Colfax transit proposal moves buses to the middle
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.