Researched & written by: Natalie Clayton, Ryan Gershman, and John Helling

Transit has come a long way since the Denver Horse Railroad Company used horse-drawn railway cars to create the first public transit in the city in 1872. Streetcars grew rapidly and, like Indianapolis, Denver realized a network of light rail that connected its urban core to surrounding towns, but streetcars were phased out in favor of buses in the 1950s.


In 2004, voters in Denver and its surrounding communities approved a $4.7 billion tax increase to create FasTracks, a regional rail system. Despite some obstacles, Denver now enjoys the eighth largest rail system in the country, even though they’re the nineteenth most populous city. 67,000 people take the train every weekday in Denver, although the city hasn’t come close to its target of 20% ridership, sitting at something closer to 6%. Still, FasTracks is credited with creating a sense of regional cooperation that has allowed Denver to brand itself as one of the most attractive cities in the country.


Other transit amenities are coming to Denver, too. Lime Scooters, a brand not unfamiliar to Indianapolis, recently released their dockless scooters in Denver. Denver’s Regional Transportation District plans to add designated parking spaces for bikes and scooters at transit stations.


Also like Indianapolis, Denver also has a crumbling interstate infrastructure problem. It appears Denver will be innovating during this infrastructure improvement, including the addition of a “4-acre park that will be built across the highway.” A public-private partnership, this project will also enhance pedestrian and bicycle connectivity by incorporating sidewalks, tree lawns and lighting. Much like Indy’s 65 split project, this Denver project is being met with controversy.


Looking forward, Denver expects to add 145,000 residents and 195,000 jobs by 2035. To accommodate this, FasTracks will add light rail to facilitate access to Denver from the suburbs. Supplementing this will be first- and last-mile initiatives to fill gaps in the system. Denver is using long-term visioning initiatives like Denverright and Mobility Choice Blueprint to gather feedback directly from stakeholders and ensure the system uses the most current technology.

Public transportation in Denver has seen its share of dead ends and false starts, but the region currently boasts one of the most attractive transit systems in the country and international think tanks are describing it with terms like “globally fluent.” What lessons can Indianapolis learn as it launches its own relatively modest investment into its transit system?

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