Col­fax tran­sit pro­posal moves buses to the mid­dle

The Denver Post - - DENVER & THE WEST - By Jon Mur­ray

Den­ver’s plan for a bus rapid tran­sit line down Col­fax Av­enue has faced a com­mon knock: Be­cause of lim­i­ta­tions in­clud­ing ded­i­cated bus lanes that would be ac­tive only dur­ing the rush hours, it isn’t re­ally true BRT.

But a ma­jor shift now un­der con­sid­er­a­tion — to make pre­vi­ously pro­posed rush-hour bus lanes along the sides into per­ma­nent, cen­ter-run­ning busways through east Den­ver — would el­e­vate the promi­nence of the high­fre­quency bus line.

The de­sign, if adopted this fall as the pre­ferred op­tion, would come closer to ful­fill­ing the BRT cri­te­ria pro­moted by tran­sit ad­vo­cates as mak­ing bus lines op­er­ate as quickly and as fre­quently as street cars, but at a frac­tion of the ex­pense.

The still-un­funded project would beef up bus ser­vice be­tween the Au­raria cam­pus and In­ter­state 225 in Aurora, with the cen­ter-run­ning bus lanes travers­ing more than five miles be­tween Broad­way and near Den­ver’s city limit at Yosemite Street. Aurora is a project part­ner but has re­sisted ded­i­cated bus lanes, though Aurora rid­ers could see some BRT trap­pings such as quicker, more fre­quent ser­vice.

“Ob­vi­ously, now that this new al­ter­na­tive has a ded­i­cated lane 24 hours (a day), it def­i­nitely qual­i­fies as true BRT,” said Ryan

Billings, a se­nior city plan­ner in the Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works who is the project man­ager. “I would call the sec­tion from Yosemite through Aurora ‘en­hanced bus.’ It has all the bells and whis­tles, ex­cept for the ex­clu­sive lanes.”

Den­ver trans­porta­tion plan­ners un­veiled the new al­ter­na­tive Tues­day evening to a project task force of neigh­bor­hood and mo­bil­ity ad­vo­cates.

How it would work: At each of 15 cen­ter-lane stops through east Den­ver, rid­ers would wait on a pedes­trian is­land in the street, pay bus fare at a kiosk and board quickly at curb level when the bus ar­rives. Dur­ing the busiest pe­ri­ods, buses would run ev­ery 3 to 5 min­utes — or more fre­quently, de­pend­ing on de­mand — and buses would get pri­or­ity at traf­fic sig­nals to move through more quickly.

West of Civic Cen­ter Sta­tion and east of Yosemite, the new line’s buses would stop in the right lanes at of­fi­cial stops while the rest of the setup would be sim­i­lar. In Aurora, rid­ers might have a choice be­tween rapid­tran­sit buses and lo­cal buses that make more fre­quent stops.

In com­ing months, the city will seek in­put and eval­u­ate the cen­ter-run­ning op­tion against the side-run­ning-lanes de­sign and a no-change al­ter­na­tive. Plan­ners could pro­pose a pre­ferred op­tion in Septem­ber or Oc­to­ber, Billings said.

One open ques­tion is the im­pact on cost. Billings said the cen­ter-lane pivot could add 25 per­cent, or roughly $30 mil­lion, to the bus rapid tran­sit plan’s cost. The pre­vi­ous plan has been es­ti­mated at $125 mil­lion to $135 mil­lion. But the cen­ter-lanes de­sign likely would op­er­ate bet­ter over­all than the side-lanes setup, he said.

The soon­est con­struc­tion could be­gin, Billings said, would be in 2020, if the city nails down enough money from this fall’s bond pack­age and fed­eral sources the city plans to seek. The first parts of the sys­tem would open in 2021 un­der that time­line.

Task force mem­bers were gen­er­ally en­thu­si­as­tic Tues­day about the cen­ter-run­ning de­sign — though a few con­cerns about trade-offs linger, in­clud­ing what the ef­fec­tive elim­i­na­tion of the Re­gional Trans­porta­tion District’s lo­cal route 15 through east Den­ver would mean for dis­abled rid­ers.

To­gether, the 15 and the limited-stop 15L route make up RTD’s busiest cor­ri­dor, car­ry­ing 22,000 rid­ers a day.

Plan­ners project a BRT rid­er­ship of 50,000 a day by 2035. Bus travel times are pro­jected to be up to 15 min­utes faster in peak pe­ri­ods com­pared to es­ti­mates of travel in the in­creas­ingly choked cor­ri­dor if noth­ing is done.

There are still big ques­tions fac­ing the pro­posal, in­clud­ing whether con­cern by driv­ers and neigh­bor­hoods about los­ing traf­fic lanes — a sen­ti­ment voiced at the Jan­uary 2016 meet­ing — will em­brace the cen­ter-run­ning de­sign.

And then there is the ques­tion of how to pay for it. Fed­eral tran­sit fund­ing is an un­sure bet, but $55 mil­lion for the Col­fax project is in­cluded in the cur­rent project list for the city’s pro­posed $937 mil­lion bond pack­age that’s be­ing pre­pared for vot­ers in the Nov. 7 elec­tion.

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