When Denver needed a new transit hub, city leaders naturally looked at the city’s aging Union Station. Now after a massive expansion, Union Station is a monument to multimodalism, and a beautiful architectural mix of ornate old and shimmering new.

Denver Union Station. Photo by Ryan Dravitz.

The new Denver Union Station combines five transit modes with expansive new and refurbished public spaces, and a brand new transit-oriented neighborhood.

Historic depot building

The station is anchored by the beautifully renovated 1894 depot building, with its lovingly restored, bright, airy waiting room. The ground floor includes popular restaurants and bars, along with table shuffleboard sets and occasional live music performances. The upper floors now host a boutique hotel.

Waiting room. Photo by Ryan Dravitz.

Plazas surrounding the outside of the depot building are well-landscaped, and integrate nicely with the bustling LoDo neighborhood across the street. They form the northern end of Denver’s 16th Street pedestrian mall, and are a vast improvement over the surface parking lots that formerly occupied the same space.

Multimodal transit

The station brings together Amtrak, commuter rail, light rail, and local and intercity buses.

New commuter and light rail lines are the major components of Denver’s impressive FasTracks plan, which is adding about 100 miles of new rail to the city’s transit network. Union Station will be the hub.

Immediately behind the historic depot lie the new platforms for Amtrak and commuter rail. They’re partially covered by the grandest train shed in America.

Intercity and commuter rail platforms. Photo by Ryan Dravitz.

For now there’s only a slow trickle of Amtrak trains using these platforms. But starting in 2016 when Denver’s new commuter rail lines begin to open, it will bustle.

Denver’s coming transit lines. Photo by DearEdward on Flickr.

Beneath the train shed lies Union Station’s subterranean bus depot, the closest thing Denver has to a subway.

The bus depot serves as both a transit terminal and a pedestrian walkway between the main station and the light rail platforms, further beyond the train shed. It’s a long walk from one end to the other, but it’s an attractive space.

At the far end, Denver’s light rail. The city has had light rail since 1994, but it’s expanding under the FasTracks program.

Beyond the light rail, active freight rail tracks pass by to the northwest.

Entrance to the bus terminal and light rail station, with freight tracks to the right. Photo by the author.

Transit-oriented development

While the station itself is finished and open to the traveling public, the surrounding land is only half-complete. The former industrial railyards behind the station are being redeveloped as a new high-rise neighborhood.

Millions of square feet of development are planned, with thousands of new housing units in the pipeline. Multiple blocks of mixed-use infill development are under construction.

Denver is undergoing a population and building boom, so planners and developers anticipate high demand for the new units. The South Platte River Valley just to the north is also a fun and attractive part of the city, popular with tourists, cyclists, and shoppers visiting REI’s flagship store on the left bank of the river, housed in the former power plant for Denver’s streetcar system.

When it’s all complete, Denver will have an impressive new urban neighborhood, fully integrated with and surrounding its new transit hub.

New buildings going up. Photo by the author.

A model for DC

The plan to redevelop Washington Union Station is, if anything, even more ambitious and complex than Denver’s.

But as the DC area prepares to make that plan a reality, we can draw lessons from Denver’s successes. Colorado’s experience shows that it’s possible to integrate multimodal planning and strong land use decisions, to a beautiful result.

Adopt-A-Tag

Allison Davis is this month’s sponsor for posts about Transit. Learn more »

David Koch is a native of Silver Spring. He first discovered his love of transportation and planning through Greater Greater Washington and Just Up The Pike. He has a planning degree from Rutgers University. You might see him on his bike around Mount Pleasant.