As Traffic Deaths Spike, Colorado DOT Says Zilch About Fixing Deadly Streets

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This section of deadly Federal Boulevard will get wider, thanks to CDOT, because the agency doesn’t think there’s enough room for cars. Image: Google Maps

In the inaugural year of Colorado DOT’s timid Toward Zero Deaths initiative, 545 people were killed on roads throughout the state. That’s a stark spike in fatalities — 57 more, or 10 percent, than in 2014, and the most since 2008.

The number of people killed while walking or biking rose from 74 to 78. More than a quarter of those victims, 20 people, lost their lives on Denver’s streets. And half of those deaths occurred on one of CDOT’s urban highways like Federal and Colfax — streets that encourage speeds of 40 or 50 mph through places where people live, work, and shop. Three drivers died on these streets too. Wide lanes, cruddy pedestrian and transit infrastructure, and non-existent bike infrastructure make these straightaways dangerous for everyone in the vicinity.

In a press release, CDOT officials blamed the uptick on “risky behaviors, such as not using a seat belt, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, speeding, driving impaired, or driving distracted.” Surely, the agency surmised, low fuel prices and a better economy contributed to more people driving and therefore more people dying.

So what is CDOT going to do about it? Well, the agency is going to remind people that it’s dangerous to drive distracted or drunk or without wearing a seatbelt. “Every fatality is one too many, which is why we are doubling down on our traffic safety outreach in 2016,” said CDOT Executive Director Shailen Bhatt. (You may remember that last year the agency’s traffic safety outreach included an aborted attempt to blame pedestrian victims.)

Nothing in CDOT’s press release mentions redesigning streets or shifting resources to transit and biking so people don’t have to drive so much.

Bhatt is aware that the agency can save lives by redesigning urban streets. Here’s what he told Streetsblog in December:

Are there low-tech, smart things that we can do right now, whether it’s striping, whether it’s bulb-outs, road diets, and narrowing of lanes, and protected bike lanes, and multimodal investments? All that stuff is not sexy but is very effective in solving our transportation problems. We absolutely need to be looking at that. And we are in many places.

The question is, “Where?” CDOT is still working with Denver Public Works to widen Federal Boulevard.

Billboards, PSAs, outreach, and education aren’t going to move the needle much. They’re the same old sugar pill that DOTs have forced cities to swallow for decades.

Asking someone not to speed is, of course, much easier to do than redesigning a street to calm traffic. How many more people have to die on Denver’s urban highways before CDOT does something substantive about it?