Since voters approved a multi-billion dollar capital plan called FasTracks in 2004, the Regional Transportation District’s expansion efforts have been nearly all about trains — they’ve opened the four new rail lines since 2014, and there are plans for another next year.
Now though, the transit agency is exploring a new network that could have the speed of rail with much cheaper costs.
Yes, RTD is looking to get back on the bus.
Not just any old bus, though. RTD is putting the finishing touches on a study of busy arterial roads that are good candidates for bus rapid transit. Those lines would use rubber on pavement and have other premium characteristics that are more typical of rail. The most important are dedicated lanes so buses run independently of traffic and service as frequent as every five minutes.
The popular FlatironFlyer is a bus rapid transit-like route between Denver and Boulder. Separately, RTD is studying another route from Boulder to Longmont. Other cities, like Minneapolis, have launched their own fledgling bus rapid transit networks in recent years.
Perhaps most importantly, the idea is for these buses to appeal to people who aren’t currently riding. They’re designed in a way, said Brian Welch, RTD’s senior manager for planning technical services, that signals to riders that the lines are different.
“They can tell by the vehicle,” he said. “They can tell by the station. And they know that it's going to be frequent and reliable and fast.”
RTD sees faster buses as a way to move more people through dense corridors in a more cost-effective way than building trains, Welch said. Boosting ridership is a top concern for RTD, which is facing financial headwinds as it tries to simultaneously finish billions of dollars’ worth of unfinished train projects. But the plan could prove unpopular with the thousands of motorists who would likely be forced into fewer lanes — unless they decide to get on the bus.
The most suitable corridors are mostly in and around the urban core.
RTD’s feasibility study started with 30 or so corridors from Longmont in the north to Parker in the south. That’s since been winnowed down to eight: I-25 north of Denver, Park Avenue/38th Avenue, Speer Boulevard/Leetsdale Drive/Parker Road, Broadway/Lincoln Street, Colorado Boulevard, Alameda Avenue, Havana Street/Hampden Avenue, and Federal Boulevard.
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