In 2010, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA), received a Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Very Small Starts Grant to implement the first and only rural Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the country. Extending over 40 miles in the Roaring Fork Valley and connecting communities from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, the system encompasses seven political jurisdictions and three USDA plant hardiness zones.
Through a competitive bid process, the landscape architect was engaged by RFTA to transform seven BRT stations and three park-and-ride lots from placeless, generic-looking bus stops into environments whose consistency in design, planning, signage, and educational elements supports and encourages community ridership. Creative and brand-consistent solutions, inspired by BRT’s VelociRFTA branding, reference local geology applied at each station, while utilizing sustainable materials such as minimized snowmelt paving for safe access during winter months, native plantings, pervious paving in park and ride lots, high-efficiency irrigation systems, four-season seating areas, ample covered bike parking, bathrooms, and safe pedestrian connectivity.
Purpose and Vision
In 2005, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) created the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act – A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) to focus on funding cost-effective transit projects that featured new transit infrastructure. The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) applied for a FTA Very Small Starts Grant, a matching grant program designed for corridor-based systems with a budget of under $50 million, to implement the first and only rural Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in the country. The system extends 40 miles from Glenwood Springs to Aspen, including seven political jurisdictions and three USDA plant hardiness zones.
With population growth came the increase in single occupancy vehicle trips on the Highway 82 corridor. Demand for a superior, fast and efficient transit service in the valley was paramount. The BRT system—branded VelociRFTA— could boost ridership by providing 15-minute lead times, Wi-Fi service on buses, comfortable, convenient, and programmed bus stops, with safe park-and-ride lots adjacent. Furthermore, its speed, convenience, predictability, and special branding would successfully win over “choice” riders—those who own a car but choose to ride the bus instead—easing traffic congestion and doubling ridership in a corridor where many workers have long commutes. After three years of initial phase work, design and construction on the BRT began in 2010.
Stakeholder outreach, including riders, drivers, RFTA management, and a variety of consultant teams, resulted in a uniform design framework to be implemented at each of the seven stations and three park-and-ride lots. Creative solutions for branding, user comfort, sustainability, and convenience included minimizing snowmelt paving to only what was needed for user safety, low water and maintenance plantings, pervious paving areas, high efficiency irrigation systems, four-season seating areas, ample covered bike parking, bathrooms, and safe pedestrian connectivity.
Role of the Landscape Architect
Design Vision and Brand Consistency:
Successfully branding VelociRFTA in a vast, rural section of Western Colorado was a primary goal of the project. Standard practice for any BRT system to create a continuity of experience for users, a master planned ‘kit of parts’ enables an authentic connection to market the system, distinguish the service from other competing transit options, enhance outreach efforts to attract new riders, increase customer loyalty, and attract additional investment to build the brand value.
Using the BRT VelociRFTA brand logo, a velociraptor, as its primary design inspiration, the landscape architect set the design vision for the entire project based on the geology of the 40-mile corridor, collaborating closely with RFTA to develop the ‘kit of parts’ for the new BRT stations built around this dinosaur-based theme The kit includes hardscape, furniture, walls, lighting, and plantings to transform the BRT stations from small anonymous structures along a state highway into consistent and striking spaces whose efficiency, cleanliness, and visual attractiveness effectively communicate RFTA’s core values as a leader in rural bus rapid transit.
References to time period appropriate local geologic features were incorporated into each station, starting at the westernmost point of the system with a 20-foot-tall retaining wall incorporating an early angiosperm, or herbaceous plant, that would have existed during the time of the velociraptor. Further east along the bus line, the geologic history of the Roaring Fork Valley starts to emerge in layers. Near Basalt, volcanic basaltic layers are embedded into walls. On the outskirts of Aspen, the iconic red color of the prevalent Maroon Foundation, deposited 200-300 million years ago, is imprinted in stamped concrete at each stop. Located at every station, large dinosaur eggs, used as benches by adults and play structures by children, velociraptor footprints stamped into the concrete, bus shelter architecture emulating geologic strata, and the VelociRFTA signage create brand consistency, while serving to build upon the educational and inspirational theme that unfolds at each stop.
As users of the VelociRFTA BRT, the landscape architecture staff were familiar with existing conditions and therefore ideally suited to help finalize amenities at each station, which include timed heaters, snowmelt for safety, ample seating, newspaper stands, bike and ski racks, restrooms, safe and efficient pedestrian connections, recycling receptacles, and adequate waste management.
Because RFTA is supported by taxpayers, its success as the nation’s first rural bus rapid transit system was highly scrutinized, both locally and nationally. Evidence of its success was tied to its ability to meet the Very Small Starts Grant criteria, achieve strict construction cost goals, reflect RFTA’s environmental standards, and fit within the capability of RFTA’s operations and maintenance team’s existing skills and equipment.
Long a pioneer in implementing the environmental values of the communities it serves, RFTA was under tremendous scrutiny to set an even higher standard with the BRT system. User feedback for station amenities highlighted snowmelt and heated stations as a desired primary element in the BRT design. To meet that need, bus stops include only necessary snowmelt, located at embark and disembark areas for optimal safety. Low water use standards for station landscaping are the result of a compilation of three standard plant lists that incorporate the native and adaptive plants that thrive in the three USDA zones from Glenwood to Aspen. Planting plans include durable, low maintenance plants that bloom throughout the summer, making stations attractive to visitors and commuters from May through October. High efficiency irrigation systems operate at every station; all stations with access to non-potable water utilize that resource alone. Site materials, including concrete paving and dinosaur eggs, gravel, and FSC glulam seating, are locally sourced and able to withstand the impacts of weather and human use patterns. Strict downlighting provides optimal safety while meeting the region’s night sky standards. On-demand station heat regulated by timers, as well as snowmelt, is powered by an electrical system to allow easy conversion to solar in the near future.
One of the most challenging aspects of creating a new station design for RFTA was the operational complexities embedded in managing the system as cost-effectively as possible. For example, user feedback indicated that trash containment at existing stations was inadequate and poorly located. The VelociRFTA station design kit introduced highly visible recycling and trash bins that include a compaction unit. RFTA staff are able to remotely monitor when trash removal is required at any station, actively reducing the number of maintenance visits. Anti-graffiti coating was applied to every station to assist in paint removal, and platforms were designed for quick and efficient power-washing by RFTA staff. A maintenance manual provides proper landscape care requirements; RFTA teams have created a monthly checklist to ensure the landscape at each station continues to thrive.
Evidence of Significance
The VelociRFTA service began in September 2013. In 2014, during its first full year in operation, ridership increased by 15% to 4.7 million annual trips. By 2015 and 2016, ridership was roughly aligned with the record ridership experienced in 2008. Now at 5.2 million riders per year, RFTA is the largest rural transit authority in the country and second largest transit agency in Colorado. In 2014, RFTA received the Federal Transit Administrator’s Outstanding Public Service Award and a SHIFT (Shaping How we Invest For Tomorrow) Sustainability Award. The BRT system and RFTA leadership has been brought before Congress as a successful Very Small Starts project and a model for other rural BRT that have been built since 2014.
A design approach that encompasses brand consistency through place-making to attract, retain, and increase BRT ridership has resulted in a significant increase in users and a range of community benefits that come about with better transit systems. As a result of the demonstrated success of the VelociRFTA project, RFTA has received additional grants for continued transit improvements throughout the valley.
Common low water plant material that was featured in all three plant lists included:
- Rosa woodsia
- Artemisia tridentata spp. Vaseyana
- Symphoricarpos albus
- Amelanchier alnifolia ‘regent’
- Coreopsis grandiflora ‘Sunburst’
- Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’
- Calamagrostis x acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’
Featured plants utilized in the upvalley (higher elevation) stations:
- Populus tremuloides
- Cercocarpus montanus
- Machaeranthera coloradoensis
- Penstemon mexicali ‘pikes peak purple’
Featured plants utilized in the midvalley stations:
- Prunus americana
- Acer negundo ‘Sensation’
- Chamaebatiaria millefolium
- Rhus aromatica
- Achillea millefolium ‘Terra Cotta’
- Castilleja integra
- Nepeta x ‘Six Hills Giant’
Featured plants utilized in the downvalley (lower elevation) stations:
- Crataegus crus-galli ‘Inermis’
- Gymnocladus dioica
- Juniperus scopulorum
- Chrysothamnus nauseosus
- Caryopteris × clandonensis ‘Blue Mist’
- Gaillardia x grandiflora ‘Burgundy’
- Leucanthemum × superbum ‘Becky’
Documents and Media
Planning Docs (if applicable):