Funding for Broadway Redesign on the Chopping Block

If Denver's going to have a real bike network, the Broadway project is indispensable. But some decision makers are wobbling now that the car-centric local media has weighed in against it.

What Broadway could look like — if the redesign proceeds. Image: Denver Public Works
What Broadway could look like — if the redesign proceeds. Image: Denver Public Works

The people deciding which transportation projects to recommend for funding in the transportation bond on November’s ballot may kick a flagship multimodal street redesign to the curb.

The redesign of South Broadway would transform a five-lane surface highway by adding a two-way protected bike lane, a 24-hour bus-only lane, and more pedestrian-friendly crossings. The bike lane would fill a major gap in the bicycle network, instantly becoming a north-south trunk route for bicycle travel in Denver.

The cost of the whole project is $22 million. Yesterday, at a meeting of the executive committee that will recommend a project list for bond funding to the Hancock administration, some members backed away from the Broadway redesign. Without funding from the bond, Denver Public Works would have to find money somewhere else.

Bad press from Denver Business Journal Editor Neil Westergaard, the Denver Post editorial board, and a few disgruntled residents seems to be having an impact. Instead of standing up for an important project that will make a big difference for biking, walking, and transit, some committee members appear ready to fold under pressure.

“[The] Broadway corridor is strongly supported by a chunk of the advocates for helping to move Denver forward on bike and ped safety,” said Don Hunt, the former Colorado DOT director. “But I do know there have been journalists who are very concerned about it, and I guess, some number of owners in the corridor, although I haven’t heard that directly. I guess what I’m asking is, is the project ready for public support?”

The executive committee is trying to whittle more than $200 million in projects (transportation and otherwise) off the list, with final recommendations expected Friday. Broadway is one of about 20 transportation projects still on the fluctuating shortlist for funding.

This person, interviewed by Fox31, is against the Broadway bike lane.
This person, interviewed by Fox31, is against the Broadway bike lane.

“Some of these projects have almost uniform public demand in their community… so to choose a project that has frustrations over projects that are clamoring for funding, I just find that to be a hard thing to elevate,” said committee member Sarah Kurz, LiveWell Colorado vice president of operations and strategy.

Denver is never going to build out a good, low-stress bike network if this is the basis for public investment decisions. Just about any major project will claim space from cars and ruffle feathers in the process. If anything, setting off some pushback from the cars-first crowd is a sign that a project will make a substantial difference and is worth the effort.

Also yesterday, the committee considered setting aside a huge chunk of money to catch up on street maintenance: repaving streets, repairing bridges, and fixing gutters. That figure sits at $140 million right now, about a third of all money available for transportation and almost triple the recommendation of $50 million from the citizen-led subcommittee of transportation and planning experts, many of whom said maintenance work should be part of regular budgeting, not a one-shot. The Hancock administration says it needs $177.2 million for street repairs.

That jump in unspecified maintenance spending was too large for some executive committee members. They asked city staffers for a more detailed breakdown of what that money would pay for before Friday’s final recommendations.

“I, as a committee member, have to have a much more clear explanation… this is the biggest number, and this is the number that’s got to be explained,” said executive committee member and attorney Hubert Farbes.

Email to speak at the next and last meeting. It’s on Friday at 3 p.m. at the Webb Building, room 1.B.6. Following the committee’s final recommendations to Mayor Michael Hancock, the City Council will have to approve the project list before Denverites vote.