All My Monthly RTD Passes From 2014
As you may recall, I had a lot to say about San Diego’s public transportation system while I was living there. I’ve been back in Denver for over a year and aside from a couple of posts talking about the closure of Market Street Station and the remodeling of Union Station, I haven’t said a whole lot about Denver’s bus and Light Rail system. I wanted to wait for at least a year so that I would be able to use it through all four seasons in order to give it a very thorough assessment and review.
I was away from Denver from 2006 thru 2013 and the public transportation system has grown up a lot in that time. When I left there were only 2 Light Rail lines and they both ran from Littleton to Denver. Now there are 6 lines that run all over the metro area from Golden to Cherry Creek Reservoir to Lone Tree. Next year there will be 5 more lines added that will enable us to go to Denver International Airport, Arvada, Federal Heights and an extension to an existing line that will go right through Aurora. In 2018 there will be another line added that will go all the way out to Northglenn. These are just Light Rail lines; there are many regional and express busses that already exist and next year will see the addition of another that will run out to Westminster, Broomfield and Flatirons. It’s already a very extensive system and will only get better from here on out.
That’s what is and what it will be; now I’d like to tell you about what it’s like to actually travel and commute on Denver’s Light Rail and buses. Just to be clear, the acronym for the entire system is RTD, which stands for Regional Transportation District.
I use Light Rail for 95 percent of my travels around the city. I live in Littleton and I ride my bike as often as possible so I pedal to my neighborhood Light Rail station, lock it up and then proceed into downtown. Once there, if I need to move around I just rent a bike from B-Cycle. I am a big fan of using Light Rail and bicycles instead of the bus for a number of reasons but the main reason is time. Riding a bike to a station is faster and healthier than taking a bus. There are bike racks on buses so you do have that option but it’s just not as efficient and it adds a connection to your trip. As a veteran of public transportation I’m telling you right now that connections will make or break your trip; the fewer connections the better. If I ride my bike directly to a Light Rail station I just have to connect with the train and head directly to my destination. If I include a bus into the equation, then I have to connect with the bus and then hope the bus is on time so I can connect with the train. Since I live in the suburbs, my bike is an integral part of taking Light Rail because the buses out here stop running at 7 p.m. and don’t run at all on weekends or holidays. RTD is much more geared to get suburbanites to and from work during the week that it is to move them around late at night or on the weekends. That’s not a bad thing but if you’re returning home (to the suburbs) after seven at night and you don’t have your bike or car waiting for you, you’ll want to call someone to pick you up from the station. With my bike and a Light Rail trip I can get from my doorstep in Littleton to the 16th Street Mall in 45 minutes flat any day of the week, so it really is fast and convenient.
As for the process of buying a Light Rail or bus ticket and boarding a train, I do have a few things to say about that. For the bus it’s very straight forward; either insert exact change into the money taking machine next to the driver or show the driver your pass or transfer. For Light Rail it’s a little bit different and to be honest, a little convoluted. The good news is that the ticket vending machines will give back change and most of them take credit and debit cards but the bad news is that how, when, where and for how long your trip will be all need to be taken into account when you buy your ticket. This is a problem that RTD is aware of and is working on but until then, you really need to do a little homework so you can figure out how to get the proper fare. It really is beyond the scope of this post to explain it but it should be smoothed out by the time those new lines open next year. I purchase a monthly pass to simplify things but even those passes have three different options that are based solely on distance. At least with a proper pass you can just walk onto any bus or Light Rail without having to waste time at a ticket machine or carry exact change around with you. Also, the touch screens on the ticket machines are not as responsive as smartphones or tablets so they can be a little frustrating and hard to read sometimes. They can also break so a machine that is supposed to accept money and credit cards may not accept one or the other which is very frustrating because most of us only carry plastic OR money which is why I advocate buying a pass ahead of time. If you are straight up unable to buy a ticket and a transit guard asks to see your fare, politely tell the guard what happened and you’ll be fine.
The RTD transit guards are very nice and that is something we all need to appreciate. In San Diego, the guards are nothing more than thugs that I have personally witnessed tackling commuters to the ground and arresting people for smoking at a station. Here in Denver, they say please and thank you and will gladly give information to help you get where you need to go. Another big transit difference between San Diego and Denver is the way people board the train. In Denver, people line up at the marked door entrances for the train. When it arrives, people exit the train and then the line of people calmly boards the train. In San Diego, when a train pulls into a station it turns into a mob scene straight out of a horror movie. People push and shove and there are lots of people that bring wheeled carts onto the train too. Denver is certainly the more cosmopolitan of the two cities.
This review turned out to be much longer than I thought it would be so allow me to boil it down for you; Public transportation in Denver is very good. The trains and buses are clean and they run on time. I wish there was more shade and shelter at the stations but beyond that, they’re well lit and snow is shoveled constantly. The security guards are nice and the system is extensive enough to get you just about anywhere you need to go, as long as you do a little research first. Something I didn’t mention before is that you can take Light Rail to Broncos, Avalanche and Rockies games so remove yourself from some traffic and try out RTD. Cheers!
Amtrak Platform – Union Station In Denver, Colorado
Two months ago we all said, “Goodbye Market Street Station!” when our beloved cave, Denver’s only underground was closed. I was and remain all right with that because it forced me to examine my relationship with Union Station. Back in the day when the light rail opened I’d take the C line out of there and I partied Lotus a few times but I never used it as a train station. I never had to jump onto an Amtrak train as, “All aboard!” was shouted or watched my girlfriend chase my departing train down the platform, blowing kisses at me as she knocked people and stuff over in a way that made it seem like it was in a movie. As she ran along after me I would be smitten with her physically exhausting display of affection for me but as soon as I pulled my head back in the open window, I’d be laughing at whatever comical way she would have finally tripped and collided into something. Without a defining moment like that, do you even have a relationship at all?
I wasn’t sure so the other day I went to Union Station in order to explore this new hub of bus and rail. I was there to take pictures and to see what the station could offer me beyond the light rail. By the way, in San Diego they call it the trolley. As in, “I’m going to take the trolley downtown.” Saying I’m going to take the light rail downtown makes me think of beams of light like a light saber from Star Wars. There is no heavy rail or dark rail or whatever the competition of light rail is. It should be rebranded as The Denver Trolley.
Police On The Platform
For reference, the people you see in the first photo were waiting to board an incoming train so I walked down the platform and was politely stopped by the policeman you see above. He asked if I was catching the train so I said I was not; I was taking photos and was heading to the old looking Pullman in the background. He said I had to stay back past the bridge, also visible in the first photo. There are no signs to that effect but at least he was only concerned with where I was and not what I was doing, which was taking photos.
People Waiting For The Train
When the train arrived it backed into the station and people become to jostle about as the excitement of imminent travel began to take over.
The Timeless Train
Watching a train roll in to a station is a timeless experience because standing on a train platform today is exactly the same experience that it was 150 years ago. If you are in the vicinity of a station and you hear a train whistle you are drawn to it, if you are in a station and you see a train pulling in you are drawn to it. I was. My goal was to photograph the underground portion of Union Station but once I found out a train was arriving I headed over to the Amtrak platform.
Washing The Windows
When the train was parked, window washing caught my eye. I had never thought about train windows being washed before; you never see it happening in any Cary Grant movies from the golden age of rail, where I learned most of what I know about trains so this was a neat thing for me to see for the first time. Also, this is my favorite photo from the day.
People About To Board The Train
There are so many stories going on in the world at any given time and a train station helps bring a bunch of them together in a very small space. This is how I interpret the photo above:
The couple on the right is full of uncertainty; the woman on the phone is explaining to someone that she is literally about to step on a train and leave while the guy she is with is worried that whomever she is speaking to will talk her out of leaving.
The couple on the left have everything worked out so they don’t have a care in the world.
The guy in the peach colored shirt is just a photobomb.
A few minutes later an RTD transit guard and that same policeman from earlier came up to me. The transit guard did all the taking and asked if I was getting on the train, what kind of photos I was taking and told me they are concerned for everyone’s safety. Then he told me something unexpected. He said I could call RTD customer service at 303.299.6000 and get a permit to take photos around the station. He said it’s easy to get and it will allow the security and police personnel in the station to know I was there and what I was doing. I was in the station for just as long as the people waiting for the train so it was ultimately the amount of time I spent in the station that lead to our conversation, not my taking photos. He never said I couldn’t take photos or to put my camera down but getting a permit would just put everyone on the same page. Fair enough, I’ll check it out and report back.
In the meantime I do recommend you check out the station, with or without a camera. I’ll do an entirely separate post on the underground portion because it is rather grand so I need to spend some more time down there and take a few more photos before I present my assessment to the world. Cheers!
Market Street Station – The Denver Underground
Market Street Station in downtown Denver was my first destination on public transportation. That was back in 2002; I took the number 44 bus from Wheat Ridge where I lived into downtown where I worked. Why did I decide to take the bus to work on that particular day? Well it was because my car had gotten towed the day before and I wouldn’t have enough money to get the car out of impound until I got paid in a few days; I HAD to ride the bus and since it turned out to be pretty easy it planted the seed in my head that maybe could get along without a car. So, my car getting towed and me being forced to take the bus was ultimately the catalyst for me becoming a public transportation person and Market Street station played an integral part in the very beginning of that.
Ticket Window At Market Street Station
I did not catch a lot of buses in the underground portion of Market Street but I did buy a lot of monthly passes from the people at the sales kiosks under there and I would get warm and once and a while I would even brave the bathroom. From that first time in the spring of 2002 until I moved to San Diego in January 2006 Market Street was the beginning or end of most of my trips.
Farewell Graffiti For Market Street Station
The reason for all the graffiti is because Market Street Station is closing in just a couple of days. People are going to miss this place as you can see by the writing on the wall. All of its bus lines will be transferred to Union Station at the west end of the 16th Street Mall a few blocks away so we’ll see how people adjust to that. I am all for the changes I like what Union Station is about to become.
People Waiting For Buses
Market Street Station is kind of claustrophobic and it just has a lot of hard edges. You can see in the photo above that to sit down on you just have these big round pieces of stone for chairs. They are well polished and very round but not very comfortable. You can also see just how underground Market Street station is. The new Union Station is going to be a lot brighter and a lot taller and grander; it will be a functional work of art in the middle of downtown Denver.
A Bus At The Gate
With Market Street Station being so small it is very easy to navigate and get anywhere quickly. Hopefully navigating around Union Station will be just as easy. I know it’s going to be a lot bigger so it’ll take longer to get from place to place it should be very nice and streamlined. I’m really looking forward to going through there for the very first time.
Detex Watchclock Station
The station has physical ties to the old world and old-school ways of doing things at the bus station. I had no idea what a watchclock station was so I had to go look it up. Back in the day, station guards would carry a watchclock around with them as they made their rounds. The stations would have numbered keys in them the guards would use to punch their watchclock, proving they were making their rounds. I imagine most of the watching in patrolling in union station will be done electronically and with cutting-edge technology.
Market Street Station Glass Atrium
Market Street is not much to look at from street level. It’s just a couple of glass atriums that cover the escalators that lead to the underground part where you catch the buses. Union Station on the other hand will be quite a sight to behold. Today is May 9, 2014 and in two days Market Street is going to be closed and that’ll be that so this is my swan song for the station. The biohazards that pass for bathrooms in the station should be encased in concrete or perhaps donated to science or taken out into the middle of the Pacific Ocean and sunk. In all seriousness the brand new bathrooms in Union Station are going to be the new highlight of my public transportation commute. Cheers!