It took RTD bus riders 48 minutes to travel 1.1 miles and that’s why bus lanes are coming to downtown Denver

The 15 bus was the slowest way to travel from Union Station to Civic Center Station during rush hour Thursday afternoon.
3 min. read
The 15 bus on 17th Street downtown, October 3, 2019. (Nathaniel Minor/CPR News)

They say the only way a person who drives everywhere can fathom what bus riders experience every day is if they had a gate in their driveway that only opens every 15 or 30 minutes to let the car out -- except for when it doesn't open because of random malfunctions.

That scenario essentially played out during a transportation race Thursday (not unlike Denverite's own experiment) organized by sustainable transportation advocates. Racers walked, wheelchaired, biked, and rode buses -- the Free MallRide and the 15 -- between Union Station and Civic Center Station during rush hour at 5 p.m.

The transportation experts wanted to show the public why bus-only lanes will eventually replace a general travel lane on 15th, 17th, 18th and 19th streets downtown.

"If you see somebody walking faster than the bus is going then it's not gonna build your trust in riding the bus in the future," Danny Katz, executive director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group, said before the race. He advocates for better transit to move people more efficiently and with less pollution.

Here's how the race went down: One person who uses a motorized wheelchair traveled the 16th Street Mall. Another person walked. A bicyclist took an indirect but safer route (because of less vehicle traffic) on the Cherry Creek Trail and 14th Street. One person took the 16th Street Mall shuttle with its transit lane. A team of two drove and parked, and others took the 15 bus down 17th Street.

This is when you guess the order of first place through sixth place. We'll wait.

A rendering of new-and-improved RTD transit options. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

OK, here it is:

  1. Biking: 16 minutes
  2. Mall shuttle: 18 minutes
  3. Using a wheelchair: 20 minutes
  4. Tie between walking and driving/parking: 25 minutes
  5. The 15 bus: 48 minutes

Colorado Public Radio's Nathaniel Minor tagged along with the 15 bus crew. He said one bus left a minute before they got to the stop, and the next one was 15 minutes late. Then it took 25 minutes to traverse downtown traffic on 17th. The bus did travel one stop past where it normally stops because the stop at Colfax Avenue and Broadway was under construction, so passengers had to backtrack by foot to Civic Center Station.

District C RTD Director Angie Rivera-Malpiede crosses the finish line last at the transportation race on Oct. 3, 2019. (Nathaniel Minor/CPR News)

Transit lanes on 17th will serve the 833 buses that use the road daily, according to figures from RTD.

Angie Rivera-Malpiede, the RTD board member whose district encompasses part of the streets receiving bus lanes, said, "I think it's time to share the road, and the other part of it is, I think by sharing the road people will be able to see that they can get back and forth in a much more expedient way."

Dedicated bus lanes can cut travel times for passengers by as much as 42 percent, according to an RTD analysis.

CPR News reporter Nathaniel Minor contributed to this report.

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