RTD closed the El Rancho Park-n-Ride and bus stops on Aug. 21 because of “low ridership.” This was the public-facing excuse, but it was not the motivation for this closure. Since the beginning of the pandemic, ridership has plummeted system-wide, including at all five PnR-associated stops on the EV bus route. Both pre- and post-pandemic, total average weekday ridership at El Rancho has consistently ranked third among these, and has never been zero.
Unlike when stops are typically decommissioned, there was no timely and meaningful public notification or public input process regarding the El Rancho facility. Internal RTD memorandum indicate that the decision to abandon the El Rancho PnR and stops was made not in June 2022, but in September 2021. The decommissioning task force and timeline had already been outlined by February of this year.
The entire decision to close the El Rancho PnR was in reaction to a proposal by one developer whose ambition is to acquire the CDOT-owned land between Highway 74 and I-70. His proposal would demolish the facilities already built there by taxpayers and used by the community, replacing them with private commercial development. The inferior public transportation facilities he proposed as “replacements” did not satisfy RTD’s requirements. Rather than pushing back, RTD chose to abandon its lease altogether.
Public money originally built this grade-separated, accessible, lighted and conveniently located PnR. It has been well maintained for nearly 30 years, including a $45,000 renovation of the stairway in 2018. Evergreen’s own contribution to RTD tax revenue has grown year over year, even during the pandemic, and for the last three years has exceeded $1 million annually. The commercial district at El Rancho contributes significantly to this total.
A park-n-ride and public transit option at El Rancho are specifically referenced in the Evergreen Area Plan of the Jefferson County Comprehensive Master Plan. This PnR, sited on agency-owned land, is already strategically located adjacent to the main intersection. There is no pedestrian route connecting El Rancho to the next-nearest stop at Bergen Park, two miles away. Jefferson County affordable housing (VistaElRancho) was in part sited at El Rancho because of the presence of the bus route.
El Rancho is at the northern end of the Evergreen RTD Flex Ride service area, where this PnR is the only public parking within the entire commercial district at El Rancho. Apart from bus ridership, this lot is well used for ridesharing both east and west on I-70 (RTD’s own data indicate that it has historically averaged at least half full) and as a jumping-off point for the CDOT-built Genesee Bike Path.
This PnR serves the purpose for which it was intended: facilitating connections, a core principle of both CDOT and RTD transportation resource planning. Despite that the aforementioned development proposal has yet to even be accepted for review by Jefferson County, and that there has been no public comment process associated with the proposed demolition of taxpayer-funded community assets on this agency-owned land, RTD now plans to begin disassembling the superficial infrastructure and barricading the lot as soon as October.
This history of planning, public investment, and demonstrated community support for transportation alternatives could soon be sacrificed as both a symbolic and literal disconnection between the publicly-funded RTD and the patrons it claims to serve. CDOT still owns the land. Rather than selling it for development, it should maintain this PnR for the benefit of the community that built and uses it still.