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Blueprint Denver Task Force Sets Its Sights on Tackling Car Dependence

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Citywide, Denver’s car commute rate remains stubbornly high at 70 percent. Image: CPD

How will Denver manage its growth while remaining affordable and without getting overrun by traffic?

The people charged with revamping Blueprint Denver, the city’s transportation and land use plan, began to answer that question Thursday. It was the first meeting of the 33-member task force, which is comprised of residents with expertise in transportation, development, business, and neighborhood organizing.

A few challenges are clearly at the top of the task force’s list. Denver is too dependent on cars, and it needs to address its affordable housing shortage.

“We are the ‘it’ place right now,” said Community Planning and Development Director Brad Buchanan. “And that means that in 20 years, I don’t know what it’s gonna be like, but there’s gonna be a whole lot more of us here. We have mobility challenges, affordable housing challenges… we have all those things to think about.”

When the task force was asked what challenges the city faces, car dependence and its negative effect on neighborhoods rose to the top. Concerns ranged from the barren sea of parking lots making Arapahoe Square unwalkable to the lack of basic infrastructure like good sidewalks in Westwood.

“Despite the progress we’ve made, we still haven’t quite got that hierarchy of pedestrians, bikes, and transit at the top of the list in this auto-driven city,” said Tim Baldwin of local firm Rocky Mountain West Transit and Urban Planning.

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What If “Commuter Rail” Was for Everyone, Not Just 9-to-5 Commuters?

Rhode Island has been investing in commuter rail — long distance service connecting Providence to Boston and towns in between. But lackluster ridership at a new park-and-ride rail station at the end of the line (by a Walmart!) is sapping support for much more useful investments, reports Sandy Johnston at Itinerant Urbanist.

This is the area that will be served by Pawtucket-Providence commuter rail. Photo: Google Maps via Sandy Johnson

The area that would be served by the Pawtucket-Central Falls rail station is one of the most walkable parts of Rhode Island. Photo: Google Maps via Sandy Johnson

Anti-rail critics are piling on. The libertarian Rhode Island Center for Freedom has come out against an infill station at the much more walkable Pawtucket/Central Falls border, for instance, on the basis that spending on the commuter rail service relegates Rhode Island to being a suburb of Boston.

Johnston doesn’t agree with that take, but he says it “unintentionally touches on a serious critique of the ‘commuter rail’ mode: it serves one kind of trip, and one kind of trip only.” And that critique can lead to a better kind of rail service:

When the Providence Foundation studied intrastate commuter rail from Woonsocket to Providence in 2009, the project team met with planners along the route to gauge interest in the potential new service. All showed interest, except for the town planner in Lincoln, where a station was proposed in the hamlet of Manville. The reasons given were fascinating, and a little bit sad:

The proposed Manville site is located near a low-income neighborhood, where residents could typically be expected to benefit from additional transit services. However, commuter rail — with its peak-oriented services — may not be a good fit for these residents who tend to work at jobs with nontraditional schedules. Moreover, the town planner in Lincoln indicated the most town residents were not interested in a new commuter rail station. (p. 71)

Justifiably or not, Lincoln’s town planner believed that commuter rail, as a mode, is not for “us” (us being anyone working in a job that is not white collar or 9-to-5). That’s not too far off from the idea that investing state money in a commuter rail station would only increase Rhode Island’s dependency on Boston, if we assume that “Boston” here stands in for white-collar jobs with little access for middle- or working-class Rhode Islanders. It may not be entirely apparent to the people I’m quoting here, but I believe the pattern indicates the very tiny glimmer of a kernel of a coherent, trenchant critique of the commuter rail paradigm.

Johnston says it doesn’t have to be that way:

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Today’s Headlines

  • The 10 Most Dangerous Intersections for Pedestrians, According to Denverite
  • Suspicious of “Travelers,” Denver PD Wants More Officers to Patrol 16th St. Mall (CBS4)
  • Aurora Sentinel Fears Special Referendum Won’t Stop City’s “Red Light Camera Scam”
  • Supreme Court Ruling May Inhibit Blood Tests for Colorado DUI Offenders (9News)
  • Arapahoe County Wants Public Input on Master Ped/Bike Plan (Villager)
  • Thousands Commute on Two Wheels for Boulder’s Bike to Work Day (Daily Camera)
  • Do Denver Uber Drivers Make a Livable Wage? (Denverite)
  • Dalai Lama Receives Bike Helmet on Visit to CU Boulder (Daily Camera)

Take a Look at the New Bike Lanes on 29th Avenue and 15th Street


A buffered portion of the new bike lane on West 29th Avenue. Photo: David Sachs

Denver Public Works recently striped some much-needed bike lanes along West 29th Avenue, as well as a small portion of 15th Street in Lower Highland. Much of the route is separated from traffic with a painted buffer.

The 2.3-mile project repurposes street space that was once reserved for parking cars, and eliminates some general travel lanes and turn lanes on some segments. Ken Schroeppel over at DenverUrbanism has the detailed breakdown:

Along different segments of the corridor, the existing lane configurations were changed to accommodate the new bike lanes. For example, from Sheridan to Lowell, curbside parking was removed on one side of West 29th Avenue to make room to add the bike lanes. Between Lowell and Federal, enough space was freed up for the bike lanes by eliminating a center turn lane.

Between Federal and Speer, the former condition was a mess of travel lanes, turn lanes, and striped islands that made for a confusing drive for motorists and a daunting experience for bicyclists.

Now under the new configuration, it’s pretty simple: one travel lane in each direction for motor vehicles, a buffered lane in each direction for bicyclists, and curbside parking along the south side of the street.

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Sad Scenes From Denver’s Bike to Work Day

15th blocked bike lane

Two trucks occupy the 15th Street bike lane and a general traffic lane. Photo: Robby Long

Yesterday Streetsblog showed you joyful scenes from Denver’s Bike to Work Day, and there were plenty.

Readers also submitted photos of frustrating street conditions for people on two wheels — showing how far Denver has to go to become bike-friendly. The common thread: Denver’s bicycle lanes are constantly obstructed by cars and trucks. Even the city’s “protected” bike lanes, where people on bikes should feel safest, are not immune.

Bike to Work Day is supposed to help people see how bike commuting can become a daily routine. But how’s that going to turn out if newcomers encounter conditions like this?

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How Leadership in 1972 Saved Boston From Highways and Shaped Today’s City

What would Boston be like today had the Inner Belt Highway been built? Map via TransitCenter

What would Boston be like today if the Inner Belt Highway had been built? Map via TransitCenter

There aren’t too many places in the United States like Boston — truly walkable cities with good transit. And it didn’t happen by accident.

Boston could have ended up like so many other American cities, criss-crossed by elevated roads and crammed with parking structures. In the early 1970s, transportation planners wanted to gouge highways through some of its most densely populated neighborhoods — prompting fierce resistance. Thankfully, the top elected official in the state listened to the highway revolt and made decisions that continue to benefit the city four decades later.

TransitCenter has the story:

In 1970, in response to protests over highway plans that would involve government seizure of land, homes, and businesses for highway construction, Massachusetts Governor Francis W. Sargent took the unusual step of declaring a moratorium on highway construction inside Route 128, Boston’s suburban beltway. In its place, Sargent called for a comprehensive multimodal study of the region’s transportation needs.

The study concluded two years later, and in a speech to the public on November 30, 1972, Sargent announced the multibillion-dollar investment plan that was its result. The proposed Inner Belt highway, which would have ripped through the urban fabric of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, had been shelved. Instead, Sargent declared a relaunch of the state’s commitment to public transportation in the Boston area, as well as the construction of select, strategic highway links less intrusive than the Inner Belt.

If only more elected officials today were as prescient as Sargent was then. TransitCenter picked out this great quote from the speech he gave outlining his plans:

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Today’s Headlines

  • CDOT Is Now Selling the I-70 Widening as a Local Jobs Program (Denverite)
  • Public Works Striped Bike Lanes on 29th Ave. and 15th Street (DenverUrbanism)
  • Scenes From Yesterday’s Bike to Work Day (DBJ)
  • A-Line Usually On Time, More Reliable Than Buses (Denverite)
  • Could Westwood Be Denver’s Next Art District? (Confluence)
  • Police Will Crack Down on “Aggressive Panhandling” on 16th Street Mall (DenPo)

More headlines at Streetsblog USA


Happy Scenes From Denver’s Bike to Work Day

About 34,000 people in the Denver metro area were expected to pedal to the office today for Colorado’s Bike to Work Day. If you were out and about, you probably noticed more people biking in the city’s streets, bike lanes, and trails than usual.

Denver had 92 pop-up stations serving breakfast and coffee to riders this morning. Some stations are gearing up for happy hour this afternoon.

Bike to Work Day is fun, plain and simple. It’s also an opportunity for people who don’t normally commute by bike to try it and maybe even make it a habit — they could have this much fun every day.

Here are some scenes of all the bike traffic today. We’ll follow up tomorrow with a look at how Bike to Work Day exposed where Denver’s bicycle network comes up short.


A heavily trafficked 15th Street bike lane. Photo: David Sachs

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NIMBYs Making Your City Unwalkable and Unaffordable? Meet the YIMBYs


A NIMBY sign in West Highland decrying compact development. Photo: David Sachs

Housing in America’s fast-growing cities has become increasingly unaffordable because elected officials let it get that way. They’ve caved to the not-in-my-backyard contingent, blocking compact development and foisting expensive mandates like parking requirements on new buildings. With population growth outpacing the growth of housing, living in neighborhoods with convenient access to jobs, schools, or even a grocery store becomes less attainable for more people.

A city like Denver, where people are migrating every day, needs more walkable development in its neighborhoods if it’s going to stay affordable. But NIMBY pressure makes this type of growth politically difficult. The classic NIMBY stance says new people moving to the city are fine, they just don’t want people moving to “their” street. They don’t want “their” view altered by new development, or someone else occupying “their” free on-street parking spaces.

The result is unaffordable neighborhoods for everyone.

Enter the “yes in my backyard” movement. YIMBYism is gaining steam — especially in Colorado, thanks in part to the defeat of a Boulder ballot measure that would have dramatically curtailed development. Building off that momentum, Better Boulder hosted the first annual YIMBY conference just up U.S. 36 last weekend. About 150 people convened to share ideas and political strategies to promote housing policies that will allow everyone who wants to live in cities to live in them.

“I really want everyone to come away from this very motivated and with the understanding of how accessible local politics is,” said keynote speaker Sonja Trauss, who founded the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Association (SFBARF). Trauss began organizing pro-development renters in 2013 after seeing a sign in a San Francisco neighborhood that read, “Grow Potrero responsibly.”

“As everybody knows, that means don’t grow it,” Trauss said. “It was in response to a 300-unit project in that neighborhood. As usual I was disgusted. In the face of the Bay Area’s severe housing crisis, I was always shocked when people were against building new housing.”

Like the Bay Area, Denver’s population is growing fast — much faster than the creation of new places to live. The shortage of housing propels rents and home prices upward, forcing people to live in the less expensive sprawl outside the city, further away from walkable, bikeable, and transit-rich neighborhoods.

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Send Us Your Nominations for the Sorriest Bus Stop in America

Last year's winner: this sorry bus stop in greater St. Louis

Last year’s winner, a very sorry bus stop on Lindbergh Boulevard in greater St. Louis.

Streetsblog’s “Sorriest Bus Stop in America” contest is back by popular demand.

Last year, readers nominated dozens of forlorn bus stops to call attention to the daily indignities and dangers that bus riders have to put up with. This sad, windswept patch of grass between two highway-like roads in a St. Louis inner suburb took the prize.

We’ve been hearing from readers and transit advocates who want another shot to name and shame the public agencies who’ve let public bus stops go to seed. So the Sorriest Bus Stop competition is back. (If you have a great bus stop you want to recognize, don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a different competition later this year.)

We’ll be doing the contest as a Parking Madness-style, 16-entry single elimination bracket. Below is an early submission from downtown Austin and reader Chris McConnell, who says, “This has to be the saddest #busstop in Austin. It has no shade, no seating, and no stop ID for checking times. AND it’s at the main transfer point downtown. FAIL.”

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