The evolution of mass transit in Denver began in 1871 and by the mid-1880s the system (eventually called the Denver City Railway) boasted 45 coaches and a sixteen-mile network of rails. In 1886, the Denver Tramway Company inaugurated the nation's first electric streetcar system, the second in the world. The streetcar dramatically changed the way Denver evolved-extending its reach because of the greater distance commuters could travel. By 1890, 150 miles of track crisscrossed the city with connections to Golden, Littleton, and Boulder. Many of these original tracks still lie beneath our streets.
The trolley tracks on Broadway served as a transition between the trolley lines operating in downtown Denver and points east and south. Trolleys remained the primary form of public transportation through the 1940s, but by 1950, automobiles had taken over and streetcars stopped running. Bus use also declined, and the Denver Tramway Company came close to terminating service altogether.
The state of Colorado intervened in 1971 by creating the publicly financed Regional Transportation District (RTD). In the 1990s RTD launched a light rail system that has grown dramatically ever since. Denver public transit and the electric trolley have made a triumphant return.
"Perhaps we shall again witness steel wheels moving
swiftly along a network of rails serving our city. If this ever occurs, it will be ample proof that the big yellow cars were really not so antiquated."
William C. Jones,
F. Hol Wagner, Jr. and
Gene C. McKeever
Middle & bottom: Mile-High Trolleys: A Nostalgic Look at Denver in the Era of the Streetcars, 1965
Top Right: Looking toward Broadway along 17th Street from Tremont. The UMB Bank Plaza now stands on the site of the Savoy Hotel.
Photos courtesy Denver Public Library
Western History Collection