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2016 MCHAP

Denver Union Station Hub + Transit-Oriented Development

Roger Duffy, FAIA

Denver, CO, USA

July 2014


Roger Duffy, FAIA / Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP


Kristopher Takács, AIA / Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (Project Manager) Derek Moore, PhD, AIA / Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (Senior Planner)


Denver Union Station Project Authority, Continuum Partners, East West Partners


Ryan Dravitz Robert Polidori Paul Wedlake


Denver Union Station is the centerpiece of the $7.8 billion public/private transit FasTracks project. The station anchors the new multi-modal hub joining downtown Denver and the region. The open-air commuter rail terminal, light rail station, and below-grade bus terminal connect transportation programs across the 42-acre redevelopment area. Strong urban design principles were applied, including use of a common architectural language for the transportation elements. The commuter Train Hall structure is a rational, cost-effective response to a series of programmatic requirements and constraints, including: weather protection to 50% of the platform, allowing diesel fumes to exhaust to the open-air, respecting the view corridor along 17th Street to protect views of the historic station, and designing a form that complements the historic Union Station building. The canopy is both functional and contemporary, and highly respective of the historic architecture, which it does not physically touch. Between the historic station and the light rail station is a 22-gate underground Bus Concourse servicing 16 regional and local bus routes. The terminal serves a dual purpose as a subterranean pedestrian concourse that connects the transportation programs across the site. The Light Rail Station’s architecture references the steel tubes and canopies of the Train Hall, but elements were elegantly resized and reinterpreted to suit the smaller, local ridership. High quality public spaces are carved out across the transit district and assembled into a continuous network. The public realm design encourages a range of character for individual spaces – from dynamic and highly programmable to quiet and neighborhood-oriented.


The Denver Union Station project is a vibrant new extension of Denver’s Central Business District integrating multi-modal transportation, mixed-used development, and public space. The challenge was to rework an original master plan which had generated concerns about the functionality of the transportation elements and worries that transit and development would crowd out the public open spaces desired by local residents. The revised master plan coordinates a two-platform Light Rail Station, an eight-track Commuter Rail Terminal (which will also serve Amtrak and the Ski Train), and a 22-slip Regional Bus Station to be built underground. These long and medium distance modes are connected to two local free shuttle bus lines running at 70 second headways during rush hour to link commuters with the rest of the Denver CBD. The historic Denver Union Station is reactivated as a main waiting room for the Commuter Rail Terminal. During the initial stages of design it proved infeasible to concentrate all transit stations underground on a single city block. The revised solution was to bring the rail stations to grade, spread them apart by two blocks, and link them together via the underground bus station. This led to a superior passenger experience, better orientation, enhanced connections to the local modes, and – most important – the integration of transit into a broader area, what has become known as the Transit District. This configuration promoted pedestrian connections, synergies with local businesses and residences, and a wider catchment area in the Downtown.


Since its initial phases opened in 2014, the project has succeeded as its stakeholders envisioned, integrating disparate elements into a cohesive, inviting urban center. Some 19.5 acres of new office, retail and residential development surround the renovated Union Station, where multiple modes of transportation converge upon new bus, light rail, and passenger rail facilities, all comfortably integrated with shops, restaurants, a boutique hotel and inviting public spaces. It exemplifies the power of transit-oriented urban design to transform a neighborhood and a city. It shows how inclusive public-private planning and partnership can succeed, even in the context of a highly politicized, large-scale, high-dollar project. The heart of the project is the Union Station Terminal building, where preservation and adaptive reuse have maintained the neighborhood’s history. The surrounding transit hub hosts nine modes of transportation, including pedestrian and bicycle traffic that make the project a benchmark for walkable urban development. The entire Union Station Neighborhood works as a powerful economic engine for the city and the region, generating $3.8 billion in initial impact and an additional $2.9 billion of impact on an ongoing basis. The project provides proof that with skillful planning, expert management, collaborative spirit and vision, a massive multi-modal urban redevelopment can be completed on time and on budget, with an outcome that meets or exceeds the public’s expectations. Phase 1 is 100% complete. It includes the Union Station Terminal building, bus terminal, train platform, light rail platform, North Wing building, South Wing building, public plazas and infrastructure.

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