In Denver, the Bus Stops Make Me Sad

A woman waits for a bus in a shelter at Lincoln at 9th St. as cars rush past.
A woman waits for a bus in a shelter at Lincoln at 9th St. as cars rush past.

Waiting for the bus in Denver is unpleasant. Personally, I avoid using the word “sucks,” but that would be an accurate term for most of city’s bus stops. I checked out a few yesterday, this is a quick tour.  

First, Denver’s bus stops often aren’t much more than a pole with a small sign. Sometimes there’s a lonely bench. Shelters are rare.

Often, Denver* puts its bus stops next to wide roads where hundreds of drivers rush past at highway speeds. The traffic  creates a combined whoosh that’s so loud, talking to someone standing right next to you requires raising your voice. And while other cities win architecture awards for their bus stops, this city offers bus shelters that are universally ugly. Most that I’ve found have been badly maintained and dirty, too.

“They cleaned it once,” said Liz Ruiz, a ninth grader at 5280 High School, who I met at a filthy bus stop on Lincoln at 9th St. yesterday.

I asked her what she thought about the shelter there, which has scuffed paint, rusty bolts, graffiti and a splotch of chewing gum stuck to one of its beams. It rests over a sidewalk that nobody bothered to clean up after a long-ago coffee spill. Cigarette butts, broken glass and road salt from a now-forgotten snowstorm litter the area. 

Liz Ruiz (middle) and schoolmates sit in a bus shelter covered with graffiti.
Liz Ruiz (middle) and schoolmates sit in a bus shelter covered with graffiti.

“I’m used to it,” said Ruiz. “Because I live in a poor neighborhood.”

When she said that, what should I feel?

Sad, of course.

I had just come from Union Station and an image of a rail stop there flashed in my mind. I thought about the contrast. The Regional Transportation District gives its mostly white, mostly middle-class light rail passengers a pristine, well-designed platform. But with Ruiz, and her brown and black schoolmates, I looked at the sad stop RTD* gives to the kids at 5280 High School.

The fast-paced traffic makes the stop dangerous, too. Before I left, some of the kids started running, chasing each other around the bus stop. It seemed completely normal— except for how close they were to highway-speed traffic.  

I chose that stop because I often use it when I go to meetings nearby. I stop there when getting my haircut, too. And I knew that on October 6, just two blocks away, a drunk driver caused a crash that killed a mother of four.

The bus stop at 15th & Champa.
The bus stop at 15th & Champa.

After the kids left, I hopped on the 0-bus and went to 15th & Champa for a connection to the 8. A major point for bus transfers, this stop was not on my list of unfortunate stops. But it is definitely unpleasant. (Insert your preferred word).

The stop consists of bench with a garbage can tied to it.

A sign with large “Z” indicates which of three nearby stops you’re at. Even that is carelessly misaligned.    

The stop sits in front of two dilapidated storefronts which belonged to businesses closed long ago. Nearby is a neglected parking lot. 

And then there’s 15th Street. With four lanes of one-way traffic, like Broadway, it moves uncomfortably fast.

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Vaile Price and her friend Jen.

After a few minutes waiting there with the temperature dipping below freezing, I was cold and ready to go. I asked a group of people the usual questions. “Are you waiting for the 8?” “Do you know when it will get here?”

Vaile Price and her friend Jen, who both smiled for pictures, assured me my bus would come. But when asked about the bus stop, Price said it’s not a great on rainy or windy days.

“I miss the shelter,” she said, adding that they were removed* because people were doing drugs there.

As I looked through my photos, I wondered what Littleton’s two RTD stations look like. I’ve never been, but I they’re very different from Price’s bus stop.

Cars drive past one of two bus stops at Park Avenue West and Delgany.
Cars drive past one of two bus stops at Park Avenue West and Delgany.

Next stop: Park Avenue West and Delgany.

This intersection is on an enormous viaduct. It’s a hugely expensive piece of infrastructure with nine lanes that carry cars over something you can’t quite see. When you’re in a vehicle, you just speed over places like this, never knowing exactly where you are or what you’re on top of.

But at this place-that-isn’t-a-place, there are a pair of bus stops.

Rusty seats with tumbleweeds, plastic sacks and discarded fast-food cups stuck underneath.
Rusty seats with tumbleweeds, plastic sacks and discarded fast-food cups stuck underneath.

As you get off the bus, the view isn’t bad: The prairie sky on one side. Denver’s skyline on the other. But then you get to the shelter.

Its paint is peeling away. Its seats are rusty, with tumbleweeds, plastic sacks and discarded fast-food cups stuck underneath.

There you find yourself, a pedestrian, a person who feels tiny, standing on this concrete plateau that’s who-knows-how-many feet in the sky. You feel like you’re at a place where people are not supposed to be. And you feel that way because the cars move at freeway speeds. And they move that fast because the road is designed like a freeway.

One of the Park Avenue West & Delgany stops viewed across nine lanes of traffic.
One of the Park Avenue West & Delgany stops viewed across nine lanes of traffic.

Over roughly 20 minutes, a handful of Flatiron Flyer passengers got off there. They walked down an onramp to the neighborhood behind the ballpark.

Getting cold, I hopped on the FF, which was one stop away from the sparkling new Union Station, where I started.

This story is but just a few observations about Denver’s bus stops. It revealed a problem that Streetsblog will continue covering. Do you know of an unpleasant bus stop that I should check out? Leave a comment (and maybe a picture) below.

*This story may have implied that the City of Denver or RTD is responsible for bus stops. Actually, a future post will attempt to untangle who is responsible for them, which may include Denver, RTD, CDOT, neighborhood organizations, advertising companies or adjacent property owners. 

  • TakeFive

    One nit I’d pick is it looks to me like Liz Ruiz and schoolmates have the pick of the litter aside from the extra art work.

    With respect to your last paragraph it got me to wondering since most bus stops that I notice look respectable. https://www.phoenix.gov/publictransit/rider-information/bus-stops-and-passenger-facilities

    The city makes quite an investment in bus stops to ensure our passengers are comfortable while waiting for the bus. As the largest provider of transit service in the Valley, upkeep of passenger facilities is a high priority.
    Currently the City of Phoenix oversees:
    • 4,059 bus stops within city boundaries
    • 2,552 of those stops have passenger shelters (63 % of total)

    • Wranger

      Yes, Liz and friends have a bench and shelter but these things are pretty much always nasty. I wish I hadn’t just deleted a photo of the shelter at 1st and Broadway. I snapped it a couple weeks ago when I saw that one of the ad spots said “advertise here.” I considered sending a photo of the bus shelter to the ad agency as a potential buyer, asking them why the hell I would advertise my company at such a disgusting site. There’s always spilled food, vomit, drinks, whatever all over the ground and often on the bench, gum stuck everywhere, graffiti on the ads, shelter and bench. I usually try not to touch them or even stand in them unless I really need to get out of the wind/snow/rain.

      • TakeFive

        Sheash, I have no idea what the answer is for this; once a week cleaning?

        • John Riecke

          I mean, yeah, but where do we get the money? RTD can’t even afford drivers much less cleaners. Denver needs to raise a tax to pay for improvements in service, infrastructure, and maintenance.

          • Wranger

            I know that a bunch of shelters are owned by advertising companies that sell the ad space. I would imagine that they are responsible for cleaning their own shelters. We’ll wait to see the next Streetsblog article explaining this.

  • iBikeCommute

    This about sums it up- Downtown Denver Partnership touting “Visionary City Builders” at a bus stop plastered with advertising, but not even a bench for riders to sit on.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/bbec19c3f057accbe8acd51c1e9e5ff4443d8ba8790417a23edd2469a760980d.jpg

  • iBikeCommute
    • Wranger

      I totally agree. What’s there is nice but that massive open, wasted expanse annoys the hell out of me. I ride the 15 East which doesn’t go into Civic Center Station so the hoards of people riding the 15 have to stand across the street from this with 3-4 benches, a couple of trash cans and a bus sign. No shelter, even as we often wait 20 or more minutes in the rain and snow for a 15 or 15L bus to finally show up (and then they’re often showing up in bunches). Bus Rapid Transit on Colfax now!

      • TakeFive

        What I liked is the views from the upstairs patio deck. 🙂

  • Camera_Shy

    “…plastic sacks and discarded fast-food cups stuck underneath.”

    I don’t see that as the fault of anyone but those who use/walk by the stop. However, if there is not a trash receptacle, adding one might help.

  • LazyReader

    Yes unfortunately buses are the mass transit option for the dregs of society who don’t care much about hygiene, public property or civil discourse.

    • Trinkar

      I think you just described yourself.

      • LazyReader

        Then you clean up all these stations

  • Rob P

    I disagree with the comment that buses are the “mass transit options for the dregs of society who don’t care much about hygiene, public property or civil discourse” that is posted below. I have a vehicle, yet choose to ride the bus because you can get almost anywhere in the metro area. I care about the air and try to limit use of a polluting, wet fuel vehicle. I suggest that you ride the 15/15L and experience the humanity. I have traveled the world, always utilizing mass transit, and find the 15 to be one of the greatest bus routes ever! If I may be so bold, I suggest that you travel to another country and utilize their mass transit systems. Afterward, you may not be so quick to offer such a cruel and unjust comment.

    • TakeFive

      You haven’t experienced Denver if you haven’t been on the 15 or 15L.

      Bus drivers have a little different view; it seems that *some* riders have little respect for drivers and show it in many interesting ways from spitting to punching to throwing drinks at them.

  • Trinkar

    Then there’s the bus stop on the southwest corner of Colorado Blvd. and Colfax where you have to wait to take the 15 going north or the 40 going south. Filthy and disgusting don’t even begin to describe it. It is a danger to public health.

  • TM

    Most of these streets have so much high speed car traffic it’s going to be pretty uncomfortable waiting for a bus no matter how nice the shelter is.
    No excuse for the crap shelters, but the noise and exhaust is unbearable.

  • jeff

    RTD has around 10,000 bus stops. That’s $50,000,000 on the low end. Should every bus stop have a shelter? Even the ones that do not have weekend service? Should there be a threshold for boardings-per-hour? I agree that it would be great if every stop had a shelter and real-time bus information. It would be great if every voter in the District voted to fund that level of investment. Most of the Broadway stops in Littleton and Englewood don’t have shelters. The vast majority of stops are located where RTD does not control the sidewalk or the adjacent property. I miss David Sachs.

  • carl jacobs

    The Regional Transportation District gives its mostly white, mostly middle-class light rail passengers a pristine, well-designed platform.

    Those “mostly white, mostly middle-class” passengers have a very high elasticity of demand when it comes to public transportation. And that demand is not determined just by (or even principally by) price. If they perceive difficulty, or threat, or an unpleasant environment, they will kick your transit system right to the curb. If you want them to ride, you must cater to their desires.

    “But it’s not fair!”

    Do you want them to ride or not?

  • Guest

    In a “sad bus stop” competition, Houston beats Denver hands-down.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/01a162f3f5035b3979dce5134d742b2d0db8cd4c0b2a47fccc6a35f544acfa14.jpg

  • Been there, done that and had to make the T-shirts. America punishes people for not having cars, the possession and operation of which is our actual national religion. If this is sad in Denver, it is utterly remarkable in Charleston, SC where the ocean is beginning to cover the city more and more often. Best Friends of Lowcountry Tranist, fighting for something better. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/91a84d2c6d5f67200ae192d0c954fc771b3fd590ba92cf7d6544987ee97d0a98.jpg .

  • Faffs Riederer
    • Guest

      At least you have sidewalks.

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