By Monte Whaley, The Denver Post
15 Aug 2014, 06:16 PM
A 10-mile corridor that already is tops in bus ridership but suffers from congestion problems needs another fleet of buses to cure its transit woes.
At least that is the plan presented Friday by the transportation officials with the City and County of Denver to fix the Colfax Avenue issues.
They are proposing that a $115 million bus system — that feature vehicles that are low-slung and easy to board and would travel on one dedicated lane during weekly rush hours — will ease gridlock on the 10-mile stretch of Colfax between the Auraria and the Anschutz Medical campuses.
Bus Rapid Transit — or BRT — was picked over two other possibilities, including the so-called Modern Streetcar, after a two-year study of the snags along the east Colfax stretch.
Already, there are nearly 7 million annual boardings on Regional Transportation District buses on Colfax, with more than 22,000 per weekday. It makes sense that a city-run bus system with new state-of-art stations and off-board ticket machines would thrive on that same stretch of roadway, officials say.
"Colfax serves as a critical backbone of the city's transportation network and has the highest bus ridership in RTD's system," Denver Public Works' Director of Transportation Crissy Fanganello said. "BRT on Colfax will offer an upgraded, cost-effective transit experience that moves more people throughout the corridor, helping meet existing and future travel demand."
East of Interstate 25, Colfax is one of the highest traveled east-west transportation routes in the city and during peak hours, congestion strangles traffic at several intersections. Meanwhile, the number of person-trips on the East Colfax Corridor is expected to increase 20 percent to 30 percent by 2035.
"There is no doubt that congestion will continue to be a major issue unless something is done along the corridor," said Tykus Holloway, Denver's transportation project manager.
The proposed BRT would use one existing travel lane along Colfax in each direction during the weekday morning and evening peak traffic hours.
The rest of the day and on weekends, buses would continue to operate in the outside travel lane with traffic.
It's estimated a BRT system would attract about 43,000 daily riders and shave 10-12 minutes off a rider's end-to-end travel time.
Planners say using the outside travel lane minimizes the potential problems of on-street parking. Also, the BRT system will get more people to travel along Colfax than can use the corridor today, said Department of Public Works spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn.
Still, planners admit using one dedicated lane for mass transit on a heavily traveled two-lane road requires more study.
"This fall and winter," Kuhn said, "we will be doing additional analysis to identify the impact of having a transit-only lane on Colfax Avenue and identifying any potential issues and the associated mitigation."
Community meetings to discuss the BRT option are scheduled for Aug. 26 (5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Knights of Columbus Hall, 1555 Grant St.) and Aug. 27 (5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at North Middle School, 12095 Montview Boulevard in Aurora).
The Colfax Corridor study looked at and rejected other transit options, including the Modern Streetcar, which is comparable in time savings and ridership but would cost about $450 million, Denver planners said.
They also rejected "enhanced buses," which are upgraded buses but without exclusive lanes.
The BRT system includes several key features like upgraded bus stops, real-time travel information, enhanced street crossings and improved bicycle and pedestrian connections.
The new upgraded BRT buses would have multi-doors and low-floor boarding to make it easier for passengers to get on and off. The buses also would be branded specifically for the Colfax corridor.
After hearing more from the public, as well as from RTD and the Colorado Department of Transportation, the city plans to do an environmental analysis of the impact of a BRT system.
Monte Whaley: 720-929-0907, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/montewhaley