Denver Union Station: A Real Transportation Center

November 12, 2014 12 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

No 'Regional Transportation Intermodal, Multimodal, International, Governor, Mayor, or General so-and-so Memorial, All Purpose, Transportation Palace.' Just DENVER UNION STATION and that says it all in The Mile High City. Metro Jacksonville's Robert Mann takes us on a stroll through a stunningly amazing place to catch a ride, play, eat, read, shop or hook up in the heart of Denver. If we're lucky, we'll discover some lessons that will be applicable for Jacksonville.

The sidewalk across LoDo (Lower Downtown) Denver, is sprouting new office towers like a lawn seeded in Winter Rye. Why? MASS TRANSIT!

Denver hasn't strayed from the Holy Bible of massive terminal design-- 'Passenger Terminals and Trains,' 1916, By John Droege, 410pp and republished for the industry in 1969 by Kalmbach Publishing, Milwaukee, WI. No detail of station design was missed by Droege, from the size and height of waiting rooms; pedestrian, railroad and bus/streetcar traffic flow to the demeanor of Redcaps (think modern Skycaps). Droege, perhaps unwittingly wrote the seminal handbook that has effected people purchasing tickets on virtually any mode from Jakarta to Jacksonville. A man with no formal education, this incredibly talented and self taught man started off as a Telegrapher for the Baltimore and Ohio (CSX) and by 1900, he had worked for the Chesapeake and Ohio (CSX); Norfolk and Western (NS); East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia (NS); working his way from Telegrapher, to Stenographer to dispatcher to yardmaster to trainmaster. He joined the Lehigh Valley as division superintendent and went to the nations number one passenger hauler, the New Haven Railroad as superintendent, retiring after a half century of service as vice-president and general manager of the system. Drogue lived to 100, passing away in Orlando, Florida in 1961.

How Denver Is Becoming the Most Advanced Transit City in the West

But the key question remains: Will metro residents give up their cars?

TARAS GRESCOE @grescoe Jun 24, 2014

Union Station is the centerpiece of Denver's FasTracks expansion program. (Taras Grescoe)
DENVER—It's a vision straight out of a transportation planner's fondest dream.

In the center of the metropolis, the Beaux-Arts façade of a grand old railway terminus, finished in robin egg-hued terracotta stone, is cradled by the daring swoop of a canopy of brilliant white Teflon. On one of eight tracks, a double-decked passenger train has stopped to refuel. A few hundred yards away, German-built light rail vehicles arrive from distant parts of the city, pulling into a downtown of soaring condo towers and multifamily apartment complexes. Beneath the feet of rushing commuters, express buses pull out of the bays of an underground concourse, and articulated buses shuttle straphangers through the central business district free of charge. A businessman, after swinging his briefcase into a basket, detaches the last remaining bicycle from a bike-share stand next to the light rail stop, completing the final leg of his journey-to-work on two wheels.

An out-of-towner could be forgiven for thinking she'd arrived in Strasbourg, Copenhagen, or another global poster child for up-to-the-minute urbanism. The patch of sky framed in the white oval of the Union Station platform canopy, however, is purest prairie blue. This is Denver, a city that, until recently, most people would have pegged as an all-too-typical casualty of frontier-town, car-centric thinking.

This is an excellent intro to a story on Denver Union Station. The place literally drips with history, it's a veritable temple of Vulcan, Zeus, Indra, Perun and all of the other representative gods of railroading past, present, and future.

Phil Washington, manager of Denver's Transit District, says that Denver is more of a car town then Jacksonville. He said they launched a publicity campaign to sell the community on the whole package, stressing this was not taking money from roads, but giving everyone more choices and the opportunity to save huge sums of money in the bargain.

Another reason for the success was a previous FREEway project that 'blew up' in the face of the lobbyist and V-8 fans that would carve another 'cartopia out of the Mile High City. A early program called T-REX (for Transportation Expansion) paid for the demanded widening of I-25, the primary north-south route through the state. They got a collective smack of reality when the sacrosanctity of the Peter-Principal came home to roost when the additional lanes induced a demand that immediately jammed the road with traffic. People were not just frustrated, they were ready to revolt against 54 years of highway hard sell.

The last Denver Tramways as well as the Denver Intermountain Interurban cars rolled to a stop 46 years ago courtesy of the same outfit (National City Lines) that killed the streetcar system in Jacksonville, Washington, Atlanta, Birmingham, Miami, New Orleans, Chicago, Cleveland, Louisville, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Indianapolis, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Memphis, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle, among others. Now there was no doubt that Denver wanted their rail system back. In 2004 they passed the $4.7 billion dollar FasTracks program. This amazing plan included 21,000 park and ride spaces, 18 miles of BRT, 57 new transit stations and 121 miles of both light-rail and commuter rail (different animals one is more of a modern streetcar like vehicle while the other is conventional trains running in commute service) and the price tag? A mere $7.8 billion dollars (adjusted).

Phil Washington, general manager of the Denver Regional Transportation District, said: "From the start, we made it clear we weren't competing with the car," says Washington. "And we explained, to the average Joe, that for only four cents on most ten dollar purchases, he'd be getting a whole lot of new transportation."

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