On Friday, Denver residents got to greet the Union Station Transit Center, the city’s gleaming new $500 million transit hub. U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock were among the dignitaries on hand for the ribbon-cutting. But for all Union Station’s importance to the region, and even to the nation, a more interesting scene may have been taking shape on Saturday night at Market Street Station, one of Denver’s chief transit terminals for the last 30 years.
There, commuters taking the last buses in and out of Market Street Station said their goodbyes—with graffiti.
“No matter how dark, uncomfortable, and smelly Market Street Station was, it still held a lot of sentimental value to a lot of riders,” writes Ryan Dravitz, a blogger for Denver Urbanism. “Every wall in the station is covered with memories, and goodbyes to the station.”
Most of the messages scrawled and spray-painted on the walls inside Market Street Station’s lower levels register a similarly upbeat note. It almost seems too heartwarming to be true—bus terminals tend to draw grittier stuff. Scott Reed, a spokesperson for Regional Transit District, Denver’s transit authority, confirms over email that the graffiti sendoff was planned by the organization’s marketing department. (“Will follow RTD anywhere, you people are the greatest!” reads one of the more suspect graffito messages.)
Reed says that RTD "ambassadors" handed out markers during the station's last week of operations, encouraging them to tag the station. Marketers can give people markers, but they can't make people give a damn. Denver's bus riders themselves explained why they bothered.
“I’ll always remember my uncle, an RTD driver, who used to carry me in his bus to this station!” reads one testimonial. “To all the RTD customers/riders, Thank you and see you at Union Station” reads a message signed “Charles” in green marker. Hundreds more sound about the same, with the occasional "Go Broncos" thrown in for good measure.
The sendoff is a return to form for Market Street Station, one of two terminals for Denver bus service for the last three decades. “When Market Street Station opened in the 1970s, it was at the northern end of the business district,” in the area now known as LoDo, explains University of Colorado Denver instructor Ken Schroeppel. “Back then, Lower Downtown was skid row. No one went there.”
The Union Station Transit Center—located in the heart of LoDo—is the centerpiece of a $6.5 billion plan to introduce 122 miles of rail and 18 miles of bus rapid transit to Denver and eight attendant counties (called FasTracks). The first phase of the transit hub construction, a light-rail station serving existing Southeast and Southwest light-rail lines, opened in 2011. A new West Line kicked off last year.
Denver commuters began taking buses from the new Union Station Bus Concourse on Monday, after Market Street Station closed for good early into Sunday morning. Union Station also just opened its new Commuter Rail Station, whose airy canopy is the design highlight of the new transit hub. Currently, only Amtrak is using the commuter-rail platform, but between 2016 and 2018, four new commuter-rail lines will connect Denver to its suburbs through Union Station. Later this summer, the fully renovated historic Union Station building re-opens, giving the forward-looking transit center a Beaux-Arts face.
The fate of Market Street Station, meanwhile, isn’t yet certain. The Union Station Neighborhood Company—a partnership between two developers, East West Partners and Continuum Partners, that is managing the 1.4-million-square-foot redevelopment effort—will get first crack at it. “They’ll get the opportunity to buy Market Street Station [from the city] at a discount, so they make their investment up in the back-end,” says Schroeppel (who runs the Denver Urbanism and Denver Infill blogs). The developers have until summer 2015 to close on the property.
In the meantime, the city intends to use Market Street Station for underground parking starting in July. (Next month, RTD will paint over all the graffiti before handing authority over the station to the City and County of Denver.) So while it will live on a little longer as a transit center, by all appearances, it will live much longer in people’s memories. Some of them better than others. "The guy who works @ the window is REALLY good lucking," reads a note over an arrow to the window. And over another arrow: "I agree! <3 Laura."
All photos courtesy Ryan Dravitz.