Denver’s East Colfax transport solutions
City hopes to relieve travelers on historic avenue
Published: Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 14, 2013 19:03
East Colfax Avenue has long been more than just a mere street in the eyes of Denverites.
It’s the thoroughfare that connects both halves of CU Denver—Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora and the main campus—and is one of the most heavily trafficked streets in the city. It carves a swath through some of Denver’s most vital and vibrant quarters, but its name is more synonymous with the hookers that walk its streets than its status as Denver’s major artery.
Colfax has a transportation problem, as anyone who’s ridden the 15 bus at rush hour understands. According to the city of Denver, with a couple of bus routes that serve over 30,000 riders per day, the corridor is at capacity—which doesn’t bode well for the city’s future growth. That’s why Denver received a grant from the Federal Transportation Administration to conduct a study on the feasibility of improving travel through the corridor.
“RTD has had a number of fiscal constraints,” said Genevieve Hutchinson, a senior planner at RTD. “If we had our druthers, I think we would be putting more service on to accommodate the demand, but we’re just not able to. So it’s ripe for some kind of investment.”
When Denver’s grand avenue was renamed after Ulysses S. Grant’s vice president, Schuyler Colfax in the late 1800s, the town was just beginning to spring up around the diminutive street. According to the Demographia project, the town’s population ballooned from 36,000 in 1880 to 133,000 in 1900, when a trolley system was built to ferry riders from Denver to Aurora.
In the century since, the tramway has long been dismantled, but the commute and the congestion remain. No possible option has been ignored in the search for a solution, including a return to the cable car.
“We looked at a ton of modes. We looked at commuter rail ... we looked at Maglev, and aerial ropeway, and all that stuff. So we definitely did some serious analysis from a land-use perspective, from economic development, all that stuff,” Hutchinson said.
Congestion isn’t the only issue. “We’ve got a definite conflict between the people who love Colfax as it is, and those people who think Colfax needs change in character,” said Terry Ruiter, a project manager for Denver Public Works who is overseeing the Colfax Corridors Connections project. “I tend to be a little more with the former, because I think it’s a beautiful street. The architecture is just wonderful.”
When the city completes its study in the fall of this year, it’s expected to unveil a plan that includes major transit improvements, such as enhanced buses and Bus Rapid Transit lanes operating during peak commuter times, streetcars, in addition to a host of other improvements to features like bikeability and pedestrian space. But Ruiter said the team still faces a challenge in preserving the street’s culture.
“There are several places where the character is very different from three blocks either direction,” Ruiter said. “So trying to maintain the diversity of character on Colfax is—I don’t know if it will be our biggest struggle, but it’s something we want to do.”