By Jennifer LeDuc
It isn’t hard to imagine the Arvada stop of RTD’s G Line buzzing with riders returning home from work and filtering off the train into any number of eateries and shops dotting the Olde Town neighborhood, or hopping on to to catch an easy ride to a game downtown.
The G Line, formally know as the Gold Line, was slated to open in October of 2016. The line is 11 miles long, with 8 stops between Union Station and Ward Road in Wheat Ridge. The project is not stalled, as much as delayed, pending successful testing and approval by the Federal Railroad Administration of the commuter rail’s Positive Train Control safety system.
That anticipated surge in foot traffic meant rents were raised for many tenants in Olde Town. Some businesses have hung on, some have not, and some prime store-front real estate is unoccupied.
Informally polling shopkeepers and customers opposite the G Line stop on Grandview Avenue in Olde Town recently revealed mixed understanding of the delays, and optimism divided.
“No, I don’t understand why it’s not running. I keep hearing the same thing everyone else does,” said Charlie Craven, proprietor of Charlie’s FlyBox. “There a lot of new businesses here that are optimistic. It certainly won’t hurt us, but people have been sold that this train is coming, and 13 years later it’s still not here.”
Consequently, said Craven, the shop has seen a 30 percent decrease in sales over last year.
“There’s no parking,” he laments.
When the Olde Town stop was redeveloped in anticipation of the commuter line, the city removed the parking lot on Grandview Avenue and built a parking garage beneath the station. Craven feels the city has poorly promoted the new garage and sees only those who work in Olde Town park there.
“It’s less than abandoned,” he said. “All the time.”
RTD is indeed not utilizing the parking garage, said Nate Currey, RTD’s senior manager of public relations. Logistically, he said, until the trains run it isn’t efficient to pull the bus riders into the lot from the current Park-n-Ride lot across the street.
At Silver Vines Winery, a few doors down from the FlyBox, the mood is more optimistic and some customers seem well-informed. Diane Chayer, whose two sons own the winery, said initially she didn’t realize the commuter line and the light rail were any different.
“I kept calling it a light rail,” and some customers corrected her, she said.
“So that being said,” Chayer continued, “because we were all thinking it was going to open, rent has gone up tremendously, and everyone thought it would be bring people to Olde Town supporting our businesses – but it’s kinda hard to go on hearsay.”
At the end of the line, at 52nd and Ward Road in Wheat Ridge, two flaggers in hard hats and safety vests sit under umbrellas on either side of the crossing gates, as they do everyday at each crossing along the A and G lines, serving as back up to the gates closing and opening, when a freight train passes through, which it does a few times a day, and as it did on this particular day.
About 30 seconds before the lumbering locomotive arrives to within a few hundred yards of the gate, its unmistakable, and very loud, whistle blows. As if on cue, the traffic lights turn solid red for automobiles in all directions, and the crossing gates’ lights flash and arms start to drop. Some drivers look annoyed, and turn their vehicles around. This is a long train. It takes almost exactly five minutes for the last car to pass through the intersection. In less than 10 seconds the gates are back up, lights have stopped blinking, and the flaggers return to their umbrellas, the only shade around.
The Ward Road station sticks out like a new thumb amidst industry and a vacant lot. HRE Holdings owns the north side lot, which used to be an alpaca farm. Patrick Henry, principal at HRE, said his development of the site is in no way influenced by the delays of the G Line for whatever reason.
With planning and zoning hurdles still to address, “All that takes time. We can’t really move too aggressively,” said Henry, forecasting his residential project to last several years. “I just need it open by 2019.”
Back at the winery, Chayer, like RTD and it’s partners in building and managing the line Denver Transit Partners, remains optimistic the commuter line’s silver steel cars will be safely connecting passengers to Olde Town and downtown sooner than later, following approval by the FRA.
“We have no plans whatsoever to relocate, despite the rent increase,” she said. “Hopefully it will be a win/win for everybody.”
Cheers to that.