ comments have accused)? No, I don’t think they are — not based on any special expertise I have, but based on many conversations with those involved. Models are never perfect, but I believe the activity-demand model DRCOG has developed gives good rational insight into what can reasonably be expected in various scenarios. That’s what they’re for — it’s input into a decision-making process, not the decision-making process itself. With information like this, we can have clearer conversations about the possibilities.

          I fear that we’ll never build good connections between the public and the practitioners if one group needlessly and with hostile language accuses the other of stupidity or malice, and the other side avoids any more public involvement than is necessary. More communication is needed, not brickbats.

          As I’ve said elsewhere, I too am an advocate for building a central-Denver streetcar network. Like most successful modern implementations in the US, I think the opportunities will be fairly central, include relatively short runs or loops, connect with areas of significant unrealized development potential, and attract both public and private funds to construct. That’s my sense of where the intersection between desire and possibility can be found for streetcar (as distinct from the longer-run orientation of commuter rail, light rail, and BRT). If we can build much better communication that explores and clarifies where that space is, in conjunction with elected leaders and key practitioners, we can become a meaningful force of advocacy for the projects we would like to see.

  12. Nathanael September 8, 2014 at 6:04 pm

    Worthless waste of study money.

    You need an actual streetcar. With exclusive lanes. In the center of the street, or both on one side.

    This is a Big Nothing.

    It has been proven repeatedly, particularly in Seattle, that “part-time” bus lanes are not respected by drivers. Full time lanes or nothing.

    Lanes on each side get massive interference from turning traffic, driveways, parking, etc. You don’t want them either.

    Buses are expensive to run and attract less patronage than streetcars.

    Conclusion: streetcar, exclusive lane, in the center lanes, just like you had *decades ago*.

    Whoever did this study was trying to sandbag the project.

    • Jim Nash September 10, 2014 at 10:59 am

      OK, sorry to rant here, Joel, but you have really opened up the most important issue in Denver’s future. We have been blessed with visionary transportation planning since the city’s beginnings, and now is the time to be visionary, again.

      Visionary leaders like Speer, who understood the city was primarily developing along Cherry Creek, to the southeast. Still the best drive in town, and will be the most scenic streetcar ride, we hope.

      Fast forward to 2020, when most of the rail lines are up and running. Stand back from the map, and what do you see? A web of rail lines, around a heart-shaped center. Inside, the urban core, from Downtown diagonally southeast along the stream, the longest, best greenbelt in the city. The dense center, the most people and biggest activity centers.

      What’s missing? The inner-city web of criss-crossing surface rail lines, which make cross-city rail a true, better alternative to the car.

      Daaa… Any person with common sense can see at a glance what’s needed — tie the big stuff together with streetcars — fill in the web, along the big streets. It’s not rocket science. Anybody can see that you link the rail where there are the most people.

      So why, Joel, in your assessment of the city’s East Colfax transportation plan, do you not even MENTION the 225 light rail station at Anschutz on Colfax? Thousands of people riding that line, from Aurora and the Tech Center and the airport, will now have to transfer onto a low-grade, crappy bus to ride into the major center of the city?

      Why not a high-capacity street car, whose ridership will feed and serve CONNECTING LINES? The way an inner-city rail system is supposed to function.

      Again, common sense. Somethng anybody can see is needed, and needs to be done right. Not some small-town bus line. Build this transportation line to the max. Along Colfax, ridership will do nothing but grow, especially along the line. Why can’t “planners” see the incredible, smart infill potential along Colfax?

      Here’s why: Bureaucrats spend half of their time thinking about getting “funding,” especially federal money. Their tactic, to protect their jobs, is to keep drumming up “affordable” (make that cheaper) projects — which politicians love. So they can take credit, with voters. I got this for you.

      Obviously, there’s not a hint of visionary planning, in this bogus study, to justify short-changing the city’s transportation future, with buses. Obviously, there’s not much of a vision in the mayor’s mind, or in the minds of city council members along Colfax. They’re all afraid to say no to some crappy bandaid project, which you already concede, Joel, would be built with an eye to upgrading to rail.

      So why waste the money — and squander public trust — on this project, now? Because politicians want to spend the money now, on a wasteful, low-grade project, a “sure thing.”

      I say not so fast, planners. Somebody has to show some leadership in the city, with a big, expansive vision of 21st Century Denver. A web of rail lines, filling in the heart. A real city. No car needed.

      So let’s see some real, visionary leadership, from somebody. Colfax has the highest rail ridership potential of any streetcar line in the city, BECAUSE OF WHERE IT GOES. Downtown? Airport? Anschutz? Capitol Hill? And intersecting with Colorado Boulevard, another key route. And intersecting Broadway and Speer, the other two main lines.

      Ryan, sorry, but I disagree with you about the “bubble route” you suggest, taking rail off of Colfax, and running a bracketing loop, along 17th one way, and 13th the other. Nathanael, you are right — Colfax is as wide as Market Street, and has the same density potential as San Francisco’s biggest street. Sorry drivers, you loose a lane, but thousands more move along, on streetcars, picking up and dropping off every few blocks. Moving pedestrians like elevators, putting people within walking distance of everything they need.

      Why not build up the Mile High City to the max? From the top, Joel, we see this bus idea as too modest, too cheap. The call is for something bold.

      Streetcars. It’s already been done, a century ago, across the city. Then torn up for cars. And surface parking lots. Time to get off wheels, and onto rails.

      Plan it. Think big. Build it. Make it happen.

      And enough, with this Colfax bus baloney.

      • Joel Noble September 12, 2014 at 9:47 am

        Let me focus on one thing here, which I think is key. When you say “Colfax is as wide as Market Street, and has the same density potential as San Francisco’s biggest street” — why specifically is it that you think that the area around the length of Colfax has the same density potential as downtown San Francisco?

        This is at the heart of understanding why the modeling on this project shows a capping out of demand growth — the adopted area plans, reflecting the community vision for density and uses, call for very limited density in the neighborhoods immediately behind most Colfax-facing properties (3-story apartments max in some areas, duplex max in others west of Colfax, and east of Colfax single-unit and duplex max). These plans in turn guide what the zoning can be, and it’s far, far less than a major city’s center-city density potential.

        If the potential, reflected in adopted plans, were far greater, the economic development potential and ridership potential would have overwhelmed the analysis of the current project, and made the ability to successfully pursue funding for more expensive investments much greater in turn.

        There’s a close relationship between the community’s vision for land use and the ability for investments like high-quality transit facilities to catalyze the realization of that potential. Someone else commented “fix the zoning” — but area plans are more fundamental than zoning, they’re the adopted community vision for the density and character, and in the these Colfax-adjacent neighborhoods they’re what drives or limits the possibilities.

        Which is why I look to areas like Broadway between downtown and I-25, and the potential currently called for by the community in areas adjacent to it, as being so fertile for big transit investment, like streetcar, to help as a catalyst in realizing what the community has called for and the area plans support.

  13. Doug B September 10, 2014 at 12:17 pm

    I don’t see any mention of incorporating protected bike lanes into the plan? It seems like a natural fit for pretty much the same reason BRT is being considered… a lot of density, lots of businesses and Colfax is the most direct route between downtown and Fitzsimmons.

    • Bryan September 13, 2014 at 10:01 am

      there is a bike lane on 16th already.

      • mckillio September 14, 2014 at 9:10 am

        They do need a good solution for getting around East High School though.

  14. Simcha Ward September 12, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Growing up in Denver and going to East High, I rarely used Colfax as a through street while driving, but I frequently rode the 15L as a through bus. If you want to drive E-W in that part of town, and you know what you are doing, you drive on 13/14 or 17/18. Colfax is for local traffic.

    If we are interested in making a visionary and bold change to Denver take all of Colfax and turn it into a Transit Mall with wide sidewalks, bike lanes, and our existing LRT vehicles. Without vehicular traffic you would be able to remove most of the lights that impede the LRT on local streets replacing them with stop signs, and only have them at Major Streets where the LRT would stop anyway (Downing / Corona, York / Jo, Colorado, Holly, Monaco, etc….). Using the LRT vehicle allows you to interface with the rest of the system allowing for potential one seat rides from Union Station to any point on the corridor.

    I know never it is going to happen. Landowners would never sacrifice existing vehicular connections to their property, and I am neglecting to consider how these properties would be serviced etc……

    So lets take the visionary idea and take one step back. Keep ONE lane of traffic on the North and South edges of the street adjacent to a wide sidewalk in front of the buildings. Create a transit mall in the center that is only crossed by every other local street as well as the major arterials. Bike lanes and streetcars in the center. If the funding is not there yet, build the transit mall with buses in the center.But if you don’t rebuild the entire street now to support the vision for the future, then we wont ever hit that vision.

    I almost every other venue I am in favor of incremental change, but in transit infrastructure, temporary becomes permanent quickly. Don’t miss the bus by blowing the Marijuana windfall on an incremental solution to bus bunching on the 15L. Think big about how transforming our main street can transform our entire town. We have the perfect examples of this on 16th street.

  15. Jill Locantore September 12, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    Hi all,

    I’d like to weigh in as someone who lives along the Colfax corridor, does not own a car, and regularly rides the bus. Here’s my vision of an ideal future: 1) There is a transit stop within walking distance of my house. 2) The transit stop is a great public space where it is pleasant to hang out while waiting for the transit vehicle. 3) The transit vehicle reliably comes every 5 minutes. 4) The transit vehicle provides a pleasant riding environment. 5) The transit vehicle gets me quickly where I want to go.

    Doesn’t that sound nice? Maybe you would choose to give up your car if you lived somewhere like that? Would it matter if the transit vehicle had rubber or steel tires?

    I think it’s easy to conflate transit infrastructure with transit service. I honestly don’t care what the transit infrastructure is, as long as it provides great transit service. I’d like to see the debate focus on how we can provide the most awesome transit service for the lowest cost. Why spend a ton of money if you don’t have to, especially when money is scarce?

    There are some differences in the type of service that bus versus rail can provide, but there has also been a lot of innovation in bus design recently, and the newest designs feel a lot like rail vehicles. Moreover, operational and off-vehicle factors play a very large role in the quality of service. Joel has repeatedly mentioned several of these factors that are incorporated into the city’s BRT proposal: multi-door boarding, off-board ticketing at bulb-out stations, real-time passenger information at stations, signal priority at intersections and frequent operations with 5-minute headways. These factors would all contribute to what I want – pleasant, reliable, speedy service.

    Yes, buses are stigmatized. But public perceptions can and do change. The proposal for Colfax is bold in that it would be an experiment – what if we stopped treating bus riders like second class citizens, and invested in really awesome bus service along a corridor that currently has the highest transit ridership in the whole system? Since there’s a good chance we could actually fund something like this in our lifetimes, why not try it and find out?

  16. Jeffrey September 13, 2014 at 11:43 am

    I’m slightly embarrassed to admit this, but I would take a street car or tram, but not a bus. I’m sure others feel this way, and it is very disappointing that Denver can’t seem to make the commitment needed to fix its transit problems.

    • mckillio September 14, 2014 at 9:12 am

      Completely agree.

      • Jim Nash September 15, 2014 at 9:54 am

        It’s a battle over who owns the road. Cars, trucks, buses? Bikes? Rails?

        It’s also a battle over what we want the city to look like, feel like.

        And it’s about money.

    • Dan September 20, 2014 at 12:41 pm

      It sounds like it’s just a perceived problem to you. Buses can be highly efficient, if not more so, than street cars. It’s disappointing people can’t let their stereotypes about buses die.

  17. Stosh September 16, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Why must we reinvent the wheel each time we look at “improving” a transit corridor?? What has worked in other cities with similar corridors? What hasn’t? I have also heard very little about the original street cars on Colfax and why we can’t bring them back exactly as they were or at least learn from our past; or we are doomed to repeat it. Lastly, are there any talks of extending our much admired 16th st mall up Colfax or farther up 16th? Look at the impact extending it into LODO has had on that area. I think it’s worth a look back, to look forward.

    • Jeffrey September 17, 2014 at 2:21 pm

      Stosh, good comment. There are lots of experiments out there, including cities in Europe where rail, light-rail, and streetcars are successful parts of integrated transit in cities. We just need to copy what they’ve done.

  18. jeff September 17, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    How much is it to rebuild the I-70 viaduct? We have money for that? Why not just use I-225? Because it would make some people’s drive longer? You get people to change by forcing them to change. Yet, we don’t have any money for any meaningful intra-city transit. The future is not car commuting. Cities that realize that are going to dominate.

    The figure about the streetcar marginally increasing demand over bus just seems wrong. Wouldn’t the theory of induced demand apply here to streetcars just like highway traffic?

    Why is so much of the city zoned so low? So we can protect views? C’mon this is a city.

    • Dan September 20, 2014 at 12:42 pm

      I agree with most of this. Much of Denver obviously needs to be upzoned and there should be no parking minimums for new developments (not sure if this is already the case). Many of the new apartment buildings have huge parking decks associated with them. This is just going to contribute to the car culture in Denver.

  19. jeff September 22, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Yes, why not let the free market dictate how much parking is needed and or required. This is especially critical on these smaller lots (e.g. along Colfax). The best parts of the city are the ones that were built before the car or at least pre-war. Crowded parking along the street actually makes the streets more walkable because it slows traffic down.

    I think vast swaths of the city should be zoned mixed use, not SFH. Not necessarily because you are going to put a commercial building in the middle of a block, but because this designation affords the most possibilities to build to the lot lines and build densely. Of course, those who own SFHs like the Nimby’s in West Highland would be in vehement opposition to this.

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