Advocates: Denver Transportation Budget Not Enough; Sidewalks Need More Funding

A walk through Denver's Sunnyside neighborhood last month revealed missing, dilapidated and incomplete sidewalks. Photo: WalkDenver
A walk through Denver's Sunnyside neighborhood last month revealed missing, dilapidated and incomplete sidewalks. Photo: WalkDenver

Mayor Hancock’s preliminary budget fails to fully fund the city’s transportation priorities for 2020 — and the City Council must make more money available to save lives and improve how people get around the city, activists said Wednesday.

The Denver Streets Partnership told members of the council that mobility funding within Hancock’s $1.49 billion proposed budget is so paltry that it would take 400 years to build out a complete sidewalk network. 

“Mayor Hancock’s proposed 2020 budget will fund just five miles of new sidewalks out of more than 2,000 miles that are missing or sub-standard,” said Jill Locantore of the Denver Streets Partnership. 

Jaime Lewis of the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition and Jill Locantore of WalkDenver navigate a crumbling sidewalk in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood on August 7. Photo: WalkDenver

Beyond sidewalks, the city is falling behind in biking, transit and street safety improvements, too. 

“There’s this major disconnect between the city’s own goals and how they are allocating money in the budget,” said Locantore. “All modes — walking, biking, transit, Vision Zero — there’s not enough funding in any one of those.”

The city wants to get more people out of cars and onto transit, bikes and their own two feet to address the its climate, congestion and safety goals. In 2013 officials set a goal to measure how they’re doing by setting a target to reduce single-occupancy vehicle trips, from 73 percent to 60 percent by next year. But over six years, the number of people driving alone hasn’t budged.

With few good alternatives to driving and a fast-rising population, more drivers are clogging Denver roads while traffic fatalities and serious injuries are skyrocketing.

“It’s clear that expecting the current budget to meet those needs is not enough. We need new revenue sources,” said Locantore. “They’re not publicly talking about new funding for transportation, but we think they should be.”

Though the Partnership was critical of the overall funding earmarked for transportation, it said the mayor’s proposal offered some bright spots, like funding for bike infrastructure and the Vision Zero program.

The Denver Streets Partnership compared their funding request to the Mayor's proposed 2020 budget. Image: DSP
The Denver Streets Partnership compared their funding request to the Mayor’s proposed 2020 budget. Image: DSP

The Department of Public Works will add two new staffers to its Vision Zero team, for a total of six. Locantore hopes they will quicken the city’s installation of street safety improvements. 

“Part of the reason the city has been slow to make changes to the street is that it lacks staffing,” she said. “With those two new positions, we hope to see an acceleration of the pace which they are putting in these safety improvements.”

People who bike may notice better bike lanes next year, too. The partnership asked for $7 million to continue building out the city’s bike network. The Mayor’s budget proposal allocates $5 million, but another $1.9 million will rebuild 18th and 19th Streets downtown with dedicated bike and transit lanes. 

“That’s exactly the sort of corridor-wide transformation we’ve been asking for. It’s going to completely transform how those streets operate,” said Locantore. “Our only disappointment is that they only funded that type of improvement on one corridor.”

The mayor’s budget has no specific funding for the proposed Bus Rapid Transit line on Colfax. Although the Department of Public Works planned to start the environmental review process in August of last year, the project stalled. The city can use voter-approved bond money to fund the first stages of the project, but it has chosen not to. The delay in the environmental review could push the project’s completion date out to 2024 or into the late 2020s, according to the Denver Post.

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