For five years the regional transportation Commission planned its ACE Gold Line, a sleek bus system based on light rail, to provide faster commutes between Downtown and Las Vegas Boulevard.
Naturally, arts-district business owners were giddy about the bus line's major stop in the district—a stop that came with millions of investment dollars, street renovations, landscaping and signage—and the official projection that it would bring the area up to 6,000 riders daily. It was supposed to replace the Deuce line (which runs down Las Vegas Boulevard between Four Seasons Drive and Stewart Avenue, skirting the district), and shuttle all traffic through the arts district, stopping near the Arts Factory.
The advantage of the ACE is that it has fewer stops, designated lanes and sensors that control traffic lights, making it faster. It runs down Las Vegas Boulevard from the Las Vegas Outlet Center to Las Vegas Premium Outlets, diverts to Convention Center Drive and eventually enters the arts district on Casino Center.
In anticipation of this new route, land prices in the district went up and millions of development dollars were spent, says Brett Sperry, owner of the Brett Wesley Gallery. David Mozes, a Downtown developer heading up the Mission Las Vegas arts project, goes so far as to say that the Gold Line and its arts-district stop is the reason he moved here from Los Angeles.
The Gold Line was launched March 28 with fanfare, press and excitement among Downtowners and officials. But something unexpected happened: Riders were dedicated to their old, familiar Deuce route, according to RTC reports. In fact, many complained about what has been the largest service change in the transit system's history, says Allison Blankenship, RTC spokeswoman.
In response, the RTC reinstated the Deuce route on April 1, dividing riders between the two lines. The move alarmed arts-district business owners and the Las Vegas Arts District Neighborhood Association to the extent that Wes Myles, the group's vice president, contacted the group's attorney to see if anything could be done.
Sperry says that the change affects growth in the area. "The ACE line is a good thing, but that's not what was promised to developers and investors," he says. "Instead, it's only half. It could make the difference between a viable business and one that doesn't work out. It definitely has a significant economic impact on things I'd like to do in the arts district. It's like pulling the carpet out from underneath somebody."
So what happened here? It turns out that some riders just like the Deuce bus better. "It's iconic, and tourists can ride on the top," Blankenship says.
The RTC has not conducted rider surveys, she says, but notes that the majority of Deuce riders are from out of town. Workers were also inconvenienced because their old route took them from Downtown to the Strip on a bus that stopped every quarter-mile. The launching of the ACE Gold Line required riders to ride the ACE or transfer from the Deuce to the ACE at Sahara in order to get Downtown. Some were required to walk a couple extra blocks if taking the ACE.
Sperry would like to see the RTC stick to the original idea. "The whole master plan is that the Deuce would be phased out." But Blankenship says there is enough demand to warrant both services—the Gold Line, serving up to 20,000 riders a day, has exceeded expectations. "Each line serves a different purpose."
Sperry and Myles, owner of the Arts Factory, have talked with the RTC and say they were told that changes would be made. RTC officials say no promises have been made and that the business owners were told the needs of the community will "outweigh the specific requests of the arts district."
Mozes, who says he is counting on the ACE for his multimillion-dollar, mixed-use project, says that he can see how a business owner might be concerned because there is somewhat less traffic on the ACE, but doesn't see it dramatically affecting the area.
"The arts district can't expect people to get off and explore the area if there is nothing to get off for," Mozes says. "The area is very event-driven.
"People did make investments that relied on the bus line. But the reality is that it's still there and still operating."