Overcoming a Distorted Reality to Bring the Future to Life

ARTICLE | May 10, 2016

How the City of Arvada Used a Comprehensive, Collaborative Approach to TOD

Courtesy of www.rtd-denver.com

Arvada was originally served by the Denver Tramway Company transit-system, which served a large part of the Denver metro area in the first part of the 20th century. When the regional transit district (RTD) was created in, 1969 it took over the Denver tramway system and later the bus system. When the system was created, there was an idea for a personal rapid-transit system in the 1970’s but was ultimately scrapped in favor of expanded bus service.   In 1997 voters rejected a tax increase for a proposal entitled Guide the Ride and thus the real story of Arvada begins.

Around the year 2000, RTD began working with the City of Arvada to launch a major investment study (MIS) to act as an alternatives analysis and proof of concept for a transit line to through Arvada. Luckily, the Arvada section of the MIS seemed to work well on a cost per passenger basis. .

In 2004, voters in the Denver metro region approved FasTracks. The proposed program would apply a .04/dollar tax to raise funds for a regional rail system. With 56 different communities ranging from Denver to Federal Heights being served by one or more of the proposed lines to be built, there was a lot of jockeying for who’s line was to be built first. RTD wanted, ultimately, to keep everyone on board through this initial phase.

Ultimately Arvada agreed that the Gold Line would be the last line constructed in the FasTracks program. Further, the Gold Line, would not be constructed from the sales tax revenue, but rather RTD would apply for a federal NewStarts grant to build the line. Thus, Arvada would be served by the last built line using non-sales-tax related funds.

During the run up to the Great Recession, the price of building materials increased dramatically; the ability to build further RTD projects was very much up in the air. In the ashes of the Recession, the original FasTracks financing plans was in tatters. Nevertheless, Arvada stayed committed to transit oriented development at all three of its transit stops with particular attention to Olde Town Arvada.

In preparation for the coming of the Gold Line, the City invested significantly in Olde Town, revamped its zoning and area plans to encourage TOD, modified its transportation plans to incorporate transit, developed strategies to encourage bikes and walking to and from the transit stops, reexamined its art in public places policies, and considered public safety aspects of TOD. 

The City had to push developers to build at more urban densities in the face of no firm commitment from RTD about the timing of the Gold Line.  Arvada never lost faith that the Gold Line would be constructed and that TOD was appropriate in proximity to the proposed transit stops, rather than a more traditional suburban mode. The City successfully worked with developers to reach a goal density of 24-units per acre at the two mixed TOD sites, far higher than the developers typically build in suburban communities.   

Luckily, the NewStarts grant that was previously submitted by RTD was accepted by the Federal Transit Administration at the same time as the City was working with developers to around the two  transit stops designated for mixed use/residential TOD. Thus, Arvada was able to begin fulfilling its vision for TOD long before it was known when the Gold Line would actually open.  Now, the line will be opening in October 2016.

In sum, the Arvada approach embodied a commitment to collaboration and a comprehensive view on project management. The comprehensive approach to all that needed to be done for the project, including urban renewal as a financing tool for encouraging transit development, was innovative in approach. It was a key when the future was much murkier to others. For the City, not only is the project do-able, but it was inevitable.

Further, because transit development will always generate new patterns of development, employment, and livelihood, the city has made sure it remains three questions ahead of development. So, the City has been investigating artwork and alternative uses for each station on the Gold line to make sure it is revitalizing the downtown area as much as potentially possible.

As noted by the City of Arvada, you can never start too early: always think comprehensively while dreaming big and knowing that whatever project you are working on is inevitable. Then, your project will happen.

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