U.S. 36: Changing commute habits through infrastructure, incentives, and education

By Mary Ebeling

The Colorado Department of Transportation is putting the final touches on the reconstruction of U.S. 36 between Denver and Boulder, and their efforts to both accommodate and encourage alternatives to driving alone in the corridor seem to be working.

Completed by CDOT, the Regional Transportation District (RTD), the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), and private partners as part of the first public-private partnership (P3) in Colorado, the U.S. 36 corridor project represents an emerging best practice. The project highlights what DOTs and agency partners can accomplish through designing, constructing, and managing a constrained corridor to provide multimodal transportation options to reduce single occupancy vehicle trips. The project includes reconstruction of the existing roadway; the addition of a lane each direction available to bus rapid transit, high occupancy, and tolled vehicles; new BRT stations; and a bicycle path within the right of way. Tolls collected are utilized to maintain the multimodal infrastructure on the corridor.12US36Map

In September 2014, prior to the completion of construction, a two-year social media-based TDM program launched. The TDM program, managed by 36 Commuting Solutions, is showing success at generating mode shift from single-occupancy vehicles to carpooling and transit.

“To date, the program has contributed to a 40 percent reduction in drive-alone trips by those who participated in the program, and vehicle miles traveled have been reduced by 12,500,” said Audrey DeBarros, executive director of 36 Commuting Solutions. “This is more than three times the VMT reduction that had been anticipated over the life of the program. “To put it in perspective, there are about 500 fewer vehicles traveling the corridor each day.”

The TDM program is part of a partnership with CDOT, CDOT’s High Performance Transportation Enterprise, DRCOG, and the RTD. It offers free RTD 10-ride ticket books, and cash incentives for new carpool or vanpool riders. Significantly, the program also includes the Master EcoPass pilot program for employers and employees located within ¼ mile of four BRT stations. EcoPasses were subsidized at 100 percent in 2015 and at 70 percent for 2016. The March 1 opening of a 12-foot wide bike path in the corridor will also get more people bicycling for transportation instead of driving.

The TDM efforts for the U.S. 36 corridor include robust marketing efforts that incorporate social media, incentives, and education programs that complement the BRT, bicycle facility, carpool programs, and tolling infrastructure, making mode choice real and affordable. These comprehensive programs have helped to get commuters comfortable using the new transportation options and to maximize return on transportation investments.

Mary Ebeling is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.