Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Light rail station opens Nov. 17

light-rail car

A light-rail car cruises through the University of Denver Station on a test run. PHOTO BY: Michael Richmond.

It’s coming out of the box early, in about two weeks, and has nothing to assemble, nothing to plug in. It won’t be wrapped in holiday paper or tied with a fancy bow. And it’ll be no surprise who it’s from and how much it costs.

And when the first train rolls up to the platform on Nov. 17 and opens its doors, it’ll be a season’s greeting that may someday be one of the most important gifts DU has ever received. 

Grab a commuter strap and hang on, University of Denver. Light rail is at your doorstep and ready to roll. 

“It is amazing,” says University Architect Mark Rodgers. “[Light rail] is quick, perceivable access to us and predictable, fairly direct transportation downtown. 

“You can’t ask for a better augmentation of what we already have as an institution.”

“It fits in perfectly with our program,” says Dan Vigil, assistant dean for student affairs at the Sturm College of Law. 

“It’ll be wonderful,” gushes Mary Kay Mauro, marketing coordinator for Conference, Meeting and Event Services. 

Why all the excitement? To most people living in metropolitan Denver, the new University of Denver light-rail station near the intersection of Buchtel Boulevard and High Street is their tax dollars at work, one of 13 stops on the 19.7-mile southeast leg of a system that has been inching forward since 1994. The new line was built as part of the $1.67 billion T-REX project, which voters approved in 1999 and have been detouring around in their automobiles ever since. 

But to many in the DU community, the new light-rail stop is more than just a station; it’s a portal — a safe, clean, affordable link from the environs on which DU has perched since 1890 to the heart of the 20th-largest metropolitan area in the United States. 
Consider some of what the new light-rail station will do for DU:

• Simplify student access to employment and internship opportunities and to cultural and intellectual venues such as the Denver Art Museum; 
• Heighten visibility of DU athletic events, pave the way for new media partnerships and open new markets for recreational use of University facilities; 
• Enhance opportunities for evening classes and academic events, particularly in University College and the Sturm College of Law; 
• Shorten student travel to other major universities and diverse neighborhoods throughout the metro area and make it easier for collegians at other institutions to visit DU; 
• Ease DU students’ opportunities to socialize downtown and return to campus safely; 
• Allow a new commuting option for faculty and staff that could enhance the value of the University as an employer; 
• Provide lucrative event and conferencing opportunities for the Ritchie Center, Newman Center and other campus venues; 
• Offer a safe, clean, uncomplicated way for potential students to visit DU, and with the faster link to Denver International Airport that the new light-rail line provides, from outside Colorado as well. 

It’s no wonder DU officials are quietly licking their chops at the arrival of light rail. Already the number of music events at Magness Arena is projected to more than triple by next summer — from four last fiscal year to between 12 and 15 this year. A summer outdoor film series at the Cable Center is on the drawing board, and marketing officials say the potential for events at the Denver Convention Center to spill into opportunities for DU is “huge.” 

“As we grow and as we get more and more events coming into the University of Denver — like PeaceJam — having that light-rail stop is going to be very instrumental in bringing people to the University of Denver,” says Rodney Smith, executive director for University events. 

At the same time, no one quite knows what to expect. Not even RTD, whose studies project that by 2020 the average use of the DU station will be 3,650 riders per weekday. RTD used those numbers to justify building the station and the 540-vehicle parking structure that goes with it. But no one at RTD can say for sure how many people will get on and off the train the first week it runs. 

Which means that when the Michigan Tech hockey team and the Sacramento State basketball team roll into the Ritchie Center on Nov. 17 — the light-rail line’s inauguration day — DU officials will be watching carefully, clickers in hand, counting the people coming off those trains and checking parking revenue against historic norms. 

“We’re going to have to be prepared,” says Stu Halsall, assistant vice chancellor for recreation, athletic events and Ritchie Center operations. “But it’s hard to gauge what the true impact will be.” 

An equally revealing indicator will be the Bare Naked Ladies concert on Nov. 21, another event that Smith will be watching carefully for light rail usage. 

What if ridership is in the thousands? What if it’s a pittance? 

What, too, if scores of people begin to register for night classes because it’s suddenly easier to get to DU? Or if hundreds of employees drop their parking passes and begin commuting to work? 

“We’ll probably see some change,” says Parking Services Manager Buddy Knox. “But I don’t know how to forecast that.”

“It’s a bit of wait and see,” says University College Associate Dean Dan Callahan, who notes that the college teaches 60 percent of its classes online, making the most likely ripple to be from online students who may decide to take classes on campus instead. 

Callahan says University College is prepared to act quickly. 

As is the law school, which presently provides night classes for about a third of its students. Will more students seek to enroll due to easier travel? Probably not, Vigil speculates. More likely, he points out, light rail will make it easier for law students to get to campus and to internships downtown. 

It will also make the school’s facilities more attractive to outside groups. 

“I could foresee more groups wanting to come here,” he says. “And lots want to do so already.” 

But if University officials are wondering, students have already made up their minds: They like light rail and look forward to its opening. 

“I used [light rail] to get to the Dave Matthews Band concert at the Pepsi Center,” says Liz Bender, a first-year student from Tulsa, Okla. “I’m excited to see [the new line] open.” 

Sophomore Michelle Bishop agrees. She lives in Centennial Towers, which is across the street from the new light rail station. Bishop says she and her friends already use light rail but that she’d use the new line to get to Boulder and downtown with her friends — even to see the new Denver Art Museum offerings on free days. 

“I may as well go,” she says. “Free ride. Free museum. Hey, if it’s free, I’m there.” 

Students’ top 10 reasons to ride
* 10. It’s safer than hitchhiking. 
9. You can take your bicycle on board. 
8. Getting to DIA is a snap. 
7. There’s no need for a designated driver. 
6. No more parking meters to feed downtown! 
5. No more having to take a cab to or from the Evans Avenue station. 
4. You can party downtown until last call and still make the train to campus. 
3. No more campus parking permits to buy or tickets to pay. 
2. The station is an easy distance from the dorms. 
1. For most students, it’s free! 
* an unscientific survey of student opinion 

Related articles:
Station will house retail space
DU weighing light-rail shuttle service
Upon arrival: fast facts
Light-rail parking 101: Final exam

This article and related light-rail articles originally appeared in
The Source, November 2006.

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