We’re now only four days away from the grand opening of RTD’s West Line to Golden! To celebrate the occasion, we are doing a five-day countdown over at DenverUrbanism: each day a new transit-related post. Then, after our Opening Day post this Friday, we’ll do another five-day’s worth of transit posts (a “countup”!) to continue the celebration.
Photo credit: Ryan Dravitz
So, make sure you check out DenverUrbanism every day to help commemorate Denver’s rail transit system growing by another 12 miles!
I was thinking the other day that it’d be nice to do something big and splashy to celebrate FasTracks/Union Station coming in at #2 on our Denver’s Top 10 Urbanism Achievements of the Aughts list, so I arranged for the feds to give us a billion bucks and I threw in the Union Station movie as a bonus. I hope you liked it! Seriously though, that was quite a happy coincidence of events as I was about to post that Denver’s FasTracks transit program and its redevelopment of historic Denver Union Station are #2 on the countdown. Friday was certainly a great day for Denver.
Cities around the world have wisely built and maintained balanced transportation systems that include rail transit, cars, busses, bicycles, and a variety of contraptions in between. In the United States, we started out well, with streetcar systems (first horse-drawn, then electrified) running on the streets of just about every major city in the country. But then we abandoned all of that after World War II and went on an automobile binge that we have come to realize may not have been all that wise. Cars are awesome machines and the personal freedom they provide is phenomenal. But just like so many other things in life… too much of a good thing can be bad. So better late than never, cities across the US, including Denver, are bringing back rail transit to provide some balance to our transportation systems. It’s called having a diversified portfolio of transportation assets. I am proud of Denver for taking such a bold step in the right direction.
FasTracks is more than just an ambitious regional public transit program. It will also positively influence our regional land use decisions. Major employment centers, residential developments, shopping malls, and other land uses that draw or produce high numbers of people will be/should be located in the future along our transit corridors. That is one of the principles on which Denver’s regional MetroVision plan is based. It’s also common sense.
But let’s be very clear about what FasTracks is and what it isn’t. FasTracks is a regional transit system primarily designed on the hub-and-spoke model to move people from the suburbs into and out of Downtown Denver. Such a system is absolutely necessary and I wholeheartedly support the FasTracks program, as should you. But we also have to recognize that for those of us in Denver proper, FasTracks is only one side of the transit coin. FasTracks doesn’t provide Denver with the transit connections we need and desire within and between our denser urban core districts. That is where a new Denver streetcar system would come in, but that’s a topic for future blog posts.
If FasTracks alone wasn’t enough, we have the whole Union Station redevelopment to celebrate as well. Many cities destroyed their historic train stations or converted them beyond repair into shopping malls or festival marketplaces or whatnot. Fortunately in Denver, our Union Station remains intact and is now poised to once again serve as the rail hub for the city and region. Along with its associated private sector development, the Union Station project will complete the transformation of the Central Platte Valley as a dynamic transit-oriented extension of Downtown. Downtown Denver just keeps getting better and better…
Downtown Denver is not just the downtown of the City and County of Denver, but for the entire Denver metropolitan area. This may not be the case in every major city, but I believe it to be true here in Denver. Let me explain…
The vast majority of metro Denver communities do not have a traditional downtown of their own. Unlike many big cities back East where small towns, with centuries of history and their own traditional downtowns, were later subsumed as part of a metropolitan area, there really wasn’t much else in the metropolitan Denver area but Denver for a long time. During those first decades of the 1860s and 1870s, Denver had only two regional peers, Golden and Boulder, which explains why those communities have two of the few real downtowns found in the metropolitan area today. But by 1890, with its population over 100,000 (compared to Boulder’s 3,000 and Golden’s 2,000), Denver had already grown to completely dominate everything else around it. Denver was its own metropolitan area, and Downtown Denver was, simply, Downtown.
Notwithstanding that the metropolitan area is now fractured into over 40 municipalities, Downtown Denver remains the region’s downtown. Its age, size, and lack of competing historic downtowns nearby, its status as the seat of state government, and the fact that after a century of regional expansion, it remains in the geographic center of the metro area, has helped sustain Downtown Denver’s predominence. The city has also heavily invested in new transportation and civic infrastructure to keep Downtown vibrant, and metro area voters have done their share by approving measures such as FasTracks and the new baseball and football stadiums. Shopping is no longer dominated by Downtown Denver unfortunately, but Downtown remains the undisputed king of the metro area’s restaurant/nightlife, professional sports, entertainment, arts, and culture scenes. Generally speaking, in metro Denver, when the word “Downtown” is referred to with no city name attached, it is assumed to be Downtown Denver. That, perhaps, is the best indication that Downtown Denver is everyone’s downtown… and that is a good thing for our city.