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The Commuter Chronicles: Denver Transportation Past, Present, and Future

Memory Lane: What Traffic Looked Like in Denver More Than a Century Ago

Take a ride through Denver’s traffic snarls over the decades.


We didn’t invent traffic. In fact, if you take a tour through the Denver Public Library’s online archives, you can make a pretty strong argument that the Mile High City’s streets—particularly downtown—have always been crowded.

Over time, you can recognize how priorities about moving people, goods, and vehicles have changed. Pedestrians were gradually shifted onto sidewalks. Horse-drawn buggies were replaced by tramways, early automobiles, and eventually cars. Lots of cars. Recently, of course, there were also bikes, buses, skateboards, and scooters. Lots of scooters. Take a stroll with us through time with these vintage photos of Denver’s streets.

Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library

The Centennial State was only eight years old, but Larimer Street (between 17th and 18th streets) was already multi-modal.

Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library

Early 1900s
Photographic proof that it is possible to fit pedestrians, bicyclists, vehicles (of the horse-drawn variety), and public transit—two Denver City Tramway Company trolleys—on one road (in this case, where 16th and Champa streets intersect).

Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library

Circa 1911
Gas-powered automobiles date to the 1880s, but when Ford Motor Company began mass-producing its Model T in 1908, streets around the world were forever changed. In this photo, Denver’s already crowded roadways appear to have made room for cars, as seen near the intersection of Arapahoe (that’s the Daniels & Fisher Tower) and 16th streets.

Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library

Circa 1920 to 1935
The tramway held a prominent spot on the roadway, but automobiles claimed much of 16th Street, including securing ample parking on both sides.

Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library

Mid- to late-1930s
Crowds on 16th Street flowed past automobile traffic in the years after the Great Depression. During this decade, Denver’s population growth outpaced the rest of the country’s growth.

Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library

With buses, people, and cars, the crowded intersection of 16th and Stout streets seemed in perpetual motion.

Photo courtesy of the Denver Public Library

The Brown Palace Hotel’s ubiquitous facade dominated one of Denver’s most complicated intersections at Broadway and 17th Street, where downtown’s offset pattern meets the rest of the city’s grid (which matches cardinal directions).

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