Monday, April 29, 2013

The Health Benefits of Denver's New West Line LRT

Research has shown that uses of public transportation benefit from increased physical activity when compared to private automobile use. In fact, transit users took 30 percent more steps per day and spent 8.3 more minutes walking than drivers, a major step towards curbing obesity (Active Living Research 2009). An interesting design feature of public transit to point out is that bus transit typically has shorter stop spacing than rail transit, so perhaps light rail riders benefit even more by accessing the stations on foot or by bike, particularly to access more frequency rail service.

RTD is currently living up to that research. One of RTD's guiding principles for the FasTracks plan is to "develop safe, reliable and economic transportation choices to...promote public health" (RTD 2010). While the public health benefit is not explicitly defined, one can assume the combination reduced emissions, reduced driving stress, and active transportation initiatives related to the FasTracks plan can provide significant health benefits. With the first line of FasTracks project opening just last Friday connecting Denver to Golden to the west (appropriately named the "West Line"), RTD was successful incorporating a network of pedestrian and bike paths to provide access to the majority of West Line Stations, even with a Google Map function to view the exact location of the paths and stations. Most stations are equipped with ample bike parking and lockers, too. RTD went so far as to say that "thousands" of additional riders per day will be attracted to the West Line due to the ped/bike path that runs parallel to its alignment, which is a pretty ambitious statement to make. Although the ambition to gain public support for a series of major LRT projects with a 4 cent sales tax ballot measure is how RTD conceived (and now delivered) the FasTracks plan in the first place!

1. Active Living Research. "Active Transportation: Making the Link from Transportation to Physical Activity and Obesity." Web. <>. 2009.
2. Regional Transportation District FasTracks. "Strategic Plan for Transit Oriented Development." September 2010.
3. Bunch, Joey. "New light rail line spurs hopes for another boom on West Colfax." Web. <>. The Denver Post. 21 April 2013.


  1. I think you've made some interesting points in this post Tom. I seem to remember a study from years back that mentioned the average resident of New York City walked roughly five miles per day, both to access transit and simply to get from one place to the next.

    Unlike New York City many suburbs are far from connected to surrounding areas and the goods and services people typically want and need in their lives. In my opinion, this is an important part of the transit equation. Urban design along with connections for all types of travel modes will ultimatley increase ridership for public transportation.

    Whether the Denver example cited in this post will work...only time will tell. But more importantly is that Denver and the surrounding suburbs are trying. They are trying different methods of inducing demand for transit ridership. It would be interesting to find out whether the allowable land uses zoning along the new line from Denver to Golden has been changed to appropriately accomodate future development for residential and retail uses.

  2. The Denver Urbanism Blog has been extensively covering the construction of the Fast Tracks lines and has a nice write up on the W Line's bike and pedestrian paths:


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