The Last 4224 Feet: A walk down the Future L Line Extension

While much of the focus on the conversation of light rail expansion is being given to the B Line, the long delayed Boulder extension is not the only part of FasTraks, an initiative voters passed to expand light rail systemwide in 2004. The L line, a line that currently connects LoDo to both Five Points and the RiNo Arts District, has also been unrealized. A great recent piece for Denverite by Kyle Harris details the history behind the long stalled line.

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Proposed L line Extension

The 4224 feet, or .8 miles, that the rail would run down was something that I wanted to profile for this piece, showcasing what is, and what could be. Unlike my reviews of light rail line and bike friendliness, I mostly focused on the neighborhoods and what a built at L line could look like. Additionally, rather than bike, I opted to walk during this journey.

The Current End (30th and Downing)

The Northeast Corner of 30th and Downing

30th and Downing as an intersection has always seemed like a hodge podge of buildings that scream Denver in different ways. Within the block radius of the station itself, The Black Western Museum, a Gem Market, and a Beer Spa exist the serve the community in their unique ways. Adjacent to the east and west of these businesses are largely residential neighborhoods.

The station itself evokes the same energy of the end of the B-Line. For me, a strong feeling of “now what?” Is something I feel as I walk along it. Heading north towards the next proposed station, I thought about the large width of the current road, seeing the possibility of the train paralleling it in a similar that it does to Welton.

33rd and Downing

33rd street intersects at a perpendicular angle to Downing. As I crossed at 33rd Ave on the right side of the street, the suburbs turned into another small shopping center.

An Aerial view of the shopping center

To me, the large parking lot seemed like the logical place to put a station. With a dollar store, a butcher shop, and a Chinese place, the small center seems ripe for transit to flourish there. Going northbound, the street began to narrow a tad, with the street becoming suburban for a short period of time.

Besides the shopping center, the development on the other site of the street intrigued me. Between that and the center, it seemed like 33rd and Downing could be a substantive area with transit oriented development if the expansion was completed

35th and Downing

Moving further down the street, I began to leave the residential neighborhood behind. To my right, a gas station stood across from a tire shop. Noting the irony of either becoming a light rail station, I continued down the block.

As I headed further down the street, the landscape became more barren, feeling like the predecessor to a major revitalization. To me, the defining aspect of 36th and Downing was a large, dirt field with dead plants.

While the station is supposed to be positioned at 35th Avenue, this felt like a natural place to put the station. Perhaps this may be reevaluated as work begins on the expansion.

38th and Blake

While the station itself is well known, the two paths leading to it give off distinctive feelings. Going straight on Downing takes you past a mixed use development and construction. To me, it made logical sense that, if the tracks were to go down this route, they would parallel the road until its end. Instead of taking this route, I decided to go right at the Walnut Street intersection.

Ending its suburban stretch with two dilapidated motor homes, Downing’s residential turned into Walnut’s commercial strip. A liquor store and a brewery/pizza place along with a large apartment complex were things that stood out to me the most on Walnut, along with one of my least favorite intersections in Denver at 38th.

The one way that I could see the L line ending here would be if it was elevated above traffic, using the current unused field by the 38th and Blake Station as a way to come into the station from the north. Most likely, however, I can see the route going straight from the end of Downing to 38th and Blake from the south.

Final Thoughts

For me, the overwhelming theme while going down Downing was how, beyond the absence of the L line, how many underutilized parts there were. From the mostly parking lots of the shopping centers, to the field just north of 36th Ave, it seemed to me to be a place that can be a boon both for the businesses that exists along it, and any future businesses that decide to take up shop there. Perhaps this is why recently RiNo Art District started to circulate a petition advocating for its completion. Whatever the case, the L line remains an unfinished project of RTD, hopefully one that comes off the shelf soon.

Featured Image is a mural at 37th and Downing by Gamma. You can find Gamma’s art online here.

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