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Possible Funding for Colfax Streetcar?

The Denver Post reports today that State Senator Chris Romer plans to introduce a bill in the Colorado legislature that would provide significant funding for a streetcar line along Colfax Avenue. Senator Romer suggests the streetcar line should run from the Auraria Campus in Downtown Denver to the Anschutz Medical Campus at Fitzsimons in Aurora. For the details, click here for a PDF of the Denver Post article.

Here is the graphic that accompanied the Post article that isn’t included in the PDF version:

Denver Post streetcar map graphic

It is exciting to see a potential funding source identified to help build Denver’s first modern streetcar line. Who knows if this bill will ever get to the governor’s desk, but it is an encouraging sign nevertheless. I’m pleased that at least some of our state leaders are interested in advocating for urban transit.

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22 Comments

  1. Eleanor says:

    A streetcar would be great, but…good lord…ALL THE WAY TO FITZSIMONS?! That’s seems like an awfully long way and perhaps overly ambitious.

  2. BeyondDC says:

    Needs to happen.

  3. Matt says:

    @Eleanor: The 15/15L bus already runs that same route; this would essentially replace it. As long as they did it with appropriate headways it would probably work at least as well as the current bus, if not better.

  4. Frank says:

    I doubt this will happen but it would be sweet. Especially, if you consider how close the 16th Street mall is to the Colfax and Broadway intersection. You could live near Fitzsimons take the street car to the mall bus and make to LoDo in a jiff.

  5. Chad says:

    I really like the idea of a streetcar going this huge distance, but where exactly is it going to go? Colfax isn’t exactly a wide street with a lot of space for this thing; is there really enough space if they get rid of much of the parking?

    On that same note, I don’t think it’s a valid argument some businesses have been using that eliminating the parking will drop commerce. There’s still plenty of places to park down there – I never have too much of a problem finding a spot, even on concert nights in front of the theatres.

  6. Matt Pizzuti says:

    Woah, this is a long route.

    So I have to ask – if they’re spending this amount of money and going for such an ambitious project, why is it Auraria to Aurora? Why not extend it a little farther Westward, to Mile High Stadium, or to Federal or even Lakewood? If this is a statewide project receiving statewide funding, it might be smart to bring in more communities in the state by pushing it West.

  7. Matt Pizzuti says:

    Not that I’m not excited about the project – I want to add – if it happens this would be amazingly good news. It takes a lot of the burden off of FasTracks for being the only transit project going up right now and would set the precedent that other entities beyond RTD can play a role in expanding Colorado’s transit.

    The way to get this thing passed is to frame it as a jobs bill; argue for all the jobs and economic growth that will be generated by this project.

  8. Chris says:

    While I too question the viability of sending it all the way to Fitzsimons (though I’m sure it would be impossible to get state funding if only Denver benefits), why even consider ending it there? If the line is to go that far east already, then it should clearly terminate it at the proposed I-225/Colfax Fastracks station.

  9. Eleanor says:

    I’m not afraid to ask dumb questions: Would a streetcar uses the same traffic lanes as cars and busses (rather than rail)? If so, why is a streetcar any better than a bus? I’m mean, it’s obviously cooler! But what’s the functional benefit of a street car vs. a bus or more busses?

  10. Stosh says:

    I have seen old pictures of the original trolley cars that were on Colfax and it is a no brainer to bring them back! This is good for our city and it’s “main street” for many reasons. Whenever I am in San Fran I feel like a part of history when I ride the trolley cars there; they take up little additional space and are generally in the same lanes as traffic, eliminating few parking spaces. The recent picture I saw of the proposed trolley looked modern, which I am not too sure about but after the light rail line to DIA, I feel trolley cars once again on Colfax would only add to Denver’s greatness. Another line along Speer would also be great.

    Thanks,

  11. Eleanor says:

    Stosh: are you talking about SF’s cable cars or SF’s electric trolley/trams?

    Also, to amend my comment above, would the rail used by streetcars share the same traffic lanes as busses and cars, or would a streetcar need a separate rail system (like the light rail)? If the former, why are they more useful than busses?

  12. DENVERLOWRY says:

    I would think a rail line that crosses I-25 running to Federal would be a great idea (though if it went much further it would duplicate the light rail currently in process). However, a streetcar crossing the highway would be able to drop people off at Invesco and also connect to a busy intersection at Federal.

    As for heading east – I also agree that if plans are to go out to the new hospital, you might as well add some more rail and at least meet up with the proposed FastTracks station at I225. Then – all the people within walking distance of Colfax could take a streetcar and hook up with lightrail out to the airport. It would be immensely convenient.

    Regarding the type of railcar – it would be surely be built into the road and run along the same route as cars. As for the difference between buses and streetcars, besides it being much cooler (seriously it will attract many more riders who won’t be caught dead on a bus), but the economic benefits are proven to be much higher. Check out this interesting study:

    http://www.infrastructurist.com/2009/06/03/36-reasons-that-streetcars-are-better-than-buses/

  13. Glenn says:

    I’m a little conflicted on this one. Streetcars do have the “cool” factor, and will undoubtedly draw development and more density to good parts of Colfax. I’m not convinced, however, that it needs to go all the way out to Fitzsimons. Once you get east of Colorado – all the way out to Quebec – the neighborhoods along Colfax are largely single family residential, very different than Capital Hill and City Park. There aren’t the cultural attractions and, by and large, there isn’t the space – until you get much further east – to put in more dense developments.

    I’ve always liked the idea of a streetcar going out Colfax to Colorado, then heading south Cherry Creek and back to downtown (somehow) through Capital Hill. I spend quite a bit of time in Portland, and like their streetcar for how it winds through the city, hitting areas that are more densely populated.

  14. dave says:

    i am not sure i understand why lightrail is separated from traffic but streetcars have to be stuck in it. the green line in boston is essentially a trolley, but has a separated right of way. how would you classify this route? also, I think broadway has been able to maintain its main street character better than colfax which seems overrun with gas stations and fast food joints. is the redesign of south broadway allowing for the future possibility of streetcars?

  15. BeyondDC says:

    > why is a streetcar any better than a bus?

    1. Trains induce good (walkable) development in a way that buses do not. Building a streetcar on Colfax will support efforts to revitalize it as a quality urban corridor.

    2. All other things being equal, trains get higher ridership than buses because lots more people are willing to ride them.

    3. Trains are more comfortable to ride than buses. This is a big deal. One of the main reasons that more people are willing to ride trains than buses is that gliding along a rail offers a much smoother ride than rumbling along on tires. It is not just the “cool” factor; trains offer real, concrete improvements in quality of ride.

    4. Trains have higher capacity than buses, and can be coupled to increase capacity even more. This means that on high ridership corridors operations are improved, because you don’t have to pay so many drivers, can use fuel more efficiently, and don’t have to worry so much about bunching.

    5. Trains are powered by electricity, which is cleaner for the environment (especially if your electricity doesn’t come from coal).

    … If those 5 reasons aren’t enough, Here is a list of 36.

  16. el gato says:

    This plan seems like a good start. If the Auraria-Anscutz line proves successful, extending it to the I-225 LRT station would be the next logical step as the west corridor LRT is only 2 blocks from Colfax.

    I would like to see some plans for sidewalk improvements included with this proposal as some areas of East Colfax are known for their narrow, crowded sidewalks.

  17. Norm says:

    This project would be pretty hip for a city like Denver as it continues to expand and make the entire metro area more accessible from all corners.

    Also to those asking about the length of the route, I believe that the distance is set as it is to draw in more revenue. The Denver Post article states that $4 per registration in a one mile radius from the streetcar would be filtered to the project.

    With that said, in order for this project to be successful, it must include more of the metro area and should also run further west to achieve that.

  18. MCM says:

    This post reminded me of the earlier entry on Beyond Fastracks: http://denverinfill.com/blog/2008/05/beyond-fastracks-vision-for-denver.html.

    That post brings up the point that most of the current light rail lines and those included in Fastracks do little to serve residents within Denver. Their plans include the Colfax line and possible extensions along denser corridors.

    While streetcars can travel in traffic lanes, performance is greatly improved when dedicated lanes are provided, particularly in heavily trafficked areas. Streetcar lanes could be shared with buses, however. While there should be no question about removing parking or travel lanes to put in a streetcar (each vehicle can carry far more people than can be parked along a section of road), el gato raises an excellent point: pedestrian and bicycle improvements must also be integrated into streetcar plans to make the stops easy to get to from the surrounding neighborhoods.

    Eleanor—SF has three types of rail transit: cable cars, light rail (in a subway downtown and above ground further south and west), and streetcars (along Market St. and Embarcadero). The streetcar and light rail tracks are connected so that the same maintenance facilities can be used.

  19. Troy says:

    Hey Glenn,
    You are correct, Capitol Hill residents probably won’t ride the street car out to the $1.5/scoop Chinese restaurant on Oneida and Colfax, but those of us who live out here often want to travel somewhere else like say downtown. Fastracks is mostly about getting suburbanites downtown. This and hopefully more like it are transportation options for Denverites (and neighboring city citizens).

  20. Nate Owens says:

    I like the sound of a railcar for Colfax (Broadway too for that matter). We should also note the effect that the railcar line (streetscape) will have for traffic speed. If I was driving and saw a streetcar I’d probably slow down and take a gander. Might make Colfax a bit more livable a street… Huh? It could happen. I also think that extending it all the way east may be extreme/overambitious; however, there’s potential for the eastern stretch to become more dense, and more economically and culturally fit as a result.

  21. Please please please let this project pass. And I’m sure it would be easy enough to extend the route on either side (to Invesco or to I-225) after this route gets built. Of course, it would be great if it could link as many different rail lines as possible, making it not only better transit on Colfax but also a more convenient way to transfer lines.

  22. Troy says:

    Mr Romer had an Op Ed piece in today’s Post.