DENVER (KDVR) — While the city is mainly car-centric now, with some public transit options, the Mile High City once boasted an impressive streetcar system. The remnants of which are mainly gone or buried under pavement these days.

Denver actually had one of the largest streetcar systems in the country by the early 20th century, boasting over 250 miles of track, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation.

What routes did the city’s old streetcars take?

CDOT compiled a map of the entire state’s old streetcar systems, including the ones in Denver.

Denver was first founded in 1858, and it only took until 1871 for the first horsecar line to start operating in the city on Champa Street.

By 1909, there was a mile of track for every 1,000 residents, which was much higher than the nation’s average of 1 mile per 2,500 residents.

Do the lines still exist?

Some streetcar lines actually do still exist, at least physically, but they’re buried under asphalt. This is because some tracks were dismantled when they went out of operation, while others were simply paved over.

One of the reasons CDOT decided to study and map out the old streetcar lines was because old tracks are often unintentionally discovered under existing streets during improvement projects.

Because CDOT has to assume all potential buried streetcar lines are historically significant in order to comply with federal law, surprise discoveries lead to issues, according to the department.

How does it compare to transit now?

At its peak in 1945, the system served 122 million annual riders, and the year before it ceased operations in 1950, it boasted 94 million annual riders.

The Regional Transportation District (RTD), Denver’s current public transit system, saw an annual ridership of 59.6 million in 2019 before the pandemic caused that number to drop.

Streetcar on 17th Street in downtown Denver in 1949
Streetcar on 17th Street in downtown Denver in 1949 (Credit: Denver Public Library Special Collections, Z-331)

For a long time, trolley fare was 5 cents. Adjusted for inflation, that equals to just over $1 in today’s money.

As of 2023, a three-hour pass for RTD is $3, though that is slated to lower in 2024.

That price includes local and limited bus routes and rail travel in one or two zones.