West Colfax’s fancy bus shelters are now solar powered, making the neighborhood more sustainable than ever

The neighborhood BID wants to light the way to sustainability and cold hard cash.
3 min. read
A solar-powered bus shelter is illuminated in candy-apple red. West Colfax Avenue, March 12, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The West Colfax Business Improvement District waited two long years before its fancy bus shelters finally began to glow. As of last week, the BID-owned shelters are now powered with cosmic rays from the sun and light up after dark.

Dan Shah, the BID's executive director, said it's an exciting development for the neighborhood's sustainability goals. But it's not so much about the solar panels embedded in shelter roofs. Instead, Shah thinks this will help people feel more comfortable using the bus at night. Keeping single occupancy cars off the street is good for the environment. He said it's also good for West Colfax businesses' bottom lines.

"Having sustainability is good for business," he said. "If you have people out walking, you have good sustainability outcomes, but you have a more vibrant pedestrian oriented neighborhood, too."

In other words, Shah is betting more bus riders and more pedestrians means people will be more likely to wander into restaurants and retail spots along the strip.

A solar-powered bus shelter is illuminated in Jolly Rancher green. West Colfax Avenue, March 12, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

It seems to be working so far. Under the soft yellow luminance of a shelter's LEDs Thursday night, Damesha James said her son, Malikk, really liked them. They ride the bus daily, but he'd just noticed the faint radiance above.

"It gives light in here so it's not dark in here," the kid said. Before, he added: "It was scary."

His mom said she liked them, too. The bus might actually see her standing there now. Not one moment after she said it, the next one saw her and they were whisked away.

In 2018, the West Colfax BID got a grant to install panels and lights from Xcel Energy's Renewable Energy Trust. The long wait, Shah said, had to do with finding a solar cell manufacturer that could help them make custom tech that would fit inside the shelters' glass roofs.

"To find the factory who has the capability and the willingness to do a very small, seven panel job was arduous, to say the least," he recalled.

Solar panels seen from inside an illuminated bus shelter on West Colfax Avenue, March 12, 2020. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Now that they're up and running, Shah said the enhanced shelters help maintain West Colfax's status as a place for after-hours fun. The candy shop of bright colors emanating from each shelter's roof harkens back to the strip's long legacy of neon glow, embracing the past while moving forward to a greener future. For those of you keeping score, that's "green" both for cash and a sustainable future.

It's not the first retrofit of a West Colfax classic that Shah has helped oversee. The BID has helped some of the street's old car dealerships get rebates to install efficient bulbs in their towering fixtures. And, nearly a decade ago, Shah helped Lake Steam Baths install a "solar thermal array" to help them heat their tubs, which reduced their energy costs.

That's right. Lake Steam Baths, a century-old business, gets hot with the sun.

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