Westword Misses the Point of the L Line

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

On Monday, Westword ran a piece by reporter Teague Bohlen trashing RTD over the new L Line and its impact on service. It’s good to have your eyes peeled for backdoor service reductions, but this isn’t one of them: The L Line service pattern should make Denver’s light rail system more reliable for all riders.

The reason the L Line was split off from the D Line is all about reliability, as Streetsblog reported last week. Northbound D trains were causing cascading delays throughout the system because they had to wait for southbound D trains to clear a one-track section. The L Line’s simpler route will help prevent those bottlenecks.

But Bohlen didn’t even mention the single-track section along Welton Street that was knotting up the D Line and causing delays to ripple out to other lines. With the L Line preventing those delays, riders who use the downtown loop now stand to save time.

Technically, Westword’s headline — “RTD Reduces Light Rail Service to Five Points and Beyond” — isn’t wrong. The L stops running about an hour before the old D did because RTD must funnel limited resources to routes with the highest ridership. About 20 to 30 people will be negatively affected daily, RTD rail service planner Eric Miller told Streetsblog. But the shorter service hours weren’t even the basis for Bohlen’s assertion that service will get worse — he didn’t touch on that at all.

Instead, Bohlen calls the change “bewildering” and “short-sighted” because L riders now have to transfer if they’re traveling between 30th and Downing and stations south of 16th Street. These riders, he claims, will lose “well over three days of their lives” each year, but his arguments don’t hold up.

L riders will usually wait three to six minutes to connect to D trains, Miller told Streetsblog. (This information is also contained in publicly available RTD schedules.) But Bohlen posits that passengers will be delayed “maybe 10 minutes” each way. “Get off the train, maybe walk a block to where you can catch the next train, make sure to keep your transfer ticket, swipe it at that next stop, get on that train, keep going,” Bohlen imagines.

It’s a sentence loaded with wrong: Passengers don’t have to walk anywhere — the L, D, F, and H lines all serve the same stations in question. Bohlen should know this, because in 2016 he told us all how often he takes the D from 30th and Downing. Also, swiping a “transfer ticket” is not a thing on RTD light rail.

Later in the piece, Bohlen evokes redlining, or government sanctioned racial discrimination, because Five Points is a historically black neighborhood. He asserts that “reductions in service like this one invoke those uninvited ghosts all over again.” It’s an irresponsible statement, to say the least, given the systemic benefits of improved reliability that the L Line is supposed to deliver.

If the new service works as planned, trip times will be more predictable and riders — including L train riders who have to make transfers — won’t have to deal with as many aggravating unplanned delays as they do today.

RTD has a lot of problems. It lacks the resources to operate as much service as Denver needs, and its governance structure favors car-centric suburbs over the city.

The decision to split off the L Line from the D Line is not one of those problems — in fact it’s a pretty clear case of agency staff taking initiative to make things better for riders. Miller said he’d been trying to fix the delays caused by the one-track section on Welton for more than five years! If anything, the question should be what took RTD so long to do something.

If we want better transit service in Denver, we need to generate pressure in the right places. Instead of ragging on service planners for doing their job well, let’s hold Mayor Hancock’s feet to the fire to deliver the transit improvements Denver residents desperately need: funding for more Denver-centric RTD service, transit priority at intersections so riders don’t lose so much time at red lights, and more dedicated right of way on our streets to speed up buses and trains.

  • Curtis Parc

    I totally understand why Westword published the article so chock full of inaccuracies. If they published the truth it would not fit their narrative. They don’t actually report facts, they find an issue and write what they think their readers want to hear.

    • TakeFive

      Eh, Patricia Calhoun, the editor and a co-founder (since 1977) has been an asset to the Denver community for a long time. Doesn’t make every writer or article a gem though.

      • Curtis Parc

        Calhoun being an asset which is debatable, and the quality of her writers are not related. They have an agenda and they try not to let facts get in the way of promoting it.

        • TakeFive

          Only an occasional reader so I’ll take your word on the topic. I have much enjoyed many of Alan Prendergast’s historical pieces.

  • mckillio

    More importantly, what is RTD doing, if anything about getting a second track, that would make everyone happy, except drivers. Is the Central line extension supposed to be two tracks?

    • TakeFive

      Seems like somebody else asked that question and I still don’t know the answer. 🙂

      • Mike McDaniel

        I’d bump BRT on Colorado Blvd above a downtown subway. The Mall already is BRT. I know Colfax is next in line, but I don’t find the congestion there to be anywhere near as bad as Colorado, plus alternates to Colfax are easier to find than alternates to Colorado.

        • East Colfax has a huge head start in ridership over Colorado Blvd. and its sidewalks are more pedestrian friendly. The best thing that an East Colfax BRT can offer is better schedule adherence. As a frequent rider on Broadway and Colfax routes I can report that most crowding on Colfax is caused by buses running off schedule. The relative easy-going nature of the Broadway routes can be attributed to bus lanes and the capital invested in off-street transfer locations. [I’ve lived in Denver long enough to remember clumps of buses on Lincoln Street. The good operation on Broadway-Lincoln results from four decades of minor incremental steps.]

          Colorado Blvd. riders or riders on any other arterial can benefit from such features, but that would not change the “welcome to Hell” ped environment on commercial segments. Instead, minor improvements in all the north-south crosstown lines could focus on issues unique to each route, with municipalities reviewing signaling and the streetscapes using staff and small consulting projects. A Colorado Blvd. re-do that would actually make a difference would keep consultants and lawyers fully employed for years to come.

        • TakeFive

          Very true; lol, I can recall weaving my way through side streets on the east side of Colorado Blvd but it’s no panacea. The avenues near Colfax do provide nice east-west corridors.

  • TakeFive

    Thanks for the clarification; I had read that piece but didn’t know Bohlen’s background or familiarity with the topic. I couldn’t comprehend his points and was aware of the timing issues so I just moved on.

  • deadindenver

    Looked at a Google image of Mr. Bohlen, looks more like gentrifier than a victim of gentrification. The mere fact that RTD took the line into Five Points was a factor in it’s now virtually complete gentrification. But besides the inaccuracies apparently he needed to score some social justice virtual signalling Pokemon points.

  • There are several reasons why this change was not made earlier, Most important is the fact that making the loop on 14th Street would have snarled LRT traffic had it been implemented prior to the Downtown traffic signal change a half-dozen years ago. Signals used to change every 75 seconds and thence changed every 90 seconds. This changed the LRT and Mall Shuttle frequencies. As a by-product the changed rail schedules created an opening for the L-Line. There were numerous Fastracks projects to work on before the intricate thread-the-needle L-Line changes could be worked out. [Visitors often think that the Free Mall Ride and LRT have priority control over the signals. Actually, they have priority in the planning of the signals, but must live within that framework once it is negotiated.]

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