There’s Nothing “Smart” About Packing This Much Parking Into Peña Station Neighborhood

So far the main feature of the Peña Station "smart city" is car storage, not walkability.

The blank slate at 61st and Peña Station. Photo: David Sachs
The blank slate at 61st and Peña Station. Photo: David Sachs

To have local media tell it, there’s nothing dumb about the “smart city” supposedly coming to the 61st and Peña RTD station out by the airport — autonomous shuttles and WiFi-emitting street lights grab headlines.

One thing the stories about “Peña Station NEXT” don’t cover: The ungodly amount of parking around the station.

According to city documents, Peña Station has 1,585 parking spots either in existence or proposed — and that’s just in the station’s immediate area. Yet the Hancock administration and Panasonic bill the nascent neighborhood as a futuristic and compact place anchored by good transit where people can easily walk and bike everywhere.

The nearly 1,600 stalls are supposedly needed for the station itself, a Panasonic office building, an apartment building (which will have more parking spots than homes), and a hotel with 226 rooms. Panasonic and the apartment developer added more parking spots than city zoning requires.

Part of the problem is that the city requires any parking at all. Parking policy directly affects how people move around a neighborhood: Build more parking, get more cars, and spread destinations further apart from one another. Those things that undercut walkability and transit use. Elected officials and city planners know that, which is why they’re considering parking caps around the 41st and Fox station.

Peña Station, as imagined. Photo: David Sachs
Peña Station, as imagined. Photo: David Sachs

But while the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development created an attractive vision for this station area, adopted by the Denver City Council in 2014, in practice city officials haven’t utilized tools like parking maximums to realize it. The plan aims to “optimize alternative modes of transportation.” Right now Peña Station is on track to optimize single-occupancy vehicles with unfettered storage for them.”

What’s more, Mayor Michael Hancock says Peña Station will anchor affordable housing. Not only are lower income Denverites less likely to own a car, every parking spot in a garage increases development costs by $17,000 on average. That cost is passed on to tenants and home owners.

Peña Station is essentially a blank slate. There’s still time for Hancock and the City Council to use the tools at their disposal to ensure an entire neighborhood by transit is walkable and affordable instead of being overrun with cars.

  • TakeFive

    What’s more, Mayor Michael Hancock says Peña Station will anchor affordable housing. Not only are lower income Denverites less likely to own a car

    What a disappointment; not the surface parking which is merely a placeholder for development when not needed for parking. I had not seen the linked article which had lots to say but only a passing reference to apartments. Didn’t recall who MGL Partners was but now I’m reminded that they built one of my favorite projects, the Amaranth apartments near the Denver Botanic Gardens. They also specialize in senior housing and broke ground last year on a project in the tech center.

    What I found linked to CityNow and MGL was a Parikh Stevens designed typical suburban 3-story suburban market-rate complex with plenty of surface parking: http://parikhstevens.com/portfolio-item/pena-station-apartments/ No construction schedule though that I could find.

    Presumably you’re not familiar with how resourceful Hispanics are. It would be more accurate to say they are not two-car families but it amazes how most have cars. Construction, landscape, painting etc crews are usually led by somebody with a Yuge Truck. It makes a lot of sense when you realize that their job sites won’t be found along a light rail line.

  • JZ71

    RTD provides parking because it is a more cost-effective option than running bus service in the low-density suburbs that this (and similar) station serves. RTD is in the Transportation business, it’s job is to move people. If some people are willing to drive a mile or two, then get on a train or a bus, for the rest of their trip, RTD is doing their job.

    • Kevin Withers

      OMG, rational and logical thought does still exist.

    • TakeFive

      Excellent, excellent… testbook-agenda jockeys have bullet points around an idealized transit system and stops and that’s all they know. With respect to the challenge of first and last mile access the ONLY answer is density – which for Denver will still take decades. Except for the exceptional:

      The researchers found that car commuters in low-income neighborhoods in San Diego have about 30 times greater job accessibility than those who take public transit. The way that public transit riders reach their nearest stop to home could make an important difference in the jobs available to them.

      And this:

      The different ways riders leave and arrive at the stops closest to home and workplaces — what researchers term “first- and last-mile access” — can close this gap, even more effectively than more traditional and costly public transit measures like increasing transit frequency by adding buses and drivers.

      Those distances that bookend a commute are crucial, according to the study’s lead author, Marlon Boarnet, a professor of public policy and chair of the department of urban planning and spatial analysis at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

      In effect Park N Rides are extremely valuable to non-urban and non-dense suburban transit stations.

  • Anonymous Bike Zealot

    Absolutely wonderful comments on this thread. When I first moved to Denver in the early 1980s I had never seen a Park-and-Ride lot before. It was the cornerstone of RTD’s bus policy at the time and it worked. It created transit riders out of people like me who, had I stayed in the Midwest would have NEVER EVER gotten on a bus.

    People like the author, Mr. Sachs, need to get out from behind the keyboard and talk to real people in the real world. This doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. We can have a bike friendly neighborhood and a Park and Ride. We are NEVER going to build a bike friendly nation as long as the objective is to deny people their cars. We’re outnumbered 9:1. Only a fool would engage in full frontal assault with those numbers.

  • HamTech87

    Nice piece. We’re never going to get a handle on sprawl if we don’t build fewer parking spaces. These park & rides just generate more driving trips around the station’s neighborhoods.

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