My Old Commute Along the “Longest Wickedest Street in America”, Colfax Avenue

Casa Bonita. Lion’s Lair. Chuck Wagon Diner. Streets of London.

These are a few of the attractions that lie along the 26 mile stretch that is Colfax Avenue. A street that stretches through Lakewood, Golden, Denver, Aurora, Bennett, and Strasburg, Colfax is one of the largest commercial districts in the United States. As evidenced by the misquote above, Colfax has garnered a reputation for being incredibly seedy, one that, to me, seems incredibly overblown after riding for 6 months on both sides of the avenue.

West Colfax

When I had first moved out of my relative’s house in Centennial, I lived along West Colfax in the westernmost part of Lakewood, bordering Colorado Mills. As a transit rider, this often meant that I would take the 16/16L (think West Colfax bus) to Civic Center Park for work consistently. The 16L was usually a fairly quick bus, topping in at about 25-30 minutes from West Lakewood to Downtown Denver even during that craziest of rush hour. The 16, however, was a constant challenge due to the fact that it ran less frequently and often took an hour to get into downtown Denver. The mix of the bus was fairly standard, with individuals working retail jobs up and down West Colfax being the bulk of the bus until the Denver side past Kipling and West Colfax was reached and a crowd of city workers and government employees boarded. While it wasn’t the greatest bus in the city when it came to comfort, particularly after “peak” hours, my experiences on the 16 were fairly tame compared to what I faced when I moved to East Colfax.

Chuck Wagon Diner Promotional Sign on West Colfax

East Colfax

 

Before I talk about my personal experiences on the 15, I will preface with this: it is one of the best buses transit wise that Denver has to offer. Starting at Civic Center park in Denver, the main 15 bus goes from Union Station to Colfax and Tower in the City of Aurora. It is a fairly consistent 24 hour bus that allows people from all walks of life, from someone that is homeless to a person that works at the State Capitol a way to get to where they need to be.

All of the above being said, it is truly the definition of a “city bus”. My first memory riding the 15 was defined by a person that tried to board twice without paying for his fare, eventually giving up on the second try. Because of its large area of service, the bus is consistently crowded, with everyone from tourists going through LoDo to the 16th Street Mall to chronically homeless people using their bus fare as a means to stay warm in the winter. It truly is a bus that puts everyone on the same level, and is internally nicknamed by RTD bus rider “the show” for everything that goes on on it.

Photo of Ethiopian Restaurant - Denver, CO, United States. I love the front. You know what they are about immediately!
Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant on East Colfax. Photo Credit Todd P. From Yelp

One of the memories I had of the bus back when I was working my 6:00 AM morning shift. At that time of the day, most of the bus was comprised of construction and road workers, security officers, and a decent amount of homeless people. However, the crowd was secondary to the fact that the 5:30 AM 15 bus driver was always the happiest, most cheerful individual that ever existed, which is something that I appreciated heavily. The bus never took more than 20 minutes from the house I was living in at the time, which was located just east of Colorado Avenue, so it felt like stepping unto the set of a sitcom and getting off as the credits were rolling.

Reflection

After taking the most notorious route in the Metro area prior to my current commute, all that I really think is that the negative hype is overblown. Obviously, different riders from different backgrounds than myself will have different challenges, but the 16 and the 15 buses still are an important part of the artery of transit that makes up Colfax, and I appreciate all that they have helped me do.

 

Cover Art Created by Pat Milbery and Patrick McKinney. It can be found on the side of the Lost Lake Lounge on Colfax and Monroe.

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