To Become a Great Transit City, Denver Should Follow Seattle’s Lead

On Seattle's Third Avenue, buses rule and cars are "essentially disallowed" during rush hour.
On Seattle's Third Avenue, buses rule and cars are "essentially disallowed" during rush hour.

With apologies to enthusiastic headline writers, Denver has a long way to go before it’s a great transit city. But Denver could earn that label if the Hancock administration follows through on its transit promises.

There’s an excellent blueprint to follow in Seattle, which has used citywide and regional funding measures to deliver a much-improved transit system. The city’s transit renaissance is documented in this Streetfilm, and it will make Denverites salivate.

Seattle officials not only mustered the will to ask voters to pay for more bus service and rail infrastructure, they followed through by putting that money to excellent use, providing tangible service improvements that benefit tens of thousands of people each day.

Everything that Seattle is doing provides a model for Denver:

  • Increasing bus service so the vast majority of residents live within walking distance of transit that comes at least every 12 minutes.
  • Dedicating space on busy downtown streets exclusively to transit, so riders don’t get bogged down in car traffic.
  • Implementing off-board fare collection and all-door boarding so buses spend much less time standing still at stops.
  • Targeted improvements like queue jumps, which give buses a head start.

Like Seattle, Denver is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. The need to handle that growth with better transit is just as urgent here as it is by Puget Sound, but Denver has a lot of catching up to do.

While Seattle is working to get its share of single-occupancy vehicle trips down from 30 percent to 25 percent, Denver is trying to get SOV commutes down to 60 percent (and is heading in the wrong direction). Transit’s share of all trips in the Mile High City has gone down 1 percent since 2000, while in Seattle, transit ridership is growing faster than the city’s booming population.

The Denveright planning process is a promising starting point for a better transit system, but the real test will be the follow-through from Hancock and other officials. Will they raise the revenue Denver’s transit system needs and spend it effectively to deliver better service?