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Buses once zipped in and out of the Depot Square Station near 30th and Pearl on the east side of Boulder. The underground bus station was the heart of Boulder Junction Transit Village, a fast-growing neighborhood built to accommodate fewer cars and more public transit.
But in April 2020, when the Regional Transportation District (RTD) slashed services across the Front Range in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the bus station closed. Two years later, it remains unclear when the buses for which the neighborhood was named will return.
As part of its future service plan, RTD has proposed restoring just one of the five bus routes that had served the Boulder Junction bus stop before the pandemic. The bus station opened in 2015.
It is proposing to reinstate the FF4, which connects the bus station to Civic Center Station in downtown Denver as part of its Flatiron Flyer service, and suspend the FF6 to Union Station, AB2 to the Denver International Airport, and the 236 and 206 to South Boulder.
The loss of bus services could deal a blow to residents who moved into the neighborhood with the hopes of having access to public transit. Residents who live in the area submitted more than a dozen comments on RTD’s proposed service plan. One asked, “Where are the buses?”
The cuts to service strike a familiar nerve for transit advocates in Boulder. Boulder Junction is also supposed to host the station for the long-awaited commuter train, which RTD promised when Boulder voters approved a sales tax increase in 2004 to pay for it. The train, most recently estimated to arrive after 2050, would connect Union Station to Longmont, stopping in Boulder Junction along the way.
In addition to the train, RTD once touted Boulder Junction as the “primary regional bus terminal of East Boulder.” In light of the cuts to bus services, city officials have been calling on RTD to restore the services to the transit-centered neighborhood.
“I am very disappointed with the proposed service cuts,” said Mayor Aaron Brockett, who helped kickstart the Boulder Junction development when he was serving on the Planning Board from 2011 to 2015. “It was envisioned as a transit-rich neighborhood in partnership with RTD. And these cuts do not support that vision at all.”
‘Boulder’s other great urban space’
Since launching a plan for the formerly industrial area in 2007, dirt parking lots have given way to a mix of apartments atop offices and restaurants. To date, more than a thousand residential units, including 295 permanently affordable residential units, have been built in the neighborhood, according to a March 1, 2022 city staff memo.
Boulder City Council has made it a priority to begin planning the next phase of development, and has doubled down on efforts to make the neighborhood more housing dense by prioritizing real estate for homes over cars.
Last month, the council amended an underlying land use planning document to replace parking along 30th Street with wider bike lanes and more tree canopy. This aligns with the city’s broader goal of reducing the number of cars on the road. Transportation was the city’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions prior to the pandemic.
“I think the real impact will be on the people who live and work there not having the transit they hoped for,” said Andy Bush, founder and managing partner at Morgan Creek Ventures, a Boulder-based real estate development company that has built office spaces and apartments in the neighborhood
RTD is evaluating which services to bring back to Boulder Junction, according to Pauline Haberman, a project manager for the district. But Haberman said RTD has a limited ability to accommodate all the service changes the city is requesting due to a workforce shortage and a 50 to 60% drop in ridership since before the pandemic.
Haberman said in an email to the Boulder Reporting Lab that prior to the pandemic, daily ridership at Boulder Junction was approximately 200 boardings per day.
“While the routes were busy overall, most of the activity on those routes occurred away from Boulder Junction,” Haberman wrote. “RTD will be analyzing the city of Boulder’s proposals for Boulder Junction service, including the provision of some Route AB service, for possible inclusion.”
Bush said ridership numbers prior to the pandemic do not reflect current or future demand for bus services in the neighborhood.
“Boulder Junction is poised to be Boulder’s other great urban space,” he said. “Boulder Junction is probably the most rapidly urbanizing part of Boulder. The vast majority of it has occurred in the last three years. And the remaining portion will be developed over the next three years.”
While RTD decides what bus services to bring back to Boulder Junction, Brockett said the city has considered setting up its own bus program to serve the area, similar to the city-run HOP line.
“Right now, we’re relying on RTD for providing a transit service. Periodically, we look at alternatives, but they’re all expensive,” he said. “So our options are limited to working with RTD on trying to get that transit service improved.”