Fix This! Frequent Transit Service Doesn’t Reach 70 Percent of Denverites

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Fewer than a third of Denver households live within walking distance of transit routes that run frequently during rush hour. Map: City and County of Denver

Good transit isn’t rocket science. If you provide frequent, reliable service that people can conveniently walk to, then they’ll choose to ride the bus or the train. But Denver has a problem: Its frequent transit service doesn’t go where most people live.

That was one of the big takeaways at a meeting yesterday of the Denveright Transit Task Force, which is developing the first citywide transit blueprint. Understanding what’s wrong with Denver transit is the first step toward getting it right. Here’s a look at the analysis from the city and its consultants so far.

Denver’s Frequent Transit Service Doesn’t Reach Most People Who Live in Denver

RTD’s bus service covers much of the city, but its frequent routes — the ones where buses or trains arrive at least every 15 minutes — do not. Frequency is extremely important because it lets people get where they need to go without worrying about transit schedules. They can show up at a stop and know that the bus will be coming soon.

But only 30 percent of Denver households live within a quarter-mile of frequent transit routes. That’s far less than in Seattle and San Francisco, where the share is between 50 and 65 percent, said Thomas Brennan, a principal at Nelson/Nygaard, the firm heading up Denver’s planning process. “So you guys are a little bit behind some of your peers,” he said.

People Want High-Capacity Transit

City officials and Nelson/Nygaard have interviewed low-income residents, social service providers, Denver Public Schools, and business owners about what they want from the transit system. There are six goals for transit that emerged from these interviews:

  • Fast and frequent service
  • Better access and connections
  • An easy, safe, and comfortable experience
  • Equity and affordability
  • A tool for economic mobility
  • An anchor for healthier neighborhoods

Separately, 862 people have been polled online about what they most want to see the transit plan accomplish. Of 12 multiple choice answers, “high-capacity transit” (like light rail and bus rapid transit) was cited most often. Better walking and biking connections to transit and having a “livable community” came in second and third.

These answers don’t totally align with the ones from the focus groups. “What is a little bit surprising about these results is that we’re seeing responses about service improvements actually come in pretty low,” said Jennifer Wieland, a principal at Nelson/Nygaard. “So this is an area where it’s gonna be really interesting to look at what current riders are saying versus people that don’t use the system today.”

The end result should be a system that’s better for current riders and also attracts new ones. A comprehensive “state of the system” report is due out in November.

Editor’s note: If you want to help shape Denver’s transit network, take this map-based survey where you can make as many recommendations as you want.