The Durango “T” bus pulls into the City Transit Center on Tuesday. Usage of public transit has hit a new high in Durango, with nearly 92,000 riders in 2011, a 19 percent increase over the year before./Photo by Steve Eginoire


Get on the bus

City’s transit use hits record high as multimodal plans kick into gear

by Tracy Chamberlin
More and more Durango-  ans are getting on the bus – or the Trolley, or the Late Night Bus, or the Opportunity Bus, or any of the other forms of public transportation available in the city.
The Downtown Trolley alone gave more than 313,000 passengers a free ride in 2011, an increase of 14 percent from the year before.
The transit system as a whole saw ridership grow by 91,480 passengers, a 19 percent increase, for a total of more than 580,000 passengers in 2011.
And almost every branch of the transit system is expected to see even more traffic in 2012. The City, however, is not resting on its public transportation laurels.
At the urging of the community, the city began work on a Multimodal Master Plan in 2009.
The plan is to create a public transportation system that anyone can access with ease.
The key component is to improve connectivity, ensuring pedestrians, transit riders and bicyclist can work together, and transitions between each mode of transportation are simple and seamless.
“We’re focused on developing a connected transportation network,” said Multimodal Administrator Amber Blake.
According to the draft vision statement for the multimodal plan, the city hopes to integrate walkways and bikeways with transit and parking, promoting an interconnected system.
City officials have caught some flack for being behind the original schedule, but it’s not because of bureaucracy or backlog. The City is multitasking.
Rather than just writing the plan, the City is trying to implement as it goes, Blake explained. So when an opportunity presents itself to secure funding or cross something off the to-do list, that’s what happens. “We need to get projects done, while working on the plan,” Blake said.
If the City finds the money and the means to complete the job, it does. Blake said the City needs to take advantage of funding opportunities as they arise, instead of waiting until the plan is complete and trying to seek out the funding after the fact.
An example of that is improving ADA access to the Brookside Park transit stop. The City recently received a grant from the Federal Transit Administration to improve access and widen the sidewalk.
During the winter months, snow can pile up and close off access to the stop, forcing some riders into traffic on North Main.
Russell Planning and Engineering is helping Blake on the Multimodal Plan. The firm, hired with funding from a federal grant, will be providing CAD work and knowledge of road standards and requirements.
Finding funding is important to the implementation of most plans, but it’s not the only measure of success for the Multimodal Plan. In addition to infrastructure, the City is also focusing on education.
Blake calls it “travel training.”
Classes, workshops, informational meetings and other events are being planned to inform residents what the City’s public transportation system has to offer and, more importantly, how it can work for them.
“You live at point A, and work at point B, here are your options,” Blake said, describing the concept behind some of the events.
A new event this year is “Winter Bike to Work Day,” planned for March 1. The City will also be holding its Clean Commute Week again in June, which includes workshops like bike maintenance and special community events.
Blake said she is also looking to engage the younger generation. She hopes to create several educational opportunities designed specifically for kids and teens.
In order to accomplish all this, the City increased its 2012 budget for public transportation by 10.5 percent over 2011 levels. One of the items slated for the funding is the installation of three new downtown bike parking areas.
Local businesses “sponsor” the racks, helping to offset the revenue lost from removing parking meters and construction capital. Durango Coffee is one of the businesses receiving the new racks; the other two are still up for grabs, Blake said.
Another funding idea often tossed around is whether or not the City should charge a fee for free Trolley.
It used to cost 50 cents, but that fare was eliminated in 2009. Trolley ridership has continued to rise ever since. The idea of charging for the Trolley recently resurfaced at City Council meetings, but the concept failed to find any support and was dismissed.
As for the eventual approval of the Multimodal Master Plan, the next step is to present the draft plan to the public and City Council for review, something they hope to do by April or May.
Blake and her team need to complete their study of the existing transit conditions, create the maps defining the areas that need improvement, and eventually put all this information together in a user-friendly format that can be presented to the public and council.
However, Blake still welcomes input on ideas for improving the plan and securing funding. The next public meeting for the Multimodal Master Plan will be Feb. 27 at 4 p.m. at the Durango Public Library, where attendees can review the draft vision statement. n

For additional about the Multimodal Master Plan, to offer up input or to inquire about the bike rack applications, call 970-375-4949, email, or visit