DENVER — The CEO of RTD explained a detailed, phased plan — with some initiatives that have already to started and some to start later this year — on how it will reduce crime around the Denver Union Station bus concourse.
"Restoring a welcoming environment and ensuring the safety and security of our employees, our customers, and everyone who visits and lives or works near Denver Union Station is a top priority," RTD General Manager and CEO Debra A. Johnson said.
The plan details changes to the station so that RTD customers can access the necessary entry points in a safe and secure manner.
As announced in a RTD meeting on Wednesday, Johnson outlined the following phased approach:
Short-term (0-6 months):
- Deep cleaning of the bus concourse (including boarding areas, floors, ceilings, and walls), weekly washing of windows, increased custodial support, and replacement of missing and burned-out lights
- Broadcasting of pre-recorded audio announcements in English and Spanish within the bus concourse will include information on services, fares, availability, the Transit Watch app (to report illegal or suspicious activity), public safety, and information to discourage unwanted activities (to start no later than April)
- Installation of “ENTER” and “EXIT” decals on sliding doors at Union Station, Wewatta and Chestnut to facilitate customer flow
- Deactivation or covering of electrical outlets in the bus concourse and walkway areas
Mid-term (6-12 months):
- Upgraded lighting in the concourse (both inside and outside)
- Installation of TV monitors with security camera feeds at entrances so security personnel on the ground can see activities throughout the facility. This will also be integrated into RTD's closed circuit TV system (to begin to later than the end of the summer)
- Conversion of commuter rail platform stairs to emergency exit only (starting this summer)
- Installation of barriers to prevent access to area between the elevator and glass wall at the Wewatta and Chestnut pavilions
- Addition of floor decals and signage to encourage movement and discourage loitering
- Restrooms will be restored to service and smoke detectors will be installed (RTD closed the restrooms on Dec. 3, 2021 out of an abundance of caution to have them cleaned and returned to a state of good repair, Johnson said. They were supposed to reopen in January, but supply chain issues delayed this. They are now expected to reopen in the second quarter of 2022)
Long-term (12+ months):
- Paid fare areas will be implemented at the Union Station bus concourse so only those with fare media will have access. This includes the installation of turnstiles at the Union Station historic building, as well as the Wewatta and Chestnut Pavilion entrances.
- Leverage procurement processes to ensure RTD has qualified contractors to assist in upgrading the designs to the bus concourse. These contractors will design and install physical enhancements within the bus concourse, upgrade the fare media system to accommodate customer access and integrate components to ensure consistency of operation
- Addition of roll-up doors to the vehicle entrances at the ramps to the bus concourse to prevent pedestrians from accessing the vehicle-only bus ramps (designed and implemented by end of the year, but this will hinge on any supply chain disruptions)
Johnson said the creation of the paid fare area may be the "most impactful" change that will be implemented to curtail the illegal activities.
She said public transportation is interwoven into the fabric of a community.
"So whatever is plaguing that community in which we're providing services, quite naturally will roll over on public transit," she said.
That is why RTD is working with multiple other agencies around the region and the communities RTD serves.
"Now while these changes, along with an increased police presence, will have positive ripple effects throughout the transit system, the unwanted activities impacting the agency are a byproduct of complex societal issues that RTD alone cannot solve," Johnson said. "And that is why mitigating these challenges will require an all-in effort among RTD community, municipal and legislative partners."
The conceptual designs will cost between $10 and $15 million, Johnson said, but that amount will be more clear-cut as RTD gets further into the process.
While crime around Union Station isn't a new development, it spiked in July 2021, rising to the highest rates in the past six years, which is as far back as DPD's online crime records go.
In early December, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock vowed to improve the deteriorating conditions plaguing Union Station after the president of the union representing more than 2,000 RTD employees expressed outrage and frustration over the conditions at the station. Hancock said he directed the city’s public safety director and his chief of staff to meet with RTD management and the union, adding he also sent senior-level city staff down to the area “to assess conditions and report back to me.”
Hancock said Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen would immediately increase police patrols at Denver Union Station to address illegal and unsafe behavior within the terminal. RTD also partnered with the Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration to deploy special teams in the area of Union Station. The teams — made up of three to seven members, plus a transit police officer — will be visible during daylight hours through the end of the year. Agency transit police officers will also be paired up in teams of two or four to work in the area of Union Station seven days a week.
In the wake of these announcements, Denver police announced on Feb. 24 that since the beginning of the year, officers had arrested more than 500 people inside RTD's bus terminal transit areas at Union Station. As of Wednesday, that number jumped to more than 1,000 arrests.