Rolling to RTD Part 9: The W Line

Introduction

As the winter trudges on and snow falls on the ground, the days of riding intercity become less and less frequent. However, before this series completely goes into hibernation, I wanted to finish up with one of the most intriguing light rail lines: The W-Line.

Unlike other lines, the W-Line has a loose bikeway that comprises a majority of the stations. While many of the other light rail lines in the system often go through population centers such as Union Station or Olde Town Arvada, the W Line is incredibly suburban, ending at the Jefferson County Government Center.

Methodology

Like previous rides, I decided to choose the most direct and safest route to get to the end of the line. A portion of this review will also cover the W-Line bikeway, given that it is a major route in JeffCo.

Decatur/Federal

Coming from the Lakewood Gulch trail, I made it to Decatur-Federal. A station often used as a destination for Broncos games, Decatur Federal has a decent amount of bike accessibility from the east, though has the worst of the trappings of Federal Blvd if accessed from the west. It has a wide range of multimodal available, with bus lines lining the way along West Howard Place and scooters throughout.

From the station, I hopped unto the Lakewood Gulch trail and headed west towards my next destination.

Knox Station

Using the Lakewood Gulch Trail, I went down to the Knox Station.

The Station, similar to Decatur-Federal, was right off of the trail itself. One of the valuable aspects of it is the fact that it is near a good transit oriented development. Along with this, trail accessibility is a major boon for this location. I felt fairly comfortable jumping off the trail to the station, though I could see issues when it comes to car traffic on Knox Court at more impacted times of the day.

With bike facilities, a bus stop, and access to rideshare, Knox had the best of the trappings of stations along this route for people who walk, bike, and ride.

Perry Station

Perry Station had a lot of similarities with Knox, with the major difference being the lack of nearby development. At this station, there is a multiuse path just north of it that can be used to arrive at the next Station. With some bike parking facilities and a mix of apartments and suburbia nearby, this station acts as an in between for both residents of Lakewood and Denver.

Sheridan Station

At the end of Lakewood Gulch Trail lies the Sheridan Station. Similar to the Louisiana Pearl Station, it has an elevator that goes to the main street level. Unlike that station, there are a lot of nearby developments that make the station fairly “central”. Bike Parking is fairly abundant, albeit using the “hanging” parking scheme.

Heading westbound, the Lakewood Gulch Trail transformed into an icy mess. West 11th Avenue was snowy and felt removed from the rest of my journey. When I reached Harlan, I turned unto the W-Line Bikeway and headed towards Lamar.

Lamar Station

Lamar Station was one of the odd stations out of this line in a couple ways. With no bike or car parking and no central bus port, it felt like a pass thru station, made mainly for people that lived in the complex across the street and the occasional rider on the nearby bikeway. It was incredibly accessible on the trail, however, but lacked facilities that would be great to lock up a bike on a trip into Golden or into Denver.

Lakewood-Wadsworth Station

Lakewood-Wadsworth was a station that reminded me of several different overpass stations along the E-Line: Accessible via elevator, some but not complete protection from the elements, and some bike parking. Getting here from the W-Line bikeway, however, was slightly difficult.

Because of the lack of exposure, the path leading to the station had a thin stripe of snow on the Westbound side. Parts of the W-line had this issue, with some parts with zero exposure being nearly un-rideable at times.

Garrison Station

Garrison Station had all the trappings of a “neighborhood” station. Off the direct path of the W-Line Bikeway, the only accessibility to the station is through the neighborhoods with no bus nearby. Of note, however, is the fact the station is adjacent to a large apartment complex with a ton of parking. Across the tracks, there is some area for bike parking. While somewhat accessible, the amount of local car traffic and snowiness of side streets was off-putting for me.

Oak Station

Back when I lived in East Golden/West Lakewood, this station was the one that I most commonly used. With the bikeway going right through it, a small bus hub nearby, and a lovely view of the foothills, the Oak Station seems to have it all. It also is near fairly new development, and with nearby empty lots, could possibly be developed even more. My one qualm with it is that the large amount of parking both during my ride and during previous rides has often made it congested with car traffic.

Federal Center Station

Diverging from the main route of the bikeway down towards Union Blvd, I made it out to the Federal Center Station. Unlike the previous stations along the route, Federal Center was difficult to access as a bicycle rider, with no direct path outside of brief sidewalk surfing down union.

While there is some bike parking, what is of note is the enormous 1,000 space parking lot adjacent to it. The increased car traffic along it made it difficult to navigate via street, with me using an ADA ramp to descend down into the station.

The car centric nature of it negated the few bike parking spaces in the station, and made me feel “unsafe” to a degree along it. Going back towards the next station, I guiltily sidewalk surfed until I made it to the frontage road.

Red Rocks Community College Station

Veering far off the W-Line Bikeway, I made it to this station. In almost every way, I would not recommend riding to it unless you are headed eastbound and are using the sidewalk. Car traffic, while not awful, is fast, and the rolling hills often mean that you can lose momentum and go significantly slower around here.

Beyond this, as several alumni have told me, the station is not really positioned in an appropriate spot relative to its namesake, with a hill that has to be walked up and down to get the the college. All in all, it is a niche station that functionally serves one purpose: to get the the community college.

Jeffco Government Center

The end of the line gets you to to JeffCo’s government center. While it is a nice area due to the nearby bike and pedestrian paths around it, the fact that the W-Line ends there is somewhat baffling. Though it is helpful to government workers and anyone with business in government, not ending near downtown Golden feels like a missed opportunity. Despite this, there is a fairly bike-able path to golden that is nearby, and bike parking both at the station and in different areas of the government center.

Final Thoughts

The W-Line is a line that has a lot of potential, both realized and unrealized. With a bikeway that allows for ease of access for most of it and developments going along adjacent, it has the ability to be used by much more people if facilities along it are maintained and some sort of connection outside of the FlexRide Service in Golden. Perhaps, as some communities have done in the past, a fixed route circulator to downtown and points of interest would be of use. Until that happens, the W-Line, like the unfinished painting of George Washington, remains alluring but incomplete.

Featured Image is an artistic piece along the Oak Station

The Fast Pumping Artery to Golden: Save the 16L

When RTD proposed its series of cuts at a study session on December 19th, they slated 6 bus lines and special sports services such as BroncosRide, RockiesRide, and CU Denver Game rides to be completely eliminated. Outside of being slightly surprised about the game day lines being cut, I was dismayed to hear that the 16L bus was being eliminated as well. As a line that is one of the most direct ways for individuals to get from Downtown Golden to Denver County and vice versa, the 16L is a line that is worth saving due to the service that it provides.

Background

Before I go further into why I believe the 16L should be saved, I will admit my bias here: The 16L was my former bus. As someone that works just south of downtown, the 16L was a bus that I would take constantly from where I was renting to where I currently work. Beyond just being my former bus, however, the 16L is a valuable resource for residents of Jefferson County.

Running roughly from just west of Downtown Golden to the corner of Colfax and Broadway along Colfax over the course of a little over 45-50 minutes, the 16L is the closest that anyone can take to get to Golden proper given that the W-Line stops at the Jefferson County Government Center Station, roughly an 8 minute drive or 45 minute walk from Downtown Golden or its suburbs. Along the way, it passes by staples of West Colfax, including the Chuck Wagon Diner, Casa Bonita, and the Colfax Museum. It also passes by big box stores such as Wal-Mart and Colorado Mills before it takes a turn off Colfax into Golden.

Casa Bonita
An Exterior Shot of Casa Bonita

Why Is It Potentially Being Cut?

During the staff presentation of the service reductions, the justification for the routes to be eliminated were either that they were under-performing or that the route was a duplication of another service. Due to the fact that the 16L is a limited version of the regular 16, it was deemed to be a duplication of service and cut given that, out of all of the lines being eliminated, the 16L has the highest amount of ridership.

What is wrong with the 16?

To illustrate what a loss the 16L would be in comparison to its longer counterpart the 16, here are some maps of routes that each bus takes between two sample destinations: the Colfax at Auraria Station and Woody’s Wood Fired Pizza in Downtown Golden

The first route shown is the route that the 16 takes

Colfax 16
The 16 Route

While Google says that it takes about an hour and 10 minutes, my personal experience shows that it takes about an hour and 15 minutes on a good run.

Contrast this with the 16L

Colfax 16L.jpg
16L route

again, as a disclaimer, while google says it takes about 42 minutes, I would realistically say it takes about 45 minutes to 50 minutes from experience.

As you can see, the stop that the 16 takes at the Decatur-Federal station causes roughly a 20-30 minute difference from its counterpart, the 16L, which for many RTD services is the equivalent to a run. Even though, in the planning document, more runs of the 16 would be added, that would still not stop the fact that the prolonged stop at the Decatur-Federal station would make the trip from Denver to Golden more than an hour every time.

Conclusion

If the 16L had been cut by the time that I was working in Downtown Denver, I would have been unable to work in Downtown without having a commute longer than an hour from the Lakewood/Golden cusp to Civic Center Park. While RTD believes that bolstering the amount of 16 buses would alleviate the issue, all it would do is create a steady amount of longer trips from the Golden/Lakewood area to Denver, frustrating riders even more and driving down ridership in favor of an alternative like car commuting. For this reason, the 16L should be spared from the chopping block that is the service cuts RTD is considering, as it is the artery that makes the heart of RTD beat.

Featured image is credited to Paul Albani-Burgio from Colorado Community Media, and portrays a 16L bus bound for Civic Center at the 10th and Washington stop in Golden.