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  #1  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 3:31 AM
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Official SSP Denver Transit Plan - Comment on final routes now

SkyscraperPage City of Denver Transit Plan



Let's develop a grassroots transit plan for Denver. Something similar to the Beyond FasTracks plan that some of us on SSP put together in 2005, but updated. The idea will be to focus strictly on the City & County of Denver, and come up with a practical plan for filling the central city holes that FasTracks fails to serve.

Here's what I want to do:
(Not necessarily in this order.)
  • Plot new transit routes.
    We'll ID the gaps in the FasTracks system, and determine how we want to fix each one. We should presumably have a mix of streetcars, BRT, priority bus, and maybe some very limited light rail. We'll also want to discuss where dedicated lanes or transitways are practical, and where we'll have to live with mixed-traffic. Unlike the Beyond FasTracks exercise, I'd like to come up with 1 single plan, not multiple options at wildly different scales.
  • Estimate costs.
    We'll want to look into some recent examples of projects in other cities and come up with a per mile cost for each mode. Then we'll apply it to our proposed routes and estimate what they cost.
  • Develop a realistically scaled budget.
    Assuming it's acting on its own, what could the city realistically afford over a 30 year financing timeframe? I figure this will be something between $500 million and $1 billion, but it could be more or less.
  • Propose funding mechanisms.
    The city does not have this money laying around. The CIP might be able to accommodate a little bit here and there, but new funding sources will be needed. Obviously we will not be able to actually enact these changes, but we should be able to point to a couple of potential options that could fund our budget, are legal, and would be politically palatable.
  • Package it all into a good-looking blog post for Ken.
    We'll need a clear system map, explanations for everything, and ultimately a blog post.
Here's what I don't want to do:
  • Sketch out an amateur fantasy map of 10 streetcar lines in half an hour. We can start with something like that, but our end result can be better than that.
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  #2  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 3:42 AM
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A discussion starting point:

Here is the $500 million option from Beyond FasTracks. In 2013 dollars this would be about $600 million. Presumably it's about the scale we'll be looking at here, but we can talk more about that as we go.

In this map, blue is light rail, red is streetcar, and green is priority bus. There's no BRT.

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  #3  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 4:03 AM
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How would the light rail work running both ways on Broadway? Since it joins up with the central corridor on Welton would it be more of a streetcar or would lines from the SW and SW go down Broadway into downtown?

Overall I like the plan. I assume the reason the Colfax streetcar ends before UCH is because it's in Aurora? Hopefully Aurora would see the advantages of having the streetcar connect to the medical campus.
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  #4  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 4:20 AM
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- I think your Cherry Creek line nails the route. I wouldn't discount going farther south on Colorado - that's where the residential density is that you need to feed the streetcar going farther north through Cherry Creek. I think an extension to I-25 could be worth every penny.
- I don't like downtown in an 18th/19th couplet. I think we need to find a way to make 15th work. The transition from Colfax is also smoother. If we need a couplet, we make 14th work.
- I think there is little value added to the spur up Colorado to the park. Minimal ridership gain for the operational headaches (if we're doing spurs, south might make more sense. But I say neither.)
- Agree on the Aurora comment. They need to be a partner. And they would certainly be willing. The funding mechanisms I am envisioning do not need to be city-specific.
- I do not think there is any need for Broadway to be light rail. Through trains might be nice, but knowing RTD will not pony up (nor will they likely be an operational/maintenance partner), that is not worth it I don't think. Streetcar is sufficient and connects better to the north of Civic Center.
- The loop through Auraria doesn't add much, I think it is suffient to make a dead-end connection at the Colfax at Auraria light rail station. Some trains end there, other proceed down 15th.
- in LoHi, you go west and terminate at Speer/Federal. Might make more sense to turn north to 38th (and terminate at 38th and Federal). Just a thought - I'm not married to that idea. It'll end at Federal someplace.
- I don't think there's much value in the bus line out MLK.
- I think you should show the Welton portion of the LRT as a streetcar conversion.
- I think it should extend north from Broadway and connect at Larimer.
- I think the Larimer line needs to be streetcar - terminating at Auraria, connecting at 15th, and extending up to 38th (the airport line station), either straight up Larimer, or up Brighton - have to pick a side of the tracks. That is very important.
- The only wildcard is a second downtown loop, if not 18th/19th, maybe 20th, to connect into Union Station. Eastern connection at Broadway, or possibly pushing into Uptown/Park.Colfax - but that's probably for later.

I think that would be enough. And is doable.
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  #5  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 4:36 AM
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My (metrowide) ideas:
A. Double RTD bus transit fleet to 2000 vehicles, and LRT fleet to ~400-500 vehicles.
a. Finance through a combination of full contracting of service (according to the NTD, RTD currently spends $125 per service hour; a contracted operation in a large city typically is around $90-$100, increasing the sales tax by .4% (or the equivalent via other means), and through increased farebox revenues due to the grid multiplier effect.

B. As part of 1, increase frequencies on as many arterial bus (Wadsworth, 120th, Colorado, Alameda, etc) routes to every 10-15 minutes, all day. The TTC provides a great model for how frequent bus service can service typical suburban areas; read Transport for Suburbia and A Very Public Solution by the late Paul Mees for more.

C. A high-capacity rail line should go east, but I am not sure what route would be best:
Option 1: Colfax subway: Expensive, but E. Colfax is already the busiest regular bus route in the State with 3.75 minute headways at peak. Redevelopment potential is unfortunately limited to about 100' from Colfax in most places (the rest is single-family homes that would inevitably complain about new development).
Option 2: Colfax median LRT: Noticeably less expensive, but slower. Would require reallocation of road space from Colfax, but the presence of two relatively uncongested parallel routes (13/14th and 17/18th/Montview) would likely mean the road traffic impact would be less than expected.
Option 3: Speer/Alameda at-grade LRT: More direct route to Aurora, but for better or worse, avoids Colfax. Would give the Aurora "City Center" an LRT intersection. Redevelopment opportunities exist at Cherry Creek, Aurora City Center, and the large apartment complexes along the route.

D: Include the cost of giving every RTD stop an ADA accessible landing pad, ~500 feet of sidewalk (to fix the gaps in the network near stops, and possible space for a shelter.

Overall, I feel there is plenty of room to improve the existing bus and rail operations before spending more on capital projects. A realistic budget proposal should provide improvements to the system as a whole, not just a few select areas.
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  #6  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 4:43 AM
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Seriously, we need some better assessor data. 2013 assessed values are just coming out today basically, but I think for our purposes 2012 would be good enough. Their database should be current through that. Anybody have it, or anybody want to make a call?

No idea how we'd measure a TIF increment.

I don't particularly like the idea of a dedicated sales tax for this. Too much fluctuation, we'd have to ask for too much to get a cushion.
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  #7  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 5:20 AM
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I don't have a problem showing some short extensions outside Denver where it obviously makes sense, especially where there's a FasTracks station as an obvious end point. But I'd prefer not to focus on any entire lines outside Denver, because at that point we'd be talking about a regional plan and RTD would need to be the partner, and my guess is the city is going to be much more willing and able to move forward. Of course, this is the SSP plan, not the Cirrus plan, so my preference does not need to be the end-all-be-all.

Can we talk general corridors? In no particular order, I think we need to accomplish the following lines/connections:

Highest importance (potentially streetcar):
- East Colfax
- South Broadway
- Downtown spine
- Downtown-to-Cherry Creek
- Downtown-to-Highlands
- Federal Blvd (likely BRT due to length of the line)
- Colorado Blvd (likely BRT due to length of the line)

Secondary importance (potentially BRT):
- Larimer
- Santa Fe in Lincoln Park
- Tech Center circulator

Lesser importance (potentially priority bus):
- Something in Stapleton
- 12th Ave in Cap Hill
- Uptown / City park West
- MLK
- Alameda
- Evans
- Others?

Random notes:
  • I agree there's no real need for full-on light rail anywhere, unless we want that on the downtown spine. I do think we should investigate transitways & dedicated lanes even for streetcars, though (full on transitways would be expensive; we'd have to cost them out).
  • Doubling the bus fleet and improving all the stops, as zmapper suggests, are great goals. But I question whether they're sexy enough goals to convince anyone to raise new taxes. Also, simply speaking personally, I've already done a whole series of blog posts on DenverUrbanism this past year about improving the bus network, and now I'd like to take a next step. But I do think those are great ideas.
  • I think we should consider all options for the downtown spine, including out-of-the-box ideas. How about replacing the Mall shuttles with free boardings onto streetcars from Colfax, Broadway, & Cherry Creek? Or how about taking the D/F/H light rail down to Union Station from Cal/Stout, and turning our existing partial CPV loop into a full loop? Not saying these are definitely the correct answers, but I don't want to just assume from the beginning that bus lanes on some street parallel to 16th are the automatic answer.
  • Our Beyond FasTracks $1 billion alternate showed the Highlands streetcar extending to 38th & Tennyson. I don't know enough about Upper Highlands to really say if that's necessary or not, but even if it is I'm not sure we had the right route. It would seems more desirable to stick on 38th.
  • I agree the portion of Colorado Blvd from Cherry Creek to I-25 is a good transit corridor, but if we put a good route on Colorado Blvd itself do we really need to extend the Cherry Creek route too?
  • The added value for City Park is the zoo. It would probably have anemic ridership, but it would be a destination like the airport that everyone could see themselves using, and even suburbanites might experiment with. So it could be worth it for the PR, even if not strictly from an operations perspective. But I don'f feel strongly either way.
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Last edited by Cirrus; Dec 3, 2013 at 6:29 AM.
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  #8  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 6:01 AM
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Potential funding sources:

Some kind of sales tax:
The most traditional revenue stream for Colorado, but as bunt_q says, hard to predict. Would its use for FasTracks make it more politically palatable, or less? Also, isn't there a cap on how high that can go? And aren't we close to it already? Or did that problem go away?

Some kind of property tax:
Many options. Could be all properties in Denver, only commercial/industrial ones, only those inside a TIF district boundary, only those in "areas of change," anything. Will be fairly stable & could be enacted in a way to not raise any new taxes on residential properties. Definitely a good option at first glance.

Federal funding:
Who knows what the federal position will be. We can probably safely assume we'd get some help from the feds eventually, somewhere, as many streetcar & BRT projects have, but it's not going to pay for the bulk of our system. TIGER & Urban Circulator grants have been in the $20-50 million range. Small Starts gets you up to $75 million. I wouldn't want to assume any more than $100 million, and even that is optimistic.

State funding:
lol.
Seriously though, multiple states have raised transportation funding in recent years, since the feds have been so terrible at it. But what are the chances? Is anyone in Colorado talking about that at all?

Private funding:
It's working for FasTracks, and it looks increasingly likely DC will use it to fund a good portion of its streetcar network, so there's precedent. But we basically have no way of knowing if there would be enough interest to make this feasible.

Local gas tax:
There's some precedent for this, but AFAIK only in larger regions. People would just buy their gas outside the city limits. And of course it would be wildly unpopular.

Tolls on roads:
We'd never raise enough, and people would kill us.

Higher transit fares:
We'd never raise enough, and it would be counterproductive to getting more transit riders.

Steal from some other city projects:
I know we've looked at Denver's CIP before, but I don't recall what it says. Even if it's a billion dollar CIP already (which I doubt), we couldn't take all of it. But we might get a few million. It could help if we're cobbling together a bunch of sources.

Sell off some city property:
Obviously we're not going to sell City Park, but there could be something somewhere.
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  #9  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 6:22 AM
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I'd really recommend going with two technologies 1) the existing bus system and 2) some type of light train...too many colors, technologies, and decision-points will just make people glaze over (not us, but the people we'd have to sell this to at community meetings).

K.I.S.S comes to mind...or at least making it seem simple.
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  #10  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 6:23 AM
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three straggler thoughts

1) can we avoid any talk of subways and futuristic BS?
2) should an all BRT system (dedicated lane) be considered as a second option that queues itself up to graduation to a dedicated rail in the future?
3) I would add 38th avenue to park avenue to DT or Colfax as another route to consider...the gold line completely misses the mark for urban Denver.
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  #11  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 4:18 PM
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My only fear is that people won't ride an 'enhanced' bus system on say, Colfax. There are hardly any Capitol Hill / Cheesman / Congress Park riders on the 15 as is (I take it almost everyday).. I don't think the mentality will shift unless you have a hard rail system..

Here in America, at least in the Midwest / Mountain West the majority think bus = low income, poor people only. So, if they are doing enhanced bus, instead of a rail type system, I'm not going to have much faith in its success..
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  #12  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 4:20 PM
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My thoughts on the corridors

Highest importance (potentially streetcar):
- East Colfax
- South Broadway
- Downtown spine

Secondary importance (BRT or Streetcar):
- Downtown-to-Cherry Creek
- Downtown-to-Highlands
- Federal Blvd
- Colorado Blvd
- Larimer
- Santa Fe in Lincoln Park
- Remove Tech Center circulator - needs to be an RTD improvement due to 4 different cities and three different counties

Lesser importance (potentially priority bus):
- Something in Stapleton (NOTE: Should be to Fitzsimmons if we already have the MLK route. If we cannot get Aurora on board then just MLK to the East line)
- Remove 12th Ave in Cap Hill - this is largely overflow from those who do not wish to deal with the 15 but we are replacing it with a streetcar
- Uptown / City park West
- MLK
- Alameda
- Evans
- West Colfax
- 38th Ave
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  #13  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 4:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cirrus View Post
State funding:
lol.
Seriously though, multiple states have raised transportation funding in recent years, since the feds have been so terrible at it. But what are the chances? Is anyone in Colorado talking about that at all?
The metro mayors caucus and others are talking about a state sales tax: http://www.denverpost.com/editorials...transportation

As the proposed tax stands right now with county/city contributions, and with funding being set aside for public transportation my guess is we could get funding from that sales tax. However IMO that tax is an uphill battle, the details haven't been finalized, and it shouldn't be relied upon.
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  #14  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 5:39 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bunt_q View Post
- The loop through Auraria doesn't add much, I think it is suffient to make a dead-end connection at the Colfax at Auraria light rail station. Some trains end there, other proceed down 15th.
- I think the Larimer line needs to be streetcar - terminating at Auraria, connecting at 15th, and extending up to 38th (the airport line station), either straight up Larimer, or up Brighton - have to pick a side of the tracks. That is very important.
I like these two ideas. Terminate the Colfax streetcar at the Auraria station and terminate the Larimer streetcar at the Auraria West station. You end up adding two new access points into DT and provide better service for W Line riders trying to access the south end of DT. I'm not too sure about the feasibility of the Highlands streetcar getting onto a loop along 18th/19th, keeping it on 15th would be better. The worst case would be placing the Highlands line on Speer. That's something that needs to be avoided.

I'm seeing six lines that should be considered as the top priority:

1) Colfax Streetcar (Auraria and Fitzsimmons termini)
2) Broadway (I-25 terminus) Streetcar
3) Speer/Cherry Creek/Colorado Streetcar (maybe BRT down Colorado)
4) Federal BRT
5) Larimer Streetcar (Auraria West and 38th Street termini)
6) Highlands Streetcar

If we go with some kind of mill levy financing mechanism you probably have to have all of these lines to capture enough revenue, and voter support, to build out the entire thing.
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  #15  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 6:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bcp
I'd really recommend going with two technologies 1) the existing bus system and 2) some type of light train
Great in theory but that ties out hands in practice. If we decide to do all rail, that means we'll only be able to cover a couple of corridors. If we decide to do all bus, we're arbitrarily excluding rail from the places it might really make sense. I'm very hesitant to tie our hands and not allow what works in other cities, just to keep things simple. Matching the mode to the needs of the corridor means we can maximize our efficiency, and thus stretch out dollars the farthest.

Denver is actually a pretty unique city, with it's single transit operator. Most cities have more than one operator, more than one brand, and more than one mode. It works because each operator/mode can focus on what it's best at. The key is coordinated marketing and fare payment, but those are really not difficult to accomplish.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bcp
can we avoid any talk of subways and futuristic BS?
I agree. I do think ultimately Denver is going to have to build a downtown spine subway, but if our budget is about the size I think it is, even a short subway would gobble up too much of it. I'd rather have a citywide network than a 1-mile subway, given limited resources. So I'm happy to put the subway problem off for another generation.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bcp
should an all BRT system (dedicated lane) be considered as a second option that queues itself up to graduation to a dedicated rail in the future
Any BRT line could be improved to rail later, but it's never easy and it's more expensive than just doing rail right away. Anywhere we feel that we really need rail, it would better to just plan for rail.

Quote:
Originally Posted by RyanD
My only fear is that people won't ride an 'enhanced' bus system on say, Colfax.
Really the goal of "priority bus" lines would be to make them about as good as Colfax is now. I agree we should shoot for something more on Colfax.

Quote:
Originally Posted by bobg
The metro mayors caucus and others are talking about a state sales tax
Another potential option is internet sales tax. If Congress passes one, every state will have to decide where to put that money. If Congress doesn't, Colorado could still adopt its own (New York has). But either way it's dependent on the state, not something Denver can do locally.
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  #16  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 6:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cirrus View Post
Any BRT line could be improved to rail later, but it's never easy and it's more expensive than just doing rail right away. Anywhere we feel that we really need rail, it would better to just plan for rail.
Also, this might spare us the "taking a lane" battle in some corridors up front. (We may still want dedicated ROW for streetcar in some place, but it's not necessary everywhere.) The great advantage of streetcar is that is can operate in mixed ROW and still get you some serious transit benefit. BRT either has dedicated ROW, or it's just another bus.

The other problem with a sales tax is that it will be on everyone, and I am not sure you can win a citywide streetcar tax vote, let alone a statewide transit one. If you want differential taxes, you really are going to have to use a special taxing district overlay of some sort (that entity could possibly do a sales tax, but that would disadvantage those businesses and be very, very unconventional).
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  #17  
Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 6:56 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bunt_q View Post
The great advantage of streetcar is that is can operate in mixed ROW and still get you some serious transit benefit. BRT either has dedicated ROW, or it's just another bus.
I'd like to have dedicated lanes anywhere practical, but yes, agreed. Streetcar is going to be the likely choice where we have:
- ROW too narrow for dedicated lanes
- Frequent stops
- Shorter trips

BRT is going to the be the likely choice where we have:
- Very wide ROW
- Longer trips

Priority bus is going to the be likely choice where we want something, but it's a low priority compared to the others. Or where we have to do bus but it's a narrow ROW.
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Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 7:12 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bunt_q View Post
The other problem with a sales tax is that it will be on everyone, and I am not sure you can win a citywide streetcar tax vote, let alone a statewide transit one. If you want differential taxes, you really are going to have to use a special taxing district overlay of some sort (that entity could possibly do a sales tax, but that would disadvantage those businesses and be very, very unconventional).
Bunt, how does a special taxing district, say for a new levy, work voting wise? Is it only voted on by those residents who reside in the district or would it still be a citywide vote? Could such a district be automatically expanded to include additional transit lines in the future or would such an expansion require a new vote?
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Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 7:33 PM
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^^ I'm with you dan..what I really meant was assuming we have two types; bus and rail. I think there would be value in making all of the rail ONE technology (efficiencies with purcashing, maintenance and route adjustments / special service)...plus less map-brain-damage. (I'm still living in fear of RTD releasing the final FT map and it designates lines by train type)
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Old Posted Dec 3, 2013, 7:46 PM
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Very nice discussion!

I am concerned with the lack of circular loops in Cirrus's brilliant discussion starting point. We need to connect 'spokes' outside the Lodo area, in addition to providing new feeder lines.

If, for example, a fast public system could serve east Colfax, perhaps a 20 mph average speed, then a north/south connector along Colorado from Colfax to I-25 would provide many thousands with excellent car alternatives without having to go downtown to transfer.

I have felt for years that E Colfax is where Denver's first subway should run, perhaps terminating at Civic Station and extending east of Colorado some distance (nice job on this, Cirrus). Since we are talking dreams and big bucks, anyway, I would extend the subway to the Auraria West Station, where W street riders could have a high capacity subway option to go to the Civic Station end of the DUS-Civic Station corridor.

**********

Any light rail, mono-rail, subway option, IMO, would be axed that runs through, or near the Denver Country Club neighborhood. Powerful NIMBYs.

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