Council President Albus Brooks Calls for New Source of Transportation Money

AlbusBrooks_web
City Council President Albus Brooks.

If funding for sidewalks and bike lanes continues at the rate laid out in Mayor Michael Hancock’s 2017 budget, Denver won’t see a fully built-out bike network for many decades, and won’t have a complete sidewalk network for nearly two centuries.

Hancock proposed a paltry $2.2 million for Denver Moves, the city’s blueprint for a high-quality bike network, in his 2017 budget. That allocation is on par with last year’s sum, and represents less than 2 percent of the plan’s estimated total cost of $119 million. Hancock also allocated $2.5 million for new sidewalks, or .4 percent of the $475 million needed to build out the network, according to estimates from Denver Public Works.

On Tuesday, during a budget meeting between Hancock, City Council members, and DPW, City Council President Albus Brooks said what a lot of decision makers have been thinking: Transportation deserves a new funding stream.

“We as a community and a council can continue to tinker over who gets what… but we need to step back and have a major conversation about a funding source — a new funding source — for infrastructure,” Brooks said. “Sidewalks, bikes, and roads.”

Brooks did not elaborate on what the new fund might look like, but he did start a conversation in Denver that other cities have already had with voters. Last year, for example, Seattle voters approved a $930 million levy to fund infrastructure for biking, walking, transit, and street maintenance. This November those same voters could approve a proposition that would raise $54 billion for transit.

A robust funding source would cover much more than what Denver plans to do next year: Fill in sidewalk gaps solely on city-owned property and build two miles of protected bike lanes, paint 10 miles of unprotected bike lanes, and create three miles worth of “neighborhood bikeways” — routes designed to prioritize bicyclists by calming car traffic.

“So we’ll have [Denver Moves] implemented about the time my kids are too old to ride a bike, in their senior years,” City Councilman Jolon Clark told Transportation and Mobility Director Crissy Fanganello on Tuesday. “I just want to point out that… I’m very excited to see the money in the budget again. It’s still too slow to be really serious about implementing Denver Moves.”

Seattle’s initiatives had strong backing from its mayor and city council. Brooks’ point needs to be taken seriously — and new funding sources have to emerge — if Denver is going to stop treading water when it comes to sustainable transportation.

  • mckillio

    Can Denver have its own gas tax? If so that might be an idea worth looking into. The major downside to that would be the ease and convenience for many people to just buy their gas in the next city over.

    • JK

      I don’t think that would happen. I see people filling up at Speer & Zuni all the time. And those stations are about 25%-30% more than the one at Alcott & 38th.

      • mckillio

        Great point. I’m not far from a gas station at Speer and Washington that charges about 75 cents more a gallon than the ones near it and people still go there.

    • TakeFive

      I found this in a pdf: ” The funds collected from these three sources go into the Highway Users Tax Fund,” the three things being non-diesel, diesel taxes and vehicle registrations. That doesn’t really clarify what is legally allowable and not allowed but I’m thinking fuel taxes are reserved for the state… but I could be wrong.

      • neroden

        Generally, a city is only allowed to tax specific things if given specific authority by the state to do so. I don’t the city has gas tax authority.

    • BHG

      Portland voters approved a (temporary) city-wide gas tax increase earlier this year: http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2016/05/portland_gas_tax_road_repairs.html
      Definitely worth looking into.

    • TakeFive

      At BallotPedia I found regarding: Article_X,_Colorado_Constitution https://ballotpedia.org/Article_X,_Colorado_Constitution

      “Section 18 – On and after July 1, 1935, the proceeds from the imposition of any license, registration fee, or other charge with respect to the operation of any motor vehicle upon any public highway in this state and the proceeds from the imposition of any excise tax on gasoline or other liquid motor fuel except aviation fuel used for aviation purposes shall, except costs of administration, be used exclusively for the construction, maintenance, and supervision of the public highways of this state.”

      • mckillio

        Do public highways include streets?

        • TakeFive

          My guess would be that “public highway” has been interpreted as any public road that the state is responsible for, especially if you consider the context of 1935 when it was written.

          • mckillio

            I agree. So do you interpret this as allowing a city to tax fuel? I’m leaning towards no, unless it’s only on vehicles that don’t use public highways in the state.

          • TakeFive

            It’s a little clumsy the way it’s worded but I’d look to this and conclude NO:

            “and the proceeds from the imposition of any excise tax on gasoline… shall… be used exclusively for… the public highways of this state.”

        • neroden

          “Public highway” includes sidewalks and walkways. It’s a legal term of art dating back hundreds of years which means any right-of-way on which the general public is allowed to WALK.

          Actually there’s no requirement to allow autos on a public highway, I believe.

          It’s possible that this provision is interpreted differently from the general meaning of the term in Anglo-American law, of course, but that’s the general meaning.

  • TakeFive

    Yes, “The wheels of government turn slowly.”

    I had it in the back of my mind that a Bigger Better Denver Bond initiative would appear in 2018. Best guess is a package totaling $950 million.The Better Denver Bond package that passed in 2007 totaled $550 million. This would be a nice way for Hancock to go out with a bang. 2018 would seem to be good timing. This year DPS is asking voters for a half $billion. Hopefully by the end of 2017 everybody can have their priorities lined out which would alow City Council to consider everything in early 2018..

    Presumably the 16th Street Mall will top the list. After that I’d guess Parks N’ Rec and Transportation will use most of the funding. East Colfax BRT/enhanced buses will be a priority I’m sure.

  • JZ71

    Bring back the Denver bicycle licenses from the 1980’s. Collecting $50 or $100 from every rider every year sure won’t solve the problem, but it a) would help, and b) show that cyclists are willing to put their money behind their words!

    • As a cyclist I’m interested in helping fund more bike facilities, but what about my dollars that are paying for roads designed for cars only? I’m not

      • TakeFive

        Should those who don’t have bikes or only use them on off-road paths & trails be required to help pay for your desired bike lanes and facilities? BTW, if you don’t own/drive a motor vehicle then you hardly pay anything towards roads.

        Have you ever considered how you would access the goods and services that you enjoy everyday if not for roads?

        • TakeFive – I don’t disagree with your thought process, as a country we all pay for things we don’t necessarily use. I don’t take the bus or new commuter rail everyday, and we helped pay for them. Transportation should mean roads for people – be that cars, bikes, motorcycles, scooters, boosted boards, etc. No one is saying that we should take away roads. Instead, we should make them focused on moving the most effective and SAFE # of people possible. Maybe that is carpooling, trains, and buses. This shouldn’t be bikes vs cars, it should be about valuing each other’s lives, and our environment. Many cities that have experienced the growth rate we have are realizing you can’t simply pave more roads, or make them wider. (NYC, Seattle, etc.)

          Personally, I want our community to work together for solutions instead of this whole car vs cyclist non-sense. I love driving, that doesn’t mean it’s the best solution to get downtown at 8am. It also doesn’t make sense to drive across the country to visit my family in DC (though it would be nice!), instead I fly as it’s the most efficient way to make that trip.

          PS: Roads were originally designed for bikes, and were once a place designed for people instead of singular vehicles (cars)

          https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2011/aug/15/cyclists-paved-way-for-roads

          • TakeFive

            Fair enough.

        • neroden

          Last I remember, people who don’t own motor vehicles paid quite a lot for state roads in Colorado, which were partly funded out of general sales tax income and “federal grants” from income tax money. Has that changed?

          I’m fine with that. I just want to make the point that we all pay for public goods.

          • TakeFive

            The Federal Grants pot comes mostly from federal gas taxes. What has changed bcuz Republicans have refused to raise that tax since 1993 the once large surplus has evaporated and they have resorted to some deficit spending. Ofc in the last decade GWB and Congress added $billions in earmarks which was funded by deficits.

            With respect to CDOT, in addition to state gas taxes and vehicle registration fees they have relied over time on state general fund transfers but those have been mostly non-existent over the last decade. If one is a non-car owner they’ve paid very little for state roads afiak.

    • mckillio

      The administrative burden of that and trying to get people to comply is difficult and costly. Should the three year old on training wheels have to register too? I think a small sales tax on bikes, bike parts/accessories, and service would be the best route.

      • JZ71

        The problem with a local sales tax is no different than a local gas tax – it drives business out of the city. And for a sales tax to be effective, it would have to be hugely regressive – a 5% tax would “only” generate $50 on a $1,000 purchase, but would come close to doubling the effective tax rate.

      • Brian Schroder

        Unfortunately setting up a separate retail tax would put an undue burden on retailers/bicycle industry. Implementing, monitoring and collecting such a small feel good tax would also be a burden on government as well, probably cancelling out any revenue collected.

    • Brian Schroder

      Something like a hunting and fishing license?

  • Chris

    We could also look into adding a Soda Tax to help fund bike and sidewalk infrastructure.

  • Brian Schroder

    By the time anything of value is implemented our transportation system will be disrupted by self driving cars and trucks. It’s not years away, many vehicles you can buy today have self driving features already. Then again maybe people will refuse the technology.

    We already know that we can’t build out infrastructure forever for cars, but what we do know is that we need infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists. If we’re such a reactionary society why aren’t these services being provided? Why is the such emphasis put in place to move cars faster when we know that slowing traffic decreases deaths and injury?

    • neroden

      Self-driving cars will not really change very much, though if we’re lucky they’ll lower the rate of carnage on the roads (because at least half of human drivers shouldn’t have licenses).

  • neroden

    Property taxes are the correct funding stream. The problem is that you’re spending too much of them on overly-wide spaces for automobiles. You need a dedicated walkway / sidewalk fund, at least.

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