Council President Albus Brooks Calls for New Source of Transportation Money

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.