Based on projects in Denver and similar cities, we've assumed the following rough costs:

(c) Steve Boland
• For bus rapid transit — limited buses made to behave like rail lines, with low-floor, multi-door vehicles for faster boarding, stops with shelters and wait-time displays, sensors that prevent stoplights and other enhancements, like Los Angeles' Metro Rapid system — $1 million per mile. Note: The Denver-Boulder BRT line featured in FasTracks is similar, but would operate in freeway HOV lanes rather than on city streets.

(c) American Public Transportation Association
• For streetcars — a sort of light light rail that can share the road with autos — $25 million per mile. Streetcars can be modern trams, like those found in Portland, Oregon, or vintage vehicles like those in New Orleans.

(c) Matthew Faruolo
• For surface light rail, at-grade but in its own right-of-way, $50 million per mile.

• For elevated light rail, with no street crossings, $75 million per mile.

• For underground light rail, in a subway, $200 million per mile.

In one plan, we've also proposed an exclusive transitway for streetcars and rapid buses. Dedicated lanes with physical barriers to separate traffic might cost an extra $10 million per mile or so to build.
asTracks is a great start. Nearly $5 billion for almost 120 miles of rail transit? Metro Denver should be proud. But in a decade or so, when it's built — what then?

Downtown Denver to Cherry Creek in 10 minutes — and no need to park.
(Original Photos (c) Matthew Faruolo & Eric Miller/
Photomontage by Steve Boland)
You might be forgiven for thinking FasTracks is enough. It will help remake the metro area, and Downtown Denver. But remarkably few of its rail lines will reach inner-city and inner-ring suburban neighborhoods. East Colfax Avenue is, by far, the Front Range's busiest transit corridor, and one with tremendous redevelopment potential. Cherry Creek is Denver's second downtown, and a popular destination for shoppers from all over Colorado. South Colorado Boulevard is lined by towers but choked with traffic. The Golden Triangle, Uptown and Highlands are Denver's most rapidly urbanizing neighborhoods. Yet each of them will continue to be served only by ordinary buses.

This project began as an open-ended exercise among multiple advocates, using existing ridership and population density data, to envision a rapid transit system that would go where it's needed. Cost was no issue; participants were instructed to let their imaginations wander. The proposals made here, however, are somewhat more modest: Only the last would approach FasTracks in cost, and the first would cost less than a single suburban light rail line; none includes heavy rail, or third rail as it's sometimes called, like San Francisco's BART, the Washington, D.C. Metro or Atlanta's MARTA. Our point is not to reopen the debate about investment in public transportation; we believe RTD when it says it intends to discontinue the tax that will fund FasTracks once the system is finished. But we hope to encourage Coloradans to begin thinking, now, about what sort of rapid transit system they might eventually like to see, and how they would pay for it.

Our financial figures are not exact, obviously; in fact, they're little more than back-of-the-napkin guesstimates. Our plans might cost a bit more, or a little less, than advertised. We have attempted, however, to remain conservative in our accounting. Streetcar lines, for example, have recently been built in American cities for far less than we've assumed, and a light rail subway was recently constructed in Minneapolis for roughly half of what RTD estimated one would cost in its Central Connector study.

Our maps, meanwhile, display the street grid as it exists today; they do not include future plans for Stapleton, Lowry or the Central Platte Valley, although they do anticipate proposed changes in land-use patterns, including some of those in Blueprint Denver, which itself proposes a network of enhanced bus service on arterials. The maps also do not cover quite enough ground to render all that we've envisioned, so we've added the supplemental, regional maps at right.

Please think of these maps not as specific plans, but as ideas — as brainstorming. Study of a Colfax streetcar extending as far east as Yosemite Street on the Aurora border is already underway, as are organizing efforts for a "Boulder Breeze" streetcar connecting Crossroads and the future 30th & Pearl commuter rail station to downtown and the Pearl Street Mall; the Downtown Multimodal Access Plan is now detailing plans for a Downtown Denver circulator shuttle, among other improvements; DRCOG's Metro Vision plan includes its own transportation element; RTD plans eventual extension of the Gold Line to Golden; and one little-known aspect of FasTracks will preserve right-of-way for a future rail line in the Northeast Metro. This project is merely part of that process — the process, as Mayor Peña put it before Denver invested $4.5 billion in a new airport, of imagining a great city.

© 2005 Steve Boland & Dan Malouff | Website by Steve Boland/

The FasTracks rapid transit network is designed primarily to shuttle suburban commuters to and from downtown. As a result, its coverage of urban neighborhoods where demand for transit is highest is incomplete. To compensate for this, we've concentrated on the urban core for purposes of this exercise. A more comprehensive system, however, might feature bus rapid transit on a few suburban corridors bypassed by FasTracks, foremost among them the crosstown route of Wadsworth Boulevard.
This website is a joint project of Steve Boland and Dan Malouff, CU-Boulder graduates (classes of '95 and '03, respectively) who, driven away by a lack of transit options, are now part of the Denver diaspora. Malouff is a city planner in Northern Virginia and publishes BeyondDC. Boland is an applicant to the master's program in urban planning at the University of California, Berkeley, and publishes San Francisco Cityscape.