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Tuesday July 16th 2019

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That's what she said

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The Train, the Bus, or Both?


PLAN-Boulder County sent the following letter to the Boulder City Council, the Boulder County Commissioners and the RTD Board of Directors

March 6, 2012

PLAN-Boulder County strongly supports an energy efficient mass transit system in the NW corridor. We will support the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service if concrete plans for completing NW Rail from Church Ranch Rd. to Boulder and Longmont are included. That is why we supported the FasTracks tax initiative in 2004 and have supported RTD’s efforts to bring the BRT plus Commuter Rail Train (CRT) to fruition.

However, many in Boulder County are frustrated by the prioritization of other areas and the lack of progress and grim forecasts for completion of the NW corridor transit system. We accept that additional tax revenue is necessary to complete the system, but we strongly believe that a plan for completion of full BRT and the NW Rail must be on the table to garner strong support of the voters along the corridor. BRT alone will not create the kind of support necessary.

We support the hybrid proposal presented by RTD staff on March 5, but must see more assurance that the NW Rail will be completed to fully support this. We want a commitment to NW Rail with a funding strategy and date-certain when it will be completed. Private funding should also be investigated through sponsorship and naming of the train as in the Link light rail from the SeaTac airport to Tacoma and Seattle; sponsored by Century Link (formerly Qwest).

We believe BRT is critical to our transit needs, especially as increased traffic on US 36 leads to declining service on the B and BX buses. Effective and fully implemented BRT requires a guarantee from RTD of <10 min headways between buses during peak periods and a guarantee from CDOT that toll traffic in the new HOT lanes will be regulated to the benefit of BRT buses. But we are concerned about the energy efficiency and greenhouse gases produced by such a system (relative to efficient rail systems), and we are concerned about the effects of weather, traffic, and road maintenance on the quality of service. BRT supposedly will have 3 minute service frequency at peak times, but it defies credulity to assume the buses will stay on schedule when they have to negotiate 3 sluggish or bogged traffic lanes to get to the HOT lanes after each stop. If BRT were being implemented with fully dedicated lanes and attached transit stations, then we might support abandoning the rail system.

Commuter Rail, on the other hand, will create a system with long-term (50+ yr) stability and durability that is not affected by weather or traffic and will therefore provide a critical and symbiotic travel option to bus travel. In the long run, CRT may turn out to be the dominant travel option along the corridor, given the ambiguity of future ridership predictions. CRT will naturally serve eastern Boulder County and Longmont whereas BRT must add inefficient “band-aids” to serve these areas. Commuter rail also enables the possibility of future extension to Fort Collins and points north.

Perhaps more importantly, rail travel creates interest, liveliness, and a permanent “sense of place” around stops. Rail also tends to draw people to transit who would never consider taking a bus. The rail travel experience is scenic, communal, and more inviting of conversation than the more isolating (though efficient) BRT. Commuter rail typically has more comfortable and spacious seating with electrical plug-ins and wi-fi for laptops, ample space for bicycles, and freedom to move around to purchase snacks or drinks or to use bathrooms. It’s a significantly different experience and, with such a long commute (Boulder-Denver: 41 minutes rail, 45 minutes BRT), it’s important to be able to work productively and rail travel definitely is advantageous with fewer stops, a smoother ride, and more space.

Commuter Rail is also the main justification for building Boulder Junction and the new transit station at Pearl and 30th. With BRT-only service, it would have made much more sense to just expand the capabilities of Boulder’s downtown transit center.

Finally, we must comment on the rushed nature of this discussion and decision-making process. After 8 years of dutifully paying our taxes to support commuter rail plus BRT, we are told that we have days to maybe weeks to offer public input on the fate of NW Rail. This feels like a rush to judgment. We are not convinced that RTD has fully determined the facts about future ridership, future costs, GHG emissions, or future service for either BRT or CRT.

In summary, PBC supports the BRT service outlined in the hybrid plan if, and only if, concrete plans for completing NW Rail from Church Ranch Rd. to Boulder and Longmont are included. We believe abandonment of the commuter rail component will lead to a resounding defeat of any tax initiative presented to the voters this year, or in the next several years. PLAN-Boulder County likely will campaign against any ballot proposal that does not include completion of the NW commuter rail system.

Thank you for your attention.


PLAN-Boulder County Board of Directors


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