This past week there has been much debate about the lack of funding for the Rail option to Boulder County promised in the Fastracks project. Prices have more that doubled!! See this article about the recent meeting: http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_20024328. As a long time advocate of rail, TOD, transit, I am in some ways disappointed but truth be told I have always had some ambivalence about the rail option to Boulder. As an 8-year commuter to Denver on the BX express bus it is hard to make the case for a billion dollar investment to basically meet that level of service. The media says that the travel time may decrease from 45 to 41 minutes after rail!! Typically bus does not get the level of associated development that you get from rail: fixed tracks spur development whether for high speed, commuter, light rail or street car. Portland is held up as the TOD holy grail in this regards especially after the redevelopment spurred in the Pearl District thanks to the introduction of a streetcar.
This is however a beautiful case of one size does not fit all. As a commuter option, the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is incredibly efficient and "right-sized" for the situation. The amount of infrastructure investment including bridges, HOV, lanes etc makes it a fast and easy way to get along the US 36 corridor. A fledgeling TOD has even evolved at the Broomfield Events Center although it suffers form the TOD's on the Southeast Corridor Light Rail: only half a TOD can be built thanks to the adjacent highway. I may take the Bus to Radiohead in a few weeks!!
Which leads to places ... the nice thing about rail is that when it is situated in the heart of a community it can be a catalyst for dynamic places. There was some real opportunity in Louisville and Boulder to make that happen. For this to be most effective though, it should really be a NODE. The Transit Center is really at an edge so one wonders how much it can really be a catalyst for East Boulder. Even with the adjacent parcels developing, the rail line itself forms a barrier to a robust sense of community there. Without the rail, should the Transit Center really be in that location from an urban design perspective?? Table Mesa PNR should really be a TOD but suffers from the same problem.
The challenge then is to leverage BRT investments to link Boulder County and use it make real places. Perhaps they are place holders for next gen streetcars on major transit corridors that link dynamic centers, and start to really tie the region together. One can only hope!