CPR’s Nathaniel Minor talks trains

New podcast explores Denver’s transit system

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On the surface, studying the effectiveness of transit services may not seem like the hottest topic out there.

But the subject fascinates Nathaniel Minor, whose new four-part “Ghost Train” miniseries on Colorado Public Radio is available on podcast platforms.

The Minnesota native and current Denver resident is a CPR News transportation reporter. He enjoys learning how cities create their transit systems, and what lives up to expectations and what doesn’t.

“In `Ghost Train,’ Minor explores the past, present and future of transit projects in the Denver metro area, starting with the 2004 vote to back an ambitious transit plan that would help commuters glide by traffic and transform Denver into a world-class city,” states a news release.

The series also focuses on Colorado’s goal to build a greener transportation system in the state.

“RTD did a very good job on selling people on the idea that trains are a superior way to travel,” Minor said. “What more people are seeing today is that buses can be very efficient, too, especially getting through the city. They can go places that trains don’t.”

Minor is telling a story about how it all happened, he said.

“People are interested,” he added. “They want to see where this story goes.”

Minor also pushes to keep things, especially rail travel, in perspective.

“What you hear from RTD is that these things just opened in the last five or eight years,” Minor said. “They’re really an investment in the future. Eventually, more things will be built around them and they’ll start to shape growth, and they’ll be a widely used structure over time. It’ll just take time — decades — to make that happen.”

Q&A with Nathaniel Minor

What made you choose this topic?

I’ve cared about this since I was a kid. I grew up in a city with 150,000 people and used my bicycle or the bus to go places when I wanted to go a distance. I continued that in college (University of St. Thomas). I started to travel a little more, go to different cities — New York, Europe — and you see there are different ways of building a city.

To see those different styles, and ride buses and trains, was an enlightening experience — to see how you move determines what kind of city do we have.

What about Denver?

Denver is a car city. In later episodes, we get into the history of that. People in Denver grew up around streetcars, but you can see the effects of those cars in obvious ways.

Colfax and Broadway are long, historic streetcar corridors, especially Colfax, which is a fairly narrow street and there’s not a ton of space for parking. The buildings, for the most part, are right next to each other. That’s the legacy of the streetcars. People didn’t drive to those places, so they didn’t need parking spaces.

What knowledge do you hope to get out there?

I really hope people come away with a better idea of how things are built and why they’re built, and how that affects our life in the city and suburbs — and how needs change over time.

You can go farther in an automobile, but you have to create space for parking and you have a big pollution problem. All of the trains are supposed to help with those problems. We take a critical look at if they’ve actually done that.

What has worked?

Most people consider the A line to the airport to be a success. But most of them (train routes) have not met their ridership goals. There’s a pretty simple reason why: We as a community decided to put in these rail lines and rail stations. They don’t go down old streetcar routes. Instead, they were tucked away in a corner and not used so much.

Denver’s rail lines are not in walkable places. Most are at a Park-N-Ride. (And) most of these train lines are not in the city — they’re at the edge of a city or edge of a neighborhood, not through a neighborhood.

"Ghost Train, " CPR, Denver, transit

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