Wheels of Misfortune

Cultures clash -- and crash -- in Curtis Park. Is this a terminal situation?

Every day, but particularly on weekends, Golden State's buses roared through the neighborhood, idled outside homes, stole parking from nearby businesses and double-parked on Champa. Passengers, meanwhile, overflowed the narrow plastic benches inside the bus station and moved out onto the sidewalks. They congregated outside shops and left trash everywhere. With the added traffic at Limousine Express and Camionetas Chihuahua, which opened at 2249 Champa in October 1999, the scene grew chaotic.

"It was just really unsafe," recalls Hayden, who lives a block away from the Golden State station. "Huge groups of people were milling around, with no way to separate passengers from their families. Instead of being allowed to use a regular terminal, they were being unloaded on a street corner. I often thought, 'Someone is going to get killed here.'"

Which is exactly what happened.

John Johnston
The bus stops here: Tony Barrios says his business is trying to accommodate everyone.
John Johnston
The bus stops here: Tony Barrios says his business is trying to accommodate everyone.

On July 20, 1998, a studious and deeply religious fourteen-year-old named Alfonso Carrillo Jr. accompanied his mother to the Golden State station to say goodbye to an aunt who'd been visiting from Chihuahua, Mexico. As the bus pulled north onto Park Avenue West, the boy, who'd been waving goodbye, stumbled on the curb and fell beneath the rear wheels. He was killed instantly.

Hayden happened to pass by the intersection after the accident and saw the sheet covering Carrillo's body. After that, he and his neighbors demanded change.

"When a child died, I thought that would galvanize the city into doing something," Hayden says. "If this would have happened in Highlands Ranch, the city would be all over it. But nothing happened. Nothing changed."

Joi Afzal, who owns the Hue-Man Experience bookstore at 911 Park Avenue West, became just as frustrated. Buses have taken her customers' parking spaces, rumbled by her window and filled her shop with noxious fumes. Passengers have lounged on her front steps, trashed the alley, puked on her sidewalk. But no matter how many calls she's placed to the city, the problems have remained. "It's been one big headache," Afzal says.

Melissa Muñoz's family has operated Foto Muñoz, at 2253 Champa, since 1957. Their shop is surrounded by Chihuahua, which stands next door; El Conejo, which opened two doors away at 2255 Champa in 2001; and Limousine Express, which operates across Champa. Although bus passengers occasionally visit her shop for passport photos, their business doesn't make up for the squeeze.

"It's like they moved in and took over everything," she says. "On weekends, it's like little Mexico."

When Bill Muff opened B-Line Snowboards at 2239 Champa this past June, he had no idea the buses created so much congestion. If he'd known, he says, he wouldn't have moved there. Although he and his buddies enjoy sitting outside the shop on weekends, watching the activity and munching on the palateros' banana popsicles, the crowds have become too unruly. Every morning, he picks up the litter on his property. Every night, he watches people congregate outside.

"I've been here at midnight, and they're still out there partying," Muff says. "It scares customers. Not only can't they find parking, but when they come out here and see this, they really don't know what's going on. It kind of creeps them out. There are shady people out here sometimes. It's a real mess."

Eugene Tepper was born in Curtis Park. For eighty years, his family operated a plumbing shop at 2300 Champa. He remembers the drugstore, the market, the laundry, the gas station, the bar, the printing company and the barbershop that have all come and gone. He's seen the intersection grow and change and grow and change again. But the bus lines and the traffic they bring are a "blemish," he says. And once the nearby Stout Square and Park Avenue West apartment buildings are completed, the congestion will be unbearable.

"If you draw a two-mile circle, you've got close to 4,000 units in that area," Tepper says. "And that's all you need is those bus stations in the middle. Can you imagine trying to sell those units with the buses coming and going and the people wandering back and forth? It certainly does not enhance the value of the property. Those buses should be gotten out of there. They've been a very deteriorating factor."

Hayden accepts that the bus companies are providing a necessary service. The nationality of the passengers has nothing to do with his complaints, he says. He prefers to live in a diverse neighborhood. In fact, he feels for the customers who've been dumped onto a crowded street corner without adequate facilities. Still, he says, this many bus companies should not be allowed to operate side by side on the edge of an expanding neighborhood. The city should not allow it.

"The city is not doing the enforcement job it should be doing," Hayden concludes. "They say they don't have enough people, but they seem to have enough people to make sure no one's parking meter goes ten minutes over in LoDo on a Friday night. This is unsafe."

At City Hall, the files are thick with explanations. First, the bus companies are operating in an arcane pocket of Denver zoning -- B-8 -- that aides describe as a "no-man's-land." B-8 was established in 1956, when this edge of downtown was a hodgepodge of homes and businesses such as auto shops. Although over the years, zoning administrators had modified B-8 regulations in neighborhoods such as the Golden Triangle and the area around Coors Field, they had not gotten around to Curtis Park -- because no one had asked them to.

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