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PERRY: ‘R’ is ready to ride, but the rest of the metro mass-transit system is off track

February 24, 2017

Finally, Aurora goes from 0 to 55 mph this week as the Regional Transportation District turns on the long-awaited R Line through Aurora and way, way beyond.

I was among those who enthusiastically and naively voted for the beleaguered FasTracks tax plan back in 2004. That was back when the metro area was a place where we were wishing to be such a cool place to live that everyone would want to move here.

It is. They did.

So this critical, new light-rail link that takes you to places you might actually want to go is well timed. From any number of stops on the line that runs from way out on Lincoln Avenue in Douglas County, north to Peoria Street near Interstate 70, you can catch a train that takes you Denver International Airport, downtown Denver, Aurora’s City Center, Park Meadows Mall and IKEA, Anschutz medical Mecca, The Town Center of Aurora mall, The Medical Center of Aurora complex and, soon, an assortment of budding developments that will have cool cafes, apartments, shops and pubs.

It’s a great achievement, but not great enough. Not yet.

Oh, sure. The trains are cool and the stops are pretty well planned. But as nice as RTD’s light-rail trains are, realistically, you pretty much have to drive your car on overburdened metro streets and highways to get to a place to catch the train. From there you get off the train and catch a cab or Uber or Lyft to your final destination. That’s because walking, biking or catching a bus there is increasingly impractical, and dangerous.

Drive to ride? That’s just dumb.

I’m a lucky guy. I not only love traveling all over the country and the world, but I’ve been fortunate enough to do a lot of it. Rural and urban, I’ve gotten around a lot of places. The mass transit systems in places like Vienna, Paris, London, Prague, Frankfurt, Copenhagen, Oslo, Barcelona and Gothenburg are astounding, and not just because they work so well. It’s because they are created to accommodate people who need or want to get around without cars. In Vienna, you can walk to a place to catch the metro system from almost anywhere. If you can’t or won’t, you can ride a bike there. Or catch a trolley. Or a bus. Or, if you must, snag a taxi or an Uber.

In Aurora? Oh, please. There are huge areas of the city along concrete or fence canyons where traffic rushes by like fierce rapids in a torrential river of cars. They’re often places that don’t even have sidewalks, let alone safe ones, or ones that are cleared of snow and ice in the winter. I regularly walk to shops and places near the newsroom at South Peoria Street and East Iliff Avenue. Almost every time, I am nearly accosted by a driver while crossing that petrifying intersection, which is practically adjacent to two, huge public schools.

As a pedestrian in Aurora, and much of the metro area, you are invisible until you are nearly or actually run over. And on a bike? Ack. Just try and ride your bike anywhere on or near Parker Road, Peoria, Havana, Colfax, Chambers or Buckley. By my office, I see a handful of brave souls riding illegally on the sidewalk along Peoria, to school or Nine-Mile Station, because any other option means certain death.

Or, you can walk 20 minutes to catch a bus to the train and wait 20 minutes at the bus stop for a 20-minute bus ride for a 30-minute train ride to walk 15 minutes to a bus stop to wait there for 20-minutes for a 15-minute ride to your final destination. And then do the same thing in reverse to get home? Yeah, right. Mass transit in Denver was created for those without jobs and plenty of time. Or it’s for those with cars and great jobs strategically placed where you can get to them. But to go from your Aurora home to the store, a movie or to school here and most other ring cities? Good luck with that.

We don’t need luck. We need commitment. We need bike lanes, sidewalks, public education on not terrorizing anyone not inside a car on metro roads and streets, more buses, which run on-time, more bus stops, cheaper fares and realistic plans that allow people to get out of their cars and go somewhere other than the end of their driveway.

It’s not an option, it’s the future. The traffic in metro Aurora is now so bad, and getting rapidly worse, that we have no choice but to make mass transit actually appealing to the masses, or just stay home.

It won’t be cheap. And it won’t be easy. But for now, go ahead and drive to a station along the new R Line. Walk as much as you can. Shake your fist at drivers who bully you while you cross streets or parking lots on foot. Go on a nice day when you don’t have to sit in the wind at a bus stop for a transfer. Pay too much for a short ride. And then read this again and call your councilman, your RTD board member and your state lawmaker and tell them to get on board with bringing us the rest of the mass-transit system.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or dperry@AuroraSentinel.com

MORE ON THE R LINE AND TRANSIT:

‘R’ IS FOR ROLLING: R Line trek to VA hospital in Aurora could pose challenge for some veterans

‘R’ IS FOR ROLLING: The R Line is a train of thought, Aurora. Go catch it

‘R’ IS FOR ROLLING: How Aurora’s light rail link became the train that could

‘R’ IS FOR ROLLING: New light rail R line brings light rail to much of Aurora — VIDEO TRAINERS