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.

  • mckillio

    I feel like this should be a pretty simple/straightforward, data driven endeavor. Add service to the high density pockets of population, starting with lower income first. But before that, make sure that the sidewalk infrastructure within 1/4 mile of the would be stops is complete. There’s no point in having a transit stop if people can’t get to it.

    In regards to the latter, I walked from Evans and I25 to get to the Yale station once and the sidewalks were laughable when they were even there.

    • TakeFive

      Haha, easy for you to say.

      Evans to Yale, eh? I can’t even recall any sidewalks in that area. Are there sidewalks along Birch and then Dahlia? Anyway I’d just as soon walk along the streets.

      • mckillio

        I know, I know.

        Crossing the on/off ramps for I25 was really fun on Evans. If memory serves, Dahlia might have a sidewalk on one side but not along its entire length.

        • jmfay

          We live in that area. Holly goes through and Holly is right by Evans and 25 though a bit north. Holly has sidewalks to Yale and then Yale has it down to the station. You cant expect all areas to have sidewalks especially in the area right by 25.

          Arapahoe last year redid the sidewalks on Yale too. Denver needs to do the same and enforce sidewalk shovelling.

          • mckillio

            I certainly can (and you should) expect all areas to have sidewalks, especially those that are right by a light rail station that has been open for about a decade.

          • jmfay

            Evans has sidewalks on both sides of the street. Not all the streets in that area has sidewalks because some of it is unincorporated Arapahoe where we live. Not all our streets have sidewalks because some communities have been around for decades and never had them to begin with.

          • mckillio

            And the communities that have been around for decades have had decades to get sidewalks.

            Yes I was and the lack of sidewalks near the Yale station was surprising and disappointing. I was going South so I didn’t see the point in going North first.

          • jmfay

            You obviously dont live in unincorporated Arapahoe county. Its very hard to get them to do alot of things. They are gradually adding sidewalks in areas that dont have it and can have it. Not all areas can have sidewalks because the area was planned without sidewalks.

            Sidewalks also cost money. We cant even get a snow shovelling ordinance.

          • TakeFive

            I just happen to look at the city District 4 map. As long as I’ve known the area I never realized the chunk of Arap. Co. west of I-25 north of Yale until this morning; I knew of the area east of I-25 that was in Arap. Co. Learn something every day, they say.

          • jmfay

            Like we said; you dont live here so you wouldnt know. We know as its part of our library district and the next area of unincorporated next to us so we try to keep them informed as to whats going on. There are about 2500 people there in 3 precincts and since we are the first county; Denver annexed the land around us. They cant annex any more due to the 1974 state law which says; you must allow for a vote to annex.

  • TakeFive

    Perhaps a small nit to pick but I’ll take some issue with Thomas Brennan – Nelson/Nygaard. I see neither Seattle nor San Francisco as peer cities. Seattle has twice the density and nvm about San Francisco.

    While not done for transit purposes I did recently combine JLL’s tech ranking with the GDP of various cities (MSA) west of the Mississippi to conclude that Denver peer cities were San Diego, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland and Austin. Checking out each city’s density I’d narrow that down to Minneapolis, San Diego and Portland.

    • Vertigo700

      I’ll agree with you about San Francisco..that’s a city on its own in many ways. But really Denver and Seattle are quite alike. Remember that Denver’s land area and density gets skewed by the airport, a huge area where nobody lives. If you cut out the 52 square miles of DIA, Denver is only 101 square miles or about 15 square miles larger than Seattle. The populations are very similar, ranked 18 and 19 (684,000 to 683,000 rounded to the nearest thousand) in the US with Denver growing at a slightly higher rate. Even density subtracting the airport, gives us around 6700 per square mile in Denver, compared to about 8,200 in Seattle, much less than double. And yes GDP is higher in Seattle (ranked 11 compared to 18 here), but can’t that be attributed mostly to it being home to some particularly large companies like Microsoft and Amazon, instead of there being a lot more businesses per se?

      Both cities are fast-growing, milenial-skewing, pot-legal, outdoors-oriented, tech-savvy cities of relatively similar size and populations. But one has pretty great transit and the other pretty mediocre. If anything, Seattle has greater geographic challenges to providing great services as there are so many more physical barriers to get to different parts of the city by transit and yet Seattle does demonstratively a much better job.

      • TakeFive

        Great comment, solid analysis. I’ll yield the point (even if reluctantly).

        Speaking of Seattle’s current Lead Dog, Amazon is trying to accumulate 10 million square feet by 2019 (either developed or leased) with a new goal of adding an additional 2 million s.f. by 2022. Essentially they have the equivalent of 25% of the space in downtown Denver which is currently a little over 36 million s.f. It’s hard to visualize all that space let alone its impact.

  • calwatch

    It would not take that many resources to upgrade some of the 20 minute lines to 15, but that would mean thinning out some of the 30 and 60 minute ones, particularly the ones that run parallel to existing 15 minute ones but serve important business corridors or social service destinations. Every city has to make their own decision on the balance. San Francisco thinned out some of the routes that were a quarter mile away from frequent service and Seattle eliminated stops to speed up service on RapidRide routes, leading to stop spacing of a half mile or more in dense, urban areas since there is no underlying service.

  • jmfay

    Dont know who has gone or intends to go to the RTD winter changes meetings. We went to the one in Aurora. Our issues in Aurora has to do with the R line and other issues.

    RTD said if they cant have 12 riders per hour; they cant run the route as its not profitable. Thats why we have only hourly service on Alameda and its not going to change with the R line. It is hard to believe though that more Aurora is not going to use the buses to get to the R line including Alameda and MS which is the next line that doesnt have great service.

    • TakeFive

      Just curious: Does Iliff have more frequent service?

      It’s going to presumably take some time for the R Line “to season.” Aurora would have the option of “buying” into more RTD service.

      • jmfay

        The 21 gets more Sunday service to make it every 30 minutes but thats it. They are not doing the every 15 m during rush hour for the buses going east.

  • Christine O’Connor

    Great summary of what has to happen for successful transit in Denver. Denver is far from providing the mix of transit (circulators, trolleys, rail, bus) to meet the goals reported above and reach most of our residents. Denver’s split personality on transit is clear. It all depends on what’s at stake. Case in point: Denver will provide massive parking at the new 270 acre Event Center it is still calling the National Western Center. Streetsblog covered this in a blog on 11.03.15. Take a look at that article again — WE all are funding parking for 11,000 spots on a regular basis (18,000 during the Stock Show) for this for profit “public private” partnership. Meanwhile, we can’t look to mass transit to solve this one, as RTD only plans 2500 parking spaces all along the N line which no doubt will ferry people from the north into the one stop at the new Event Center.

    • TakeFive

      A decade or so ago I was all for letting the Nat’l Western move out near the pending Gaylord Hotel and Resort. But it was determined that it was too important, an iconic part of Denver’s history and DNA. I was totally fine with that as well. It is what it is.

  • Peg Ritchie

    I agree that we should expect safe sidewalks in good repair everywhere in Denver. I am disabled with a service dog and had to get to Rose Hospital at night. Closest drop the #6 at Dexter St. There were no sidewalks for blocks and were it not for the dog AND a flashlight, let’s just say that I won’t be attempting that in inclement weather. The number 10 only runs by that hospital every hour on the weekend.

  • Peg Ritchie

    Still, I have been riding RTD since I was old enough. RTD has struggled to keep up with Denver’s growth all my life and mostly kept up pretty well. But I think it’s time for wise poeple to plan for the future. Some will not give up driving until it’s more convenient to ride the Ride. Build it and they will come.

  • Ken Romine

    Been riding 16L colfax from downtown Denver to Golden the past year. No problems. The past week, all the sudden, dropped routes, Sat at Colfax and simms, RTD even kept a supervisor @ Arbys for over 30 minutes, no bus, Waited from 5:40 pm to 6:25 pm. late to work. What is pathetic is I bet a supervisor was sitting there because the dropped routes were planned. Can we say customer service. Oh thats right u RTD give a shit about customers