Denver is a neat city. I was able to visit my friend Kevin who lives in Golden on my drive back to Seattle. I arrived in Denver in the morning on a Friday while Kevin was still at work, so I drove to BelMar (an urbanist redevelopment of a dead shopping mall), and poked around for a few minutes. Belmar was pretty neat, but it honestly had too much parking. They only have one street corner where there is no parking visible, so really, outside that one corner, its way nicer than your average suburban strip mall,
but it still needs work. I understand the need to have parking, but do what some buildings in Chicago does! Ring the block with retail on the ground, and build the parking in the middle of that, and build it up over it if you need to. Then the street is still pleasant. They did have a target built over a parking lot, so it sort of hid the parking, and that was nice. They also added a ton of multiunit housing complexes to the mix,
which should help keep it much more vibrant, and contribute to a more consistent stream of people wandering around it. The development has a bus shuttle every hour to the nearest Light Rail station, which is slightly farther than I’d want to walk. After I was done putzing around BelMar, I drove out to Golden, parked at the Jefferson County (Jeffco) government center
and took the W into town. I proceeded to ride all but about 2 miles of the light rail system Denver has.
(I rode the E, D, and W lines which cover almost the entire system. (Denver has 6 light rail services on 3 lines and 2 branches).
I only missed two stations, Dayton, and Nine Mile. I chose to walk back to downtown from the 30th And Downing Station, which was a nice walk. A Thunderstorm was approaching the city, and the reflections off the skyscrapers were absolutely amazing.
The thunderstorm got into town a little before me though, so I hopped on the D line just outside the central loop, and took it to the 16th st. Free Mall Ride(free busses every couple minutes running between the rail lines and the capitol building). Later in the weekend, Kevin and I rode the W into town to hang out, have dinner, and go to a rockies game, except it got cancelled while we were in the stadium waiting for it to occur because the water main broke outside the stadium right around then. Denver as we both found out on our way back to the W, has a crazy cool underground bus terminal, that feels more like an airport. We discovered this Bus terminal because when we had come into town, I noticed people heading down this staircase on one side of union station (home of amtrak and 4 future commuter rail lines), and then I saw a staircase on the other side of the tracks, so when we came back, Kevin and I decided to test it out, and it indeed got us quickly under the train tracks, but also it took us through this bus terminal.
Denver in general seems like it is rolling in money. That’s really the impression that I got. Driving through town, you see overpasses that are decked out, and super wide, the highways are well maintained, and very numerous. Downtown has about 38 lanes in and out of it on freeways, and there are a pile of freeways that don’t touch downtown, going in every direction. And they’re all plenty wide, and seem to be expanding. Denver is building 1 more light rail line, extending 3, building 4 commuter train lines, and a BRT line by 2016/17.
To put this in perspective relative to my world, Chicago has 7 urban rail lines, 13 commuter rail lines, and about 54 lanes going in and out of downtown on freeways. Seattle has 42 lanes in and out, 1 urban rail line, 2 commuter train lines, 2 new urban lines under construction, 1 being extended, and 2 streetcars, with a 3rd and an extension of the second in the works. Denver has 650,000 people in the city limits, and 2,600,000 in the region – Seattle has 651,000 people in the city limits, and 3,500,000 in the region, and Chicago has 2,700,000 in the city limits, and 9,000,000ish in the region. Denver has 115,000 downtown employees, Seattle has about 220,000 and Chicago has about 600,000. Denver is only 16 lanes and 10 commuter lines short of Chicago’s Level of Infrastructure, with 2/7 the population. (it has 2/3 the roads, and will have = urban rail, and 1/3 of the commuter rail in 2017) Really, I feel like I need to study this city and see how they’ve done things. I did notice that they opted for some interesting usability disadvantages with their light rail lines where if they had spent a little more money they could have done a little better, but in other ways they were way ahead of other places I’ve been (most stations have platforms on both sides of the train for at least one direction – which is crazy cool). I know they’ve done a lot of their light rail expansion in concert with freeway expansions, which I’m sure helps keep costs down (Chicago did similar things with the Kennedy, Eisenhower, and Dan Ryan Expressways, and hopefully will do the same with the Rebuild of N. LSD). The other thing Denver does that it could definitely improve on is how often it runs its trains. The trains only run about every 10-15 minutes at rush hour, 15-25 outside of rush hour, so that probably puts a serious damper on ridership, though despite that, the system still sees about 90,000 rides a day, which is quite a pile for such a relatively tiny city really.
Downtown Denver has this beautiful thing called the 16th street mall.
It is a street where the only vehicles allowed are the free busses that shuttle people up and down the road from Union Station
(CWE) to the Central loop of light rail lines (DFH) and then on to the capitol area. The entire street is lined with businesses, fast food, restaurants, shops, a couple urban malls, its like Michigan Avenue, if Michigan Avenue was not one of the busiest non-highway city streets I’ve ever seen. There’s tons of pedestrians, and you can pretty much cross the street without looking because its largely empty with busses running only about every 5 minutes. The pavement of the sidewalk melds into the street, with only the slightest curbs. There’s a median in the middle where (canopy)tents are set up and temporary shops exist. (It was neat watching how fast people packed those up though when a thunderstorm rolls in) Really its an enormously pleasant experience to wander up and down this street because there aren’t any cars, no fumes, just a pleasant walk through the skyscrapers, but skyscrapers that have a street-face, not like the skyscrapers of Streeterville for instance, that largely turn their backs to the streets. Sidewalks throughout downtown Denver were wide and easy to walk on, and I never saw a lot of cars, even when I was there at rush hour on a Friday evening (the freeways on the other hand, total disaster most of the day). At any rate, I was generally very impressed with how well put together the city seems. It’s building transit at a breakneck speed, and it’s got the bones to be a much much bigger city, which is good, because its right behind Seattle in its growth rate, adding thousands of people each year!
If you noticed that three of the images used in this post had snow in them and thought, huh? I thought Alex was talking about being there in August, you’d be right to be curious. I’ve been to the Denver Area three times in the past year, twice to Golden to visit Sir Kevin, and once to Longmont to Visit Sir Logan who was there for the summer for an internship. My first visit was over spring break in March though – so there was snow! (just what I wanted coming from Chicago….)