Denver, for all its efforts to improve its transportation options (and the city’s light-rail network in particular has grown dramatically from five miles of track in the early 1990s to a projected 122 miles by 2020 or so), is still, like many medium-sized American cities, oriented toward the automobile.
It is no surprise then that Union Station, the city’s transportation hub from the long-gone American railroad era, was an underused shell of its once grand self. This, thankfully, has begun to change with the recently completed renovation of the historic building located at the terminus of 17th Street in downtown. Last Friday, I met some friends for drinks at the Terminal Bar. It was my second time meeting someone there in the past two weeks. These two visits are just shy of my maybe four or five times inside Union Station in the past fifteen years. And I worked downtown all that time!
So, what’s changed? People. That’s what. Union Station was always a lovely building but Union Station is busy now. And at the center of it all is the idea that the future of transportation in this city shall focus on how best to move people about the metro region rather than primarily automobiles. The most significant change that sparked the station’s rediscovery is that the metro Denver Regional Transportation District, as part of a multi-modal transportation plan, has completely reconfigured and consolidated the major downtown transit activities in and around Union Station. It gets better. In about eighteen months, the rail corridor connecting Denver International Airport to downtown will open. Ah, rapid train service from an airport into downtown, one of my long-held threshold tests for big-time cityness. Then, eventually, Union Station will serve as the main connection point for the metro region’s entire northern transit system.
This – the rebirth of Union Station – is only beginning. The real rebirth, for American cities at least, is the return to people-centric cities. I’m so glad Denver is helping to lead the way.