Colfax Avenue has been a defining feature of Denver since the city’s inception. Touted as the longest commercial street in America, Colfax remains the starting point and lifeline for many local businesses.
Such is the case for Charlie Puma, who opened Enzo’s End Pizzeria on East Colfax back in 1996. Recognized by Westword as serving “Denver’s best thin pizza,” Enzo’s has established a steady business over the past two decades. However, with Denver’s latest transportation development, the East Colfax Bus Rapid Transit System, going up right outside his doors, Puma fears for the future.
“I think the BRT is going to be an absolute disaster for the neighborhood,” Puma said. “For the pizza delivery business and the restaurants that depend on people coming to sit down and dine in, the traffic is going to be bad for years.”
Starting in 2024, construction for the East Colfax Bus Rapid Transit System will begin, complete with new buses, stations and lanes that will be up and running by 2027. The updated route will run from Denver Union Station out to the I-225 light rail station in Aurora, costing an estimated $300 million. Both the cost and construction time can be largely attributed to the injection of center-running bus lanes between Broadway and Yosemite, making it the project’s most notable and controversial feature.
“The City is moving forward with Bus Rapid Transit on Colfax because doing nothing is not an option,” the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure said on its website. “Over the next 20 years, the corridor is expected to experience 25% growth in the number of travelers, 67% growth in employment and 25% growth in population.”
According to the DOTI Transportation Report, the benefits of center-running lanes include faster and more reliable travel times, fewer collisions, and greater access to sidewalks. However, it will also permanently eliminate 300 parking spaces in this area and reduce the four general traffic lanes down to two, putting more pressure on surrounding residential streets, particularly during the three-year construction period.
“All of these restaurants and businesses get multiple deliveries every day and I don’t know where they are going to go,” Puma said. “They are going to take away the parking and the loading zones, and heavy truck traffic will have to go to the side streets.”
The DOTI predicts that the reduction of lanes will balance out once the BRT is in place by increasing bus ridership and decreasing travel times by 15 to 30 minutes for these commuters. However, the lack of information on traffic diversions in the current reports has left Colfax businesses and neighbors anticipating chaos in the days to come.
“At the meetings whenever you express your concern it’s just the same answer of ‘That’s a great question, we will look into that,’” Puma said. “I think all business owners are feeling and expressing the same thing but no one’s listening.”
The City claims that the decision for a center-running lane was based on years of analysis and community input, including 40 meetings and a public survey. However, registered neighborhood organizations such as Congress Park Neighbors are continuing to press city officials for more.
“I have followed and been involved with this project over the last 11 years and am sadly disappointed with how this project has engaged with the community,” said Myles Tangalin, a volunteer board member for Congress Park Neighbors. “I have repeatedly requested information on the future community engagement, station locations and traffic design calculations for the [Federal Transit Administration], to bring to our community, but have only been met with silence.”
Although transportation updates for a rapidly growing city like Denver are always painful, many residents in the area believe the Colfax BRT project is unjustified as it stands now.
“It just seems to me that the benefits of a center-running bus lane are not worth the cost in terms of neighborhood construction and small-business disruption,” said Judith Cohen, a Congress Park resident for 19 years. “I just want them to take another look before building something that will be here forever.”
Although community workshops have ended for the East Colfax BRT, you can participate in the conversation by submitting questions to the DOTI website or attending the next Congress Park Neighbors Meeting on August 16th from 7-8:30 p.m.