The Denver Post
OK, we choked the joke - now how do we get around this
town?November 30, 1997
The stunning inadequacy of Denver's excuse for a mass transit
system comes most clearly into focus after you visit a city that has
actually bothered to build one. In Chicago, it makes more sense to
zip around on the elevated trains than to get in your car and battle
perpetual rush-hour traffic. Visit Washington D.C., arguably the
rankest urban armpit on the Eastern Seaboard, and you'll get
downtown in no time on its fast and surprisingly clean subway.
Seattle's regular, convenient and well-traveled buses shuttle
residents through a series of spacious, subterranean stations under
downtown. You don't need to be in New York, London, Paris or San
Francisco to justify a credible transit system - Portland, Ore., is
tackling an ambitious lig ht rail plan to back its commitment to
intelligent growth. Having taken your tour of transit done right,
fly back to DIA and grab your bus to Boulder. The next one leaves in
58 minutes. One-way cost: $8. Transit time: 90 minutes. If it's
snowing: three days.
Though the recent electoral tussle over
the future of mass transit in the Denver area has catalyzed much
debate, one point of consensus has emerged: RTD is a joke. In most
mass transit systems, getting from point A to point B entails going
to your nearest stop or station and waiting for the next bus or
train to come along. In Denver, it typically entails a level a
planning similar to that required for the Normandy invasion and
almost as much transit time. Throw in an inch or two of snow (in
Colorado, we get that sometimes), and the buses are as gridlocked as
the cars that surround them. The fact that most passing RTD buses
are about as crowded as a men's sensitivity seminar on Super Bowl
Sunday is testament to the fact of that most commuter s have long
since cast their vote on the Random Timing District.
options for change presented earlier this month via RTD's Guide the
Ride initiative were less than savory. Guide the Ride proposed to
transform RTD from a joke into a great big joke by building an
extensive light rail network in the south metro area, and what could
only be specified as "mystery transit" in the north. Costs were
about a zillion dollars. The opposition mounted a campaign best
described as "Choke the Joke," which maintained that the best
solution to our mass transit problems was to take our Reviled
Transit Debacle out behind the barn and simply shoot it in the
Guide the Ride was expected to best Choke the Joke by a
fair margin, but made some crucial errors in judgment. The first was
to forward spokespeople for the initiative who were, by all
indications, deceased. Bland bureaucrats spouted bland platitudes
about "regional planning" rather than describe the system's benefits
in real terms. Members of Choke the Joke, led by RTD board member
and Independence Institute foot soldier Jon Caldara, bludgeoned
clueless Guide the Ride proponents with thei r own statistics,
celebrated their easy victory against One World Transit with a few
scotch-and-tonics at Croc's, then drove home.
settled: Caldara gets a gold star for his Independence Institute
training exercise, RTD has been shown up as an organization of
bureaucratic incompetents, and metro residents have vented their
dissatisfaction. But guess what? RTD is still a joke, and now
promises to be a joke well into the next millennium.
question that no one seems prepared to answer is "now what?" Pressed
for alternatives to RTD beyond "it sucks," Caldara has suggested
more mini-buses like Boulder's regular "Skip" and "Hop" shuttles.
But of course. Expect Cherry Creek to soon debut its very own
mini-bus route ("The Hip"), followed closely by Highlands Ranch
("The Yup"). Then our transit ills will largely be solved, at least
in the eyes of the people who matter. Commuters, don't fret - under
the comprehensive Caldara plan , you're going to get your very own
bike path in Lakewood.
Guide the Ride may have been
demolished with cause, but that doesn't mean that Denver's gridlock
is now going to magically disappear at the hands of the "transit
fairies." Denver's long-standing aspiration is to be a "first-class
city," and a credible mass transit system is key to such status. In
the wake of Guide the Ride, we can resign ourselves to becoming L.A.
Lite, or immediately get to work on a better proposal, one that is
loaded with specifics, exudes efficiency, and is communicated b y
someone with an actual pulse. If that means shooting RTD in the head
and starting over, so be it - provided we start over right away.
Until then, we'll just be sitting in traffic, railing in futility
against the steadily mounting gridlock.
Hans Bjordahl is
editor of the Internet publication Zone Interactive.
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