Walking vs. busing down Denver’s 16th Street Mall: Which is better?

Another Denverite transportation race, for science.

Intrepid reporters Kevin Beaty and David Sachs prepare to race down the 16th Street Mall, April 16, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Intrepid reporters Kevin Beaty and David Sachs prepare to race down the 16th Street Mall, April 16, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Sometimes the Denverite newsroom argues and sometimes those arguments lead to races. Whoever wins those races wins respect. Whoever loses loses sleep.

RTD sent us a press release earlier this week about changes to the 16th Street Mall. That’s when I authoritatively declared that walking is faster than taking the MallRide. “People don’t realize how quick a mile-long walk is,” I sang. Kevin, because he doesn’t take any flack, wasn’t buying it.

It turns out this calculus is a mystery to a lot of people, including Naureen Bharwan. She travels up and down the mall constantly for work, which involves visiting business owners.

“I think about it every day,” Bharwan said. “If I can see it (the bus) and it’s not more than two blocks away, I’ll wait, but if there’s a car in the way or something else in front of it … I’ll just walk, there’s no point.”

Frequent Mallride user Naureen Bharwani poses for a portrait at the Wynkoop stop, April 16, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Frequent Mallride user Naureen Bharwani poses for a portrait at the Wynkoop stop, April 16, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

We had to settle this for Naureen. For the Mall. For science.

So Kevin and I bussed and tramped, respectively, down the 1.2-mile 16th Street Mall at three different times of day in three different scenarios. The rules: Walking at a normal pace is a must. “Jaywalking” (it’s a pejorative term) is allowed because that’s how I walk and how many others walk. When traffic is clear, I cross.

Also important to know: The shuttles are scheduled to arrive anywhere between every 90 seconds and every 15 minutes, depending on the time of day.

Here’s how things went down.

Tuesday, 8:45 a.m. Supposed bus frequency: Every 3 minutes.

We parked our bikes at Civic Center Station and set off to Union Station. First person inside wins.

Dave: Kevin had two things going for him in this scenario: Civic Center Station is a terminal, so several red chariots awaited our visuals czar. Meanwhile, I had to cross the chasm that is Broadway.

I had a pleasant spring morning walk — experience is of course part of the calculation here — that got my blood flowing and my eyes opening. One man was walking while reading a hard-cover book about the Civil War, which I enjoyed.

Note: I had to cross the street once because of construction at 16th and Market.

Dave’s walk: 23 minutes, 26 seconds.

Kevin. (David Sachs/Denverite)

When I arrived at Union Station, Kevin had already bought a breakfast sandwich. Rude. (David Sachs/Denverite)

Kevin: Strugglebus Sachs had no chance on this one. I was ahead of him before either of us really even hit the Mall, and my lead widened as I watched his bright windbreaker disappear into the distance.

But this wasn’t a great measure, so we needed to try again for better metrics.

Kevin’s bus ride: 19 minutes, 32 seconds.

Tuesday, 9:30 a.m. Supposed bus frequency: Every 3 minutes.

Because we’re sophisticated, we wanted to replicate a real-life scenario. Transit travel should factor in time waiting for the bus, so we went to the 16th and Wynkoop stop and started the stopwatch as soon as the first person left. Dave began walking toward Civic Center Station. Kevin began waiting for the next MallRide.

Kevin: This was an exercise in what I call “maximum handicap,” meaning the longest someone might have to wait for the bus. I waited more than 7 minutes for a Mallride to arrive. I thought this wouldn’t be an issue, but then Dave started texting that he was going to win and I began to feel nervous.

I had reason to worry: it was a good long while before I caught up to him. He made it all the way to Welton Street.

And even after I passed him, I still had to wait for the bus to cross Broadway and then spin all the way around Civic Center Station before I could exit. Even though I gained the lead, I stepped onto the sidewalk right around the time Dave arrived on the other side of the street. Too close, in my opinion.

Kevin’s bus ride: 19 minutes, 32 seconds, including 7 minutes waiting for the bus.

Dave: Vindication! Kevin eventually passed me, but not until I had walked more than 11 blocks. I was at Welton Street, a mere four-ish blocks from Civic Center Station. That means, depending on how far you’re going, walking can definitely be faster.

Dave’s walk: 20 minutes, 38 seconds.

Dave realizes the jig is up as he crosses Welton Street, April 16, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Dave realizes the jig is up as he crosses Welton Street, April 16, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Wednesday, 5:12 p.m. Supposed bus frequency: Every 90 seconds.

We wanted to see when it’s worth it to walk or ride during rush hour, when the MallRide comes incessantly. So we started at the Tremont Place stop and headed west to see how long it would take for the bus to pass the walker, including waiting time.

Dave: This didn’t take long — 3 minutes, 25 seconds to be exact. I got two-and-a-half blocks before Kevin passed me. He got off at California Street and we dapped for a job well done.

Kevin: This would be the “minimum handicap,” and it was a pretty quick win. It also confirmed the calculus that Naureen Bharwan said she lives by: if it’s more than two-and-a-half blocks, it’s worth it to ride the bus (so long as you can see it’s close).

Final thoughts

Kevin: I’m glad we got some numbers out of this. Remember, it can be faster to walk if you’re going 2.5 to 11 blocks, depending on where the bus is. Now, transit people, you can make a more informed decision. Hooray!

Dave: OK, so walking may be slower sometimes. But it’s better — for me, personally. The fact that it’s even a question gives me the gumption to walk every time. Once you add quality points for fresh air, exercise and a guy reading a hard-back Civil War book, the quantity points seem less relevant.

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