Denver's streetcar routes are retraced by the Rail~Volutionaries
To the stroller-pushing mommies and patio-side drinkers who lined West 32nd Avenue on Sunday afternoon, it probably looked like just another Cruiser ride, as thirty folks on bikes trekked up the Highland hills in Sunday's 100-degree heat.
Streetcar trekkers stop for beer at Hops & Pie on Tennyson Street.
Yet this sweaty mass, organized by the Denver New Rail~Volutionaries, was on a mission to retrace a living thread of Denver history: The Denver Tramway Company's Number 5 streetcar line.
That streetcar line cut from downtown to Lakeside and beyond from the late 1800s until 1950. Remnants of the streetcar route remain, everything from exposed tracks to faded murals and signs that mark the site of once-thriving markets and merchants. An easy (albeit uphill) ride or a long stroll, the route is a reminder of the role mass transit played in Denver's development and, some hope, an inspiration for the future of citywide transit.
Organized by the Denver New Rail~Volutionaries -- a cohort of urban planners, transit analysts, architects and other young professionals for whom the city's development is a hobby as well as a vocation -- the tour was a wheel-level exploration of the role Denver streetcars played in seeding some of the city's liveliest neighborhoods, including the areas now known as Lower Highland, Highland and Berkeley.
Sweaty but determined, the Denver New Rail~Volutionaries cross the Highland Bridge.
"So many people have no idea that streetcars were an essential part of the entire city," says New Rail president Steven Chester, who works in the city's planning office. "The neighborhoods along 32nd, South Gaylord, South Pearl; these are all on old streetcar lines. The memory has been so erased since the '50s, when driving took over."
Sunday's tour kicked off at the site of the old Denver Tramway Powerhouse, now a massive REI", and once the starting point for streetcar route 5, one of the major arteries that connected north Denver to downtown. Launched at a time when liquor licenses were priced at a prohibitive $5,000 each -- an attempt to protect the area from the corruption of dirty Denver below -- the route laid the foundation for the 80211, a zip code many Denverites know for its dizzying number of cafes, bars and boutiques that pop up in main-street-style clusters.