Gov’s $100M Commitment to Safer Streets Is About More Than Money
Governor John Hickenlooper’s announcement that Colorado will invest more than $100 million over four years in bike and pedestrian infrastructure was bold, and not just because that money can go a long way. Along with committing 2.5 percent of the Colorado Department of Transportation’s budget to bike and pedestrian projects, Hickenlooper appears intent on strategically reorienting the agency toward a 21st-century approach to streets.
I spoke with Dan Grunig, executive director of Bicycle Colorado, which advocated for the Colorado Pedals Project, a public-private initiative that will add bike lanes and trails throughout the state. He said Hickenlooper’s announcement is a sign that CDOT, led by Shailen Bhatt, is ready to act on its complete streets policy and make bike and pedestrian infrastructure a priority. The initiative also aims to make CDOT more responsive to the local communities its streets pass through.
If Denver is going to become a safe city for biking and walking, CDOT will have to play a major part. Denver’s most dangerous streets, Federal Boulevard and Colfax Avenue, are under CDOT control. So is Sheridan Boulevard, a shoddy street that seems out of place in a developed country. These streets run through neighborhoods filled with people but are designed like high-speed expressways.
With Hickenlooper’s new directive, this design approach should change, and so should the metro Denver streets under CDOT’s jurisdiction.
“Where CDOT has been an obstacle in the past, either deliberately or accidentally, we have a good chance of them being a facilitator,” [Hickenlooper’s Bike Czar] Ken Gart said. “I think that culture change is by far the most powerful thing here.”
This isn’t about getting CDOT to spend more, Hickenlooper said. It’s about getting CDOT at the table with Bicycle Colorado, [Great Outdoors Colorado] and the Department of Local Affairs so projects and grants are more efficiently orchestrated to consider bicycling as an essential transportation element.
Changing the culture at CDOT, an agency that until now has taken its mission to be moving cars and trucks swiftly through the city, will be a tall order. The agency, after all, recently indicated that it doesn’t believe people on bikes should even use Federal. But Bhatt has signed on to reclaiming the public right of way for people.
“At CDOT we believe that including cycling plans into road planning and construction will help us reduce congestion and contribute to solving the transportation challenges facing the Colorado,” Bhatt said in a statement.
The stars seem to be aligning for significant change at the agency. Now let’s see what happens on the ground.