Neil Westergaard: “Dirty,” “Smelly,” “Dangerous” Bus Riders Will Repel People from Colfax BRT

In an attempt to discredit the Colfax bus rapid transit plan, the Denver Business Journal boss resorts to lazy stereotypes.

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

Denver Business Journal Editor Neil Westergaard took aim at buses and bus riders last week in a column targeting the plan to improve transit on Colfax Avenue.

It’s no secret that Westergaard views city streets as a kind of cultural war zone where your mode of travel dictates your tribe. He pigeonholes people who bike as rabid environmentalists while casting people who drive as an oppressed majority just trying to dodge obstructions (like, say, other people) that Big Brother puts in their way.

But in his most recent column — behind a paywall of $115 per year — Westergaard takes things to another level. In an attempt to discredit the Colfax bus rapid transit plan, among other city efforts to improve transit, biking, and walking, the boss of one of Denver’s most influential media outlets resorts to lazy stereotypes.

“People don’t choose to ride the bus on Colfax… because they often have to put up with belligerant [sic], dirty, smelly, disruptive and dangerous people, all conditions which the bond issue doesn’t begin to solve,” Westergaard asserts.

I spoke with a few regular riders of the 15 and 15L to see how they feel about Westergaard’s column and the impending improvements to the bus line.

Jared Pittman was waiting to catch the 15 at the corner of Colfax and Park during morning rush hour, heading home after working all night. He doesn’t own a car and relies on RTD, which he says works fine.

“But to me [the improvements] would just make Colfax super rapid and efficient to where buses are just running constantly,” he said. “You have a high population of homeless people that have lost the ability to care for themselves, absolutely, but it’s a city and these are city problems.”

Jess Curry was at the same stop waiting for the same bus. He has a car, but his wife uses it mostly. Asked about improvements like dedicated bus lanes, he said, “That’ll be good. I think that’s great but it needs to be more than just the 15. It needs to be the whole system.” Curry added, frustrated, that sometimes the bus is too full to board. To put this in terms Westergaard might understand, this is like a road being full of cars to the point of immobility. Colfax needs more capacity for buses.

I also spoke to Eric Haglund, who owns a car but rides the bus along Colfax from Mayfair to work and back three or four days a week. He looks forward to the BRT line. “I have a car, I could drive to work, but I don’t want to deal with parking, I don’t want to deal with traffic,” Haglund said. “It would take about the same amount of time to drive down there and I would much rather read a magazine article or listen to a podcast than deal with traffic.

“In the broader perspective of safety, I think I’d much rather be on a bus with some colorful characters than on a street where people get road rage and they’re driving around with thousands of pounds of metal.”

Rather than present data or engage with the experience of actual bus riders, Westergaard asserts that better bus service won’t attract more ridership because… well, he just knows, don’t ask how. “But will more people ride the bus just because there’s a dedicated bus lane?” he writes. “I don’t think so. People eschew the bus for lots of reasons, but not having dedicated lanes ain’t one of them, in my opinion.”

The data from other American cities says otherwise — faster, more reliable bus service does make a difference. On Seattle’s six “Rapid Ride” routes, which feature bus lane segments, priority at traffic signals, off-board fare collection, and other service enhancements, bus ridership increased a total of 43 percent between 2010 and 2014. In Cleveland, the Healthline BRT project, which features center-aligned bus lanes similar to what Denver is planning for Colfax, saw a 45 percent increase in ridership in its first year and a 60 percent increase since it debuted in 2008.

In Denver, we know that Colfax is the busiest bus corridor in the city, with more than 22,000 trips per day. The fact that such high ridership occurs without bus-only lanes, dignified bus stops, speedy off-board payment, or traffic signals that prioritize buses at intersections tells us something: Demand for transit on Colfax is so high lots of people put up with less than ideal service. Bus lines like this — high ridership on an overburdened route — are exactly where transit experts say service enhancements will deliver the most bang for the buck.

The Colfax BRT project will improve speed, reliability, and frequency. Add it all together and not only will current riders get better service, but more people will be able to reach more places, faster.

Investing in transit improvements like Colfax BRT is all the more important as Denver’s population increases. As this graphic from the National Association of City Transportation Officials makes clear, bus lanes and exclusive transit lanes can move a growing city much better than regular old mixed-traffic lanes where cars rules.

Graphic: NACTO
Carrying capacity of different street configurations in people per hour. Graphic: NACTO

Or maybe Westergaard’s hunch is right — transit models proven in other American cities just won’t work in Denver because of Bus People, or something.

  • Tattler

    Neil is such an embarrassment to Denver.

  • Anthony

    I have six routes I use regularly to get to work. I either bike essentially due east along 7th/Severn/1st Avenue to the High Line Canal, or south to Cherry Creek Trail and around to Toll Gate Creek Trail. For transit, I can bike to rail at 38th and Blake or DU, or I can take one-seat trips on the 6 or 15L. All of these transit options take about the same amount of travel time both to access the station/stop and door to door travel time, roughly one hour.

    How do I choose how to get to work in the morning? It depends on if I want to ride my bike that day, either just to and from transit, all the way to work, or just home from work. If I don’t want to ride my bike at all that day, I can either take the 12 to the Louisiana-Pearl station if I want a shorter walk but two transfers, I can take the 6 for a longer walk and a more bumpy ride which can make it difficult to read, or walk the same distance to the 15L and have a bumpy ride on the articulated bus.

    I say all this because the “colorful characters” is not one of the criterion I use to determine how I’m getting around town each day.

    I got up a little early this morning and missed the early 12, so I thought I’d check to see if I could catch the next 15L. Unfortunately, at 7:00 this morning the EB 15L was already bunching and wouldn’t be along until about the same time as the 6 so I headed south instead of north. Bus bunching on Colfax is a pretty significant issue in the reliability of transit travel, and because of that bunching RTD can’t add any additional service to the overcrowded 15/15L. You’re absolutely right, David, adding additional capacity, comfort, and reducing travel time through off-board fare payment and signal priority will (according to RTD’s estimates) more than double ridership throughout the corridor. The latent demand is there, and just like widening a freeway, if you build it, it will fill up.

    • TakeFive

      High Line Canal Trail and Cherry Creek Trail – I know them well. I’ve only had a few occasions for using the Toll Gate Creek Trail.

      • Anthony

        My statement is purely anecdotal. I see it on my Transit App before I leave the house and in person along Sable when I’m either riding home or getting on/off the 6 at Sable and Alameda. I will add that just off-board fare payment and all-door boarding will eliminate most of the bunching, the dedicated lane further increases operating speeds by allowing engineers to time signals and modify signal priority queues to be most effective.

        The Flatiron Flyer is probably the closest HCT line I know of that uses an A/B type of schedule, though that’s still along the more typical express-type service. You can kind of see how that works Downtown with the X, Y, and Z stops along 15th and 17th, and the 15/15L more or less works that way already; I wonder about ease of use for riders, like is the increased speed worth the decreased headways at your origin/destination? I’ve thought about that proposal before in daydreams, but I’ve never fully evaluated it. I know the leads on the project are still evaluating how the 15 and Colfax BRT will operate in a dedicated lane scenario, as in do you just have the 15 make all the same stops, do you have to build pull outs for 15 busses running in traffic, try to make room for mini-stations along the route where the 15 stops but BRT continues, and I’m sure a few other ideas I’m not thinking of. I’d love to see something like a Colfax BRT and Colfax BRTX route where the BRT stops at every stop and the BRTX only stops at Colfax Station, Anschutz, Havana, Quebec, Colorado, York, Grant, and the Downtown stops and run that during peak hours. NYC and Chicago come to mind for rail networks with express trains, it’d be a similar process in infrastructure (minus the rails) for BRT.

        • TakeFive

          Thanks for the interesting, indepth response.

        • Anthony

          Addendum: Low floor boarding so people with accessibility issues don’t have to wait for a ramp to deploy, it’s a quick on-off for all users.

      • Anthony

        Oh, I forgot to mention. Toll Gate Creek trail is comfortable and is the most direct n/s route through Aurora. Low traffic, but for scenery/environment I prefer both the HLC and CC trails, especially this time of year as the leaves start to turn! I do really enjoy the CC Spillway Trail between CC and Toll Gate if just for the view of DTC and the mountains from the top and occasional deer hanging out on the side of the trail.

  • Brian Schroder

    Just take a look at DBJ retweets and replies on Twitter or FB. Their virtually non-existent social media presence is a joke. Yawn. I hate to take a Trump-like stance, but the failing DBJ which no one is reading will be as irrelevant as personal automobile ownership in the near future.

    While BRT is great for Colfax, what the data really tells us is that Colfax as a whole from the R Line to Sheridan should be a streetcar or subway. Why not build a transit system of the future?

    • TakeFive

      Not sure how important social media is to survival but as an avid reader of free content what I lament is the accelerating trend of squeezing out such access. It’s not just the DBJ, it’s everywhere. In any case not sure I’ve ever read anything by Westergaard as much as I can enjoy the DBJ’s business content that’s not behind the paywall. So long as I can still enjoy SBNation sites life is good.

    • nwestergaard

      Brian, the DBJ has 93,000 Twitter followers. StreetsblogDenver has about 2,000. You appear to have none. Who is irrelevant?

      • MT

        I’m going to say the old man who can’t let go of a failed transportation system because he doesn’t want to interact with the “poors” on the bus is the one who’s irrelevant.

        • TakeFive

          Not sure either one of you is an expert on the ‘would be’ rider. BTW, is that how you refer to your Dad?

          • MT

            Old man? Sure. But a nice old man who’s not so stuck in his ways that he is closed to new ideas and not so scared of other people to be afraid to ride a bus.

          • TakeFive

            It will never be the case that everybody (wants to) ride a bus nor should it ever be required. Opinions, even if less than well-informed are what happens every time there’s an election. That’s who we are.

          • MT

            He’s welcome to his opinion, but we’re just as welcome to point out just how ill-informed it is.

          • TakeFive

            Would something like this work?

            Can’t really comment on the Westergaard piece since I couldn’t read it but it sounds like he’s ill-informed. 🙂

      • deadindenver

        Hey Neil nice of you to come by. You seem to be a upfront guy and willing to share your opinion without resorting to politician style politically correct newspeak, which I appreciate. So can you tell us where you sit before taking a stand on some related issues. Global warming, real or fake? The concept of “induced demand” on highway expansion projects again real or fake? Vast parking complexes in dense areas good, bad or wish we could come up with something better?

        • TakeFive

          Ofc widening freeways “induces” demand. That’s what the new lanes are there for, not to just look pretty. /sigh They often help to relieve congested arterial roads too..

          • deadindenver

            Thanks for replying, Neil or are you Neil’s stand in? If so how do you feel about Global Warming, real or fake? What about those ever increasing park complexes? I used to commute to the tech center near dry creek & I-25 from the Broadway/I-25 area during the Trex project and after it was completed. It only took about four years after completion before it became a parking lot again. During Trex, I used to take local roads allot increasing the congestion in the neighborhoods, fortunately I no longer make that commute but funny thing, overflow traffic is back in the hoods. It seems the same old, same old solution is only viable for a shorter and shorter amounts of time. Don’t you think human kind can come up with something better?

          • TakeFive

            The T-REX project went with both widening and light rail where extra lanes could have gone. Short of light rail having lots of ridership the coming growth on steroids was bound to overwhelm the modest freeway expansion. Thank goodness for the extra capacity that was added though, eh?

        • nwestergaard

          Climate change? Definitely NOT fake. The solutions aren’t as easy as people are led to believe, however. Induced demand? I think it’s a more function of population growth and people not yet at the point of giving up the freedom that driving affords. Parking? I think more off-street, subsidized municipal parking would allow cities to eliminate more on-street parking so protected bike lanes and bus lanes could be installed on major arterials without tying up vehicular traffic. That’s what Copenhagen has done. It works. There are lots of parking garages in Copenhagen. Ones for bikes, too. Despite what Streetsblog asserts, I’m not against buses, bikes or other forms of mass transit or terrified of change. But we should be smart about it. I don’t think it’s smart to eliminate two lanes on busy Colfax to accommodate a fancy new bus line and keeping the street parking all on the promise that people will ride the bus instead. The increase in ridership on the proposed BRT (if it’s approved) is not going to be sufficient to offset the reduction in traffic lanes in any significant way. But that’s just my opinion. Obviously people are free to disagree and the truth will eventually be revealed.

          • TakeFive

            Well stated.

            fancy new bus line

            I’ll take issue with this as I believe it’s the essence of competition to offer a more competitive product which is absolutely the key. BRT-style (even as utilized in America) is proving to be effective. Providing so-called “enhanced” service is what brings in a lot of new riders. It goes to the millennial generation and to all of us smart phone users with shorter attention spans that demand the convenience of better transit. Some day ‘enhanced’ buses/routes will be the standard. Like anything new it takes time.

            With respect to East Colfax it is easily the #1 corridor for upgraded transit. Maybe some day it will be Modern Streetcars but for now BRT is close enough. Even car-loving Phoenix has impressive ridership numbers on their .light rail that goes right down the middle of Central Ave. If you’ve not found the time I’d recommend a look at the Colfax Alternatives Analysis Chapter 6, Screen 3 Analysis and Results:

          • nwestergaard

            Fair enough. There’s no question young people value access to mass transit. (With the price of real estate in Denver, it’s hard to afford a car/parking/maintenance, etc). What I’m against is trying to squeeze everything into the existing right-of-way: BRT and parking but cutting the carrying capacity for cars, which is the modality preferred by the vast majority. I’d rather retain the through lanes and eliminate the street parking. That’s a political move to satisfy the merchants. Let them pitch in and fund off-street parking for their customers. Imagine what it’s going to be like with a single lane for cars on Colfax and people trying to parallel park, which is almost becoming a lost driving skill as it is. But look. We’ll see who’s right about this eventually. Right now, it’s speculation on all sides. I do think it’s kind of funny that the state is repaving a large section of near downtown Colfax. Will that all have to be torn out if the BRT is approved? I hope not.

          • Mike McDaniel

            You say all this and appear reasonable, so why denigrate the character and hygiene of bus riders in your piece? I think probably that reveals distaste for people you perceive to be of a lower class than you is behind your opposition to transit.

          • nwestergaard

            This is the problem with this blog and many of the commenters. It and they require all-or-nothing allegiance to the group view that cars are bad, biking and transit are good. I make the slightest criticism of the Colfax BRT and all of a sudden I’m against all transit. That’s bullshit, largely the result of David Sachs’ constant misrepresentation and out of context commentary about what I’ve written in the DBJ. His sneering references to the fact we ask readers to pay for premium content is asinine on its face. He’d die to have the loyal and expansive audience that the DBJ has. Our circulation and online presence is the highest it has ever been. Our penetration in the market is better than our counterpart journals in major markets, even Dallas, Houston and Washington D.C. And go back and look through the archives, Mike. I was one of the biggest supporters of FasTracks in this community. If you don’t believe me, ask Scott Reed at RTD. Finally, my observations about some of the clientele of the 15 bus comes from nearly 40 years as a Denver inner city resident. I’m not hallucinating this. Ask anyone who rides the 15. People tolerate it, but they don’t like it either. And I’m not talking about poor people; I’m talking about drunks and druggies and criminals who get in people’s faces on the 15 bus. It’ll be a factor, I think, in whether the Colfax BRT is a success or not. But we’ll see if I’m right, won’t we?

          • TakeFive

            It works fine in Phoenix but commuters still have the 7’s (7th St and 7th Ave). In Denver I assume that 13th, 14th, 17th and 18 avenues are still working?

            With respect to the number of lanes and parking that’s a legitimate question. Not a car-hater so parking garages would be fine by me. Portland has a similar situation with I believe a streetcar line. The only issue I’m aware of is that they run too slow. Otherwise the corridor has attracted significant new investment.

            With respect to CDOT don’t forget that fancy buses or not they still run on roads. CDOT is also reconstructing 96 curb ramps.

          • MT

            Driving is the mode “preferred” by many because it is the mode that’s entirely dominant in the way we’ve designed our streets and land use. It’s not because people just like cars better.

            People will use whatever means of getting around is the easiest. We’ve spent the better part of a century building everything only for cars, so people use cars. If we built high quality transit everywhere for the last century, everyone would be using transit. If we build a full network of safe bike routes, every single street just like cars get access to, lots of people would be riding bikes. Our land use since the introduction of the car has been so sprawling that cars became the only way to reach our daily needs. It’s not that we need cars, it’s that we designed every single thing to suit the needs of cars.

            So no, you can’t just say people prefer cars and use that as a reason for keeping all the space dedicated to driving.

            I’ve heard your thing before, you’re all in favor of transit and biking and walking, as long as it in no way changes the dominance of cars on the road. We can have bike lanes as long as we put them on some other street out of the way. Can’t lose any driving lanes!

            But the dominance of cars has to change. It’s not just because we have limited space, but that’s a major reason. We can’t improve other modes if no space is ever allowed for them. There’s also safety to consider. The more space we give to cars, the more people will be killed. Energy use, more cars, more burning of gasoline, diesel, or coal, even if they were all electric and solar powered it’s still an unholy amount of energy we have to generate just to move one person from their house to their job. And cost. Our car-based transportation system is the least efficient and most expensive way of getting around there is. Governments struggle at every level trying to keep up with road maintenance, while still building more and more that they won’t be able to maintain either. When you design for transit your whole street network gets more efficient and easier to maintain. When you design for transit (human scale) instead of cars, the last mile problem becomes a last half-mile problem, and thus no longer a problem. It becomes a 10 minute walk, which will be better for everyone’s health. Did I mention the pollution from cars and it’s effects on our health? Don’t forget that. More cars, more disease. Oh, and lower property values. No one wants to live or hang out on the side of a 4 lane highway. Why is so much of Colfax lined with used car dealerships and not much else? Most of it is a pretty awful place to be, and that’s because of the design of the street. The parts of Colfax that have the most going on are the parts with lots of stoplights and really slow car traffic. Where it starts to become a place instead of a drive-thru.

            I’d much rather keep the parking and lose the driving lane. The parking is a buffer between the people and the moving cars, it’s important for making the street a safe place for people. The parking also brings revenue, and should be priced according to demand, and that revenue can be used to fund improvements to the place. A driving lane will only keep cars speeding by, and make businesses harder to access by car and by foot, and less pleasant to visit. Not good for business. Your idea of parking garages will cost money, on-street parking can make money that can be put back into improving the street.

            We don’t need to reserve space for driving just because that’s the way it is now. We need to design streets to meet the needs of people, not machines.You’re free to keep using your machine, assuming you can pass a driving test and operate it safely, but the city is not obligated to design every street to make driving the easiest way to get around. It’s not in the city’s best interest to give public space to drivers when more people can be better served by transit. It’s not in the city’s best interest to keep multiple lanes for car traffic when that design kills multiple people every year. It’s not in the city’s best interest to keep a street design that spews exhaust and noise in the front windows of businesses where people are trying to serve food.

          • nwestergaard

            Well, what do you know? MT is capable of more than hurling one sentence insults at the people he/she disagrees with. You’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this vision, obviously. I respect that. But I don’t think you’ve spent a lot of time about how to achieve it. It’s one thing to envision transportation nirvana, another thing altogether persuading enough people to tax themselves significantly more to make it happen. Because that’s what it’s going to take. You aren’t even close to figuring that out. And hoping for change isn’t a strategy.

            So you, like the bureaucrats down at city hall, want to speed up the process of people transitioning themselves from cars to transit and bikes by taking away traffic lanes on existing high-volume streets like Broadway. The more you can make driving a hassle, the better your chances of getting people out of their cars and into buses and onto bikes and paying for mass transit investments. Who elected you to make that decision?

            Why is transit ridership flat, MT? Why is RTDs financing so close to the red that it’s mulling service cutbacks. Also, why is bike commuting flat even though new protected bike lanes are being installed every month? Because bike lanes don’t significantly increase ridership; the existing riders simply gravitate to the new routes. But you’re right, if there were bike lanes on every street, probably more people would use them. I’d like to know what you’re smoking if you believe that’s ever going to happen.

            BTW, I’m not opposed to ALL bike lanes. Some proposals (Brighton Blvd is an example) are thoughtfully. conceived. I think the recently announced Syracuse plan is probably ok, too. because there are vehicular alternatives nearby. Displaced Broadway traffic has no alternative.

            Some people will say, “Who cares about the suburbanites?” Well, you’d better care about them because their money makes up a large part of the Denver economy. (Besides, before long, nobody is going to be able to afford to live in the city).

            My point in all of the columns I’ve written about these issues has always been that transportation alternatives ought to be additive to capacity. We can have more bike lanes without crippling vehicular traffic. My point about the Colfax BRT is that people should be fully aware of what’s going to happen to the street when this is developed. We’re going to have one lane of traffic in both directions that will be shared by people parallel parking, double parking trucks delivering to businesses, etc. I think it’s going to be a mess.

            Debate is healthy. So here’s a proposal., MT. If you’ll reveal yourself, I’ll consider publishing an essay along the lines of your reply to my comments on this blog. 650 words max. Here’s your chance to enlighten my readers.

            You know where to find me.

          • MT

            Not sure I’ve got time to write anything up for you, but I’ll try to quickly respond to what you’ve said here.

            I’ve spent plenty of time thinking about how to achieve this vision, not just hoping. I’m well aware that this is a decades long process that will happen incrementally. I hope I get to enjoy the benefits in my lifetime.
            Not sure why you think tax increases are so necessary. Most of what is needed is low cost, sidewalks, bike lanes, improvements in bus routing. Car infrastructure is incredibly expensive. What is needed is a reprioritization. In two ways really.
            First, we prioritize the pedestrian, we are all one at some point in our travel and time in public space. Transit and biking are the next priorities. Biking mainly because the public investment is small, but the transportation benefits are huge. It’s a great return on public investment. Transit is the next priority because it serves the public, everyone, unlike cars. And because it’s more efficient in an urban area than cars are. Commercial/trucking is the next priority, we do need our goods delivered. Private cars prioritized last. Not outlawed or anything drastic, that’s not necessary. Cars do have their uses. We just need to prioritize other modes first, so that they have a chance, and use cars where they are actually needed, not for all trips all the time. Trying to make every trip for every person by car got us into the financial problems and pollution problems we have now.
            Second is a reevaluation of values. We typically place vehicle capacity and speed as top priorities, and try to deal with cost and safety second. Even when trying to add transit and bikes, we still talk about person capacity. Which is important, but on a city street, we need to be creating value. This is where our homes and businesses are. The most important thing for them is not how many cars (or people) go speeding by, but if a business can succeed, if a home can be safe and grow in value. Our streets are the backbone that we build a city on, how we grow our collective wealth. When our streets are designed as nothing more than a through highway, the surrounding property looses wealth. Not good for tax revenue for the city, not good for businesses, or business journals.

            Nobody elected me to make any decisions, but some communities do hire me for transportation planning, and they have elected representatives at city hall. The decision I did not make was to make driving a hassle. It does that all on it’s own. Trying to fit cars into a city just doesn’t work. They take up too much space. Not to mention the danger they pose to the health and safety of the people. We can spend billions trying to widen streets to fit the cars, but what would be left for the people? What we need are transportation options that fit in a city, that are human-scale, and that are sound financial investments for the city.

            Why in transit ridership flat? Has our transit system drastically improved lately? No. RTD is trying to serve a regional market. Most of that market is low-density and designed for cars. Transit can’t work very well in places where nothing is accessible by foot. Park n Rides and commuter rail are nice, but they are big giveaway of funds to suburbanites. The majority of transit ridership still comes on foot. Those are the routes that need focus. Small investments in dense areas, sidewalks, bus shelters, frequent service, dedicated bus lanes, will pay off. I hope our rail investments pay off as well, but it will take time for development to follow the rail lines. It’s better to focus investments where the demand is already present. Colfax BRT is a perfect example.

            Bike lanes don’t increase ridership? That’s just dishonest. They absolutely do. They do when they make up a connected network that will actually get you somewhere, and when they are high quality enough that people feel safe using them. Countless cities have done this and have data to prove it. You don’t even need lanes on every street, many streets are narrow and low-traffic and are fine as is, busy streets need protected lanes, and connections need to be safe. Other streets just need traffic calming, or reversion from one-way to two way to make them safer for everyone, and good for biking as well.

            Yes, I know you’re not opposed to ALL bike lanes, or transit improvements, only if they might take a bit of space away from cars. Well, the thing that takes the most space from cars is other cars. If you want more room to drive your best option is to get as many people as possible other options. You’ll create a lot more space by moving 10% of people out of cars than by adding lanes to the road.

            You’ve frequently brought up Broadway as an example. Broadway is 5 lanes one direction. The amount of car traffic on it can easily fit in 3. There’s no reason we can’t also have a bike lane and a bus lane in the extra two lanes. That will move more people and make the street safer. Colfax is a bit more constrained, but it has such high demand for bus service, there’s no good justification for blocking buses with car traffic. The buses need their own lanes. That will add more person capacity, if slightly less vehicle capacity. It will also create a street that can build value, not just whizz people by. Streets are not just conduits for traffic, they are public space, they are places, they are where we live and work, and eat, and shop. They must serve those purposes as well. If they don’t, we don’t have a city, and we don’t have anywhere worth driving to.

            I won’t say “who cares about the suburbanites” but I will say I’m not going to put their desire to drive fast through a neighborhood above the needs of the residents and business owners of the neighborhood. You may live in an area that requires a car, but when you go to other places you don’t get to force your car on them. Sure, they need to be able to travel around the city, but where the city is dense enough, cars aren’t the best way.

            That brings up another issue, land use. It’s often said that the best transportation plan is a good land use plan. When you’ve got a bit of density, and a mix of uses, many trips become walkable. Then transit can easily take you from your walkable neighborhood to another one, for jobs or shopping or whatever. The city has to be able to evolve and grow, or it becomes stagnant. If the growth is all at the outer edges, we end up with the traffic problems we have now. We also get the affordability problems. Closer neighborhoods are more desirable, but if we don’t allow them to develop more intensely, they do become unaffordable. Infill is one of the best things we can do, help keep up with our housing demand, and increase our tax base and ability to provide services. Instead of spreading further and further out, where we struggle to build enough roads to keep up with it all.

            Anyway, since I’m rambling, I’ll try to get back to the point that these changes are going to be incremental. Much of the metro area is built in such a way that getting around without a car is very difficult. It will take time for that to change, and we need to have land use policies that allow that change to happen. But in the areas that are dense enough, we can’t keep trying to cram more cars in. We have to invest in what works. Walking first. Transit and bikes second. Cars last. It’s the fiscally responsible thing to do. Better for the city, the people, the businesses, our safety, our health.

          • nwestergaard

            MT. A thoughtful response. I agree with some things in this and continue to disagree on others. If we talked about it long enough, we’d probably agree on more things. BTW, this comment you wrote is more than 1,300 words long, longer than the Declaration of Independence. I think you could easily boil this down to its main points and submit it to me as a guest opinion in the DBJ. Think about it. Cheers. Until next time.

          • MT

            Yeah, writing a shorter, to the point piece takes more time, if I want it to be good anyway.
            Other problem is this topic is incredibly complex. Zoning and land use, energy use, safety, pollution, business development, housing prices, so many things are interrelated. Where to even begin? It’s a lifetime’s worth of study and work. Maybe part of the reason knee-jerk reactions to a new bike or bus lanes drive me nuts. It’s not just X cars / Y lanes = traffic. Transportation planning is much more about human behavior than engineering.

          • deadindenver

            I do think we should be smart about it. Do you think if we built parking garages every couple of blocks on Colfax, then eliminated the street parking something like BRT might work?

          • nwestergaard

            did: Absolutely. The merchants would scream bloody murder but yes, I think it’s a better idea than what is planned now. It would be safer, too. People could alight from the bus to a sidewalk instead of a median, from which they’ll then have to use a crosswalk to get to one side or the other. I’d be all in with the Broadway plan if the city had the guts to remove parking on at least one side of the street to accommodate a protected bike lane.

      • Brian Schroder

        Dang, Neil that was an excellent burn there. Thanks! I would hope that the DBJ would have more followers than StreetsblogDenver and myself. Thank you for sharing your opinion and own thoughts on this piece. Anyway, I do think that the BusinessInsider/Denverite model of online news is going to be the future and I am exited by that prospect. I won’t take it personally that you implied that I am irrelevant. Ouch

    • EMB

      I subscribe to the DBJ and get a lot out of it (just renewed my subscription last month.) It’s easily the most relevant local news source for my needs, and I think it’s worth the money.

      That said, I ride the bus regularly and bike everywhere, and I wouldn’t object at all to a change in editorial stance on local transportation. Making it easier for people to drive around Denver is not the same thing as making it easier for people to move around Denver. Single occupancy vehicles for everyone don’t scale at the rate the Denver metro is growing, and those of us who aren’t using them for every trip need to be able to get around safely.

      • TakeFive

        Well said.

        There was a time when I would have been more than willing to subscribe. Even for the casual reader who enjoys business news on a localized basis it’s great. But for me at this point in time, I’ll pass at that price.

        • EMB

          Your friendly public library may offer access to this and lots of other publications!

          • TakeFive

            Thanks, good idea even though I’m now in Phoenix, it might still be available.

  • TakeFive

    Nice piece! The real rider anecdotes add interest and are insightful (not to mention time consuming). That said, I’d love to hear from the feminine side since (generally) guys are much more inclined to go with the flow. Plus, since “planning” is such a male dominated field I think it’s important.

    Interestingly, the DBJ is one site I would consider paying for – but not $115. I am likely one of few that from time to time enjoys checking out many of the 44 cities covered to see what’s going on in those cities. Can’t really comment on the Westergaard piece since I couldn’t read it but it sounds like he’s ill-informed. 🙂

    I’ve read generally about Seattle’s RapidRide but I bookmarked the pdf so to dive a little deeper.

  • Roads_Wide_Open

    “…because they often have to put up with belligerant [sic], dirty, smelly, disruptive and dangerous people…”

    Have anyone else ridden the 15 or 0? Neil is right…the riders are mostly pretty rough. Always stick to the Limited service for these routes; night and day difference.

    • MT

      “belligerant [sic], dirty, smelly, disruptive and dangerous” is a pretty good description of car traffic.

      The people on the 15 and 0 are much more pleasant to be around.

      • Roads_Wide_Open

        hahahaha…sorry I almost spit my gum out! Well, ok…

    • TakeFive

      Giving you a heads up that I used your name (but not in vane) and your quote elsewhere.

      • Roads_Wide_Open

        No problem! Us dirty, smelly, disruptive, and dangerous lovers of cars, as much as transit, have to stick together.

  • Nanci Kerr

    It seems easy enough to research and report the amount crime and incidents reported by bus drivers and bus riders on Colfax. Then, compare that data to other routes with similar ridership. I favor data driven decision making.

    Assuming BRT is all that and attracts new riders, that doesn’t eliminate that some of the current Colfax bus riders are off putting to some people. I’m not saying that is right. I’m staying it just is. The same people who are experiencing life challenges and behaviors some people find off putting will still be present with or without BRT.

    • TakeFive

      Well stated.

      As valuable as data or statistics can be they also make me nervous. For (one) example, drivers have better things they’d rather do that sit around writing up incident reports. Many off-putting behaviors are tolerated unless they go over the line – whatever that means. Ofc being smelly is not illegal, it’s the in-your-face stuff that disrupts.

      But you suggest another good outcome as well. If new (and better behaved) riders are attracted by a better product then often those who might otherwise be tempted to assert their “power” may well be happy to just take a seat and enjoy the ride.

      • Nanci Kerr

        Given the choice of riding a bus with the possibility of dirty, smelly and disruptive riders and driving my car, I’ll choose driving my car every time. I’m fortunate enough to have that choice and don’t rely on public transportation as my primary means of getting around. The hassle of avoiding some people, or even harder, confronting their off putting behaviors is not worth the possible cost or time savings. There are enough challenges and hassles in daily living, I’d rather not unnecessarily add to them. Thanks for asking.

        • nwestergaard

          You see, Nanci, many of the people on this blog don’t want you to make that choice to drive a car. They want you to make a different choice, one that THEY’VE decided is better. They’re are mad that you and the 10s of thousands of other commuters in cars aren’t making the same choices they do. So, they and like-minded transportation bureaucrats are taking steps aimed at making more of us choose their path by taking away traffic lanes and bottling up traffic even more than it is now. I agree we should be expanding transportation alternatives, like bike lanes, but not by restricting the existing lane miles under the loopy canard that “streets are for people, not machines.” (Gag) At least the city should be upfront about it. They should flat-out say “our transportation policies are designed to reduce driving…we want you to leave your car home.” Some city officials like Albus Brooks, are forthright. He told the Denver Post some time back “We want people to think twice before having a car in downtown Denver.” I commend him for that. At least he’s honest. But he’s one of the few.

          • Bill James

            I had this conversation with Neil years ago while I was an RTD Director and I gave up talking to him. My perception of the bureaucrats is not near as conspiratorial as Neil’s is. They are just doing their job and responding to what their citizens want. Neil’s analysis of transportation alternatives is flawed. For every butt that is moved from a single occupancy car to transit, a huge amount of street space is freed up for the other cars. The results of the bike lane that replaced a traffic lane on South Broadway puts this in perspective – almost no increase in vehicle travel time there. In any case, it won’t matter much in a few years because mobility on demand in vehicles owned by others eventually without anyone at the wheel will fundamentally change how many of us move around town.



Thursday’s Headlines

Cars don’t have to press a button to cross the street, so why should pedestrians? CDOT prioritizes cars over bikes on the collapsed segment of U.S. 36. The Colorado Rockies ban scooter riding near Coors Field during games. More headlines ...