Denver Post: Prioritizing People Instead of Cars Is “Extreme”

Denver has to focus on moving people, not cars, in its limited street space.
Denver has to focus on moving people, not cars, in its limited street space.

The Denver Post wants the city to slow down on this whole 21st Century transportation thing. In its latest editorial (“No, Denver Shouldn’t Make Driving More Difficult”), the paper warns against setting aside street space so people can get around quickly and safely on the bus or a bike.

The piece sprang from a comment I made in a forum held by the Downtown Denver Partnership. We were in the midst of a conversation about how policies like cheap on-street parking and employer subsidies for parking induce people to drive instead of taking transit or riding a bike. As a city, I said, “we have to make driving harder” if we’re going to deal with our growth without getting overwhelmed by traffic.

However you want to frame it, the bottom line is that all Denver has done for the last 70 years is make driving as easy as possible, and look where it’s gotten us — this approach hinders economic development and literally kills people with dangerous street design. The status quo of subsidized parking and car-first streets isn’t working for anyone — least of all the drivers who deal with mounting congestion thanks to policies that generate more traffic.

The Post opines that prioritizing people walking, biking, and using transit before cars is “extreme.” Points for sensationalism for conjuring up an “anti-car movement” that will yank the paper’s subscribers from their cars against their will. But in real life, cities like Seattle and San Francisco use another term for a street hierarchy that prizes efficiency, safety, and sustainability: “transportation planning.”

This is a paper that failed to grasp the concept of induced demand and bungled the economics of parking. So it’s not surprising that the Post doesn’t understand the basic geometric constraints of city streets:

Crissy Fanganello, director of transportation for Denver, said that the city is largely out of the business of building wider or more roads, because the grid has been set and built to capacity. Now, she said, the question becomes how the city makes the best use of the right-of-way it already owns.

We hope that best use accommodates those who cannot or will not use alternatives to their cars regardless of how fast and efficient the other options are.

There you have it. It’s 2017 and the Post still can’t be bothered to care about bus riders, or people on bikes, or kids and seniors who can’t safely cross the city’s high-speed streets on foot. To the Post, the city revolves around driving. Most people already commute by car, they say, therefore policy must cater first and foremost to car commuting. It’s an argument against progress and innovation.

The writers claim that they are behind Mayor Hancock’s Denveright initiative, which is essentially an intervention to break Denver’s car addiction. Yet the Post also wags its finger at the mayor: “We might learn to rue the day, however, if Hancock jumps on this little red wagon — excuse us — bandwagon being driven by the anti-car movement.”

To be clear: If the city doesn’t change course, driving cars is still going to get more difficult. That’s what happens when you try to fit more things in a finite amount of space. The question is, will Denver create a transportation system that gives people good options besides driving? That’s the only way forward if we want a future that’s not choked by traffic.

  • TakeFive

    Oh my… well you do make a good looking villain. 🙂

  • Matthew Kessler

    This is my favorite part…”Let’s pause to consider what a monumental shift in behavior it would take for those living and working in Denver to leave their cars at home
    five days a week.” YES, let’s do exactly that. That’s what we’re advocating for, and their “pause to consider” just tells us how many people drive now. Ridiculous.

  • JoRo

    While the Denver Post article is shortsighted and misinformed, I take heart from it:
    1: They are starting to take notice that Denver isn’t planning on being a auto-centric city for the rest of it’s days, and they’re getting nervous about what’s coming.
    2: Your excellent blog and coverage is pushing the envelope and getting coverage on these important issues.

    Keep it up!

  • Walter Crunch

    Let’s pause to consider the high number of 3 lane one ways in downtown Denver. Literally race tracks..or better than race tracks. Multiple same turn lanes…wide lanes. Even in a car it’s incredible. With the lack of any kind of safety focus…

    Almost every street in the downtown core could lose a lane for safe walking and biking and traffic would be just fine. “Harder for cars” in in the metro equals “1% difference”.

    • mckillio

      The streets downtown are pretty crazy, even converting them from three lanes to four would be an improvement. It’s well past time to convert our streets to two ways and make all speed limits close to the city core to 20mph.

      • Kate Maroni

        On the one hand, I do not agree that adding street lanes in downtown Denver would improve the current traffic conditions. I understand that people believe this would lead to slower driving, however as we have seen in recent examples, adding more street lanes simply increases driving demand. These lanes will also become congested, and the subsequent environmental issues associated with more cars on the road will ensue. I do, however, agree that making the speed limits at the city-center 20mph is a step in the right direction, both for the environment and for the citizens of Denver. Not only would this mean safer streets, it would also help to reduce the cost of driving. This would mean less money spent on gas mileage, repairs, potential accidents, etc. Overall, however, I believe the city must focus on the larger issue at hand, devising a transportation system as you mentioned, which would hopefully reduce the number of cars on the road and greatly improve conditions in Denver.

  • Véronique Bellamy

    If I become mayor of Longmont, I’m going to work on making Main Street smarter. One lane for cars, one lane for buses (and emergency vehicles) and another for bikes… on each side. 🙂

    • Devin Quince

      I applaud that, but good luck due to 287 being a state highway and the state does not like inconveniencing drivers. There has been talk about turning Coffman into more of a bus/bike transit corridor between Longs Peak and 1st if the RTD station ever gets built.

      • I gathered. CDOT won’t even give me the time of day unless I can provide data to back up my efforts. I’m thinking about doing 17th, Pace & Hover first, then showing the results to get permission to do Main & Ken Pratt. 🙂

  • Denverdant

    I was also disappointed in the Post editorial. I understand their concern about the idea of deliberately making driving more difficult. I wish David had instead said “we need to organize mobility around moving people, not moving cars.” But David has the basic idea right and the Post doesn’t.

    Many of the steps the Post opposes, such as reducing the portion of a roadway available to cars, do not necessarily “make driving more difficult.” When other modes work better on these roads, some people switch from cars to those other modes, and that actually makes driving for everyone else easier, not more difficult. Another example: Reducing speed limits reduces serious crashes and hence reduces lane closures due to such crashes, making driving easier, not more difficult.

    Cars represent massive investments. Once people make investments they tend to defend them, or at least defend the conditions that they assumed would be constant when they made the investments. If you don’t believe me, just watch what happens if Congress tries to take away the deduction for home mortgage interest. So it’s not surprising that car owners are wary of changes that undermine the calculations they did to justify buying the car.

    Cars, however, are not owned forever, certainly not nearly as long as most mortgages last. Reconstructing roads takes time. A good policy would be to announce that the fundamentals of our mobility system in Denver are going to change dramatically, steadily, but over a period roughly equal to typical car ownership. This would allow for such a change, while giving car “investors” fair warning that as their cars wear out they should think about shifting to different modes instead of making a new investment in a failing technology. It would also avoid penalizing those who most recently made a new investment in that technology.

    Some will likely just keep replacing the old car with a new one, but they will not be in a position to complain about the changes if they got fair warning. Moreover, we don’t need everyone to give up cars, just a portion. Even just a one-third reduction in SOV driving would represent a huge change in congestion, air pollution, energy insecurity, personal health, etc.

  • mckillio

    I do think your line went too far, at least for now. We need to focus our message on things that most everyone can agree on and that starts with safety. This includes lower speed limits, complete and decent sidewalks (I.e. ones that aren’t literally adjacent to the street), adding bulb-outs, trees between sidewalks and the street. What has this done besides increased safety? Encouraged walking and biking and made them more pleasant but also made driving more difficult and that’s okay.


CDOT Purina Wed 6:30 am

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