COLFAX CONUNDRUM: Denver, Aurora taking different roads on how to move the 15

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AURORA | The 10-mile strip of Colfax Avenue from the Auraria Campus in Denver to the Anschutz Medical Center in Aurora has the highest bus ridership of all of Regional Transportation District routes, according to RTD. And that commute is only slated to worsen in coming years.

RTD anticipates the 22,000 people who travel the corridor by either catching the 15 or the 15L to double in 20 years, along with the number of residents living along the 10-mile stretch.  

Colfax CorridorNow it appears Denver and Aurora city officials are at odds with how to more effectively shuttle bus riders along the corridor.  

On Aug. 27, Denver city planners met with Aurora residents in the cafeteria of North Middle School to present Bus Rapid Transit as a  way to decongest what often ends up being buses stacked on top of one another as they trail each other down Colfax Avenue. 

That solution came out of a $3 million study of the corridor funded by The City of Denver and the Federal Transit Administration. The study, which took two years, also looked at enhanced buses and modern streetcars as potential transportation solutions.   

Tim Baldwin, a consultant with the study, said at the meeting that BRT could serve double the number of people who ride the Colfax buses today at about a quarter of the cost of a modern streetcar. BRT would cost $115 million to build out versus a streetcar, which would cost $400 million, according to the study.

“(BRT) has almost the same ridership as the modern streetcar, within a couple thousand daily riders,” Baldwin said. While both modes of transit would improve commuter end-to-end travel time by about 10 minutes, the study showed the streetcar only providing a two-minute faster commute than BRT on limited-stop service.

Baldwin’s presentation at the meeting included visual examples of how BRT works in cities like Cleveland, Eugene, Oregon, and Nashville, Tennessee. The low-floored buses have multi-doored boarding and enhanced bus stops with ticketing centers at the curbside. He said the design would be comparable to the Max BRT system that opened in Fort Collins in May. 

“It’s trying to provide a little more attractiveness to existing users,” he said.  And for people who wouldn’t ordinarily ride it, a little more visual appeal, a little more comfort.” 

The plan also calls for the new buses to have dedicated lanes for east and westbound traffic during peak travel hours. Baldwin said those lanes would be similar to what exists on Broadway Street and Lincoln Street in Denver, with a flashing signal that would designate when the lanes would be bus-only.

Aurora planners were quick to point out at the meeting that the dedicated lanes would not work the same on Colfax as they do on Broadway and Lincoln, where multiple lanes remain open, even when one is reserved for a bus.

“Three miles of the project segment is in Aurora. Aurora is a major stakeholder and your partner in this project,” said Huiliang Liu, a principal transportation planner with the City of Aurora, at the meeting. “The City is concerned about the auto traffic impact by the proposed bus rapid transit scenario in peak hours. When you convert two lanes of automobile traffic to bus only, it would essentially be just one travel lane in each direction.”

He referenced a letter that was written a day earlier from Aurora City Manager Skip Noe to the Denver Mayor’s Office about the BRT proposal.

“Aurora is concerned that the impacts on auto travel by the proposed BRT alternative, which converts two auto travel lanes to exclusive bus lanes during peak hours, have not been adequately and accurately analyzed,” Noe said in the letter. “These concerns were communicated to the project team back in 2013 but have not been adequately addressed.”

Noe said in the letter Aurora will not support the plan until more research is done on how the dedicated lanes would affect or delay automobile traffic along the Colfax. The Denver Public Works and Transportation Department said in a response to the Sentinel following the public meeting that they will continue to study how BRT will affect the corridor, but did not specify what that study will look like.

For Aurora residents who spoke at the meeting, the issue wasn’t so much the potential delays caused by bus lanes as much as it was about Aurora getting left behind in the process.

Aurora resident Sierra White lives a few blocks off of Colfax and said at the meeting she supported the initiative and hoped the City of Aurora would work with Denver planners.

“I don’t want it to be like Denver has the designated lane, and Aurora decides it’s not going to have the designated lane. And you feel this big shift when you drive from Denver to Aurora, and all of a sudden, everything is very different,” she said. “There’s already that difference when I’m driving up and down Colfax. I can feel that I’m in Denver versus Aurora, and in my opinion, it’s not a good thing. As soon as I enter Aurora, things are a little more rundown. And we don’t have the thriving economic situation that Denver does. I feel like we have an opportunity for that. I think this is a huge part of fostering that economic development along Colfax, especially in Aurora.”