Rolling to RTD Part 1: The Urban Core

WARNING: There is a NSFW Image near the end of this piece

As I begin this series, I wanted to explore the light rail stations closest to the Central Business District, Five Points, and all of the area east of I25. With these stations compromising a large number of the “core” RTD ridership, it seemed important to see what facilities are available to make them bike-friendly or not. Outside of Union Station, which I will save for a later blog where I talk about both it and Civic Center Station, I explored all stations in the black square below.

Disclaimer: Given the history that Denver, particularly the Downtown area, has had with bike theft, I would exercise extreme caution in regards to locking up your bikes at many of these stops given the closeness to recent bike thefts and hot spots for bike thefts. On a personal level, I try to have line of sight when I am downtown and have a bike locked up.

The Area Covered in this post

Methodology

I started at the station closest to my home, which happens to be the 18th and California Station. From there, I took a ride up the L Line, doubling back until I reached the Central Business District. From there, I headed to the Auraria Campus to check out the two Light Rail stations there, following the path of the lines until I hit Union Station

18th and California

I began my journey at the last stop on the D and H Line and the second stop on the L line. In the realm of downtown stations, this one was a tad scary to get to due to high traffic levels and lack of any bike facilities on 18th Avenue.

Accessing this station was not too difficult for me fortunately given it was curbside, and didn’t have any major barriers to getting to it.

20th and Welton

Following Welton Street northbound, I stopped at the 20th and Welton station, noting how similar it seemed to the 18th and California station. The major difference between 20th and Welton and the 18th and California station is the fact that Welton itself has a bike lane that terminates at 20th, making the station more accessible. However, like 18th and California, there truly aren’t any facilities or nearby places to lock a bike to.

25th and Welton

As I ventured further towards

As I ventured further towards Five Points, the major traffic along Welton started to disperse a tad. I also began to notice that, despite not being near the light rail stations, there were more places that I could lock up along the path of the rail.

When I reached 25th and Welton, the first impression that I had was that the density of the residential properties nearby, along with seemingly low traffic side streets, would make this a great station for people to walk or bike to from nearby. 25th and Welton felt like the beginning of a less car traffic oriented station, and felt “comfortable” to reach.

Mirroring my comments in regards to the 25th and Welton Station, 27th and Welton had a lot of the same pros. My one concern with this station comparatively is that it doesn’t really have any covering or shelter to wait under, which could easily make it frustrating to wait at in the midst of winter or the worst of summer heat.

30th and Downing

The 30th and Downing Station, across the street

The L line terminates in the midst of Five Points at 30th and Downing, which acts as a hub for the reason. While the intersection is a little difficult to navigate and car traffic is significantly more pronounced here, there are some amenities including a pedestrian signal that make it a little more navigable too.

A Pedestrian Crossing across the street from the 30th and Downing Station

This is the first station along my journey that also had dedicated bicycle infrastructure for locking up. Unfortunately, due to high traffic volume and lack of bicycle infrastructure, it was one of the other scary stations to get to without some level of sidewalk surfing.

18th and Stout

Using the bike lane on Champa to get back down to 18th, I was impressed about the places to lock my bike near the courthouse. The station also seemed significantly more pedestrian friendly than its Northbound equivalent along 18th and California, with a large area with trees and benches to sit around waiting for the train. While traffic is heavier down here by nature, the closeness to the Champa bike lane made it feel more navigable than other downtown station.

16th and Stout

Using Champa as an artery, I got to the 16th and Stout Station, walking my bike a short distance along the 16th Street mall. The large amount of access by pedestrians is one of the biggest takeaways that I got from this station. Along with being caddy corner to a large pedestrian mall, the station is next to two heavily frequented drug stores on that same mall. Though non-pedestrian traffic was less around this area, the lack of any secure bicycle facilities nearby save what was around the Mall itself was something that concerned me, along with being required to dismount along the mall for good safety purposes.

16th and California has a lot of the same drawbacks as its sister station on Stout. Lack of bike facilities, a lot of foot traffic and un-rideable streets make this a difficult stop for bicycle riders. That being said, the stop itself is never particularly crowded given that its a place that a lot of people get off on their way to downtown, which gives it a hair of friendliness to bicycle riders above the Stout Stop

Theatre District Convention Center

Situated directly under the Colorado Convention Center, the Theatre District/Convention Center stop is possibly my favorite in all of Lower Downtown. From a nearby protected bike lane on 14th to navigate to, bicycle parking located at the station, and a covering above it that prevents the worst of the elements during the summertime and winter. With all of these ingredients, it works out to a good station that has moderate to high foot traffic depending on the time of day.

The protected bike lane near the Theatre District/Convention Center station.

Colfax at Auraria Station

Heading southbound from Lower Downtown, I took a pathway through the Auraria campus to make it towards Colfax at Auraria.

While there is no bike parking immediately around the station, the campus has several racks that a person can hook their bike up to as a way to secure it. Additionally, a bike parking facility on the Auraria campus requiring key card access is available to use as well by students.

Though the station is easy to get to on the mostly pedestrian campus that also has fairly delineated sections for bicycles, getting to the station from Colfax, given that it is a major artery for car traffic, is something that I would not recommend unless you are coming from a street directly across from the station.

Auraria West

After visiting Colfax at Auraria, I headed west towards the Auraria West Campus. With some bike parking in the station, streets that had token sharrows and little traffic along them, and a fairly easy way to exit and enter the station, the Auraria West station felt like the more accessible of the two Auraria stations.

Empower (Or whoever owns the naming right when you read this) At Mile High Station

Taking the street adjacent to the Auraria West station led me along the path to Empower Field at Mile High.

Out of all the stations that I had visited over the course of this ride, Empower field was by far the least accessible by bike. With turnstiles and low level fencing, there was really only one way to get in or out by bike.

Despite there being some places to lock up my bike and low level traffic (though, to qualify, I didn’t do this on a game day) Empower Field was lacking, mostly seemingly like a place for pedestrians to use to get to Mile High while bicycle riders could use the nearby S. Platte River Trail.

Ball Arena/Elitch Gardens

Pepsi CenterElitch Gardens.JPG
Photo credit to Jeffrey Beall

Going through a largely empty parking lot situated next to a street that saw little traffic, I made it into the Ball Arena/Elitch Gardens station.

While there was a lot of bike parking near the Arena and some near Elitchs, what really stood out to me is the fact that the ticket machines were separate from the station in a way. Though there was proper signage in regards to the tickets, it seemed like it was tucked away and would be confused for someone being at the station.

The station itself provided a decent way for bike riders to access the Elitch Gardens side, with an elevator that was big enough for a bike.

After I finished at this station, I took route through Elitchs and headed towards Union.

Final Impressions

While a lot of the core downtown stations were great when it came to pedestrian traffic, the lack of bicycle lockup facilities like bike racks and other types was something that erred me. Access to the stations was decent to great almost everywhere save a couple examples above, and it seemed like I could get around fairly easily with dismounting for a couple blocks being my worst fear besides car traffic.

For my next blog, I will be covering the remainder of the southwest line that ends at Mineral Station, stay tuned.

Featured image is the Empower Field Station from a different angle.

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