Denver Bus Priority Network Study

DOTI's Bus Priority Program intends to provide near-term, quick build projects that improve the speed and reliability of bus service where it is most delayed throughout Denver. Rather than applying a single solution to an entire route, these projects precisely target intersections and roadway segments that experience delay. A relatively small investment at a strategic location or locations can improve service along an entire route. This approach allows Denver to act quickly to move more people, more efficiently.

This study is a major step towards implementing the vision in Denver Moves: Transit (Phase 1) and is closely coordinating with the Denver Moves: Transit (Phase 2) program development and corridor prioritization process.

Why Focus on Bus Priority?

Faster buses improve access, save riders time, and compete better with private vehicle trips.  Improving the bus network so that service is punctual and consistent will help Denver meet its goal of increasing transit mode share to 15% of Denver commuters by 2030.

Bus Priority improvements can also help RTD operate a more efficient fleet.  For example, RTD can provide the same level of service with fewer buses if delay is reduced, allowing resources to be rebalanced to increase service frequency and/or coverage where desired.  The figure below explains how travel time savings can result in more efficient operations.

The Bus Priority Project yields 13% travel time savings. Faster buses improve access, save riders time, and compete better with private vehicle trips.

Creating a Toolkit of Solutions

To appropriately address highly localized issues that cause delay, the Bus Priority Program developed a toolkit containing scalable treatments to address unique needs at different locations.

Each treatment is intended to address one of the following issues:

  • IssueBuses delayed in traffic congestion along a roadway.
  • Treatment: Roadway treatments such as bus lanes in order to get buses out of traffic congestion.

  • Issue: Buses delayed at intersections either waiting on long queues of vehicles or stopped at red lights.
  • Treatment: Intersection treatments such as traffic signal priority that adjusts signal phasing to allow a bus to move through an intersection more efficiently, or queue jumps that give buses an advanced signal to move through an intersection before general traffic.

  • Issue: Delay at bus stop while passengers are getting on or off the bus.
  • Treatment: Stop Treatments such as bus stop relocation that moves bus stops to more strategic locations allowing buses to stop more easily, or bus stops/islands that allow buses to pick up and drop off riders without pulling in and out of traffic.  Policy Treatments such as cashless on-board fare, off-board fare payment, or all-door boarding that reduce the amount of time a bus needs to dwell at a bus stop.

View the entire toolkit

History of Bus Priority in Denver

Existing Bus Priority in Denver

Denver has a history of utilizing bus priority treatments on its streets.  For example, Denver implemented its first bus only lane in 1975 on Broadway.  Additional enhancements to this corridor such as the transit queue jump at Lincoln Street and 13th Avenue for followed shortly after (see photo below). The 16th Street Mall – Denver’s first transit-only street – opened in 1982.

Other bus priority improvements around Denver have been implemented more recently, examples of which are shown below and can also be seen in the Transit Projects Webmap.

Downtown Bus Lanes

DOTI has constructed bus lanes on 15th, 17th, 18th, and 19th Streets downtown.  This photo of a bus only lane on 17th Street is an example of a curbside bus lane.  In the areas of dashed red paint, other vehicles may cross the bus lane to make right turns, but they are not permitted to travel in this lane.

The bus only lane on 17th Street is an example of a curbside bus lane. In the areas of dashed red paint, other vehicles may cross the bus lane to make right turns, but they are not permitted to travel in this lane.

Transit Queue Jumps

DOTI has installed transit queue jumps at key locations to facilitate challenging bus operations at intersections.  On Lincoln Street at 13th Avenue, buses receive an advanced priority signal that allows them to proceed through the intersection before other vehicles.  In this example, the queue jump is particularly helpful for buses that must merge across Lincoln Street to make left turns at Colfax Avenue.

The transit queue jumps facilitate challenging bus operations at intersections. Buses receive an advanced priority signal that allows them to proceed through the intersection before other vehicles.

Bus Boarding Islands

Bus Boarding Islands on Lawrence, 18th and 19th Streets allow buses to pick up and drop off riders without pulling in and out of traffic and into the bike lanes along these corridors.  This saves the buses time while stopping and reduces potential conflicts between people walking, biking, or accessing the bus.

Bus Boarding Islands allow buses to pick up and drop off riders without pulling in and out of traffic and into the bike lanes along these corridors.

Bus Priority Study Process

Beginning in late 2021, DOTI began a comprehensive study to better understand where buses are moving slowly or unreliably.  The project team conducted a data-driven analysis, as well as engaged with the public and RTD stakeholders to get real-world feedback on where buses are delayed, what might be causing that delay, and how should improvements be prioritized.

Data Driven Analysis

DOTI undertook a data-driven analysis of existing bus operations on Denver streets, evaluating various metrics such as bus speeds, delay, stop dwell, and on-time performance.  Based on stakeholder input, the project team used passenger-delay as the primary metric for evaluation.  Passenger-delay is a measure of delay that considers the average load, or number of passengers on the bus, experiencing that delay.

Summarized results of the delay analysis are shown on the map below.  The analysis excluded segments along corridors that have already received bus priority treatments or are currently being planned for bus priority treatments.

The project team honed in on 270 of the most delayed or least reliable bus route segments to assess for improvements using the Bus Priority Treatments Toolkit. These segments were identified based on:

5% of segments with highest delay
+ 25% of segments with highest passenger-delay
+ segments on most unreliable and delayed routes
+ segments on most delayed COVID Essential routes
- segments outside of Denver
- segments along already improved/planned corridors
= approximately 270 segments for further analysis

Public Feedback

DOTI received nearly 200 comments on this study through a public survey, online mapping tool, three focus groups, and one public meeting. Comments included concerns about safety, accessibility, reliability, and delay. Respondents indicated they want to make sure faster buses don’t come at the expense of traffic safety. They also want to see those improvements equitably distributed across the City.

Bus Priority Network Study Dashboard with a Public Engagement Window of February 2-27, 2022.

Project Prioritization

Once the 270 bus route segments were identified, the project team determined which treatments would be most appropriate on those segments and grouped them into approximately 65 projects for prioritization.

A detailed prioritization process for these 65 projects was performed with consideration given to ridership, service frequency, equity, passenger experience, alignment with Denver’s overall multimodal network and other planning documents, a Vision Zero safety approach, public feedback, and cost-benefit. Denver now has at their fingertips a list of 65 prioritized bus priority projects to utilize when programming projects each year.

Project Prioritization Map

Implementation Plan

Denver will continue to budget for approximately five miles of Bus Priority projects to move forward into feasibility analysis, design, and construction each year. To support DOTI’s efforts to determine which projects to prioritize each year, an Implementation Planning Tool was developed to track considerations including project complexity, potential impacts to traffic or parking, possible funding sources, and coordination opportunities with other projects.

Bus Priority Study Goals

  1. Identify the problem
    • Bus delay
      • What are the predominant sources of bus delay in Denver?
      • Where do Denver buses encounter the most delay?
      • Where does delay affect the most bus passengers in Denver?
    • Bus reliability
      • Where can passengers count on their bus being on time? Where is there an issue with bus reliability?
  2. Fix the problem
    • Determine where improvements need to be made.
    • Determine what treatments to use to fix the problem.
  3. Develop a plan for implementation
    • Prioritize projects to improve transit travel time and reliability.
    • Setup a plan for how to move projects forward consistently.

Denver Transit History

Denver’s first bus-only lanes were introduced on Broadway and Lincoln Street back in 1975 and in 1982 Denver’s first transit-way opened on the 16th Street Mall.  In the 1990’s, transit improvements across the region shifted toward light rail technology with several new rail lines and expansions opening.  This was followed by RTD’s FasTracks program that continued to expand rail service in the region.

With a solid light rail and commuter rail network supporting the metro area, Denver’s transit focus over the last decade has shifted to improving the local and regional bus network.  With the highest ridership in Denver, East Colfax became the top priority for both short-term transit improvements to provide faster and more reliable service for today’s riders, as well as a long-term bus rapid transit investment in the corridor that is bound to attract even more ridership.  The short-term transit improvements along East Colfax Avenue are underway (more information about this exciting project can be found here: 15L Improvement Project | RTD - Denver).

In 2018, RTD completed an analysis to determine which bus corridors in the metro area should be prioritized for similar improvements to allow faster and more reliable service for today’s riders.  As part of this study, conceptual designs were developed for transit improvements along seven RTD corridors, five of which were within Denver (Federal Boulevard, West Colfax Avenue, Downing Street, East 17th & 18th Avenues, and 12th Avenue).  Denver has continued to move these five projects forward with Federal Boulevard and West Colfax Avenue now under final design, East 17th & 18th Avenues budgeted for final design in 2022, 12th Avenue being reconsidered with how to balance transit and bicycle traffic in the area, and improvements to Downing Street being considered as part of other ongoing projects.

In parallel to RTD’s study, Denver had a number of additional projects underway that include significant transit improvements to provide immediate benefits to existing transit riders.  For example, the Denver Moves: Broadway/Lincoln Corridor Study converted the peak-period bus-only lanes to 24-hours and extended the limits of the transit improvements (see Lincoln Transit & Safety Improvements for more information).  Similarly, Denver Moves: Downtown resulted in the implementation of bus-only lanes on 15th Street and 17th Streets in Downtown Denver and the recommendation for bus-only lanes on Market Street, Lawrence Street, and Wazee Street, all of which are budgeted for final design in 2022.  And finally, the 18th/19th Street MetroRide Improvements Project was also recently completed, providing improvements that will benefit not only RTD’s MetroRide, but all routes that utilize the 18th/19th Street corridors in Downtown Denver.

Denver has not only been focusing on the immediate needs to improve transit within the region, but also defining a long-term vision for the future of transit.  Denver Moves: Transit Phase 1 set the vision for a frequent transit network to serve Denver and work towards the goal of achieving 15% transit mode share by 2030.  The plan identified priority corridors to target for improvements ranging from full Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to lower-impact treatments such as bus lanes and signal adjustments that intend to enhance the speed and reliability of transit operations.  Denver Moves: Transit Phase 2 is now underway prioritizing the corridors for the long-term vision to develop a program to implement these projects.

This project, the Denver Bus Priority Network Study, is working hand-in-hand with Denver Moves: Transit (Phase 2) in order to prioritize and develop a program to implement the next round of short-term transit improvement projects that will benefit today’s transit riders.