Jolon Clark Is Letting the Parking Lobby Dictate Denver’s Housing Policy

Neighbors objected to car-free development on this site at 16th and Humboldt, because clearly what this block needs is more space for car storage, not housing. Image: Google Maps
Neighbors objected to car-free development on this site at 16th and Humboldt, because clearly what this block needs is more space for car storage, not housing. Image: Google Maps

The Denver City Council voted 7 to 6 Monday to advance a law that will raise housing costs by compelling the construction of parking spaces on small lots. The zoning amendment from Council Member Jolon Clark will require parking where none was required before, stifling walkable development and generating more car traffic.

City Councilman Jolon Clark
City Councilman Jolon Clark

With that vote, the Council ignored warnings from Denver Community Planning and Development, flouted a Denver Planning Board recommendation, and undermined city efforts to reduce car dependence and improve affordability. All that damage to the future of the city was done to appease the parking lobby — residents who believe that building compact homes without parking encroaches on their inalienable right to store private vehicles on public streets.

Although Council won’t vote on the full zoning package until May, last night’s decision ensures it will move forward with Clark’s amendment. Here’s a look at how Clark justified prioritizing parking over people.

The red herring of “Transportation Demand Management”

Throughout this process, Clark’s big talking point was that allowing development without parking on these particular lots is “no magic bullet” for solving car dependence or our affordable housing shortage. He said that instead, the city should pursue a “transportation demand management” (TDM) strategy — creating incentives to walk, bike, or ride transit.

It was all a big red herring. No one claimed that the absence of parking requirements was a silver bullet for those problems. But raising parking requirements will make Denver’s traffic and housing problems worse. Fewer homes will get built, more residents will choose to own cars, and destinations will be spread farther apart.

TDM is not a substitute for walkable development — it’s a complement.

In this case, Clark isn’t actually advancing TDM. He’s using TDM as a fig leaf for his real agenda, which is apparently carrying water for the pro-parking, anti-housing crowd.

The fallacy that living car-free isn’t an option

No doubt Denver needs to up its transit, biking, and walkability game. But it’s a myth that everyone here owns a car — a myth that Clark repeated yesterday. People moving to Denver “do have cars,” he said.

But if you look at City Park West, where neighbors first freaked out over a car-free development at 16th and Humboldt, car ownership is under one per household, according to Denveright documents. Some people clearly are living without cars.

And more people would live car-free if public policy supported it. Allowing development without parking is one part in a suite of policies that support walking and transit.

Clark purportedly wants the city to “really and truly [invest] in mobility, not just in infrastructure that makes our city work for one mode of transportation.” But if that were really the case, he wouldn’t have pushed this amendment through.

Parking mandates will make it harder for transit to succeed and discourage walking and biking. You can thank Jolon Clark for that — and the Council members who supported his amendment: Rafael Espinoza, Kevin Flynn, Wayne New, Paul Kashmann, Debbie Ortega, and Paul Lopez.

6250 lots on transit
Lots of the parcels where parking will be required are near frequent-running transit. Map: Community Planning and Development
  • Bridget

    When my family goes downtown or to City Park, we take the bus or bike. With our 2 year old. If we lived in one of those neighborhoods, we would almost exclusively take public transit or bike. I understand why homeowners in some of these neighborhoods would like to be able to live in a hip urban neighborhood with lots of fun stuff to do AND conveniently park multiple cars in front of their homes. What I don’t get is why the city is supporting the desires of some over the needs of the many.

  • TakeFive

    Let’s review: the site pictured at 16th and Humboldt is two lots and 108 apartments units were approved for the site. And when we say no parking we mean not even any bicycle parking will be provided in a neighborhood with an historical designation.

    I wonder how many of you have lived in your current home for ten years? How ’bout 15 or 20 years? I’ve met and known many people who have lived in their established central Denver neighborhoods for 15, 20 even 30 years; They are (typically) fascinating and lovely souls and yes, they are old-fashioned and actually care about their neighborhoods. How quaint, eh? Nothing like being a real person as opposed to just a statistic.

    So far as escalating housing costs the Number One reason would be the Econ 101 demand/supply curve and the Number Two biggest reason would be the rising costs of land and construction/labor costs.

    • TakeFive

      Personally I would prefer the proposal crafted by Council President Albus Brooks. Just the same I like to pick my battles and for me it’s all about better transit and mobility options.

      And Denver is sooo slow. Tempe AZ started their streetcar project about the same time as Denver started their East Colfax BRT; Tempe is anticipating their FFGA and breaking ground end of this year or soon after. Denver is still years away afaik.

      • Bridget

        TakeFive I agree there are a lot of angles to consider on this particular issue. I didn’t know that the Humboldt development didn’t even include bike parking. That seems like an easy, sensible thing to require of developers. And I totally get the annoyance a person would feel to not be able to park next to their house like they have gotten used to doing for the past 15+ years. I’m just wondering if this annoyance at not getting to use a free public good as your own should drive policy? I know some Denver neighborhoods have residential parking permits that I will admit I know nothing about. Do residents purchase these? That would make sense to me. If I lived in one of those neighborhoods and didn’t want to schlep our toddler and groceries from the car several blocks in the snow (totally get it), I would gladly pay for a pass to get parking priority. And this would hopefully persuade nonresidents of the neighborhood to take the bus/bike when they want to go downtown. I agree that residents should have priority over people just trying to park to go to a show or whatever. I don’t think that people who want free parking should have priority over people who need more affordable housing.

    • Guy Ross

      Indeed: supply and demand. If you limit density, you limit supply, hence in an increasing demand the price goes up.

      You can have parking. You can have affordable housing. You can live in high density areas: Pick two.

  • JZ71

    Jolon is representing the interests of his constituents, and, apparently, the interests of the majority of the rest of city council. That’s how representative democracy works, you’re not going to win every battle. And the real battle will be getting the infrastructure in place, citywide, to make a car-free lifestyle a more viable option than it is today – make that real, and this can be readdressed!

    • Bridget

      Yes, and I’m wondering where we go from here. We’ve lived in Denver for four years now and other than a few highlights, it doesn’t seem like much of our transit policy is headed toward building the infrastructure that supports a car-free/light lifestyle in this city. This prioritization of parking feels like yet another step in the wrong direction. In your opinion, what do we need to get the right infrastructure in place? What would that look like?

      • JZ71

        The first step is finding a way to fund a more robust, more-frequent bus system. It ain’t glamorous, it ain’t hip, but if you can get frequencies down to every 10 minutes, or less, and a schedule becomes irrelevant, and transit becomes a viable option for more people.

        The second step is continue to invest in fixing / improving the missing links in the bike network. Not necessarily more bike lanes, but better options thru congested areas / over obstacles (freeways, creeks, rivers, railroads) and better access to suburban transit stations and Park-n-Rides.

        The third step would be embracing greater density in existing neighborhoods. Transit, in particular, depends on density to be successful. Similarly, in less dense areas, explore more options like Call-n-Rides and/or subsidized uber trips to help solve the last-mile challenges (instead of running-more fixed-route services).

        Finally, respect that it’ll never be a all-or-nothing solution. Compromises will need to be made, among all interested parties. “Just say no” is rarely a good answer . . .

        • neroden

          The first step is to throw out the regressive city council members. Otherwise you won’t get any of that.

          • JZ71

            And that’s how representative democracy works – find a better candidate(s) and convince a majority of the voters to vote for them!

  • Vertigo700

    I would say Jolon is representing the “interests” of the squeaky wheel homeowners who are the ones most likely to complain, show up at meetings, etc. As David Sachs notes, there is a significant population in Denver who do not own cars. There are also lots of renters and lots of people who make a low-income wage. Many of them are probably too busy or lack social capital to show up to city council meeting or e-mail for every little complaint they see, but Council should really think of the populations they server as a whole and not just those who complain a lot.

    • deadindenver

      So true, I live in the Ruby Hill/Athmar neighborhood. About all Jolon does for us is claim the new Levitt concert pavilion in Ruby Hill park as his, sorta like Al Gore and the internet. His campaign was totally funded by the very affluent vested interests on the east side of Santa Fe and the railroad tracks, ala Washington Park. Literally the west side of his district is truly on the wrong side of the tracks.

  • Brian Schroder

    It’s strange that people think they are entitled to something that they do not own like free parking on the street. I’ve live in neighborhoods in Denver that have grown and then I couldn’t find a place to park my car. I would never think the solution would be to ask the city to protect my parking through a sense of entitlement. I’ve adapted, moved, or paid for parking. That would be the responsible independent thing to do not whine selfishly about my entitled privileges being taken away.

  • Commentperson47372649

    Thanks for making the voting record easy to see, and boo on my representative, Paul Lopez, for voting yes on this.

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