Bus transit is without question the dominant form of mass transit in most American cities. Denver is no different. Metro Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) reports total annual ridership for January – December 2013 as just less than 102 million boardings. FasTracks, RTD’s name for the region’s rail transit system, totals 48 miles or well less than 1 percent of the system’s regular weekday scheduled route mileage of just over 118,000 miles. And although RTD doesn’t easily split out total annual boardings by mode, e.g. bus vs. rail (the figures are not provided on its Facts & Figures webpage), it is no stretch to conclude that bus passengers make up the vast majority of RTD’s annual ridership. Looking at both modes it is hard to ignore how shabby the buses and bus facilities are in contrast to rail. Does the newness of the rail system explain the difference? Partly. But it is hard to wonder what Denver’s bus facilities would look like if more bus passengers rode by choice, rather than out of necessity. I recently had the opportunity to compare the city’s new Chestnut Street Station with Civic Center Station. Both are key connection points in the transit network. One new, the other old. They are as different as blueberries and popcorn.
Civic Center Station is a physical manifestation of the many horror stories people tell me for why they don’t like to ride the bus. At least the stories I listen to. It is dark, run down and uninviting. I needed to turn off my camera’s automatic flash in order for the photos above to accurately reflect the station interior. I’m sure many would describe Civic Center Station as creepy. It is hard to argue the point. Should passengers really need to experience dim lighting, poorly maintained conditions and the sights, sounds and smells of refuse collection while waiting to board the bus? No. And especially if one has a choice about how they get around. I’ve heard many times that people in lower-income neighborhoods believe the city’s light rail system is not for them. Maybe the new Chestnut Street Station, a key component of the revitalizing Union Station area that directly connects to light rail, helps explain why.
Chestnut Street Station is bright and glossy. Its appearance is more comparable to a first-rate airport terminal. This facility replaced the now closed Market Street Station that like its cousin Civic Center Station was a similarly dark and depressing hole in the ground. I recently read an article in the Denver Business Journal that said Market Street Station would function as a 80-car downtown parking lot until the city determined what to do with the property. If the use fits, I suppose… The photos speak for themselves.
Such disparity is simply unacceptable. The difference is maybe unintentional but it is stark. Is the difference between these two stations and modes about more than just old and new? I’m not sure, but it feels like it.