The “most advanced transit city in the west” is having growing pains.
The Mile High city punches above its weight when it comes to mass transit: Denver boasts the eighth-largest rail system in the United States, radiating out of what’s only the 19th most populous town.
That’s because of FasTracks. In 2004, with the hopes to cool congestion and brace for growth, Denver and communities in seven surrounding counties voted to expand public transit to the tune of $4.7 billion, adding 122 miles of commuter, light rail, and bus rapid transit lines across the region by 2018.
Since then, the Regional Transportation District has undergone a transformation: Where once only a few rail lines served a handful of suburbs, train tracks and BRT corridors now extend in all directions, from Boulder (28 miles northwest from Denver’s downtown) to Aurora (11 miles east) to Jefferson County (26 miles west), with Denver’s downtown Union Station serving as the central hub. Seven projects are complete, and five are still on the way.
But the expansion plan, which caused CityLab to once dub Denver “the most advanced transit city in the west,” has yet to translate into greater transit ridership, or even reduced use of cars. In 2006, then-mayor of Denver John Hickenlooper described a hope that the city would reach 20 percent ridership by 2020. But in 2016, only 6 percent of people in Denver used public transit as part of their commute to work.