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.

In 2015, driving solo still accounted for 70 percent of all trips in Denver, according to census data. Between 2002 and 2012, the share of commutes by foot, bike, or transit increased a dismal 0.1 percent, according to Denveright consultants.

So how will revamping Blueprint Denver, which was first released in 2002, lead to a shift in transportation behavior?

The original Blueprint document shaped development by prescribing “areas of change” and “areas of stability.” It is responsible for the mixed-use development in Denver’s walkable neighborhoods, but it also left room for plenty of car-oriented neighborhoods. Now planners can revise the old blueprint with an eye toward concentrating development in areas with good transit service, for example.

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Community Planning and Development Director Brad Buchanan kicks off the city’s land use and transportation plan. Photo: David Sachs

People won’t start riding transit or biking without bold investments from the Hancock administration that make those modes faster, more convenient, and less stressful.

“I’m amazed when I look at those streets like Colorado Boulevard, Broadway, and Colfax, which are huge, wide streets,” said Joe Vostrejs of Larimer Associates, which helped develop Larimer Square and Union Station. “There’s no bike lanes on those, there’s no streetcars on them. There’s right of way to work with, and they’re long, which provides super opportunities to fix those streets and improve the neighborhoods that are around them.”

“We’ve made amazing progress on bike infrastructure,” said Parry Burnap, a member of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. “However, I will say it’s been inconsistent and opportunistic and disconnected and confusing to motorists. So the big challenge and opportunity is to go system-wide and be methodical about it.”

If you want to get involved in this effort to shape Denver’s streets, you can. The task force is taking cues from the Denveright website, where you can imark up a city map with your ideas about what needs to change on a street or in a neighborhood. You can also submit comments and apply to be part of the “Denveright Community Think Tank,” a “forum for community leaders to share thoughts and ideas on important topics that relate to all four plans.”

  • yaakovwatkins

    I live in a high end neighborhood. If I want to get on a bus to go to the airport, I have to walk a half mile (with my luggage) in a neighborhood without sidewalks and without long term parking. The alternative is to drive half way to the airport, park and then wait for a bus or train. Why bother?

    Streetcars on Colfax, Colorado, and other main streets would be useless unless the destinations are close to those streets and there is parking near those streets. Very few people live on the street they work on. Very few people shop on the street they live on.

    In many cities, buses are low to the ground. They are easy to get on and off. RTD deliberately uses high floor buses making it difficult for the elderly, handicapped, and people with luggage and strollers to use them.

    The city of Denver every year approves upgrades to the building code that raise the cost of housing. Then they complain about the lack of affordable housing.

    The city frequently has to approve special changes to zoning to allow the building of apartment houses. The city is in a middle of creating a massive traffic SNAFU at Cedar and Monaco because it refuses to consider or budget for traffic problems. The rush hour problems will reverberate up and down Monaco for many blocks. It will cause people to cut through neighborhoods. This will create air quality problems also. They have made it illegal to consider the effects on traffic so even though these problems were obvious from the beginning, they were ignored..

    These are the kind of elementary problems that are beyond the abilities of planners.

    • neroden

      There are LOTS of destinations on and very near Colfax, and LOTS of housing a couple of blocks walk away. A Colfax light rail would be very useful. It would connect directly to downtown and the rest of RTD’s trains.

      I have no idea why Denver uses high-floor buses. They shouldn’t. Hopefully any new buses will be low-floor.

      • yaakovwatkins

        It would not connect with downtown. It would connect to close to downtown.

        Normally people will not use the bus if it includes more than one transfer. A Colfax light rail would require one transfer to get to the 16th street shuttle, a second to get on the light rail at the station, and a third to get on the bus. That is too many transfers.

        According to various studies Americans commuters typically will not walk more that 1/4 mile to catch a bus. That is, in Denver, 2 north-south blocks or 4 east-west blocks. That means that people who live on 14th and 16th will use it if it stops every other block on Colfax. That would make the trip very long. Probably 3-4 times the time required to drive.

        Most people who are enamored of buses and trains respond at this point in the conversation that people will have to change. And the response to them is that people haven’t changed and they will not vote to change the word to force them to change.

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