Beating the Train

Light-rail opponents plot ways to jump the tracks--with an RTD boardmember leading the charge.

"The arguments haven't changed significantly over time," Hudson says. "Clearly, the cost is the Achilles' heel of this."

But the issue of cost, Caldara frets, won't be enough to carry the day. As traffic worsens, the emotional appeal of the sleek white "choo-choo" grows--even if people don't ride the thing, they want everybody else to ride it and get out of their way. Hudson agrees. "I call it an emblem of urban virility," he says.

To combat pro-rail emotion, Caldara suggests, the group will have to "get passionate about the issue." Bonnie Ferguson, a Lakewood resident who's been organizing opposition to the proposed western line and recently participated in an RTD tour of the light-rail system in Portland, Oregon, suggests that there's plenty about what she saw there that should raise concerns about channeling trains through residential neighborhoods. "We've got to raise the safety issue," she says.

Councilwoman Knobel agrees. The other side is fear-mongering, she suggests--fear of gridlock, fear of the brown cloud, when "the real reasons Lakewood wants light rail is for economic development and urban renewal."

"We need to play on fear," Caldara says. "We need to plant the fear that your grandchildren will be paying off this debt and it won't decrease congestion."

He proposes an ad campaign, a two-panel billboard that would mock the gridlock fear. The first scene would show traffic stalled in Denver ("Denver without light rail"). The second would show traffic stalled in Portland ("Portland with light rail"). Other spots would promote more sensible, less costly transit alternatives: smart cars and global positioning systems, jitneys and HOV lanes.

Before the group can embark on advertising, though, it needs to get organized. Caldara is quickly elected chairman, but the group needs a well-known name as treasurer, since that's the name that will appear on campaign literature. Various well-known names are floated: former governor Dick Lamm is said to be interested in the cause; so is popular Boulder County Commissioner Paul Danish. Neither one is present to volunteer for any official position.

Media coverage is crucial, everyone agrees. The Denver Post's editorial section is a "lost cause," Caldara says, but he expects better treatment from the Rocky Mountain News and the Boulder Daily Camera. A technical writer from the Libertarian Party volunteers to help with press releases.

"Everything we do has to be turned into a media event," Caldara says. "We need to seem a lot larger than we are."

A speakers' bureau is proposed as one way to get the message out. The RTD board also plans to stage several debates on the tax increase, and Caldara says he relishes the opportunity. "No one on that board can debate this competently," he says. "I'm confident of my ability to rip anybody on that board to shreds."

The topic quickly shifts from publicity to financing. The Colorado Union of Taxpayers, the Colorado Automobile Dealers--any group, in fact, that has a vested interest in seeing billions of dollars in taxes go to highways rather than to light rail--might be expected to help out.

"The first thing we've got to do is proliferate our numbers," Caldara says. "I know in my bones if we could raise $200,000, this thing would be dead."

"The next time we meet, you need to have the first ten thousand in the bank," Representative Pfiffner tells him.

There's talk of setting up an office and a Web site, of tripling the size of the next meeting. As things wind down, only one outstanding piece of business has yet to be addressed: What will the group call itself? Suggestions: Nail Rail '97. Effective Transit Coalition (that's "ETC" for short). Save Our Roads.

Dave Bishop suggests Concerned Commuters of Colorado. It's "pretty generic," some think, but it sticks.

"Shouldn't it be 'concerned drivers'?" Bonnie Ferguson asks.
"Commuters," Caldara insists. "We're not anti-transit."
And with that, the chairman of Concerned Commuters of Colorado declares the meeting adjourned.

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