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After I-25 Was Widened, It Filled Back Up With Cars in Less Than 5 Years

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Image: SWEEP

Colorado spent $1.2 billion to widen I-25, and all it got was more traffic and no congestion relief. Why does Governor John Hickenlooper think that widening I-70 will be any different?

In this chart, you can see why spending billions to widen highways is a shortsighted, ineffective way to deal with people’s travel needs. About two years after the widening wrapped up, I-25 was just as congested as it was when construction started, and within five years it was more clogged than ever.

The term for this is “induced demand.” When cities make more room for cars, people drive more. Usually within a few years, any initial improvement in congestion levels has evaporated, and drivers start agitating for more lanes.

A stunning recent example comes from Houston, where Texas DOT spent nearly $3 billion to take the Katy Freeway from eight lanes to 23 in some sections. Traffic was as slow as ever six years later.

In I-25, Denver has it’s own (smaller) version of the Katy Freeway. Colorado DOT finished widening the highway by as many as four lanes in 2006 for the project known as T-REX. In a few years, congestion on I-25 through south Denver reached pre-construction levels, according to a report by the Southwestern Energy Efficiency Project and the Colorado Public Interest Research Group.

“The state spent $1.2 billion on this road widening, with no long-term benefit in lowered congestion,” the authors write.

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Meet Denver’s First Full-Time Pedestrian Planner

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David Pulsipher.

Mayor Michael Hancock made room in this year’s budget to hire Denver’s first full-time pedestrian planner, and Denver Public Works recently filled the post. His name is David Pulsipher.

Pulsipher comes to the Mile High City from the Chicago Department of Transportation, where he headed up a program focusing on pedestrian infrastructure near Chicago’s 1,500 schools and parks. He’s worked in the private sector for Alta Planning and Design, and has worked on various transportation plans for Western cities and towns. He’ll play an important role in Denver’s master plan for pedestrians and trails, as well as the city’s Vision Zero effort to end traffic deaths.

WalkDenver’s Gosia Kung and Jill Locantore sat down with Pulsipher and wrote up the discussion. Here are highlights from the interview — check the WalkDenver website for the full version.

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Engineers to U.S. DOT: Transportation Is About More Than Moving Cars

A trade group representing the transportation engineering profession thinks it’s high time for American policy makers to stop focusing so much on moving single-occupancy vehicles.

Should roads like this be considered a "success?" ITE doesn't think so. Photo: Smart Growth America

Should roads like this be considered a success? ITE doesn’t think so. Photo: Smart Growth America

U.S. DOT is currently deciding how it will assess the performance of state DOTs. Will it continue business as usual and equate success with moving huge numbers of cars? That’s what state transportation officials want, but just about everyone else disagrees — including professional transportation engineers.

In its comments to the Federal Highway Administration about how to measure performance, the Institute of Transportation Engineers — a trade group representing 13,000 professionals — said that, in short, the system should not focus so heavily on cars [PDF].

Here’s a key excerpt:

Throughout the current proposed rulemaking on NHS performance, traffic congestion, freight mobility, and air quality, an underlying theme is apparent: these measures speak largely to the experience of those in single occupancy vehicles (SOVs). While such a focus is understandable in the short-term, owing largely to the current availability of data from the NPMRDS and other national sources, ITE and its membership feel that FHWA should move quickly within the framework of the existing performance management legislation to begin developing performance measures that cater to multimodal transportation systems.

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Cheap Gas, More Driving Make 2016 an Especially Deadly Year on U.S. Streets

Graph: National Safety Council

Traffic fatalities on American roads are rising faster than driving mileage. Chart: National Safety Council

The number of traffic deaths in America each year is so staggering, it almost defies comprehension — about 35,000 lives lost is the norm. But 2016 is shaping up to be even worse.

Emma Kilkelly at Mobilizing the Region reports on newly-released data from the first half of 2016 showing a disturbing increase in traffic deaths:

The National Safety Council (NSC) recently estimated that motor vehicle fatalities rose 9 percent in the first six months of 2016 compared to 2015, and 18 percent compared to 2014. At this rate, 2016 is shaping up to be the deadliest year for driving since 2007. This Labor Day weekend is on track to be the nation’s deadliest since 2008, with 438 fatalities projected over the three-day period.

The jump in traffic fatalities coincides with sinking gas prices and an uptick in driving. During the first half of 2016, U.S. motorists collectively drove 3.3 percent more compared to last year, reaching 1.58 trillion miles traveled. The recent upswing in miles driven has been linked to the availability of cheap gas and a sharp increase in traffic deaths.

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Today’s Headlines

  • Amtrak Ski Train Makes Denver a “Ski-In, Ski-Out” City — For $78 Round Trip (DenPo)
  • CDOT’s New HQ in Broncos Stadium Lot Causes Parking Space Freakout (ABC7)
  • Northglenn, Thornton Prep for Development Around RTD Stations (DenPo)
  • People Without Homes File Class Action Suit Against Denver for Sweeps (Denverite, Westword)
  • …And the Independent Has an Interview With Their Once-Homeless Lawyer
  • Lakewood Developing a Walking and Biking Loop Around Arts District (Echo)
  • “Please Don’t Park On the Ecosystem” (KUNC)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA

Streetsblog USA
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Portland Wants to Rethink Speed Limits By Factoring in Walkers and Bikers

Portland wants to change the speed limit on North Weilder Street from 35 to 25. Photo: Google Maps

Portland wants to change the speed limit on North Weidler Street from 35 to 25 mph. Photo: Google Maps

For cities trying to get a handle on traffic fatalities, dangerous motor vehicle speeds are an enormous problem. Once drivers exceed 20 mph, the chances that someone outside the vehicle will survive a collision plummet.

But even on city streets where many people walk and bike, streets with 35 or 40 mph traffic are common. Cities looking to reduce lethal vehicle speeds face a number of obstacles — including restrictions on how they can set speed limits.

State statutes usually limit how cities set speed limits. In Boston, for example, the City Councilhas voted numerous times to reduce the speed limit to 20 miles per hour, but state law won’t allow it.

Now Portland is taking on this problem. A pilot program expected to be approved by the Oregon Department of Transportation proposes a new way to evaluate what speeds are appropriate for urban areas.

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Eyes on the Street: Colorado Boulevard Gets a New (Obstructed) Sidewalk


Photo: David Sachs

Last month Streetsblog published a photo of the east side of Colorado Boulevard, where a half-mile strip of overgrown jungle grass was posing as a sidewalk. Bus stops with no pedestrian infrastructure abutted Park Hill Golf Club, a private course with immaculate walking and driving paths just a few feet away from the public right of way.

Not anymore. Denver Public Works just installed a sidewalk along the 40 mph street.

The walking environment still needs work. Light posts block the middle of the sidewalk, making it a bit of an obstacle course, especially for wheelchair users. And this segment of the street, between 35th and 40th avenues, does not have any painted or signalized crosswalks.

But hey, the city has made a bad situation more tolerable and taken an important step forward for walkability on this stretch.


Colorado Boulevard before the new sidewalk. Photo: David Sachs
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Seattle Doesn’t Need a Highway on Top of Its New Underground Highway

As if Seattle's buried replacement for the Alaskan Way Viaduct weren't bad enough, it's planning to top it with another high-speed, overly-wide road. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

Seattle is planning to top its underground highway with another high-speed, very wide road. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

The construction of Seattle’s budget-busting underground waterfront highway has been a great reminder of why car-based urban megaprojects are such a bad idea.

The one advantage of the tunnel is that it would allow for better walking, biking, and transit connections on surface streets by the waterfront. The trouble is, Seattle is on track to waste that opportunity by building another highway-like road right on top of the sunken highway.

The southern portion of the road will be 96 feet wide, with two travel lanes in each direction, a turn lane, two lanes for ferry loading and two 12-foot bus lanes, reports Next City. Marshall Foster, director of Seattle’s Office of the Waterfront, told Next City that the waterfront road needs to be that wide to avoid “throwing someone off the island.”

Seattle Bike Blog is not buying it:

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Today’s Headlines

  • Driver Rampages Through City Park Golf Course (Fox31)
  • Amtrak Will Resurrect Ski Train This Winter; Ticket Prices to Come (DenPo)
  • Affordable Housing Fund Would Cover 6,000 Units Over 10 Years (DenPo)
  • …Which Is Not Nearly Enough, Some Council Member Say (Denverite)
  • Food Truck Company Stores Vehicles on Sidewalks (Fox31)
  • “Violent Growing Pains” on the 16th Street Mall and Cherry Creek Trail (La Voz)
  • Patricia Livingston Was Drunk When She Killed Cole Sukle, 14, With Her Car (Villager)
  • Police ID Victim of Aurora Hit-and-Run Driver Cristopher Tarr as Dalton McCreary, 22 (DenPo)
  • Is Bike-Share Coming to Longmont? (ABC7)
  • You Need to Make $72,847 Annually to Afford to Buy a Home Here (Denverite)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA


It’s Official: Denver City Council Values Parking More Than Housing

What’s more important: Providing sufficient housing for Denver residents, or cramming more car storage into the city?

With a unanimous vote on Monday to temporarily ban new small-lot developments without off-street parking, the Denver City Council has prioritized car storage over places for people to live.

The decision undercuts the City Council’s top two stated priorities: creating a less car-oriented city and making housing more affordable.

Building parking can add a fortune to the cost of construction — $26,000 per underground parking space and $18,000 for each above-ground stall. If parking is required, those costs depress the construction of housing, which Denver can ill afford. Already, housing construction is not keeping pace with population growth.

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