It Sounds Like Hancock Is Serious About Prioritizing People Over Cars

Mayor Michael Hancock at yesterday's Bicycle Colorado Moving People Forward conference. Photo: Piep van Heuven via Twitter
Mayor Michael Hancock at yesterday's Bicycle Colorado Moving People Forward conference. Photo: Piep van Heuven via Twitter

Mayor Michael Hancock lent his most emphatic support yet to what he called “bold” investments in biking, walking, and transit yesterday in a speech he gave at Bicycle Colorado’s Moving People Forward conference.

He and Transportation Director Crissy Fanganello struck a markedly different tone than usual that seemed to prioritize people over cars.

“We need to absolutely transform our city from a car-focused, automobile-centric system, to a people-centric transportation and mobility network,” Hancock said.

Investments — presumably things like protected bike lanes, sidewalks, and better transit service — will come via a $550 million general obligation bond that will go to voters this November, Hancock said. He guaranteed a “significant portion” for “transportation and mobility.” Expect more specifics in the next few months, he told the audience.

The city also needs a recurring funding stream for transit, walking, and biking, Fanganello said during a panel discussion. City officials have discussed a potential funding measure in addition to the one-time infusion of transportation dollars.

“Can we not only build new projects with this general obligation bond, but also put into place a funding stream… that we can count on from one year to the next, to actually build out this complete multi-modal network?” Fanganello said. “Bikes are a part of that. If we don’t have a funding [stream] to take care of that and we’re asking on an annual basis to get that through our budgetary process, we don’t have the sense of stability that we need in order to keep moving. And that’s something that we could really use from our elected officials and, quite frankly, the voters.”

Fanganello also admitted that Denver transportation engineers and planners too often use the word “balance” when talking about streets. This is significant. “Balance” is often code for why streets can’t prioritize transit or people walking and biking over cars. As urban planning thought leader Brent Toderian told the crowd earlier in the day, urban streets should not try to achieve balance — they should prioritize people walking, biking, and using transit. Even if balance was the goal, streets are so heavily tilted towards driving, it would mean solely building and funding active transportation projects for years to come.

In his speech, Hancock compared 2017 to other touchstone moments in Denver’s transportation history: The 2004 FasTracks transit funding bill, the early 1990s decision to build Denver International Airport, and the city’s 19th-century connection to the transcontinental railroad.

“I believe in 2017 we have the same opportunity,” Hancock said. “And all of us who are blessed to be able to serve as elected officials, and all of us who are blessed to live in this great city and region, now have a clear call to summon the moral courage once again be bold and be visionary.”

This article was changed to reflect the fact that DIA was not initiated in 1994.

  • mckillio

    “The city also needs a recurring funding stream for transit, walking, and biking,”, quit expanding roads and put that money towards those three things.

  • FartDude

    There are some pretty simple things the city can do to make transit work better. After moving here from Chicago, I tried taking the bus to work for a while before growing frustrated and quitting the bus for various reasons. A few of these related to how inconvenient RTD makes taking the bus compared to how CTA does things.

    1. Seems like most bus stops are after stop lights. This is silly. The bus stops for a red, waits for a green, proceeds, then stops to load/unload people. In Chicago, the bus stops to load/unload people, and by the time that’s done, the light has likely changed colors. Or, it takes care of stopping for a stop sign and loading/unloading people at the same time. This is pretty simple, you just need to move the bus stop before the light. Drivers may not like it, because they may have to wait for a bus to make a right turn, but it reduces a big source of delays in service.

    2. Real time bus arrival times – In Chicago, I can always check how far away the next bus is either through an app by looking up my bus stop or by sending a text message with a specific code to a special number (i get a reply with the next 3 bus arrival times). Last I checked RTD only provides the next SCHEDULED arrival time. With buses, the schedule has no basis in reality. Too many opportunities for delay due to the vagaries of traffic. A bit more complicated since it requires upgrading all the buses with GPS and building out a system to capture GPS data from buses and to provide it to the public.

    Some other things that are more resource intensive or politically challenging:
    Build sidewalks in areas without them, and things will get a lot better for non-drivers as well.

    Add dedicated bus lanes and either BRT or at least express buses to Colfax. A big chunk of the city is underserved by rapid transit, and that would help. There shouldn’t be any parking spaces on colfax. It should help speed people downtown. Consider adding similar bus lanes on other major thoroughfares leading downtown like Speer Boulevard. Mass transit shouldn’t just follow expressways.

    Relax all the asinine restrictions on medium and high density development, especially near major transit lines, near downtown, and near retail corridors. Much Colfax is an embarrassment of empty storefronts and scuzzy looking businesses when it should be a premier retail corridor, and it’s at least partially due to nearby housing density being too low to generate a decent amount of foot traffic. It’s also ridiculous when the concrete wastelands of surface parking lots near downtown are finally disappearing, only to replaced with low rise apartment blocks. Build taller, build more units, build walkable, then get more people, then get more commercial development. Too many buildings topping out at 5 to 10 stories, not enough that actually add a decent amount of housing. Density is good, regardless of what the nimby’s say.

    Parking taxes – is there a parking tax here? Implement a parking tax to help boost revenue for transit and related projects. Parking is too cheap near downtown (though becoming less so due to aforementioned projects that are replacing surface lots). If parking becomes pricier, people will find other ways to get to work. But, you need to give them options and the bus system that covers so much of the city is terrible.

    I take the train now, and while I have plenty of gripes about that, that’s a complaint for another time.

    • Joe

      RTD has a real-time system in beta. https://www.rtd-denver.com/app/nextride

      • SammyDEEEE

        Came here to mention Next Ride, which is in Beta.

        I’m no great fan of RTD, but they’re getting there.

    • Amadandubh

      Yes to all of that!

      The real-time tracking of buses is actually possible right now, though. As of, I think, a year or so ago, the “Transit” app allowed you to see where your bus actually is (although in my experience it has been a bit flaky).

      And then just the other day I was going to an unfamiliar part of the city and I noticed when I put the route in Google Maps, I got an accurate update on the arrival time of the buses as I was waiting for them.

      So while RTD is probably going to be the last one to implement a method for tracking its own buses, there are at least current options for us public transit users.

    • Ryan Keeney

      I agree with you on everything except new housing projects being too short. You don’t need skyscrapers for real density. Paris is more dense than New York City and is way way more transit and pedestrian friendly than Denver. If you filled in every single surface lot around downtown and every parcel along big arterial roads with five story buildings that would massively increase the population density of Denver. That should be the discussion before we talk about doing the same for all the inner city neighborhoods of historic single family houses.

      I wouldn’t mind some incremental development of individual parcels in these neighborhoods into small scale apartments, but I think these intact historic neighborhoods are an asset that we would regret losing.

      • Joe R.

        True BUT a nice thing with taller buildings is you can have your density and at the same time have free space for other things, like parks or playgrounds. Saturating an area with 5 story buildings certainly makes it dense, but that density comes at the expense of space to breathe.

      • ahwr

        That should be the discussion before we talk about doing the same for all the inner city neighborhoods of historic single family houses.

        A transit line with good service cannot be supported by 5 story buildings along a single road. If you want good transit service you need that level of density permitted a quarter mile on either side of the road. There isn’t all that much historic about most single family neighborhoods in this country. Preserving individual lots can make much more sense, and can be done without sabotaging the city the way preserving entire neighborhoods can.

        If you filled in every single surface lot around downtown

        Parking lots have their problems, but a little open space has a lot of value in a city, it does a lot to open places up. They don’t have to be used for parking. But small parks can be great. This is true in low density neighborhoods.

        https://goo.gl/maps/1ErszsQN2X12

        In high density ones.

        https://goo.gl/maps/TNEsbp5rsmJ2

        And those in between

        https://goo.gl/maps/BypBNwgUSRt

        • Ryan Keeney

          A large double digit percentage of land in and around downtown is devoted to parking. See the post I authored at: http://denverinfill.com/blog/2016/07/visualization-of-land-devoted-to-parking-downtown.html

          We do not need all that open space even if they were parks. Downtown should be completely filled in. The existing open spaces at Civic Center Park, Confluence Park, Commons Park, Skyline Park, and Cherry Creek are in my opinion sufficient for the immediate downtown area. Most European cities are mid-rise and completely filled in. People like that.

          I’m a YIMBY for development as much as anyone I am primarily concerned about creating bigger political fights than necessary if we have a hardline position to upzone all single family neighborhoods to 30 stories. I think a more reasonable approach is upzoning all neighborhoods within 2 miles of downtown to Cap Hill level densities with rules attached that keep the development fine grained (ie no block sized apartment boxes). Even that is extremely politically difficult. Arterials are easier because NIMBYS generally wouldn’t want to live near an arterial anyways.

          I also think you somewhat underappreciate Denver’s inner city single family neighborhoods. When I first came here from Indianapolis I was taken aback by how intact, beautiful and vibrant the housing stock is here. A lot of cities in the United States do not have that.

          • ahwr

            hardline position to upzone all single family neighborhoods to 30 stories.

            There’s no reason to go that far. A more modest 3-5 stories, together with getting rid of parking minimums and minimum unit sizes/max units per lot would do fine.

          • ahwr

            When I first came here from Indianapolis I was taken aback by how intact, beautiful and vibrant the housing stock is here.

            There are people in every increasingly unaffordable city in the country who say the same. Preserving an individual house is fine. Preserving an individual block is fine. Even preserving an entire neighborhood is fine. But the collective impact of preserving low density neighborhoods all across Denver, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, NYC, Philadelphia, Boston etc…is very substantial.

          • Ryan Keeney

            I agree the impact is substantial. I’ve even read research that studies the impact of zoning on housing prices. I just feel there is so much underutilized land in surface parking lots, along arterials, and around transit stations that should in an ideal world be targeted first. There are plenty of people out there who fight against even those modest sorts of developments.

    • Courtney

      I visited Denver from CO from Chicago and was disappointed. I wasn’t expecting it to be as nice as Chicago (and Chicago Transit Authority, PACE, Metra, etc have their challenges too) but I was definitely disappointed considering all I had read about all these “investments” in transit the Denver region is making.
      I stick to Chicago right now because it’s cheaper than NYC and LA and I can actually live a great life without a car. Of course I know this varies from neighborhood to neighborhood in Chicago BUT I know it’s lightyears better than other cities.
      Here’s to hoping Denver and so many other American cities can speed things up. The year of catering to cars has come and gone.

  • red123

    He talks a big game but has yet to back it up in any meaningful way. Lots of nice soundbites from Mayor Hancock. Keep us posted when he actually does something.

  • fpfrainaguirre

    It only “sounds like Hancock will put people over cars. I will only believe this when the widening of Central I 70 is stopped by him! Take down the over pass and return 46th Ave. to a Parkway as the original plan for this area was written!

  • Walter Crunch

    This is a smoke screen in order to dig the ever changing i70 ditch. This is a brand new project with zero priority for people on foot or by bikes. Bicycle super highway? Nope. Bike lanes that are protected? Nope. 8 to 10 foot sidewalks? Nope

    Lanes everywhere for car, trucks and semi trucks? Oh yeah.

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