More than 3,800 people stream through downtown Boulder's bus station on a typical weekday, taking an average of 1,200 bus trips in and out of town — more bus trips than at Denver's Union Station, which also is a hub for light rail.
Buses sit for a combined 60.9 hours a day, about 7.9 minutes at the Boulder station. Some of that time is spent sitting at gates, loading and unloading passengers, or else waiting for scheduled departure. Not all the buses are so purposeful in their parking: Some are just waiting for a spot to open up.
The problem is there simply isn't enough room for them all. Boulder's downtown bus station is overcapacity, as it has been for many years, by nearly 20 percent as the demand for transit grows but the station doesn't. Short-term solutions are being pursued to ease the burden, but the real fix is a complete relocation, at a cost of tens of millions of dollars.
"Nothing's impossible," said Natalie Stiffler, senior transportation planner for the city, "but it's definitely a big project."
The station today has 973 square feet of curb space for buses to pull up to, and 13 usable gates. (One of the gates doesn't allow adequate turning room.) As population and ridership increase over the next 10 to 15 years, a feasibility study found that eight additional gates will be needed.
"We're at capacity, so we really can't increase service even if there's a need," Stiffler said. "We don't know where we can put those buses."
The immediate plan is to make 14th Street south of Canyon Boulevard a transit corridor, making room for five more buses. Vehicles won't necessarily be banned, as they are on 14th Street from Canyon to Walnut, but it is an option. Curbs and access points will need to be altered and some parking spaces removed, though parking impacts would be minimal, according to Stiffler.
The city is applying for regional funding early next year. If the money is secured, work could start in 2020, buying a few more years while a relocation is pursued.
A 2007 FasTracks Local Optimization Study put the cost of building a new station at about $40 million. Given the age of the study, the estimate is likely outdated: "I would expect this number to increase significantly since that was 10-plus years ago," Stiffler said.
Part of the enormous cost could be acquiring land; the leading contender for a site is the 1400 block of Canyon between 14th and 15th and north of the waterway, though the east end of the city's civic area is a possibility as well. The project could be eligible for state and federal funding, and RTD would share the cost with Boulder. RTD did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Another possibility, Stiffler said, is a public-private partnership. "Like Union Station, where there is a hotel, and restaurant as part of the facility." Any relocation is likely years away.
For now, the focus is on continuing to provide service to the thousands of riders who use public transit each day — and the thousands more who have yet to become customers.
"At the end of the day," said Kathleen Bracke, manager of Go Boulder, "it's about trying to grow the number of people who choose to ride transit."