For Mayor Hancock, The 'Train To The Plane' Is The First Step In Denver's Smart City Plans

Apr 21, 2016

Travelers will soon be able to board a train from Denver’s Union Station to Denver International Airport. The route will be fast, cheap and -- Mayor Michael Hancock hopes -- the first piece of the aerotropolis puzzle.

The plan is to parcel out more than 9,000 acres of land surrounding the airport to companies specializing in tech, agriculture, aerospace and more. Hancock promises the plan will herald new jobs and innovation, and will make the Denver area more competitive worldwide. But the first step is getting people there. That’s where the Regional Transportation District’s new University of Colorado A-Line commuter train comes in.

“Denver joins this really elite group of regions that have that type of a connection between their airport and the central business district,” says Nate Currey spokesman for RTD. “There’s fewer than 20 cities in the United States that have that.”

Indeed, cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Atlanta and Miami have enjoyed business boosts by easing travel between their metros and their airports.

According to a 2013 report [.pdf] by the American Public Transit Association and the U.S. Travel association, cities with such connections are more likely to host large events and conferences. On average, airport-connected metros enjoy a 12 percent boost in hotel occupancy, compared to those without connections.

Denver’s A-Line will also be competing with more expensive means of travel. You hitch a ride to the airport for a $9 flat fare from any station on the line.

Ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft charge upward of $30 for a ride to the airport. You could drive yourself, but parking will run you anywhere from $8 to $33 a day depending on which lot you choose. For the first 90 days after the A-Line opens, parking at most stations will be free. After that, it’ll run between $2 and $4 a day.

The line was funded through Denver Transit Partners, a public-private partnership. However, one station -- the 61st and Pena Boulevard station -- was built almost entirely by Panasonic, who plan to open their stateside headquarters near the station. The hub will feature sustainable technology modeled after the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town in Japan. The goal is build another model of a “smart city” - a sustainable, high-tech city with off-the-grid capabilities. Fujisawa, for example, can power the city with stored solar energy for up to three days. In Denver, expect to see a solar-powered canopy and streets lined with motion-detecting LED street lamps. Panasonic’s plan for a “smart community” in Denver goes hand in hand with Mayor Hancock’s ambitions for the Mile High City to be a “smart city.”

Denver is one of seven finalists in the Smart City Challenge. The winner will receive $40 million from the federal Transportation Department and corporations to build an exemplar of a “smart city;” a metropolis that uses technology to interconnect transit systems, uses sustainable energy to decrease reliance on the grid and make residents’ lives easier. As a finalist, Denver has already received $100,000, and has just weeks to complete its proposal before the winner is announced in June. Hancock is pushing the aerotropolis plan with his eye on the prize.

But why now?

Development around DIA’s terminals had been restricted to businesses that aided in airport operations, as part of an agreement between Denver and Adams counties. In November 2015, voters in both counties approved a measure to do away with that restriction and split tax revenues between the two counties.

Going forward, the aerotropolis proposal carves out sectors around different parts of the airport for different types of industries. Hancock says the opening of the A-Line allows him to sell the plan to companies whose employees would have better transit options.