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Transit-Oriented Development Aims to Shape Growth in Denver

TOD aims to foster a more functional relationship between urban living and public transportation.

RTD closed the parking lot at Alameda Station on Sun. Apr. 6 to make way for new development.

The development for the stations along the Welton Corridor is linear.

Alameda Station is a long-term project, as are many of the TOD Pilot Programs.

New developments have sprung up around Alameda Station.

With a substantial influx of people migrating to Denver, the city and RTD are looking to accommodate this increase in population density in a responsible manner.

With a substantial influx of people migrating to Denver, the city and RTD are looking to accommodate this increase in population density in a responsible manner. Enter TOD, transit-oriented development, which looks to enhance public transit efficiency and transform city transit stations into hubs for living, working and playing.
Denver is one of the hottest cities in the country, and the numbers back it up. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the city grew from about 600,000 residents to 650,000 between 2010 and 2013, and the skyward trend has shown zero signs of letting up in 2014.
 
With a substantial influx of people migrating here, the City and County of Denver and the Regional Transportation District (RTD) are equipping the region for this growth by directing it towards what city officials call "Areas of Change." The directive is part of a larger citywide land-use and transportation plan known as Blueprint Denver and intends to react to the increasing population density in a responsible manner, according to Caryn Champine, Development and Planning Supervisor for Community Planning and Development for Denver.
 
"That means [future population growth] should be directed to places in the city that can accommodate increased density and offers choices in travel," says Champine. "Directing growth near most of our transit stations is a logical approach because these areas offer multiple travel choices and often have large redevelopment sites near the station."
 
FasTracks, RTD's multi-billion-dollar transit expansion plan that was funded by the November 2004 election, is at the crux of this concept. The initiative looks to enhance transit efficiency and commuter safety and also encompasses transit-oriented development planning, which correlates to the city's aspirations for metro growth. Also know as TOD, the program aims to foster a more functional relationship between urban living and public transportation.
 
What is TOD?
 
Described by RTD as "a specific approach to developing built environment," TOD development plans place residential, office and retail facilities within a quarter to half-mile proximity of a transit station -- Champine says the City also refers to TOD as Transit Communities. RTD's website lists a variety of benefits for TOD implementation, like reducing urban sprawl, protecting established neighborhoods, minimizing commute times and traffic, and promoting pedestrian activity.
 
For larger TOD projects, like Alameda and Welton Stations in Denver, RTD initiated the TOD Pilot Program. In the Pilot Program, public and private entities collaborate in partnerships. This type of collaboration increase financial possibilities and helps move projects from pipe dreams to reality, according to Bill Sirois, RTD's Senior Manager of TOD and Planning Coordination.

Champine says, while Denver leadership sets the vision for these TOD areas, officials involved in the station planning work congruently with RTD. As an "active participant" throughout the process, Champine says RTD participates in meetings and work sessions. She adds that RTD representatives also provide valuable information and data, and review draft plans. 
 
Therefore, RTD is a key player in influencing how the station areas look and function. According to the FasTracks website, its involvement facilitates two major RTD objectives, to offer more transportation options and to make public transit more appealing. 
 
Some of these larger TOD Pilot projects, like Alameda Station, will offer less parking. Yes, less parking. This plays into a larger aspiration that is confirmed with frequency throughout the strategic plan -- get people out of their cars and using other modes of transportation like buses, light rail, walking and biking. 
 
To this end, RTD closed the parking lot at Alameda Station on Sun. Apr. 6 to make way for new development -- what the agency describes as "an integrated, walkable community with the station as its centerpiece." 
 
D4 Urban is the developer for the project, and has plans for further mixed-use redevelopment at the adjacent Denver Design District and other parcels. The long-term plan calls for 10 million square feet of development, a major bump over 900,000 developed square feet today.
 
Focus on Alameda and WeltonTOD aims to foster a more functional relationship between urban living and public transportation.
 
Alameda and the Welton Corridor stations are some of the larger projects on the TOD agenda and two of the four stations as part of the TOD Pilot Program -- the other two are Federal Station in Lakewood and Olde Town Station in Arvada. Each presents its own unique challenges and could constitute articles of healthy length in their own right.
 
Looking at Alameda Station, Sioris says planning for the station has been ongoing since it was built in 1994. The city completed the latest station area plan by 2008, adds Sioris, which was followed by a more detailed development plan completed by the owner of the Broadway Marketplace and the Denver Design Center in 2006. Conversations were then initiated with D4 Urban in 2010 in conjunction with the inauguration of the TOD Pilot Program -- the Denver Urban Renewal Authority will also partner on the project.
 
Champine stresses that Alameda Station is a long-term project, as are many of the TOD Pilot Programs. "This is change that's going to happen over time, which gives us the opportunity to have conversations along the way to address anything that comes up," she says.
 
Station development along the Welton Corridor line is rather different in that there are multiple stations to consider, so there isn't a singular plan for the project, says Champine. 
 
"The community's vision for this street is to think of it as a neighborhood 'Main Street' destination for shopping, working, living, dining and entertainment," she says. "This includes active uses on the streets, at sidewalk cafes, and public gathering space. It also supports higher density with three- to eight-story buildings."
 
Champine also notes that the development for the stations along the Welton Corridor is linear, while Alameda Station involves "multiple blocks of new development with the light-rail station on the periphery." Another defining factor centers on the existing neighborhoods in the areas. Welton Corridor stations traverse through up and coming neighborhoods like Curtis Park, says Champine, so it's crucial to respect that and develop the area in ways that will embrace the already existing culture. In the case of Alameda, Champine says the emphasis is on cultivating a new neighborhood.
 
Despite the many differences, what the two projects do have in common is a quest for increased connectivity between public transit and urban development. 
 
Reinventing Denver as a transit-oriented cityAlameda Station is a long-term project, as are many of the TOD Pilot Programs.
 
Alameda and Welton Corridor Stations aren't the only metro transit areas getting makeovers. TOD is being implemented throughout a number of Denver neighborhoods, including Belleview Station, 10th and Osage Street Station and Broadway Station, among others. 
 
Champine says this type of urban planning is putting Denver on the map, as other cities nationwide look to the Rocky Mountain metropolis as guidance for their own transit-oriented expansion. 
 
The mindset appears to be there -- Denver commuters are among the transit-friendliest in the country -- and the infrastructure is on its way. Execution and implementation might be all that separate Denver from its car-culture past and its transit-oriented future. 

Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.

Read more articles by Stephanie Wolf.

Born and raised in Atlanta, Stephanie has spent the past 12 years living out her dreams as a professional ballet dancer. In conjunction with her performing career, she's developed a varied writing portfolio.
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