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As news reports from Denver have indicated, Denver's brand- new light rail transit (LRT) extension to Littleton - with more than 8,400 riders on the new portion - virtually met its target ridership of 8,500 on the first day of revenue service.
With commuters packing the line's park & ride lots, it's certainly yet another illustration of the rule: "Build it, and they will come." But it's also an object lesson that light rail planning -- including here in Austin -- keep projected capacity scaled to potential success.
The spectacular success of Denver's latest LRT line is described is a recent report from the Denver Post titled "Rail commuters jam RTD's parking lots", by Jennifer Medina (00/07/18). The report makes the point that the new LRT line was virtually mobbed by commuters, but it found that planners had apparently underestimated the potential demand for parking! "Drivers eager to ease their commutes rolled into the newest light-rail park-n-Ride lots Monday morning only to find they couldn't park" writes Medina. Her report continues: More than 1,000 south suburbanites packed the Mineral Avenue and downtown Littleton lots before 8 a.m. to hop the new 8.7-mile stretch of RTD light rail along Santa Fe Drive. The lots were at capacity - and then some - by 9 a.m. as more than 8,400 tried out the southwest line on its first day of normal operations, said RTD spokesman Scott Reed.
The report details some of the measures taken by intrepid commuters determined to forsake their cars for light rail: Many who couldn't find a spot improvised by parking illegally along the medians in the parking lots; others ignored street signs and parked along Platte River Parkway. Kevin Eaton, 25, of Highlands Ranch spent about 20 minutes looking for a space before he pulled into a muddy, undeveloped overflow parking lot west of the Mineral station.
The Post article quotes commuter Kevin Eaton: "I expected it to be this way, but I didn't leave any earlier," Eaton said at 8:15 a.m. "It will make me late for work, so I'll have to come earlier. I'll just keeping coming earlier until I can find a spot, but if has to be 6 a.m. then that's too much. I'll drive." Medina's report notes that police have been very lenient about illegal parking, in view of the overcrowding problem: Dozens of vehicles parked illegally Monday, but Littleton police planned to bag the "no parking" signs at the Mineral station until the overflow lot is complete, Lt. Larry Peterson said. "We want to encourage people to use light rail, so we don't want to ticket right away," said officer Daphne Baca, who was patroling the area Monday morning. "It was like this all weekend and it probably will be for a while."
According to the Post report, RTD officials estimated about 100 cars had parked in the undeveloped park & ride lot, which is expected to be completed by the end of July (2000) and will hold 425 vehicles. RTD spokesman Reed told the Post reporter that over 1,000 cars had parked near the station on Monday (00/07/17).
The Post article gives more details of the parking situation: The lots at Littleton's downtown station, which has 361 spaces including an overflow lot, also filled up early. Commuters who couldn't find a spot were directed farther down the line to the 910 spaces at Englewood's CityCenter. More than 600 spaces at the Englewood station were vacant by the end of rush hour Monday morning. Reed told the reporter that the park & ride station at Broadway and interstate 25, "typically filled to capacity with 1,200 cars", was "nearly half-empty".
"There is sufficient parking along the line, but people have to learn to use it" Reed remarked. Medina notes that "A small lot at the Evans station was packed, but a lot across the street from the Oxford station had spaces available all day."
She interviewed another commuter, Roger Gunter, 40, who "said he will take the bus from his Highlands Ranch home to the Mineral station if parking problems persist." "We'll just have to see how it works" Gunter told the reporter, adding that parking "has the potential to cause a great deal of aggravation for commuters."
But the Post article suggests that, for commuters, even with the current parking hassles, it sure beats driving! No matter how bad parking gets, it will be easier to tolerate than traffic, said Judy Person, 49, of Littleton. Person said she has used the bus to get downtown every day for 18 years. "Fighting traffic is miserable, but fighting overflow parking is bad, too" Person said. "I'm hoping that if the problems continue they will fix the problems. I hope it doesn't come to me having to use the bus again, because this is much more comfortable."
The Post article wraps up with the observation: One day into the southwest light-rail experience, it was still unknown what effect the new line had on traffic along Santa Fe, Colorado Department of Transportation officials said. They expect that six months of traffic counts will tell the story. Light Rail Progress will keep abreast of this situation and report further developments as they become known to us.