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A Denver transplant, but still a Hoosier at heart

Train at the Platform (image credit: Kris Davidson)

Train at the Platform (image credit: Kris Davidson)

Former Indianapolis resident Kris Davidson reflects on public transit in her new city.

Our new landlord and her 16-year-old daughter Audrey took us to their favorite Thai restaurant, a ten minute walk from our new place. In an attempt to make small talk, I asked Audrey if she was excited to finally be getting her driver’s license. It seemed like a cut-and-dry question when I asked it. I expected a definitive, “Yes!” to come flying out of her mouth. Instead she replied, “Nah, I really don’t need one, so I’m not in any hurry.” Of course she was looking forward to getting her license. It was a rite of passage after all, wasn’t it?

And that’s when it hit me. This place is different.

Rewind to February. After securing new tenants to rent our home in Indy, my husband John, two-year-old son Calvin and I were officially Denver bound. We had 48 hours to find a place of our own in Denver – and from what I was told – the rental market in the Mile High City moves fast. If you don’t respond to an ad within 24 hours, you probably missed your window. So I made a list of deal breakers:

  • 2+ bedrooms, 1.5 bathrooms
  • within 5 miles of downtown
  • walking distance to light rail
  • walking distance to restaurants and local shops
  • close proximity to a park

After a whirlwind of virtual house hunting, we found a home with everything on our list. We settled on Washington Park, a neighborhood – similar to Meridian Kessler or Broad Ripple – located three miles south of downtown Denver.

Denver: 16th Street Mall (image credit: Kris Davidson)

Denver: 16th Street Mall (image credit: Kris Davidson)

It’s been two months now, and I still feel like a tourist. Everything has that new car smell; the mountain views, the sunshine, the incredible parks, the proximity to local eateries and stores. And the transit. Wow, the transit. Our house is located three blocks from a light rail station (two blocks from the bus stop), which gets us into downtown Denver in 4 ½ minutes (no really, I timed it). Once you are downtown, there is a free hybrid-fuel shuttle bus that travels up and down the main entertainment district, seven days a week.

Denver: Union Station (image credit: Kris Davidson)

Denver: Union Station (image credit: Kris Davidson)

And it doesn’t stop there. In 2013, the first phase of Union Station’s transformation as the remodeled transportation hub for Denver, will be rolled out. The newly constructed site will serve as a hub for a new commuter train hall, regional bus facility, light rail station, 16th Street Mall shuttle and public urban space. Which means I won’t have to drive 30 minutes, both ways, to pick up visitors from the airport anymore. I can pick them up at the light rail station, just three blocks from my house. And we won’t have to pay $11 a day to leave our car in the airport garage anymore, either.

When I was asked how my exposure to Denver transit has positively affected my family, I had to really think about it. Of course I wanted to give this awe-inspiring viewpoint that everything is so progressive and forward-thinking here. That people choose to relocate west because of all the healthy lifestyle amenities. That it’s a better way of life.

Multimodal upbringing! (image credit: Kris Davidson)

Multimodal upbringing! (image credit: Kris Davidson)

But the truth is this. Not much has changed for my family … yet … in regards to public transit. I lived in Indy for nine years, 5 of which I was in the Near Eastside neighborhood of Arsenal Heights. And I loved everything about it. We were already making conscious choices to live within close proximity to where we worked and played. We had already given up a car and commuted to work in the bike lane. It was easy, affordable and a healthy alternative.

So how has public transit improved my family’s life? Well, in little ways so far. As in most major cities, traffic is horrible during rush hour. So, it’s incredibly convenient to hop on the light rail rather than sit in gridlock. John’s employer also provides a monthly commuter stipend to offset the cost of public transit, which is wonderful. My son’s daycare is located right off of a light rail station downtown, which means he gets to ride with his father to and from work.

I also think a lot of the impact of transit in Denver is psychological. There is something to be said for a city that is willing to go all the way with public transit – to make transportation a priority, regardless of a stagnant economy. When the transit overhaul was approved, I would imagine most Denver residents felt as though they could puff their chest out a bit and proclaim, ‘we made this happen.’

I expect public transit to have a more direct impact on our lives further down the road. When we finally buy some real estate, it can only improve our return on investment. When Union Station is complete, we can travel to just about any part of the city with ease. And as our son grows up, his dependence on cars and fossil fuels will likely be as minimal as, well … Audrey’s. I’m grateful we are able to raise him in such a well-connected city.

Denver Lightrail Train (image credit: Kris Davidson)

Denver Lightrail Train (image credit: Kris Davidson)

What Indy lacks in public transportation, it makes up for in affordability. When we moved to Denver, it was a rude awakening to find out the house we own in Indy would cost about $300k more in our new city. I now realize how fortunate we were to be able to buy such a beautiful home, a little over a mile from Monument Circle. With that sort of proximity to the downtown, we never needed public transit. It was all at our fingertips.

Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Kris Davidson for taking the time to craft a narrative on her family’s move from Indy to Denver. You can check out her website here.

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