Denver's Colfax bus gets priority at green lights

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DENVER -- Do you ever wish you could magically change red lights so you only hit greens?

Starting this week, that's exactly what some RTD buses will be able to do — but it won't be because of magic; it's all due to transit signal priority technology. 

On the busiest and the slowest bus in Denver, the Colfax Bus Route 15L, riders like Byron Armstead count on it to be on-time. So long red lights sometimes make them see red.

"I rely on it for my job," said Armstead. "I think it should take precedence."

Starting this week, it will. At a dozen intersections on Colfax, buses have a new, not-so-secret weapon that allows them to get longer green lights or shorter reds.

It's called transit signal priority, and RTD buses are already equipped with the required cellular and GPS technology that activates new routers inside signal control boxes and controls the signals as buses approach.

Supporters say it speeds up buses, shortening travel time. It also improves reliability because it's more consistent, and it could save time and money for RTD if they use less buses or provide more service.

"Instead of maybe being stopped 50 percent of the time, it may be stopped only 25 percent of the time at an intersection, and when we do it at a bunch of intersections, that adds up to minutes, which really matter," said Jeff Becker, the RTD Senior Manager of Service Development.

On the flip side, it could cause some delays on side streets.

Denver officials said they want to encourage more people to take buses and trains.

"We can carry a lot more people through our city on a bus than in single occupancy vehicles," said Nancy Kuhn, a spokeswoman for Denver Public Works. "The idea is to make transit a more desirable option to people so maybe they'll switch and try that for an option."

In the future, buses will get greens on more streets. Denver already has funding for Federal Boulevard and West Colfax Avenue.

It's estimated the Federal expansion will cost an estimated $1.35 million.

Backer said he will have the data on whether the buses improved transit times after several months.

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