Tyler A. Green

In Transit

Category: Adventures

Denver’s A Line Opens with Fanfare

Friday was a celebration worthy of Duke Ellington and John Hickenlooper. “Take the ‘A’ Train” was finally a meaningful phrase for the Denver metro area! Unfortunately, only one of them could make an appearance, while the other’s legacy lives on.  Relive the opening of the RTD University of Colorado A Line with my photo journey below!

The first bus route of the day: Transfort's FLEX from downtown Fort Collins to Boulder. My friend Austin joined me four stops later and we were on our way!

The first bus route of the day: Transfort’s FLEX from downtown Fort Collins to Boulder. My friend Austin joined me four stops later and we were on our way!

Boulder BCycle bike share bikes outside the Downtown Boulder Center. BCycle is the same provider as Denver's bike share, while Fort Collins recently opened with Zagster.

Boulder BCycle bike share bikes sit outside the Downtown Boulder Station. BCycle is also the operator of Denver’s bike share, while Fort Collins’ recently opened with Zagster.

The bus arrival board in Downtown Boulder Station was quite comprehensive, and similar to the one's found in Union Station.

The bus arrival board in Downtown Boulder Station was quite comprehensive, and similar to the ones found in Union Station.

Our second bus of the day: RTD AB from Downtown Boulder Station to DIA! I had not expected a coach-style bus. The driver was initially confused that we wanted return transfer slips. Apparently not many people taking the airport bus return same day! Obviously, they hadn't met transit enthusiasts like us yet.

Our second bus of the day: RTD AB from Downtown Boulder Station to DIA! I had not expected a coach-style bus. The driver was initially confused that we wanted return transfer slips. Apparently not many people taking the airport bus return same day! Obviously, they hadn’t met transit enthusiasts like us yet.

Our first look of 'Denver Airport' station on the new RTD A line! This was taken from the overlook just below the lobby of the new Westin at DIA.

Our first look of ‘Denver Airport’ station on the new RTD A line! This was taken from the overlook just below the lobby of the new Westin at DIA.

The lobby of the Westin reminded me of iconic jet age images, many lost with the destruction of the Pan Am Worldport. One bank of windows overlooks the A line, while the other looks across a pavilion outside the Jeppesen Terminal.

The lobby of the Westin reminded me of iconic jet age images, many lost with the destruction of the Pan Am Worldport. One bank of windows overlooks the A line, while the other looks across a pavilion outside the Jeppesen Terminal.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper speaks at the opening for the Regional Transportation District University of Colorado A Line at Denver International Airport on Friday, April 22, 2016. Did I do the AP caption style correctly? Anyway, I should have put the over/under on the number of speakers at 9.5. And taken the over. Except for the protesters up in arms over the $9 fare that began shouting midway through the ceremony, everything went as expected.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper speaks at the opening for the Regional Transportation District University of Colorado A Line at Denver International Airport on Friday, April 22, 2016. Did I do the AP caption style correctly? Anyway, I should have put the over/under on the number of speakers at 9.5. And taken the over. Except for the protesters up in arms over the $9 fare that began shouting midway through the ceremony, everything went as expected.

After the ceremony, the public lined up at the "BOARD TRAINS HERE" sign backed by the baby blue branding <a style="display: inline;" href="https://twitter.com/greent_tyler/status/724050085437300737" target="_blank">found everywhere</a> for the #TrainToThePlane. A media run of the train had taken place earlier that morning, so they did not mingle in line with us plebs. While we waited, a band played Duke Ellington's "Take the 'A' Train."

After the ceremony, the public lined up at the “BOARD TRAINS HERE” sign backed by the baby blue branding found everywhere for the #TrainToThePlane. A media run of the train had taken place earlier that morning, so they did not mingle in line with us plebs. While we waited, a band played Duke Ellington’s “Take the ‘A’ Train.”

The five-story escalator from the Westin pavilion to the A line station is the longest in Colorado. And it has art! The visualizations on the back wall were projected out of the fake rocks on the wall. #TheFutureIsHere

The five-story escalator from the Westin pavilion to the A line station is the longest in Colorado. And it has art! The visualizations on the back wall were projected out of the fake rocks on the wall. #TheFutureIsHere

The public makes its way to the first ride on the A line!

The public makes its way to the first ride on the A line!

A portrait to go down in transit lore. If I had been clever in the moment, upon seeing the University of Colorado graphics on the side of the train, I would have said, "That's a wrap!"

A portrait to go down in transit lore. If I had been clever in the moment, upon seeing the University of Colorado graphics on the side of the train, I would have said, “That’s a wrap!”

I wasn't kidding about the baby blue. It was everywhere. We boarded this car!

I wasn’t kidding about the baby blue. It was everywhere. We boarded this car!

The inside of the commuter rail vehicle was immaculate! It had that new train smell. I was taken aback by the imbalanced seating and had to make sure we hadn't accidentally boarded a plane. The vehicles have a top speed of 79 MPH.

The inside of the commuter rail vehicle was immaculate! It had that new train smell. I was taken aback by the imbalanced seating and had to make sure we hadn’t accidentally boarded a plane. The vehicles have a top speed of 79 MPH.

I was excited to finally ride the A line! And if you had asked if my baby blue shirt was in honor of the #TrainToThePlane, I would have answered, "Yes."

I was excited to finally ride the A line! And if you had asked if my baby blue shirt was in honor of the #TrainToThePlane, I would have answered, “Yes.”

I tweeted back and forth with Lisa from @RideRTD and she tracked me down and gave me a sweet squeezy train! I was so calm for the rest of the ride. We departed four minutes early on the inaugural public run of the A line!

I tweeted back and forth with Lisa from @RideRTD and she tracked me down and gave me a sweet squeezy train! I was so calm for the rest of the ride. We departed four minutes early on the inaugural public run of the A line!

The station at 38th and Blake was ready for passengers! Other stations had lines of people waiting to board the first outbound train.

The station at 38th and Blake was ready for passengers! Other stations had lines of people waiting to board the first outbound train.

We passed behind Coors Field as we arrived to Union Station. The Rockies would play (and beat!) the Dodgers on that ground later that day.

We passed behind Coors Field as we arrived to Union Station. The Rockies would play (and beat!) the Dodgers on that ground later that day.

The first passengers arriving at Union Station on the A line!

The first passengers arriving at Union Station on the A line!

We made it! The platform is the first at Union Station with at-grade boarding. Both the light rail vehicles and Amtrak trains require passengers to go up steps to board.

We made it! The platform is the first at Union Station with at-grade boarding. Both the light rail vehicles and Amtrak trains require passengers to go up steps to board.

The passengers on the right wait their turn for a ride on the A line, while those on the left celebrate a smooth inaugural ride.

The passengers on the right wait their turn for a ride on the A line, while those on the left celebrate a smooth inaugural ride.

I love this view because the commuter rail vehicle reminds me of the MTA rolling stock. Denver finally has commuter rail!

I love this view because the commuter rail vehicle reminds me of the MTA rolling stock. Denver finally has commuter rail!

Downtown Denver has come a long way in the last few years. The #TrainToThePlane sits proudly and personified on the backside of Union Station in this photo.

Downtown Denver has come a long way in the last few years. The #TrainToThePlane sits proudly and personified on the backside of Union Station in this photo.

The tracks at Union Station have a neat roof structure! Which doesn't provide much actual roof-age. But it makes for cool photos! Two buildings in development can be seen at the end of the platforms, which will provide even more residential and retail buzz for the LoDo area.

The tracks at Union Station have a neat roof structure! Which doesn’t provide much actual roof-age. But it makes for cool photos! Two buildings in development can be seen at the end of the platforms, which will provide even more residential and retail buzz for the LoDo area.

The queue to board the A line to DIA wrapped around the side of Union Station by the time we arrived on the first train. A public train had left Union Station towards DIA at the same time as ours. The tunnel in the foreground is the entrance to the underground bus depot.

The queue to board the A line to DIA wrapped around the side of Union Station by the time we arrived on the first train. A public train had left Union Station towards DIA at the same time as ours. The tunnel in the foreground is the entrance to the underground bus depot.

The interior of Union Station was bustling! Cities take note: this is a public space to die for.

The interior of Union Station was bustling! Cities take note: this is a public space to die for.

Taking a break from transit, Austin and I made our way up 16th Street Mall to the state capitol!

Taking a break from transit, Austin and I made our way up 16th Street Mall to the state capitol!

One of the stairs near the doors to the capitol is etched with the phrase "One Mile Above Sea Level." The Mile High City, indeed!

One of the stairs near the doors to the capitol is etched with the phrase “One Mile Above Sea Level.” The Mile High City, indeed!

We exercised our rights as citizens willing to walk through a metal detector to experience the rotunda of the Colorado capitol dome.

We exercised our rights as citizens willing to walk through a metal detector to experience the rotunda of the Colorado capitol dome.

The interior of the capitol reminded me of the Minnesota state capitol in St. Paul! Both are incredibly ornate and stately, but feel a tad smaller than the U.S. Capitol building.

The interior of the capitol reminded me of the Minnesota state capitol in St. Paul! Both are incredibly ornate and stately, but feel a tad smaller than the U.S. Capitol building.

There were even representatives working in the Colorado House of Representatives chamber! Considering this was a Friday afternoon, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. The speakers at the ceremony had just praised these individuals' bipartisanship and its impact on the passage and completion of the A line.

There were even representatives working in the Colorado House of Representatives chamber! Considering this was a Friday afternoon, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. The speakers at the ceremony had just praised these individuals’ bipartisanship and its impact on the passage and completion of the A line.

We joined up with a capitol tour just in time to catch a trip up to the dome!

We joined up with a capitol tour just in time to catch a trip up to the dome!

The views looking westward were stunning! Unfortunately, the mountains were more impressive in real life. It was neat to think how all the grass between the capitol and city building had been covered with fans (including myself!) during the Broncos Super Bowl Parade and celebration just a few short months ago.

The views looking westward were stunning! Unfortunately, the mountains were more impressive in real life. It was neat to think how all the grass between the capitol and city building had been covered with fans (including myself!) during the Broncos Super Bowl Parade and celebration just a few short months ago.

The flags cooperated as I snapped a photo of the city building and the rounded Denver Post building. 16th Street Mall can be seen on the far right.

The flags cooperated as I snapped a photo of the city building and the rounded Denver Post building. 16th Street Mall can be seen on the far right.

And continuing the northward pan, this was the view of downtown Denver from the capitol dome.

And continuing the northward pan, this was the view of downtown Denver from the capitol dome.

This was the staircase we took to reach the dome level at the capitol. I filmed a brief episode for the Discovery Channel in my mind during the trips up and down.

This was the staircase we took to reach the dome level at the capitol. I filmed a brief episode for the Discovery Channel in my mind during the trips up and down.

Walking back towards Union Station, we made our last pass through Civic Center Station. The end-of-line for the Mall Ride is slated for replacement by something glassier, according to Austin.

Walking back towards Union Station, we made our last pass through Civic Center Station. The end-of-line for the Mall Ride is slated for replacement by something glassier, according to Austin.

This semi-protected bike lane on Lawrence Street reminded us that on a day that a train stole the show, mobility options do not stop with heavy rail.

This semi-protected bike lane on Lawrence Street reminded us that on a day that a train stole the show, mobility options do not stop with heavy rail.

We made the journey back to Fort Collins using the Flatiron Flyer “bus rapid transit” from Union Station to Boulder. From there, the FLEX took us north onto the MAX guideway and to our respective stops in FoCo. Our $9 regional RTD day passes worked as fare for both the AB and the Flyer. The A line was free for opening day, and I used my Transfort year pass to board the FLEX. This means, we traveled to Denver and back for only nine dollars. Without Transfort passes, the total would have been $11.50. Once the A line begins revenue service, this route will cost $20.50. Regardless, transit has come a long way in northern Colorado and our (very circuitous) route showed that mobility has reached new heights.

I am excited for the rest of the FasTracks program and am thrilled we had the chance to experience the first public run of the #TrainToThePlane.

Until next time Denver opens a train line, ride on!

Have you gotten to ride the A line yet? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Bike Share Has Arrived in Fort Collins

I took advantage of a gorgeous Saturday morning to try out Fort Collins’ newest urban mobility option: bike share!

The overall process is quite smooth. Here are your six steps to a ride about the town.

  1. Download the Zagster app and create an account.
  2. Choose from daily, weekly, or yearly memberships.
  3. Enter the code of the bike you wish to use into the app to get the U-lock key.
  4. Unlock the bike.
  5. Ride!
  6. Return the bike to any station, lock it up with the U-lock, and hit “Return it!” on the app.

That’s it! Keep reading for some photos of my experience and details on each component of the bike share.

The Stations

As you can see in the screenshots below, there are several stations scattered throughout Old Town. The second image is a wider map view of Fort Collins, which shows the stations are very concentrated in a single part of town for now. I would expect the station coverage to expand if the program proves successful in the denser section of Fort Collins, following the roll-out model of Chicago’s Divvy bike share.

Map of bike share stations in north Fort Collins.

Map of bike share stations in north Fort Collins.

Bike share stations are concentrated main around Old Town Fort Collins at the system's launch on Friday, April 1st. But this is no joke!

Bike share stations are concentrated main around Old Town Fort Collins at the system’s launch on Friday, April 1st. But this is no joke!

The bike share station at Oak and College.

The bike share station at Oak and College.

The instructions at the Oak and College station have already been "artistically modified."

The instructions at the Oak and College station have already been “artistically modified.”

The Fees

The fee structure is as follows:

  • 24 hour membership for $7, weekly membership for $15, or annual membership for $60.
  • Free to checkout a bike for the first 30 minutes, $2 an hour after that, up to $18 for a single ride.

I’ve included some screenshots showing how you pick your payment plan in the Zagster app. I purchased the 24 hour membership for $7 and had the bike checked out for about 50 minutes, resulting in a $2 usage fee.

Screenshot of the Zapster app for the 24 hour membership.

Screenshot of the Zapster app for the 24 hour membership.

Screenshot of the Zapster app for the weekly membership.

Screenshot of the Zapster app for the weekly membership.

Screenshot of the Zapster app for the annual membership.

Screenshot of the Zapster app for the annual membership.

The Bikes

I could tell the bikes were very new (I was riding on their second day of operation) and mine had a great feel to it! It was a comfortable cruiser with 8 speeds controlled by a single dial on the right hand grip. I would have preferred one higher gear for cruising down Mountain Avenue, but the gear range is quite suitable for most urban biking trips, especially in a town as flat as Fort Collins.

Two codes are important when unlocking the bike. First, you enter the 4-digit code labeled “Zagster.com Bike #” into the app. This code is on the side of the keypad on the rack above the back tire. There is also a longer code on the other side that did not work. The app gave a me a bike not available error when I tried the longer one, so be sure to enter the correct code! After you do this, the app will give you a longer code which you enter on the bike keypad (sandwiched by two presses of the ENT(er) key). This will cause they keypad to open, revealing a key you can use the unlock the U-lock.

The bike even had a bell and basket in front! I saw another bike share user put the U-lock in a slot on the back rack so I did the same. It jiggled a bit while the bike was in motion, so I wonder if some rubber could be added to create a more peaceful ride.

I’m not quite sure what I did to relock the key box when I returned the bike. I locked the U-lock back up to the station, but could not get the key box to close. The sign on the bike says to re-enter your code if you can’t get the box to lock, and I did this and was eventually able to hear the box relock, but I don’t think it was because of me re-entering the code. If you understand the inputs and feedback of this system, please let me know!

The keypad on the back rack of the bike.

The keypad on the back rack of the bike.

Instruction for using the keypad, also on the back rack of the bike.

Instruction for using the keypad, also on the back rack of the bike.

A row of new Zagster bikes at the Oak and College station.

A row of new Zagster bikes at the Oak and College station.

The 4-digit code you type into the app on the side of the keypad.

The 4-digit code you type into the app on the side of the keypad.

The 8-digit code you DO NOT type into the app.

The 8-digit code you DO NOT type into the app.

The slot which holds the U-lock while you ride.

The slot which holds the U-lock while you ride.

Recommendations for the Bike Share

I noticed two features that were missing from the app. First, it did not seem possible to begin a second reservation using the same phone. This would be a major hindrance to renting bikes for a family. I would hope there is actually a way to do this. Does anyone know if I just missed this feature?

Second, the app does not tell you how many bikes are available at each station. I know I did not miss this feature because the technology does not exist at the stations to track this. When I said “Return It!” it was my responsibility to lock the bike up to any station using the provided U-lock. Yes, I returned mine to the same station from which I checked it out, but this is not required, nor known to the app. Bike counts will not affect passerbys, but it could prevent someone from leaving home expecting to rent a bike that may not be at the closest station.

All in all, I was quite pleased with the new Fort Collins bike share! I had a lovely bike ride from Old Town to City Park and back on a comfortable bike. Visible bikes in Old Town are a great addition to an already strong biking culture in this city. I can see the system being very useful for visitors or even residents who came to Old Town without their bike but decide to go on a ride. Almost more than anything, we are seeing mobility options improve in Fort Collins and that should be celebrated!

I know I normally say this about other modes of transit, but until next time…

Ride on!

Have you had any good or bad experiences with the bike share?

My Zagster bike at City Park Lake. The new bike share is a great improvement for mobility in Fort Collins!

My Zagster bike at City Park Lake. The new bike share is a great improvement for mobility in Fort Collins!

Warning: The Fort Collins Streetcar is Adorable

Transit fans be warned: the Fort Collins streetcar is adorable. It’s no kitten, but Car 21 certainly takes you to an era bygone. I wanted to grab an evening post, tighten the top button on my overcoat, and ride into a romanticized time as I leaned against the rattan-backed seat.

The inside of the Fort Collins streetcar.

The interior of Car 21 in all its glory. Yes, the historically accurate ceiling tie reads “Smoking on Two Rear Seats Only”.

A sign at the trolley barn for the Fort Collins streetcar.

I’m a big fan of this sign inside the Fort Collins Municipal Railway trolley barn. The icon is quite accurate! The streetcar in this icon is traveling right to left. Doing the opposite would be called “back-poling” and is rightly frowned upon for fear of overhead wire disconnects.

Car 21 of the Fort Collins streetcar.

Car 21 ready to depart the trolley barn. The wooden slats on the front form a safety catcher. When an item trips this mechanism, another set of wooden bars behind it drop low to the tracks to catch the item on the track. As one motorman told me, “It’s so you get beat to death rather than run over.” Each end has a safety catcher, since we don’t turn the streetcar around.

Fort Collins streetcar on Mountain Avenue.

Car 21 in the barn is neat, but Car 21 driving down Mountain Avenue is neater! I remember being distracted while taking this photo by the compressor noisily working to reach 50 PSI. Air brakes, am I right? The handle on the top right of the seats is used to switch the seat back when the streetcar changes direction of travel.

A few of the interesting technical components:

  • The two strands of lights along the ceiling are wired in series with the headlights. Just like with old Christmas tree lights, when one goes out, you may have to test them all! (The expected value of the number of lights you’ll have to test before finding the defective one is n / 2, where n is the number of lights in series and assuming each light has equal probability of being defective at that moment. Since that assumption is false, the provided equation is useless. #probability)
  • While 600 V DC comes in through the overhead wire, its path to ground is through the undercarriage and into the tracks. Literally: to ground. This is neat enough by itself, but this also means the electrical path from overhead wire to ground goes through the gear (constant 5:1 ratio on the two electric motors on Car 21) teeth. And this was by design. I was blown away when I learned that!
  • The motorman has control to drop water on the tracks when going around turns to prevent the screeching sound that reminds us that steel-wheeled trains are not easy to turn. The original Fort Collins streetcars used grease, but were run in a less environmentally friendly time. To avoid risking the water tanks freezing, we ran the streetcar at full volume yesterday.
  • The streetcar is equipped with a people counter that is incremented by the motorman with the pull of a handle. It rolls over at 100,000 passengers and gives a mechanical chime so sweet it made me never want to use anything electronic ever again. The car has carried over 260,000 riders since it re-opened in 1984.

Learning about the streetcar led me to pay more attention to the dates on the transit history art at the South Transit Center. Below is a depiction of streetcars at the intersection of Mountain and College. The wye-shaped interchange was famous among train buffs at the time and was known as the “Three-Way Meet”. I’m pretty sure there is another tile commemorating Fort Collins’ final streetcar in 1951, but my bus was early on this day and I prioritized not being stranded over trolley art coverage. I’ll look for it this week!

Fort Collins streetcar transit art at the South Transit Center.

Until next time, ride on!

All Aboard the Fort Collins Municipal Railway!

After seeing a call for volunteers in the Coloradoan, Calvin and I are now conductors-in-training for the Fort Collins Municipal Railway! We had our first session yesterday and toured the trolley barn on N. Howes Street. I’ve shared a few photos below!

Streetcars originally ran in Fort Collins from 1907 until 1951. Five streetcars served the city over these years. The first run of restored Car 21 was in 1984, and this is the car that still runs today. The FCMR Society is in the process of restoring a “second Car 25.” (Who needs unique fleet numbers??) I’m looking forward to learning more of the history of the trolley and giddy for the opportunity to share the intrigue of a historical mode of transit with the families of Fort Collins this summer!

The trolley runs on weekends and holidays May through September. Visit fortcollinstrolley.org for more information!

The Fort Collins Municipal Railway barn on N. Howes Street. It was built in roughly ten years before the date listed on its sign of 1919. Not sure of the reason for the misdirection!

The Fort Collins Municipal Railway barn on N. Howes Street. It was built in roughly ten years before the date listed on its sign of 1919. Not sure of the reason for the misdirection!

The body of Car 25 in restoration in the trolley barn. The "truck" or undercarriage is pictured in the foreground. Its current restoration as Charleston Car 407 was done by the SCANA Corporation of South Carolina. It was purchased by the Fort Collins Municipal Railway society in 2007.

The body of Car 25 in restoration in the trolley barn. The “truck” or undercarriage is pictured in the foreground. Its current restoration as Charleston Car 407 was done by the SCANA Corporation of South Carolina. It was purchased by the Fort Collins Municipal Railway society in 2007.

A closer view of the truck of Car 25. In the foreground and background center are the two motors that power the wheels. The short wheel base was common among Birney cars such as this one.

A closer view of the truck of Car 25. In the foreground and background center are the two motors that power the wheels. The short wheel base was common among Birney cars such as this one.

A close up of one of the Car 25 wheels. The motorman has a control that will drop sand onto the tracks in front of each tire to assist in braking!

A close up of one of the Car 25 wheels. The motorman has a control that will drop sand onto the tracks in front of each wheel to assist in braking!

Other contents of the trolley barn garage included a recently-retired Transfort bus. There was talk of opening a transportation museum, and this is one of the "relics". Transfort does not operate any Blue Birds today, so this find excited me!

Other contents of the trolley barn garage included a recently-retired Transfort bus. There was talk of opening a transportation museum, and this is one of the “relics”. Transfort does not operate any Blue Birds today (only Gilligs and NABIs, that I know of), so this find excited me!

More trolley barn contents: a historical Timnath fire truck!

More trolley barn contents: a historical Timnath fire truck!

A historical omnibus (horse-drawn bus) in the Fort Collins Municipal Railway trolley barn! There is some doubt as two whether this was actually a school bus, but the side reads "Cache la Poudre School Bus."

A historical omnibus (horse-drawn bus) in the Fort Collins Municipal Railway trolley barn! There is some doubt as two whether this was actually a school bus, but the side reads “Cache la Poudre School Bus.”

A side view of the "Cache la Poudre School Bus" in the Fort Collins Municipal trolley barn.

A side view of the “Cache la Poudre School Bus.”

Two giants in transit: Blue Bird and Transfort.

Two giants in transit: Blue Bird and Transfort.

The Transfort bus was retired even more recently than I would have guessed; this label shows its annual inspection was last completed in June 2014.

The Transfort bus was retired even more recently than I would have guessed; this label shows its annual inspection was last completed in June 2014.

The interior of Car 25 during restoration in the Fort Collins Municipal Railway trolley barn.

The interior of Car 25 during restoration.

The ceiling of Car 25 is marked with its original manufacturer: J.G. Brill Company in Philadelphia. Brill stopped making transit vehicles in 1954.

The ceiling of Car 25 is marked with its original manufacturer: J.G. Brill Company in Philadelphia. Brill stopped making transit vehicles in 1954.

I have loads more to learn about trolleys in Fort Collins! Let me know if you have any questions and I can likely find the answer from the knowledgeable people in the society. Hope to see you on the ride down Mountain Avenue this summer!

Ride on!

I Spot Transfort MAX Buses

If you wanted to see pictures of all six eight nine Transfort MAX buses, you are in luck! Please join me as we tour the fleet of North American Bus Industries vehicles. And no, I’m not the first person to practice bus spotting.

Aside: please raise your hand if you were also worried upon discovering the first verb in the first sentence on NABI’s Wikipedia page is in past tense. “NABI Bus, LLC (NABI) was a designer and producer of heavy-duty transit buses…” The NABI brand was discontinued in 2014 (the year the MAX opened) and its plants will now produce buses for its parent brand, New Flyer. I hope NABI spare parts were not also discontinued.

MAX 79

MAX 79 from the fleet of Transfort buses

MAX 79 departing the South Transit Center. Bus 79 was my last bus to spot and I was getting anxious. Calmer pictures to follow!

MAX 80

MAX 80 from the fleet of Transfort MAX buses

MAX 80 at the South Transit Center. This AM-sunlit platform would be clutch during my season of bus spotting.

MAX 81

MAX 81 from the fleet of Transfort MAX buses

A northbound MAX 81 crossing Olive on Mason. Again, not a bus portrait studio, but necessary for completion. This intersection would serve me well in the future…

MAX 82

MAX 82 from the fleet of Transfort MAX buses

MAX 82, also northbound at Olive and Mason. I couldn’t have produced this motion panning effect even if I tried! And I definitely didn’t. (See MAX 81.) Let’s say I was hoping to produce a neat “we’re going places” effect for a Transfort promotional.

MAX 83

MAX 83 from the fleet of Transfort MAX buses

MAX 83 back at the sun-soaked South Transit Center. This is the only known photo of my shadow with a MAX bus. Except for the other three in this set I cropped it out of.

MAX 84

MAX 84 from the fleet of Transfort buses

MAX 84 at the…you guessed it…South Transit Center with a…you guessed it…tumbleweed. #colorado

MAX 102

MAX 102 from the fleet of Transfort MAX buses

MAX 102 at the South Transit Center on a day where the snow tainted its usually-pristine livery. MAX 103 peeps in from the rear. Buses 102 and 103 were ordered after the other six, which explains the gap in the fleet numbers.

MAX 103

MAX 103 from the fleet of Transfort MAX buses

MAX 103 at the South Transit Center on the same sloppy morning. Doesn’t that sky just look cold? Bus 103 is currently the highest-numbered in the Transfort fleet.

And, a bonus…

MAX 89: “MiniMAX”

MAX 89, also known as Mini MAX, from the fleet of Transfort MAX buses

MAX 89 at the South Transit Center. Notice the lack of articulation? Because this is MiniMAX! The articulated buses are not run in the snow and this 40′ replacement is the only (that I know of) non-articulated bus with the MAX livery. It was an unexpected treat to watch the snow fall through a backwards “max” during this ride!

If you’re wondering what kind of idyllic bus world the cover image to this post is from, the answer is Adobe Lightroom. Doesn’t this better-than-real image make you want to go ride a bus?

I’ll see you there.

Ride on!

MAX 80 from the fleet of Transfort MAX buses

Cider Up! A Photo Recap from the Windy City

Each February, a few Purdue friends and I make our way to Navy Pier for Cider Summit Chicago. This was our third year of sampling fermented apples, and my second of making the weekend trip from Colorado to Chicago. I’ve included a few photos from the fantastic weekend below! They can be reasonably categorized into the following: airports, Chicago, Chicago transit, friends, friends on transit, transit in airports, and waffles.

Until next year, Cider Up! Oh, and ride on.

Denver's iconic Jeppesen Terminal pre-6am on a Saturday.

Denver’s iconic Jeppesen Terminal pre-6am on a Saturday.

I always pick a window seat, but is most rewarding flying into Chicago. Here we are looking east while making the turn towards O'Hare.

I always pick a window seat, but is most rewarding flying into Chicago. Here we are looking east while making the turn towards O’Hare.

O'Hare are we? I met Pushpinder and Dhawal in the airport and we relived one of 18 moments from our 2014 Starbucks adventure!

O’Hare are we? I met Pushpinder and Dhawal in the airport and we relived one of 18 moments from our 2014 Starbucks adventure!

Me with a Blue line train at Clinton. Subway selfies are going to be a thing!

Me with a Blue line train at Clinton. Subway selfies are going to be a thing!

Walking up to Union Station with the Willis Tower looming.

Walking up to Union Station with the Willis Tower looming.

The new protected bike lane and Loop Link station on Washington Street!

The new protected bike lane and Loop Link station on Washington Street!

Loop Link signage at Washington Street and Franklin Street.

Loop Link signage at Washington Street and Franklin Street.

I had read about the gap between the wall and cover of the Loop Link stations, but I didn't realize it was quite this drastic. Especially with Chicago winters. Hmm.

I had read about the gap between the wall and cover of the Loop Link stations, but I didn’t realize it was quite this drastic. Especially with Chicago winters. Hmm.

Macy's on State had a Chicago skyline replica made from chocolate!

Macy’s on State had a Chicago skyline replica made from chocolate!

And its L train was huge!

And its L train was huge!

Honestly, we really just rode the escalators up and down inside Macy's on State. Public transit?

Honestly, we really just rode the escalators up and down inside Macy’s on State. Public transit?

I guess I can see why the Randolph/Washington CTA station is one scheduled to be replaced by Washington/Wabash in 2017, but that doesn't mean I don't think this is neat route identification.

I guess I can see why the Randolph/Washington CTA station is one scheduled to be replaced by Washington/Wabash in 2017, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think this is neat route identification.

After exploring Macy's and listening to me ramble about Loop Link stations, my friend Jenni and I went to the Bean!

After exploring Macy’s and listening to me ramble about Loop Link stations, my friend Jenni and I went to the Bean!

Yep. There it is.

Yep. There it is.

My favorite angle!

My favorite angle!

We discovered stones and fragments in the base of the Tribune Tower! I only took photos of those from the local ballparks (correctly oriented with Wrigley's north of Comiskey's), but other structures such as the Berlin Wall, the Taj Mahal, and even the Pyramids were represented. Awesome oasis on Michigan Avenue!

We discovered stones and fragments in the base of the Tribune Tower! I only took photos of those from the local ballparks (correctly oriented with Wrigley’s north of Comiskey’s), but other structures such as the Berlin Wall, the Taj Mahal, and even the Pyramids were represented. Awesome find on Michigan Avenue!

I didn't think to look for a piece from U.S Cellular Field until now.

I didn’t think to look for a piece from U.S Cellular Field until I got home.

Blue skies at Navy Pier in February - what a surprise!

Blue skies at Navy Pier in February – what a surprise!

We made our way to the far end of Navy Pier salivating over the thought of cider.

We made our way to the far end of Navy Pier salivating over the thought of cider.

Vivek joins Pushpinder, Dhawal, and I in front of the Cider Summit banner. We took a picture with this banner (same one??) in Portland last summer!

Vivek joins Pushpinder, Dhawal, and I in front of the Cider Summit banner. We took a picture with this banner (same one??) in Portland last summer!

Jenni was excited for her first Cider Summit!

Jenni was excited for her first Cider Summit!

Purdue runs deep! Eleven total Cider Summit visits have been recorded between this hilarious bunch.

Purdue runs deep! Eleven total Cider Summit visits have been recorded between this hilarious bunch.

So many cider vendors in such a cool setting!

So many cider vendors in such a cool setting!

The pedestrian connectivity to Navy Pier is kind of sketchy, but it gets the job done!

The pedestrian connectivity to Navy Pier is kind of sketchy, but it gets the job done!

I take all my friends' pictures on transit. Here, Eric is enjoying his finger-less gloves on the southbound Red line.

I take all my friends’ pictures on transit. Here, Eric is enjoying his finger-less gloves on the southbound Red line.

Jenni made a less-than-excited transit face, but eventually couldn't contain her excitement to be riding with CTA! Eric's finger-less gloves make an appearance.

Jenni made a less-than-excited transit face, but eventually couldn’t contain her excitement to be riding with CTA! Eric’s finger-less gloves make an appearance.

LinkedIn worthy?

LinkedIn worthy?

CTA's Roosevelt station serves both an underground route (Red) and two above ground routes (Orange and Green). I'm a fan of the CTA branding!

CTA’s Roosevelt station serves both an underground route (Red) and two above ground routes (Orange and Green). I’m a fan of the CTA branding!

The idea of a train passing through a side parking lot got me excited. This one is next to Eleven City Diner, our brunch destination.

The idea of a train passing through a side parking lot got me excited. This one is next to Eleven City Diner, our brunch destination.

Okay, so this is the only photo in the waffle category. Eleven City Diner!

Okay, so this is the only photo in the waffle category.

Eleven City Diner was hopping midday Sunday!

Eleven City Diner was hopping midday Sunday!

Eric found an open house near the Hancock Tower, so went checked out an urban condo! This is the view looking north from its enormous balcony.

Eric found an open house near the Hancock Tower, so went checked out an urban condo! This is the view looking north from its enormous balcony.

We finally visited the sponsor of the Chicago Cider Summit, Binny's Beverage Depot!

We finally visited the sponsor of the Chicago Cider Summit, Binny’s Beverage Depot!

I always enjoy looking at the Chicago Board of Trade building and how it cuts off La Salle Street. The Rookery is in the foreground on the left.

I always enjoy looking at the Chicago Board of Trade building and how it cuts off La Salle Street. The Rookery is in the foreground on the left.

The Great Hall at Union Station goes pink!

The Great Hall at Union Station goes pink!

Union Station is set to receive another upgrade, but here is a marker from a 1991 concourse renovation.

Union Station is set to receive another upgrade, but here is a marker from a 1991 concourse renovation.

I took this photo on the Blue Line in hopes that the strip map would one day provide some historical insight. Until then, this is literally just a photo of two sliding doors.

I took this photo on the Blue Line in hopes that the strip map would one day provide some historical insight. Until then, this is literally just a photo of two sliding doors.

The O'Hare CTA station always gets me excited at the beginning of my trips! And sad at the end of my trips. Maybe in a few years, I'll be saying that about the O'Hare Express.

The O’Hare CTA station always gets me excited at the beginning of my trips! And sad at the end of my trips. Maybe in a few years, I’ll be saying that about the O’Hare Express.

The view from the top of the CTA station escalators at O'Hare.

The view from the top of the CTA station escalators at O’Hare.

I enjoy walking down this section near the K gates of O'Hare's terminal 3. And O'Hare's is a weird word. Two apostrophes? Really?!

I enjoy walking down this section near the K gates of O’Hare’s terminal 3. And O’Hare’s is a weird word. Two apostrophes? Really?!

I would leave Chicago with loads of fantastic memories and one sweet CTA magnet!

I would leave Chicago with loads of fantastic memories and one sweet CTA magnet!

Chicago, je t’aime.

A Snowy Monday on Transfort

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

The unofficial creed of the United States Postal Service flashed into my mind on my bus ride home today. The clouds rolled in and dropped more than a half-dozen inches of snow on us Fort Colanders (Fort Collinizens? Fort Colonials?) over the course of the day Monday in Northern Colorado. Yet through it all, Transfort service stayed constant. Mostly.

As I first noticed during a large dump of snow a few weeks back, the articulated MAX buses are not run in the snow. The trend continued today! Besides an opportunity to ride #MiniMAX (full post on Transfort bus spotting coming soon), riding the 36 foot and 40 foot members of the fleet are a fun and cozy change. We only slipped a few times during my morning commute and I didn’t have to leave the parking lot with my windshield wipers standing erect like many of my coworkers. Bus in the snow = win! I warmed up with some Coloradoan/Russian coffee from Dazbog and arrived to work giddy from the winter weather. The ride home was more….interesting.

A Transfort bus stop in the snow.

My ride home started out as bleak as midwinter.

After waiting about 10 minutes past due for the Route 16 bus, I checked the Transfort app to see where it was. Yes, this arguably should have been my first step, but the buses are generally on time and this isn’t required. I saw no westbound bus on the map, but there was an eastbound 16 that would eventually wrap around to me. However, I was getting cold, so I made the snow-taneous decision to run across a six lane road and through a very-snowy-and-never-sidewalked area of grass to catch the bus at the next stop. My plan was successful!

A Transfort bus stop in the snow.

Can you see why the Fort Collins Public Transit Action Group is trying to get more consistent snow removal at bus stops?

Aside: I would have appreciated for Transfort’s Twitter account to be used to announce any service changes or lack of due to the snow. I can understand if you don’t have alerts as detailed as the NYCT Subway, but I would have liked at least a cursory notice that the buses are operating today. The announcements they do make via Twitter are very helpful, but I think running a more interactive account could be beneficial to everyone. Regardless, I have been impressed with the real-time data through their app!

After completing the full loop out to the Harmony Transit Center and back, we made our way to the South Transit Center (STC). There was a snow clearer wearing a “TRANSFORT SUPERVISOR” jacket, so I took the opportunity to ask him about the articulated MAXs’ absence when flurries start to fall. He explained that the Mason Corridor surface has a crown and the back section of the buses can slip when the roads are icy. He sent me off to board the short MAX with something along the lines of, “Don’t want to take any chances with your safety!” What a guy!

I’m happy to have an explanation for the fleet switch purely out of curiosity’s sake. However, I still find it odd that there was a $200,000 annual line item labeled “MAX/BRT Snow Removal” in the 2015-2016 Fort Collins City Budget, but that isn’t enough to always run the buses you bought for that guideway. Any rate, I commend Transfort for their overall service in the snow, as they did indeed get me to work and home safely!

On the northbound MAX ride, I enjoyed chatting with a University of Arkansas alum! We sped through about eleven topics on the ride, including Tour de Fat, the Clinton Presidential Library, and that Memphis exists.

A Transfort bus in the snow.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night could slow this Transfort bus.

Old Town Fort Collins in the snow

Old Town Fort Collins is magical!

We only ran into one curb and the driver managed to drop everyone at the proper stops even though the cord wasn’t working! I always love riding the bus, but days like today where about ten interesting things happen get me even more excited. I couldn’t stop smiling my whole walk home from the snowy bus adventure! I’ll leave this post with what my friend Colby, of #RTDDay fame, once said, “I get the bus thing. You’re taking something that’s normal and you’re turning it into something that’s magical.”

Other News

I recently discovered this awesome visualization on bus bunching! It’s mesmerizing to watch the “vicious cycle” of a bus being delayed for some reason, then being even more delayed after having to board a larger number of waiting passengers at the next stop.

I’m working on a project similar to this transit frequency visualization from Transitland. I’ve just about completed the Ruby side and learned lot about Ruby Gems and GeoJSON in the process! All that’s left is getting the hang of Mapbox to make a flashy result. I have already looked at the results in QGIS and that would make a suitable platform, but I’m excited to get more comfortable with Javascript while using the mapping service I  noticed is now used by The Weather Channel. No, my project will not address the looming L train crisis, but I hope it will still be insightful!

Until next time, ride on!

Honolulu Is Where the HART Is

Rapid transit is coming to Hawaii! Construction has begun on an elevated Honolulu rapid transit system, operated by the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit. Residents and tourists alike will be able to traverse a 20-mile route in just 42 minutes.

I was fortunate enough to spend the holidays with my parents on the island of Oahu. One afternoon, I visited Waikiki Brewing Company and met Pomai, the man behind the popular Honolulu food blog, The Tasty Island. I was vaguely familiar with the HART project, but Pomai gave me a local tip on how to learn more. He spoke of an informational exhibit and diorama at Satellite City Hall in the Ala Moana Center, a popular Honolulu mall.

I eagerly took his suggestion! The next few photos show a model of the West Loch Station, which is near the western terminus of the route.

Diorama of HART Station, the upcoming Honolulu rapid transit

Diorama of HART Station, the upcoming Honolulu rapid transit

Diorama of HART Station, the upcoming Honolulu rapid transit

Diorama of HART Station, the upcoming Honolulu rapid transit

Diorama of HART Station, the upcoming Honolulu rapid transit

A few things stood out to me:

  • The trains will be the first driverless rail cars in the United States. Compared to rail cars with drivers, these are expected to provide increased safety and reliability, along with lower cost of operation. (For a much more in-depth discussion on HART’s planned automation, check out this fantastic CityLab article on the topic.) I personally think the automation is a great step for transit in America! It gives a new and long overdue realm for technology to impact positively, and will hopefully cause other cities to consider the same plan (if they can avoid labor union disputes). The main downside to automated trains I can see is the absence of the charming and alarmingly ineffective “conductor speak”. Who knows? Maybe Hawaii’s humidity will wreck havoc on the speakers and even Microsoft Sam will end up sounding like a muffled conductor in Queens.
  • The last photo above shows the platform safety gates which will be installed at each station. I have seen these in several European cities, but I’m not aware of another example in the United States. (Let me know if I’m incorrect!) I assume they will be a bit taller than barely reaching the shoulders of the pictured man in the fedora, but we’ll see.
  • A single pass will be accepted on both rail and buses. Besides making a collector’s item for transit ticket junkies, this which will ease the hassle of making a transfer. Single farecards excite me because multimodal passes turn a collection of transit services into a veritable “transit system”. Any services that can be bundled onto a single card tend to lower my encounters with what I call “The Exact Fare Problem”: why figure out how to take a bus when it isn’t obvious AND you don’t have dollar bills and/or quarters?
  • The route does not reach into Waikiki, meaning droves of tourists will have to take bus connections from the Ala Moana Center, the eastern terminus. I assume this is due to the lack of space for a guideway through this dense neighborhood, though it wouldn’t surprise me if some of Waikiki’s high-end hotels are playing the NIMBY card. I’m sure the city of Honolulu knows how important the tourists that fill their rooms are to the local economy. While the Waikiki resorts are at most 20 minutes by bus from Ala Moana, it’s frustrating when a transit project doesn’t go all in.
  • There will be a policy for passengers traveling with surfboards. My only response to that is: #hawaii.

Pomai mentioned his main frustration was that the project will be steel-wheel-on-steel-rail instead of maglev. My initial reaction was that an urban rail would not benefit from the increased speeds offered by maglev trains (due to the short distances between stops), but I reasoned that maglav would likely offer greater reliability. Fewer moving parts => fewer maintenance issues! Upon reading more, it sounds like this decision was made when applying for the federal Full Funding Grant Agreement, rather than being a recent budget cut. You can read about this and a few other myths on the official HART Mythbusters page. This decision didn’t bother me as I’d never even considered using maglev technology on an intra-city system. Let me know if there are any examples out there!

The following photos are some of the infographics that were on display. You can click on each of the photos below to view a larger version!

Station map for HART, the upcoming Honolulu rapid transit

Information about HART, the upcoming Honolulu rapid transit

Platform renderings for HART, the upcoming Honolulu rapid transit

I’m excited to ride HART during a future trip to Honolulu! It will complement the existing bus system, TheBus. I spent a not-insignificant part of the week on the 2, 19, and 42 bus routes. The service got me to where I needed to go (and I enjoyed it…), but trips to Aloha Stadium and Pearl Harbor, in particular, will GREATLY benefit from the rail connection. For example, Pearl Harbor to the Ala Moana Center took me 52 minutes on the 42 bus, but will take just 19 minutes via HART. As Honolulu is ranked as the 3rd worst city in the United States for traffic congestion, heavy rail can’t come soon enough!

Until next time, ride on!

TheBus, Honolulu's extensive bus system

This bus was NOT IN SERVICE, but will always be IN MY HEART.

Ride the Entire Denver Light Rail In One Day? I’m On Board!

Most days, I am content to take the bus to work and back, read a piece or two of transit news, and go to sleep dreaming I am swaying in the center aisle of a brisk underground train. Other days, I have an idea that reroutes the temporary flow of my daily consciousness for the better. One Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, I had one of those thoughts. “I SHOULD RIDE THE ENTIRE DENVER LIGHT RAIL IN ONE DAY.” It seemed so obvious. How was this a new thought to me?! Having completed a similar urban challenge in the past and enjoying a growing passion for public transit, this was the perfect goal. I set a due date: by the end of 2015, I would ride all 6 lines of the RTD light rail.

Stations Completed: 0. Buses Ridden: 0. Ideas I Was Thrilled to Implement: 1.

I live 65 miles north of Denver in sunny Fort Collins, so getting to the starting line of this adventure presented an opportunity for innovation. I was nominally familiar with Bustang, a CDOT commuter bus service that began running earlier in 2015. Bustang provided routes from Denver south to Colorado Springs, west to Glenwood Springs, and north to Fort Collins. The northern route was still in its infancy and offered only weekday service, but I had vacation days to kill use and an idea to implement.

I began tossing the idea around at work, expecting the typical responses: “You’re just going to ride trains all day,” “That sounds exactly like something you would do,” and “Count me out.” While I did receive these comments, a certain brave soul saw an opportunity for a new experience! When I later learned he was also trying to kill use his extra vacation days, my confidence in his yearning for a new experience was weakened. Regardless, my coworker, fellow Fort Collins Public Transit Enthusiasts meetup member, and friend Colby and I picked Friday, November 20th, 2015, as our day of transit glory.

Another question I was asked multiple times was whether the light rail to the airport was running yet. I knew it was not, but as there are four planned light rail extensions slated to open in 2016 as part of the FasTracks program, I decided I would return to try those out in due time. As others have discovered, riding entire transit systems in a day can be difficult, so I wanted to give the medium-sized system a go as soon as possible.

In the week leading up to our adventure, I had a bit of due diligence to attend to. The Bustang tickets were a reasonable $10 one-way, or $20 for the roundtrip. I was hoping we could ride Bustang from the Fort Collins Downtown Transit Center to Denver Union Station, but the morning southbound routes only left from the Harmony Transfer Center. This was 5 miles from downtown Fort Collins and would require a private automobile trip (something I am increasingly opposing). Using a car was 100% a means to an end on this day, so I conceded.

Checking the RTD fare table, I learned the light rail system was broken into fare zones. Only 2 stops were in Fare Zone D, the farthest two from downtown. Since we would be visiting all of them, we would need to purchase a Regional Day Pass for $14. A total of $34 for a full day of transportation seemed quite reasonable. We purchased Bustang tickets online the day before and printed to take with us, though you could scan the QR codes from your phone when you board. I learned that we could purchase the RTD Day passes from a kiosk in the Union Station bus terminal, near where we would disembark Bustang. This meant we would not need any cash on our persons, which was good, because I had literally $0 of cash in my wallet. Needing exact fare is one of my reasons for avoiding buses in new cities, so it was convenient to avoid this hindrance. Granted, we did not solve the exact fare problem, just used the easiest workaround on this day.

Bustang operates on the principle that reserved seats are not necessary because of the frequency with which the service is operated (think: a subway that runs every 10 minutes versus an Amtrak train that runs once a day). We targeted the 2nd to last southbound bus, which departed the Harmony Transfer Center at 6:15 AM. If this bus happened to be full, we would catch the 6:45 AM bus.

I tried to drum up a little excitement around #RTDDay in the week leading up to the event, but the Twitter-verse did not take the idea and run with it. I hoped that would change on the day of, but knew we would have a great time regardless. Finally, my alarm went off at 5 AM on Friday, November 20th. I only had one thought (but many times).

I received a text from Colby on my way to the bus station. “Idk where to go? Better Google lol I’m in the big lot” Oh no! Was the schedule we used not valid on Fridays? Were there two Harmony Transfer Centers?! My mind started racing as I pulled into the parking lot and saw Colby standing next to the bus shelter. Fortunately, as I jogged over to Colby at 6:07 AM, so did Bustang. I took almost a dozen a few photos and we boarded by scanning our paper QR code on a device at the top of the stairs. The coach was a 51-seater and was operated by Ace Express Coaches. Six other passengers boarded with us. We jumped around different seats based on outlet location (I later learned there’s one for every seat), proximity to exit row (yes, there’s an exit row!), and distance between rows (the seats were on library-stack-like collapsing tracks). We also connected to the WiFi on our phones and confirmed it was functional. The bus pulled out at 6:19 AM. We were on our way to Denver!  

 

  Good morning from @ridebustang! #CDOT #RTDDay #transit   A photo posted by Tyler Green (@tgreen8091) on

 

As I was composing tweets to announce the start of our adventure, Colby pointed out that there was a marquee above the driver. “Your tweets should be going up there!” After we confirmed Bustang had some room for improvement on rider engagement via social media, we began to plan our day. We decided we would pass through every station, but would not do so on every train. Many of the light rail stations are visited by multiple-lettered trains. The idea is that two differently lettered trains may use the same track for a distance, but they will diverge at some point. The RTD light rail map consisted of six lines (C, D, E, F, H, and W) and what we thought was 46 stations. While tracking our progress later, we adjusted this number to 45. We could board the C, E, or W, lines at Union Station, our drop off site. We picked the W line to Golden to knock out first. We didn’t know if we would find treasure, but the set of curvy, colored lines that made up the RTD map would call our shots for the next several hours.

RTD_2014

(Source: RTD)

The bus picked up 3 more passengers at the Loveland Park and Ride and a short safety video was shown. It was reasonably creative and used the sentence format made popular by airline safety video producers: “If you’ve never ridden a bus before…”. Approaching Denver as a high-occupancy vehicle, we were able to bypass some of the I-25 traffic by cruising through the high-occupancy-vehicle lane. This threw us into LoDo (Lower Downtown, Denver) just south of Coors Field, where we entered the underground bus terminal through a service road on the northwest side of Union Station. We disembarked our first Bustang at 7:26 AM at gate B3. There was even a purple Bustang graphic on the window at the gate, which would help us identify the boarding location for the return trip. Yes, we had gotten up quite early for this trip, but we were dropped off in downtown Denver before 7:30 AM for $10. I was already a fan of Bustang!

Stations Completed: 0. Buses Ridden: 1. Other People On Bustang Who Had Sat Next to Each Other: 0.

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

Partly because I’d heard it was awesome and partly because I had no idea where the RTD ticket kiosk was, we took the escalators to ground level and explored the gorgeous interior of Union Station. The station reopened after extensive renovations were completed in July 2014, which added The Crawford Hotel on both sides of the Grand Hall. The area was decorated for Christmas and was an infinitely relaxing space. I wanted to sit here all day, but we had a job to do! It also involved sitting all day, but in less-oft romanticized locations.

The Crawford Hotel in Union Station! #RTDDay A photo posted by Tyler Green (@tgreen8091) on

 

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

After taking some photos of the RTD commuter rail trains, whose marquee festively and quite ahead of the game read “Merry Christmas RTD”, we returned to the bus terminal. There, we quickly found the RTD kiosk, purchased our day passes, grabbed what felt like every light rail map ever printed, and headed towards the tracks. Union Station is laid out such that the Amtrak and RTD commuter rails lines are boarded at tracks immediately in the back (northwest) of the building, while the light rail tracks run parallel to these a few blocks to the northwest. The underground bus terminal connects you between these seamlessly, but you can also be at one set of tracks and be confident it is the other/both. We followed the kiosk workers’s directions, validated our day passes at the light rail station, and boarded the W train. We did not have to check the train’s direction of travel, as we were at the eastern end of the W line; it could only go west. The train began moving and we were off! One station down!

Stations Completed: 1. Buses Ridden: 1. Union Station Escalators Ridden: 5.

Regional RTD day pass, light rail maps, and the light rail (by Siemens) seat fabric! #transit #RTDDay #denver

A photo posted by Tyler Green (@tgreen8091) on

 

I noticed the layout of each car was completely different than any other light rail vehicle I had been on. First of all, the cars weren’t low-floor (a common accessibility aide; the link is about buses, but the concept is similar for light rail vehicles). Second, they had exclusively seats that faced each other. Third, these seats were padded. (And I don’t mean old D.C. metro padded, I mean padded padded.) Fourth, they weren’t really seats, but more like benches. Fifth, each bench width was approximately 1.5 persons wide (with no comment on the increasing girth of Americans). The unusual aspect of a car with a high floor throughout its length is that bikers have to carry their bikes up the stairs and stand with them. I saw one man doing this during our ride on the W line, though his helmet and substantial jacket made me think he might have been going to bike to skydiving practice after leaving the train.

Denver Light Rail

RTD’s rolling stock consists of Siemens SD-100 and SD-160 light rail vehicles. I learned after our trip that the reason for the awkward stairs at every door of the vehicle is so that the cars support loading at both street and platform level. I recalled noticing accessible ramps at the stations which would allow wheelchairs to board directly onto floor height. There was even a piece of floor that folded out from the wall to cover the top of the stairs at these doors.

(It was at this point while writing this post that I read that the numbers published by RTD are 46 light rail stations over 48 miles of track. I was dumbfounded! How could we have counted right once, then later counted wrong, then recounted wrong, and then confirmed our recount wrong? The catch is the 18th · California station on the H, F, and D, lines is labeled inconsistently and easy to overlook when you are counting white circles. I’ll talk more about the map and its critics later. Back on the train…)

The westbound W train was at less than half capacity and we settled into the surprisingly comfortable benches for the ride to Golden. The train leaving Union Station passed the Pepsi Center and Sports Authority Field. This arc of light rail was the 3rd section in the system opened, beginning revenue service in April 2002 as part of the Central Platte Valley project. (The currently-operating sections of the light rail [as of December 2015] opened in 1994, 2000, 2002, 2006, and 2013. I’ll discuss each of them as we ride on!) The train crossed the South Platte River and ran along Lakewood Gulch through the neighborhoods west of downtown. At this point, we were riding the newest section of light rail, as the West rail line began service in April 2013.

Denver Light Rail

The tracks took a southward jog to stop at Federal Center. By this point, Colby, who attended the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, had begun pointing out sights on both sides of the tracks. This was a pleasant personal touch for our first route of the day! He spoke of fond memories about his college nights out in LoDo via the then-newly-opened W line. We could tell we were nearing Golden when we saw South Table, a plateau that sits adjacent to the town of Golden. Colby described the shape of  the town as “like an hourglass that kind of oozes out at the bottom”. We got off the train and Colby immediately remarked “Smells like Golden!” before telling how you can smell the local Coors Brewery all throughout the town and Mines campus. I could hardly process all this insider knowledge when Colby said “And we called that the Taj Mahal!” while pointing to the Jefferson County Government Center. Since it was barely 8 AM, we decided to give it a quick visit.

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

Inside, we introduced ourselves to Thomas Jefferson. Since the light rail does not have a dining car, we grabbed some snacks. The coffee kiosk inside the atrium of the government center was called “Legal Grounds”. I chuckled and asked the cashier if she rode the light rail to work. She admitted she did not, but that the drivers often stopped by her food stand and “They seem nice.” Works for me! We stood eating our breakfast burritos looking over the town of Golden and Colby pointed out the Mines bell tower. Since we were by a large bank of windows, it was only a matter of time before the conversation turned philosophical. Colby recommended I check out Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning”. Maybe I’ll read that on a train someday! Colby, after noticing how many notes I had already taken, mentioned that you almost need two trips through the entire light rail: “One to experience it and one to write about it.” I was feeling great about the adventure, so I asked: “What are you doing Monday?”

Stations Completed: 15. Buses Ridden: 1. Bronze Statues Photographed: 1.

We decided not to volunteer for jury duty and exited “The Taj” with our eyes set on our (first) return trip to Denver. The train was three cars long (as were most, but not all, throughout the day) and we were the only passengers in car no. 106B leaving Golden. Before we were out of the station, I noticed a Speed Limit 15 MPH and chuckled. Yes, the trains do have drivers, but I hoped they have some sort of complicated fixed-block signaling (image from a fascinating article about NYC’s MTA signals) techniques beyond a leftover sign from the highway department. Almost immediately, the tracks gained significant elevation while crossing over U.S. 6 and provided an awesome view of the snow-covered foothills to the west.

Denver Light Rail

Yes, it had done this on the westbound trip, but I was probably tweeting or something and didn’t soak in the view properly. After a pleasing view of downtown Denver during the southward jog to Federal Center, we arrived at Oak station. I noticed the stop was adorned with several metal row-type boats placed atop intentionally rusted supports. I assumed this was paying ode to the proximity of the city of Lakewood to Lakewood Gulch and its economic impacts on the community in centuries past. Or maybe it was just art.

I observed that each door contained the entire system map above it (on only one side per opposite pairs of doors, but not the same side at every set of doors….can you picture that??). I thought a horizontal map for the particular line you were riding would be convenient. Part of the difficulty with that is that the trains then become dedicated to a particular line, which decreases the flexibility of the system. It was slightly frustrating to have to stand up and go to a door anytime you want to see a map. Even in the age of ubiquitous cell phones, clearly visible maps inside train cars are a godsend.  We began keeping track of the marquee’s behavior when we arrived at stations. A majority of the time, it said “W Line to Union Station”, which was indeed accurate, but kind of too-little too-late, as you were already on board. When we reached a stop, the marquee would briefly say the current station name and the next station name. Yes, it presented all the information, but I was of the opinion that the next stop should be visible the entire ride to the next station.

Speaking of the official RTD map, it isn’t loved by critics. I thought a great point made by Cam Booth at the Transit Maps blog was that the map had to switch orientations with the opening of the W line, and how this would affect future expansions, something that is now relevant. The proposed official map for the 2016 expansion has been released, and it also isn’t loved by critics. RTD is intent on maintaining circular fare zones, which further distorts the accuracy of the routes. Transit maps are an art form, and this discussion barely scratches the surface. One thing I noticed throughout the day is that the current release of the RTD map was reasonably square, yet it was always displayed in skinny spaces across the system. Either on the vertical poles at stations or in the horizontal crown molding space of the trains, the map’s shape caused it to look underwhelming regardless of where it was. Back on the train…

During the inbound W line ride, Colby was musing aloud how he found it interesting to ponder that a family lives their own life in each of the homes near the tracks. He said that every time he stops and thinks this way, it ends with the thought, “Oh. That’s kinda neat.” Neat, indeed! We commented that we had yet to see two people riding together, besides ourselves. As soon as we verbalized this observation, a pair that we guessed were siblings boarded at Sheridan. I saw a large parking garage at Lakewood-Wadsworth, which I guessed was where a sizable number of the morning commuters had left their vehicles a few hours before. Colby remarked that the inbound trains were full while we were outbound, which fits with the end of the morning commute time around 8 AM. As we passed Sports Authority Field and noticed the many-story poster of the no-longer-starting-Broncos-QB Peyton Manning, we decided to complete the C/D Lines next. This was an arbitrary counterclockwise progression through the RTD system and we nodded to each other after the decision as if we had just made a tough call. We got off the train at Auraria to complete the next leg of the trip!

Stations Completed: 15. Buses Ridden: 1. Stations Completed Twice: 12.

Denver Light Rail

At Auraria, we let a W train (the only 2-car I noticed all day) pass without boarding, as we were now focused on the C and D Lines. While this seems simple, some transit systems do not run multiple trains on the same tracks, so this concept does not exist. As I was patting myself on the back for passing a neophyte transit field test, Colby took the following pigeon portrait. Apparently this pigeon didn’t enjoy having his photo taken, because he pecked Colby a few seconds later. Fortunately, a C train pulled into the station and we were able to escape from the vengeful avian!

Denver Light Rail

The highlights of the C line were:

  • Me running across the aisle while the train was in motion and finding it much more difficult than I expected.
  • The mix of Texas Roadhouse, Super Target, Costco, and other suburban staples you don’t often see during a transit ride.
  • A major rolling stock depot before the Englewood station.
  • A large parking lot, garage, and neato bridge at the Englewood station. This stop serves the Englewood City Center, an inspiring redevelopment of a shopping mall with a mixed-use downtown. As any transit planners will tell you, the words “mixed-use” are crucial to driving consistent traffic to a transit line.
  • The Littleton · Downtown station, which was built to look like an old train depot. I was hoping it was a repurposed old rail station, but it actually opened in 2000. This was at the same time as the rest of the C and D lines south of I-25 · Broadway station, part of the Southwest Corridor project and second segment of the current light rail.

We got off the C train at its “final stop” at Littleton · Mineral and then it continued southward on the track. I hoped it was going to a wrap around or a depot or anything besides an extra light rail station that we didn’t get to pass through. All of a sudden, we were halfway through the RTD light rail!

Stations Completed: 23. Buses Ridden: 1. Community Colleges Passed: (felt like) 15.

That feeling when you’ve completed 23 of 46 light rail stations! #RTDDay #transit #denver #colorado

A photo posted by Tyler Green (@tgreen8091) on

 

We decided to walk around the shopping mall at the Littleton · Mineral station. After riding what felt like the Costco Express, finding a large mall at the end of the line did not surprise me in the slightest. Colby mentioned a movie theatre here called Alamo that serves food during the movies and I asked if he remembered the Alamo theatre. I don’t remember his response, but I assume he chuckled. Before we even reached the mall, we stopped in a bus shelter to check some maps. Something about standing in the shadow of a bus lit our creative side and one of us said “Want to take a bus?!” We decided a great way to change up the scenery would be to take a bus from the end of the C/D line to as close as we could get to the end of the E/F line. This would prevent us from doubling-up on most of the southwest and southeast light rail stations. Google Maps informed me that the 403 bus would take us there. Fortuitously, this was the bus that had just pulled up to the shelter! Little-ton did we know it, but we had just signed up for the most memorable part of the day.

I hopped on board with a confident, yet cautious approach. “Going to Lincoln station?” Notice: all of the quotes from the driver make him sound like an unpleasant and unhelpful man out of context. In reality, he was the exact opposite. I ask that you please read these next few paragraphs with that in mind! His response to my Lincoln station inquiry was: “What does the bus say?” I smirked and said I wasn’t sure. “Get off and look.” Colby and I both started to back out the door and the driver gestured towards Colby and said, “Not you, just him.” We started to see this was a game by this point, and the bus marquee confirmed; it toggled between “403 Wildcat Crosstown” and “Lincoln Station”. Slightly more confident and embarrassed, we sat down. “We sit here for 21 more minutes, then we’ll be on our way.” Twenty-one minutes to sit on a bus in parking lot sounded like the definition of therapeutic to me. (As you may be starting to pick up, I love transit, but I love buses. I’ve got a blog post in the works about this obsession!)

While we waited, there was some small talk between the front-seater and the driver. I couldn’t tell whether the front-seater was a regular, or someone who talked like he knew everyone, but I could respect both. I began listening intently when, referring to the $750,000 fine for assaulting a bus driver, our driver said “Some people can afford that. What they can’t afford is the felony.” Colby was already reading the posted diagram of bus rules and followed this with, “Well I was going to gamble, but I guess I won’t now.” Our conversation about proper bus behavior died down and the driver and front-seater engaged in some stereotypical political commentary full of no substance.

I took advantage of the next lull in the conversation to learn some backstory. “You been driving buses for a while?” He conveyed that this was his 14th year as a Denver bus driver, after 6 months in Topeka. He give an image of that with, “We had a little system that shut down at 6:30.” I responded with something I hoped sounded endearing along the lines of, “That sounds about right.” He informed us that his sister had driven in Denver for 26 years and helped him make some connections when he decide to move west. He “came here to slow down” and gave off the vibe that the plan had worked to perfection. He then went on to describe that he had a 23-year career as a civil engineer working with buildings and transportation in Washington, D.C. As this was my first time conducting an interview with a bus driver, I may have not been 100% free of leading questions during my inquiries. I had detected his enjoyment of both halves of his transit-centric career and said “And now you get to work in the same field and contribute in a new way.” He nodded in agreement: “Yeah.” He described how he viewed public transportation as a need for a city of any size, whereas a lot of the newer drivers just see it as a job, and one that they aren’t thrilled with at that. Colby and I both acknowledged this was a good point and an admirable view as he and the front-seater began to bond over the difficulty they had had(/were having/were anticipating?) quitting smoking.

After 21 minutes, the bus began to move. Yes, that had all taken while we sat in the parking lot on a bus. You see where I’m coming from? Buses are my favorite. Colby tracked our progress on the paper 403 map we had picked up for our map collection.  By this point, I was regretting not bringing a filing cabinet for all the transit pamphlets we had acquired. Outside the bus, the suburbs we were driving through were nice, but they were still suburbs. The Highlands Ranch area had significantly more snow on the ground than Fort Collins, or the rest of Denver for that matter. When first person was about to get off the bus, Colby smiled at me and said, “Did you see that? She pulled the cord!” I gave him a look of understanding gained from my years months of riding the Fort Collins bus and said, “I know about this stuff.” The most entertaining part of this chunk of transit was Colby’s unexpected nostalgia. Every other turn or so, there’d be a site he apparently recognized and, from the sounds of it, thought he’d never see again. “There’s a Target right up here……boom look!!” I did find it fascinating that, while this was just a bus ride for me (and I don’t say the sequence of words “just a bus ride” lightly), Colby had personal experiences on the other side of these swinging doors. It was a reminder that while a place may be new to you, it is home for someone else, and a bus or train can be one of those places where you cross paths.

I snapped out of my reflective state to notice some details about the bus. We were riding bus 3974X, which I was 95% confident was manufactured by Gillig. It had the same layout and seat construction as one of the older sets of Fort Collins buses, which I was familiar with as the Gillig Low Floors. While I was completing my inspection, we sat at a bus stop for about two minutes and the driver turned around and asked, “You ever had one of those neighbors who doesn’t rake the leaves in their yard and waits for them to blow into yours?” He was smiling as he said it, so I felt comfortable participating in some cursory commiseration. At the next stop, a woman (of the 4 we had started with, she was the only one remaining besides Colby and I) exited via the front door and shared a nice holiday moment with the driver. This was the weekend before Thanksgiving, so they wished each other well and mumbled something I imagined to be similar to “til the end of holidays do us reconvene”.

I was consistently impressed with the driver’s balance of relaxation (“Man, if I had to work harder than this, I don’t know what the hell I’d be doing,” “I pick this route [every 4 months] because the stress level is very limited”) and attention to detail at his job (“See ya next week!”, “Gotta move…it’s a short light,” “A good driver, they make it look easy!”). I had heard of other Colorado transit agencies having difficulty hiring enough drivers and he indicated this was the case for RTD as well (though he actually worked for a contractor). He summed the climate up with, “RTD’s having problems. Everybody else’s having problems….When you’ve got supervisors driving, there’s a problem.” The man seemed genuinely happy with his job and brightened my day as a result. Colby and I were still the last two on the bus when we arrived at Lincoln Station. It had started to hail outside, yet the driver walked to the station with us to direct us to the restroom. On a day when light rail was the name of the game, a bus driver stole the show. To that Friday afternoon 3974X driver, thanks for everything.

Stations Completed: 23. Buses Ridden: 2. Suburban Bus Rides We Regretted: 0.

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

There was already an F train waiting at Lincoln station. We took this opportunity to take some portraits for the future transit-focused spin off of LinkedIn. We were overall heading inbound to downtown Denver at this point, but would need to take a quick jog on the H line to cover its two stops that reached a different southwest terminus than the E and F lines. Before we switched to the H line, we passed IKEA, the furniture mega-store. In my mind, an IKEA in the suburbs is reason enough to build an entire transit system. As the big blue box is just north of County Line station, which also contains a large mall, you can easily make that stop a weekend day trip.

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

The E, F, and H, lines were opened in November 2006 as part of the Southeast Corridor. This was the same time that I-25 and I-225 were widened as part of T-REX, and the new light rail lines were built in an #InterstateGulley with the freeways. On the main E and F lines, the light rail sits on the southwest side of the I-25. We would discover shortly that on the last two H line stations, the light rail actually runs in the middle of I-225. Like I’ve never always said, “The #InterstateGulley is nice, but it’s still an #InterstateGulley.” There was little to no urban charm in this section of track.

(For the record, I think Denver did a great job with the light rail considering the layout of city they were given. When your population density is almost 3 times less than Chicago’s and almost 7 times less than New York City’s, supporting any light rail system and having the foresight to expand it is admirable.)

We again noticed the difficulty in knowing which station you were at while on the train. It was more noticeable during this section of track for two reasons: 1) we actually needed to switch to catch the H line (rather than riding until it stopped, like the general goal for the day), and 2) the marquee on this train read “DENVER” “for the last 30 seconds!”, according to Colby. I paused and laughed for a second, not because of the marquee’s ineffectiveness, but because it gave me the chance to tell Colby, “You’re really getting into this!” Like I’ve never always said, “Ride a train for a day, and you’ll be on board for life.” While stopped at stations, the station names were printed a place or two outside, but we always had to try to find them. I have noticed at underground stations in the past in Washington, D.C., and the likes, some stations have the names affixed to the walls what seems like every 10 feet, so you are never uncertain into which station you are arriving. Denver definitely marks their stations, but a few extra signs outside the trains in station would make the passenger experience simpler.

The area of Denver we were passing through was full of office buildings residents could ride the train to and park-n-rides other residents could ride the train from. I came up with the term “Office Park-n-Rides” to describe this area. We passed a substantial Charles Schwab campus near Lincoln station, and I noticed a large Nationwide building looming over the same station. At Bellevue, the last station before the E and F lines joined the H line, there is the Denver Tech Center. This is a major economic center and one of the key reasons for the T-REX project which brought the light rail to this area.

To transfer to the H line, we disembarked the F train at Southmoor station. We waited on the platform in between a concrete wall and many lanes of traffic at this #InterstateGulley station. (Can you tell I just love urban freeways?) The H train came after a few minutes and we rode the two stops to Nine Mile station. I had actually heard of this station from a friend whose family lives in Denver, so I was excited to experience it. Its station layout is called an “island platform”, in that there is a single platform in between two tracks. We had a 12-minute layover before the next inbound train and the wind had turned cold at platform level, so we took the elevator down to explore the station. There were several bus bays, a large parking garage, and……a skatepark? Okay, so the tunnel under the tracks and I-225 isn’t actually a skatepark, but its sloped walls scream such. When I saw the “No Skateboarding” sign, I thought of what I had read in “The Design of Everyday Things” which made a point I paraphrased as, “If you design something well, you don’t need instructions on how to use it.” Maybe this tunnel wasn’t designed well, or maybe it just wasn’t an everyday thing. Colby and I had fun running up and down the sides of the walls on foot, as we saw no signs discouraging such.

Stations Completed: 32. Buses Ridden: 2. Degrees Fahrenheit the Temperature Had Dropped Since Golden: 17. Degrees Fahrenheit the Wind Chill Had Dropped Since Golden: (felt like) 45.

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

We boarded an inbound H train and noticed a great view leaving Nine Mile. There was a striking contrast between the Rocky Mountains in the distance and the Nine Mile parking garage in the foreground. As we reached the #InterstateGulley section of track, we noticed our train had matched speeds with a northbound Bustang on I-25! The bus eventually pulled ahead, but we rejoiced in seeing our favorite animal-bus in the wild. As we neared to the University of Denver station, the train began filling with a slightly younger crowd, presumably due to our proximity to the, you guessed it, University of Denver. With more people boarding the train and more people using headphones to keep to themselves, Colby commented that he would probably use headphones if he rode the train everyday. “I’m not sure what ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ would think about that,” he then said. I tried to give all parties plausible deniability: “That’s why Dale Carnegie specifically wrote that book before headphones were popular!” We passed the Louisiana · Pearl station and I commented how that sounds like the name of an Amtrak route. I could imaging the following exchange: “How are y’all getting to New Orleans?” “We’re catching the Louisiana Pearl in Birmingham!”

Stations Completed: 36. Buses Ridden: 2. Minutes Since We Last Passed A Station Not Running Along An Interstate: 210.

Denver Light Rail

At the I-25 · Broadway station, we had our tickets checked for the first time. The officer who checked ours had a badge on his uniform that led me to believe he was a security contractor, not an RTD employee. He thanked Colby and I for validating our day passes. When I asked if people forget often he said, “Intentionally, so they can keep using them….until they get caught!” I thanked him for his vigilance and he moved on. I was honestly quite pleased to see this check. I have been riding the MAX bus rapid transit regularly in Fort Collins for more than three months now and have yet to have my ticket checked. It operates on a similar principle of the honor system for boarding with tickets and, in theory, a similar system of ticket checks.

We decided to switch to the D line at Theatre District  · Convention Center, just inside the southern edge of downtown. The D line would be our last line needed to complete the circuit! We had also begun simmering on our late-lunch plans. The Cheesecake Factory was mentioned about, but we decided on Wynkoop Brewing. I had heard about its role in revitalizing LoDo and Colby spoke good words of past experiences there, so we chose the brewpub as our celebration station. It was also across from Union Station, where we would catch our return trip on Bustang.

First, we still needed to switch trains at the Theatre station. This was in a cold and windy concrete cave under what seemed to be part of the Colorado Convention Center. We watched the arrivals board and it said a D train would arrive in about 10 minutes. (I noticed how the signs showed a predicted arrival time, rather than predicted number of minutes until arrival; I know those are almost the same information, but a time meant I had to keep checking my phone for the actual time, rather than just watching the minutes count down.) After the train didn’t come at the time it said, it disappeared from the arrivals board. We stepped into a Which Wich to warm up and found it filled with conference attendees sporting American Anthropological Association name badges. Just stepping out from under the concrete cave gave me a new breath of city life. Unfortunately, as soon as we had stepped into the restaurant, the D train we had been waiting on came and went as we watched from a distance. Apparently, the arrivals board was programmed to only show arrivals if their expected time was in the future. This again illustrated why I prefer labeling by minutes until arrival, because until a train has actually arrived, that number cannot hit zero/Approaching/Due.

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

After taking a photo with the convention center mascot, we were finally able to board an inbound D train and begin to make our way around the loop. (Do they call it that? It’s not as substantial or elevated or awesome as Chicago’s, but its general shape is still a loop.) This section of track was part of the original Central Corridor light rail that opened in October 1994. On the northeast corner of the loop, the D line takes a small spur out to its terminus at 30th · Downing. The last 5 blocks of the route ran along Welton Street and were, unexpectedly, some of my favorite of the whole day. The train had to stop at stoplights, but we were riding through an actual area of city. It wasn’t upscale, but it was an organic urban area with restaurants, Denver’s equivalent of a rowhouse, and a few boarded up windows. At the terminus, the “D-Line Restaurant” had a name that was liked by us, but apparently not by enough others. Colby described the scene well: “So good it’s for sale!” There were a few bus connections at the 30th · Downing station, which reminded me that as a whole, RTD does a great job placing relevant bus connections at the larger light rail stations. We got off the outbound train and immediately walked around to catch the inbound train. It seemed like other people did the same. Maybe we weren’t the only light-railers on this day!

Stations Completed: 44. Buses Ridden: 2. Minutes Spent at the Northern End of the D Line: 1.

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

We hopped back on the inbound D line train, and, by this point, we only had 2 unvisited stations remaining! As we passed the 18th · Stout station, we noticed some large stone pillars that I later learned was the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit building. Such architecture turned our last train conversation to public economics with a focus on higher education. I was really interested in the conversation, but we had to cut the discussion short as we arrived at our last station, 16th · Stout. Pulling into this station, Colby gave me a big high five. We had reached all 46 Denver light rail stations!

I hopped off the train with a spring in my step, but it didn’t last long. Something didn’t feel quite right. Yes, we were at the 46th station, but I noticed the train we had just gotten off was wrapped in a Draft Kings advertisement. While this was not reason enough to subdue our celebration, I realized my reason for uncertainty: we had left a section of track unridden. We had not ridden a train between 16th · Stout and Theatre District  · Convention Center! I indicated my disdain to Colby and he was on board with whatever I needed to do to satisfy my sense of completion. Looking back now, I’m a bit surprised he didn’t just wait on 16th Street for me to return mentally satisfied.

Stations Completed: 46. Buses Ridden: 2. Sections of Track Unvisited: 1.

With renewed camaraderie, we boarded the next arriving train (an H train), rode one stop, and got off elated. The spring in my step from before was now even springier. We took the opportunity to take some celebratory photos with street signs (what else?). The entire light rail challenge had only taken 6 hours! If I had been slightly more clever and slightly less in-the-moment, I may have tweeted “#RTDDay = #RTDDone”.

Stations Completed: 46. Buses Ridden: 2. Sections of Track Unvisited: 0.

Denver Light Rail

 

Our completed route map was indeed satisfyingly counterclockwise and unintentionally resembled a Christmas ornament.

Denver Light Rail Route Map

On our way to rekooperate at Wynkoop, we hopped on the 16th Street Free MallRide bus, another RTD service. Ironically, this was the most crowded transit vehicle of the day. It is low-floor throughout its length, as it is designed for a largely tourist crowd to hop on and off quickly and without payment. We completed our quick hop off at the corner of 16th and Wynkoop, the street, and walked the couple blocks to Wynkoop, the brewery. After figuring out where we could actually sit in the funny-shaped and oddly-full-for-a-Friday-midday bar, we did a quick Google query for which of their ales was the flagship. We quickly learned that President Obama made a visit to Wynkoop with with Colorado governor and Wynkoop Brewing founder, John Hickenlooper, and they both drank Rail Yard Amber Ale. If a president chosing that beer wasn’t enough, the fact that it was named after a transportation mode sealed the deal for me.

Stations Completed: 46. Buses Ridden: 3. Beers Also Consumed by Obama: 1.

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

Colby and I enjoyed our ales in the warm brewery and began to reflect on the day’s adventure. Colby made a great point that he hoped we had half as much impact on our 403 bus driver’s day as he had had on ours. On a day filled with riding light rails, our most personal experience had occurred on a bus. We realized that the closest we had come to talking to another passenger on the train (we had decided not to force conversation) was when I sneezed on the inbound W train and a camouflage-covered girl two rows away had said “Bless you!” Even though she was wearing camo, Colby and I had both noticed she seemed to be visually curious about our actions. I can only assume it was because she’d never seen two guys looking at three paper light rail maps while riding around Federal Center.

By this point in our reflections, a light snow had begun falling outside the Wynkoop windows. We ran to the window to inspect a different form of RTD bus twice. One was boldly labeled as a hybrid, another was the Free MetroRide (which runs between Civic Center Station and Union Station), and neither are in the next photo.

Denver Light Rail

Colby and I made a game out of figuring out whether the guy and gal next to us were on a date or not. (For backstory, during the inaugural Fort Collins Public Transit Enthusiasts meetup, which was attended by only Colby and I, I showed up and asked, “Instead of a bus meetup, do you want to just do a ‘Let’s figure out why all these people are at the bar’ meetup?” It was a tradition of ours.) We began listening in over their shared distaste of social media and how they both had experiences with dates looking worse than expected, a product of cleverly-taken profile photos. The guy expanded on this to say, “Yeah? I have a fake Facebook. I add my dates on there to make sure they look good enough to take out!” While we were glad when they asked for separate checks and left as it meant we could begin our verbal analysis, it left us even more confused as to their standing. A few other entertaining lines exchanged by this pair were “Does your Person A know about me?”, and “[Your friend] seems she would be one of those people who would be in…….plays.” In response to this last quote, the girl sat with her arms raised defensively and awkwardly for so long that I wanted to run over and give her a high five. We never figured out exactly their relationship, but we did noticed they walked the same way out the front door of the brewery. Hopefully they were on their way to a bus.

Before we went upstairs to partake in Wynkoop’s expansive pool hall, I asked the bartender about the Obama story. He said his visit was just over a year prior to ours and pointed us to a photo of Barack with the Wynkoop mascot, a large gorilla. The natural next step was to take the same portrait with the gorilla, and now I have a presidential memory from #RTDDay.

Stations Completed: 46. Buses Ridden: 3. Bronze Statues Photographed: 2.

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

We played a surprisingly-competitive game of pool and noticed it was time to return to Union Station. There were four northbound buses in the evening, but we decided to catch the first one, the 4:30 PM bus, as we had plans in Fort Collins that evening. When we arrived back at the Union Station Bus Terminal ten minutes before departure, we found a small line at gate B3 for the next Bustang. The bus that was sitting outside the gate indicated it was Colorado Springs-bound, and we smiled in relief that we hadn’t hopped on that bus without checking the display.

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

Denver Light Rail

I scanned my ticket on the next bus and a driver wearing a Bustang-purple short-sleeved button-up shirt and a black leather vest asked me where I was headed. I thought for a second and then said, “Harmony!” He confided that he wanted to make sure I wasn’t going to say Springs and I smiled at my guardian bus driver. Our Bustang pulled out of the underground bus terminal at 4:35 PM. Leaving LoDo, I noticed a newly-opened downtown King Soopers, a Colorado brand of Kroger grocery stores. This excited me, as it was another step to the continued revitalization of LoDo. As we passed Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies and one of my favorite locations during baseball season, Colby and I had a solid discussion about the trade-offs between driving and taking Bustang to Denver. Including price of gas and mental stress, we decided Bustang was absolutely worth the $10 pricetag for a one-way trip. Our next two lines after this discussion were Colby saying, “I feel like sleeping”, followed by me saying, “I feel like tweeting.” We zipped past some of the evening traffic in the HOV lane, before the HOV lane ended and we were dumped in with the rest of the private automobiles. This traffic did not hinder us much, as we made good time the rest of the journey to Fort Collins. When Colby got up to use the restroom on Bustang, I asked him to tell me how it was so we could complete our review of the service. He came back surprised that it was occupied. He tried again a few minutes later and gave me a thumbs up, a big smile, and said, “The door goes the other way!” For all you potential Bustang-ers out there, Colby’s official review of the bathroom was, “I was very satisfied with that bathroom.” You heard it here first!

Our Bustang arrived back at the Harmony Transfer Center at 5:43 PM. The driver informed us that he would make another stop at the Downtown Transit Center (now you decide to go there!), but I thanked him and said our cars were here. Coincidentally, I ended up driving immediately behind the bus most of the way into downtown Fort Collins.

Our entire #RTDDay adventure had taken 12 hours. We had experienced 46 light rail stations, 6 light rail lines, 1 suburban bus, 1 downtown brewpub, and 1 commuter bus service in arguably the most advanced transit core in the west. The public transit enthusiast and urban adventurer in me was on row 9 (it’s like cloud 9, but for transit fans). I did not have any concrete ideas at the time, but I knew I would return to the Fort Collins system with a better understanding of what Transfort does well and what it can improve upon. The rest of the weekend, I had visions of becoming a Transfort bus spotter and even completing similar transit challenges in other cities!

Colby, thanks for joining me on our adventure! Hopefully you enjoyed experiencing a familiar city from a new point of view.

#RTDDay made me even more excited for the opening of the A, B, G, and R lines in 2016. If everything goes well, I will get to do a similar challenge this time next year! If you have any recommendations for #RTDDay2016, please contact me! If there are any public transit enthusiasts out there who want to meet up on a train or bus somewhere, drop me a line and I’ll see when my travels take me to your transit system.

Stations Completed: 46. Buses Ridden: 4. Transit Systems Completed in One Day: 1.

Until next time, ride on!

Tyler Green on the Denver Light Rail

18 Starbucks in a Quarter Square Mile: A Wednesday Afternoon in the Loop

This post originally appeared on my old Wordpress blog on March 20, 2014. The content has been modified slightly for this blog, but is my original work in both settings.

Do you know how many Starbucks locations are contained within the Loop?  The gourmet coffee chain’s prevalence inside this 0.24 square mile area of Chicago’s business district gives new meaning to the phrase “on every corner”.  On Wednesday afternoon, March, 19th, 2014, Pushpinder, Dhawal, and I set out to take a #selfie in front of all 18.  That’s right: one eight.

Background

The three of us were about through exploring The Shops at North Bridge shortly before noon.  We were stumped on what should be our next adventure.  Our Amtrak train was not scheduled to depart from Union Station until 5:45 PM, leaving us several free hours.  We were hoping to stay in the downtown area and preferably find something that was outdoors, cheap, and, most importantly, fun!  Everyone had really enjoyed our breakfast at Starbucks in Wrigleyville that morning, so coffee was not far removed from our minds.  During our walking about downtown, our group had already commented on how there seemed to be a Starbucks on every corner.  I had tweeted the same observation during my September 2013 trip to Chicago.  All of this came together when, suddenly, Dhawal said, “We could take a picture in front of every Starbucks!”  I immediately responded with my “this sounds ridiculous and useless, but doable and awesome” face.  Obviously, a goal like this would need a well-defined boundary.  Fortunately, Chicago’s transit system provides this quite elegantly.  Enter: the Loop.  This circuit of elevated track services the Orange, Green, Purple, Brown, and Pink lines of the CTA rapid transit system.  The keyword which made it even more usable: elevated.  You can plainly see what is inside the loop (Wells to Wabash W->E, Lake to Van Buren N->S) versus what is not.  I pulled up my Starbucks app on my phone to see approximately how many Starbucks locations were inside this region.  The count: 18.  Those inside the marked region of the map below became our master list.

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We made the decision to not count a Starbucks on the outside side of one of the boundary streets.  The only other rule needed was that we should all be in each photo.  While Dhawal had a nice DSLR with him, my HTC One’s front cam was decided upon as the camera of choice.  We would all become quite familiar with its 3 second count down and face-skewing effects over the next 4 hours.

The Quest

[I just sat down to write this section.  I have no succinct thoughts.  I could use some coffee.  Where is the nearest Starbucks? I wish I was still in the Loop!]  We crossed the Chicago River from the north on State Street and headed towards our first ‘bucks.  The plan was to start in the northeast corner and work our way across the north side.  Quite easily, almost too easily, we found…

  1. Leo Burnett Starbucks, 40 W. Lake Street
    Right out of the gate on our lofty quest, we were faced with a moral quandary.  The pin for this Starbucks on the map was inside the Loop, but the location was on the outside side of Lake Street.  Just minutes before, we had decided to not count this, though this had been with thought process of considering pins that were also outside the Loop.  For completion, we felt we had to include this.  You always would rather do too much, than too little, right?  One could argue that the final number would then be only 17, but then again, who cares?  We were taking selfies in front of coffee shops.
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  2. CT&T Building Starbucks, 161 N. Clark Street
    Just around the corner, our second photo was easily captured.  There was no question as to whether this one was inside the Loop or not.  You have to wonder how this location got left behind when the logos were upgraded, but we were feeling pretty good.  Little did we know it, but in this shot we arrived at our go-to formula of me in the center and holding the camera high (instead of low, like in the big-nosed first photo).  Plus, we got to explore the atrium of the Thompson Center across the street, an awesome building we would have never discovered if we hadn’t started this quest!
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  3. Lake & LaSalle Starbucks, 180 N. LaSalle Street
    Early on, we were still developing our strategies for locating each store.  We had noticed that there were a similarly large number of Dunkin’ Donuts, so Pushpinder established the rule of just looking for Dunkin’s instead to locate the likely Starbucks across the street.  It was actually successful in locating Lake & LaSalle!  As Dhawal indicates, number three had just been checked off!  Maybe next time we’ll take selfies in front of all the Dunkin’s outside the Loop.
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  4. Randolph & Wells Starbucks, 171 W. Randolph Street
    Randolph & Wells gave us no trouble to spot and capture.  If we had known what was headed our way, we would have treasured the simplicity of this photo more than we did.  Look at those faces and smiles; bright-eyed and bushy-tailed would be an understatement.
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  5. 30 N. LaSalle Starbucks, 30 N. LaSalle Street
    30 N. LaSalle was a bit tricky to spot due to it’s lack of an awning or large exterior entrance, but just like that, we were finished with our first five locations.  Had the first location’s signage been back-lit like this one, we may have quit right there due to non-ideal imaging conditions.  Fortunately, Starbucks respects proper exposures and would employ only unlit corporate markings for the rest of their Loop locations.  Now, we were ready to head back east for the first time!
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  6. West Washington Starbucks, 111 W. Washington Street
    On the south side of Washington street, we easily located our sixth store.  Again, this one was was still adorned with old logo mounts, but we were on a roll.  Any other day, we would have probably gone to joked about going to the Grub Hub, but not today!  We had one goal in mind!
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  7. Daley Center Plaza Starbucks, 66 W. Washington Street
    By this time, I had begun cross-checking the Starbucks map pin location with the listing on Google Maps.  By the name of this location being “Daley Center Plaza” and not an intersection, we assumed it was in some sort of building atrium.  However, we were looking into the lobby of the Daley Center and no Starbucks was jumping out at us.  There was a staircase which led into what we thought may be an underground food court, but the entrance was blocked.  We were having thoughts that the end of the quest might be near.  As a last resort, we consulted the Yelp listing for this location.  We were eternally indebted to Jenna S. for mentioning in her review that “This Starbucks is carefully hidden at the end of the Daley Plaza Pedway to the Blue Line…”  We quickly found another staircase near the Blue Line entrance and proceeded earthward.  What we discovered was a crowded office exchange complete with security-guarded tributaries and lots of business-class individuals.  Acting like we belonged, we finally stumbled across the location.  Knowing that photography indoors (typically, private locations) is frowned upon much more than street photography, we quickly lined into place, anxiously waited our front cam requisite 3 seconds, shared a nod, and started off.  A janitor saw me putting my phone away and said, “You can’t take photos here.”  He was simply being a helpful soul though, because when I apologized, he said, “I don’t mind, but I know they don’t want it”, as we passed one of the Daley Center security checkpoints.  Relieved to be finished with number 7, we quickly scurried back up the rabbit hole.
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  8. Macys – Chicago/Lower Level Starbucks, 111 N. State Street, Marshall Fields Department Store
    We were hoping this location would be number 9.  However, locating both of the Macy’s locations proved exceptionally difficult, almost as difficult as coming up with a legit reason for wanting to take selfies in front of 18 Starbucks.  Macy’s on State is a massive 12-story establishment and listed Starbucks locations on both its first and lower levels.  The store directory confirmed this, but no floor plans were present to provide further aid.  Since we saw a downward-leading escalator, we hoped on and found the lower level location awaiting us at the bottom.  The unspoken pose instructions must have been “raise your eyebrows”.
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  9. Macys – Chicago/First Floor Starbucks, 111 N. State Street, The Miracle Mile – Marshall Fields
    Proceeding back upstairs, we resorted to asking a Macy’s employee to point us towards the first floor Starbucks.  After being directed to the only spot on the entire first floor we had yet to comb, we were able flank the joint to capture a straightforward outside photo.  This location made us realize an interesting point: except for our quest, there was no almost reason to inquire about the location of a particular Starbucks in the loop.  If you can’t locate the one you were looking for, all you have to do is walk another block and you will catch a whiff of Starbucks distinctive fresh brew.  Naturally, you need to be at the right location if you are meeting someone (unless it is your mother-in-law; then you can say, “Macy’s first floor?! I totally thought we were meeting in the Macy’s basement!”).  However, if all you want is a Grande Caffè Americano, the Loop is a good place to be.
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  10. East Washington Starbucks, 25 E. Washington Boulevard
    The East Washington location was cake, as we had seen it out the window of Macy’s while we were searching aimlessly around its first floor.  We were pretty tired by this point, but apparently not too tired to take our first photo with a variation, lots of which would follow.  While writing this, I noticed my jacket collar is uniformly non-uniform in all of the first ten photos.  Lunch at the Macy’s cafeteria would provide a jacket reset, as you can confirm beginning in photo at store #11.  By this point, the difficulty of locating stores 7 through 10 had us a little fatigued.  If we weren’t having a good time, there was no reason to continue, because, as we joked throughout the quest, “what we are doing is completely useless”.  It’s usefulness was derived entirely from us enjoying being goofy in an exciting environment like the Chicago Loop, and we vowed to come back from lunch with that attitude renewed.
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  11. Palmer House Hilton Starbucks, 17 E. Monroe Street
    Energized from our lunch break, we were hyped and ready to knock out our last eight locations.  We decided on a north-south zig-zag working our way west to finish up near Union Station.  There were now 3 hours before we needed to catch the train.  We had begun casually mentioning how we would relax with a Venti cup of Pike Place Roast at the last location.  It was similar to how my Boy Scout patrol used to dream about downing a juicy burger after an exhausting camping trip; instead of hiking tens of miles up hills with a weekend’s worth of gear on our backs, we were walking around a city taking selfies in front of coffee shops.  I know, the similarity is striking.  This location being named “Palmer House Hilton” lead us inside a hotel lobby, where we passed a security guard who was standing very near the Starbucks entrance.  We casually circled all the way around the building to the alternate entrance to Starbucks, struck our pose, and were set.  We were hoping to start having more fun taking each photo, but in the indoor locations, we stuck to business.  “Business” here refers to taking a selfie in front of a coffee shop.
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  12. State & Adams Starbucks, 131 S. State Street, Dearborn Center
    My Google Maps cross-checking had shown from Street View that this location would be very easy.  To add to the challenge, we decided to mix it up with an across-the-street selfie.  Fortunately, we captured some nice cheesing from Pushpinder and a pretty slick car blurring by in the background.  Had we waiting to employ the across-the-street scheme for the last location, one might have called the laziness card on us; since it was only no. 12 out of 18, the word that should come to mind is revolutionary.
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  13. Clark & Madison Starbucks, 70 W. Madison Street
    We decided to get really creative at Clark & Madison.  Almost in a chorus, Pushpinder and Dhawal chanted, “Let’s go in front of the Starbucks and you take the photo from across the street!”  This seemed like a great variation!  We were all set up.  They were in front of the store.  I was just pulling up my front cam.  All of a sudden, three fire engines (and accompanying sirens) proceed in between us, each about 30 seconds apart.  Alright, that had been a disturbance, but we were back!  With my high camera angle, it looked like I could even shoot over passing cars!  Here we……..[enter a CTA bus].  Alright, we can just wait for that bus to leave and….[enter a second bus, this one even longer and articulated].  It had been a great idea, but I simply crossed the street to join them.  New plan: everyone look away.  Having to simplify was a let down, but we were not going to let an accordion on wheels stand in between us and our goal!
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  14. Chase Tower Chicago Starbucks, 21 S. Clark Street
    Another inside location meant another no-frill operation.  Luckily, there was an open table in the Chase Tower atrium right outside the crowded Starbucks.  We sat down as if to relax, snapped a selfie, and were on our way.
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  15. LaSalle & Monroe Starbucks, 39 S. LaSalle Street
    LaSalle & Monroe looked like a classic street-corner Starbucks just asking for a creative selfie.  Construction on Monroe meant that active fire engines would probably not be routed down that street in the next five minutes, so we went for the both-sides-of-the-street pose.  Luckily, this store was not a booming transit hub like number 13 and we left chuckling proudly.  We had selfie’d the first five post-lunch locations in just 45 minutes!  We were really starting to smell those roasted dark beans of energy awaiting us at the finish line now!
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  16. West Adams Starbucks, 105 W. Adams Street
    A news kiosk in front of the West Adams location was a blessing in disguise.  We had already decided not to smile for the photo, but an awkward angle forced us to all to our left.  The result: a selfie which, in any other context context, would be a uniquely awkward and pointless photo.  Okay, so that describes it in this context too.
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  17. Bank of America Building Starbucks, 231 S LaSalle Street
    With only two Starbucks remaining, our success was starting to get to our heads.  An indoor location?  Sure, we can still strike a pose!  We were brought back to Earth a bit when it took a second try to take this photo correctly.  Yes, we were only one Starbucks away from taking a selfie in front of all 18 loop locations, but we were still human and this episode reminded us of this.
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  18. Van Buren Starbucks, 175 W. Jackson Boulevard
    The 18th and final location was an elusive one.  It’s pin was literally in the middle of a building, so we had to just pick a side and traverse, in the worst case, the entire block.  Even with a Jackson Boulevard address, which was for the entire building, the Starbucks was on Van Buren facing the ‘L’ track.  This Street View shows just how near the border of our range of interest this location actually was.  There was no question for our pose for this one: thumbs up all the way.
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Aftermath

We had just taken a selfie in front of all 18 Starbucks in the Loop!  While we hoped we would feel like this…

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…in reality, we felt like this…

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We wanted to relax at the last location, but the Van Buren store and the few before it were not very conducive to sitting.  We were understandable though; the Chicago Loop coffee market is driven by those grabbing a cup of joe on their way to work, so small stores make sense.  There was another potential location just a block away, so we settled on 209 W. Jackson as our celebration station.  While the first ten selfies had taken 2 hours, the last eight locations were completed in just a single revolution of an hour hand.  During our 90-minute respite, there was an occasional mutter of, “What did we just do?”, but it was always followed by something along the lines of, “I don’t know, but it was awesome!”  Below is our original master map, now with the addition of our afternoon route.  It’s not hard to tell which Starbucks were the most difficult to find: #7 (come on, Daley Center!) and #9 (Macy’s, isn’t the ‘bucks in the basement enough?).

Starbucks_map_w_route_&_border

The adventure and resulting accomplishment left us in great spirits as stepped outside into the Chicago rush hour.  We had turned a potentially boring (browsing more malls), or expensive (dining at a nice restaurant), or both (going to a museum), afternoon into one that was priceless.  We all had a blast exploring the Loop and doing something that had no intrinsic value (if you are reading this and are an interested advertiser, please drop me a line) with people who enjoyed the same types of experiences.  As we walked to Union Station, hoards of homeward-bound downtown employees shared the sidewalk with us.  Many of them had spent the day helping grow the GDP of America’s third largest metro area; we had taken a selfie in front of 18 Starbucks.  One thing was the same: we had all taken advantage of Chicago and the unique offerings of its bustling downtown Loop.  Until next time, Windy City…

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