Driving You Crazy: The lack of parking at the Mineral light rail station is ridiculous!

It's impossible to take light rail after 7 a.m.
Posted at 5:30 AM, Apr 12, 2017

Liz from Littleton writes, “What is driving you crazy? Light rail is supposed to help congestion and simplify commutes, but it's nothing like that at the Littleton/Mineral Station. The lack of parking makes it impossible to take light rail any time after 7 AM. Yet, there sit hundreds of 'reserved spots' that according to RTD, can't be 'released' due to restrictions in the law and additional parking isn't possible due to the owner's refusal to sell. Don't even try going to Englewood or any station further North. The traffic is so congested you will miss all consequent trains. I'm trying to help the traffic situation and the environment, but the lack of parking won't allow it and that drives me crazy :( “

Liz, you are not the first light rail commuter to complain about the parking shortage at the Mineral Park-n-Ride station. This issue has been going on since the mineral station first opened in July of 2000. The parking lots at Santa Fe & Mineral have 1227 spaces, 184 have been designated as “reserved” spaces.  

RTD began charging parking fees in early 2009 starting with just four Park-n-Ride lots. They quickly expanded the fee to many of the other lots around the district. According to RTD, there are 45 Park-n-Ride lots that charge a fee for parking. Of the 25 or so left that do not charge a parking fee, they are nowhere near any light rail station.

Under the current parking fee structure, residents in RTD's district may park free for the first 24 hours. Each day after that will cost $2 per day. Drivers who live outside the district are charged $2 per day for the first day, $4 a day after that. The Iliff Park-n-Ride is owned and operated by the City of Aurora. Daily parking fees are $3 a day there.  

Some of the Park-n-Ride lots are so busy that RTD decided to designate a portion of each pay lot to create a section of reserved parking spaces. The reserved spots are available to in-district riders for $42 per month. RTD says this program guarantees parking spaces will be available for buyers from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday.

“If someone arrives at Mineral at 7 a.m., there are most likely empty reserved spaces as the program holds those spaces open until 10 a.m., after which, they are released to the general public. One of the perks of the reserved parking permit system is that you know that you will have until 10 a.m. to find a parking space,” said RTD’s Senior Manager of Public Relations, Nate Currey.

To park in the reserved spaces commuters must first set up an online account with RTD to pay the monthly fee. Out of district commuters don’t qualify for the reserved parking space program. But if you plan to get a reserved space be prepared to wait. Many commuters I’ve talked to say the wait to get a space was “ridiculous”. The minimum I heard was six months. The longest was nearly a year.

In another published report, one commuter had a coworker who paid their neighbor for their reserved space creating essentially a black market for parking. I found nothing listed for RTD reserved parking on Craigslist. Not every RTD Park-n-Ride is as crowded as Mineral station. Many lots have open spaces every day with very few commuters paying for reserved spaces. 

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The southwest line that parallels Santa Fe Blvd was the first light rail line to extend out of downtown Denver. I remember when it first opened. I remarked at the time my amazement when ridership well exceeded what was projected. The new line was so overwhelmingly popular, RTD had full parking lots from the opening weeks. RTD knew the parking situation was a problem at the Mineral station even back then. That is one reason they eventually expanded the Mineral lot to the open field behind the 7-11 and designed larger parking lots than originally planned along the southeast line in the DTC.  

Instead of spending the millions of dollars to build a parking garage at Mineral, RTD hoped the parking congestion would be alleviated after the short spur from Mineral into Highlands Ranch was completed as a part of FasTracks. The problem with that plan is the spur is yet to be built.

“As part of the 2004 voter approved FasTracks program, the Southwest Rail extension will extend the C and D lines from Mineral station south 2.5 miles to the new end-of-line station at C-470 & Lucent. This new station will include 1,000 new parking stations when completed. The Southwest Rail extension is, however, one of four final segments of the FasTracks program that is yet to be fully funded. RTD continues to pursue alternative funding sources for the program to include grants and future partnerships with the private sector that advance the full completion of the FasTracks system,” Currey said.

In April 2014, the Urban Land Institute organized a panel of local experts who recommended the current surface parking lot be turned into a residential and retail development that included a large parking structure. These “transit oriented developments” are common at many other light rail stops across metro Denver. The city of Littleton created what they call the Mineral Station Area Master Plan.

The crux of the problem remains there isn’t a consensus between the local land owners, RTD and the city of Littleton about what exact development to create. The Aspen Grove shopping center is concerned a big box store that has been discussed might be built. The city of Littleton and nearby residents are concerned about the traffic a large retailer would attract. The most favorable idea so far has been a mixed use site with residential and retail development.

“How many future parking spaces there could be at this location it all is dependent on the kinds of development goes on. Not just the RTD private property, it’s a half a mile radius,” said Kent Bagley, Regional Transportation District, Board of Directors, District H.

One issue brought up at the latest City of Littleton planning meeting in January was if parking was in increased to accommodate more commuters, than more trains would be needed to move all those additional commuters. Currently trains run every 15 minutes and the total number of cars in a train is maxed out at 4. The problem as RTD sees it is, if parking at the Mineral station was increased, RTD would have to look at operating trains more frequently to accommodate all the new passengers at a higher cost. Bagley believes it would be “problematic” to have that large of an increase in cars and passengers on the southwest line.

“My sense is if you doubled the number of parking spaces right here right now they’d fill up. The problem then would be do you have enough trains to move all the people who want to go through there,” Bagley said.

The suggestion in the meantime from RTD is to find a bus stop closer to your home and ride that to the light rail so you won’t have to worry about circling like a vulture for an open space.

“Our bus route network is extensive and many people don’t realize they can catch a bus much closer to their home and then connect with light rail at most of our rail stations, including Mineral,” Currey said.

Many commuters complain about that idea because of the difficulty in timing the bus schedule just right to avoid a long wait when they get to the light rail station. They would then have the same problem when they come home.

Until the extension to Lucent or a new parking lot/retail development is built, I’m afraid I don’t have a better option for you other than trying a different Park-n-Ride lot or getting a job at one of the shops at Aspen Grove so you can use the employee parking over there.

Denver7 traffic anchor Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 20 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter or listen to his Driving You Crazy podcast.