Antiquated to Elevated: How Denver’s GO Bond Could Transform Citywide Mobility

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Welcome to the new Streetsblog Denver series covering the Elevate Denver General Obligation bond. Every Tuesday, we’ll be looking at and dissecting different biking, walking, and transit upgrades across the city. We’ll explore the planning aspects behind key projects in addition to considering how these changes will affect the lives of people in the communities where they are located. 

When did the world first open up for you? American car culture wants you to believe it happened when you got your driver’s license at 16, though for many it comes far earlier: when you can first walk or bike to school on your own. With this freedom comes chances to learn about your community and a sense of responsibility crucial for children to understand. 

Many children across the City of Denver are not as lucky. Plenty of neighborhoods across the city lack even the most basic infrastructure for people to walk and bike safely. While there have been some upgrades and high-profile projects addressing certain mobility issues in specific neighborhoods, Denver is kicking citywide connectedness into high gear.

Practically eons ago in 2017, Denver residents voted in favor of all seven parts of the Elevate Denver General Obligation (GO) bond: Transportation and Mobility, Cultural Facilities, Denver Health & Hospital Authority, Parks and Recreation, Libraries, Public Safety and Public Facilities. This nearly one billion dollar, 10-year investment funds the completion of more than 500 different projects across the city, ranging from parks to hospitals to cultural institutions and all without raising taxes even a cent for city-dwellers or businesses. When the bond matures in 2027, the city is required to pay back its debts to investors, ideally using the returns on investment from these projects. An impressive $431 million of the budget is going to specifically finance key transportation improvement projects across the city. In a major win for safer streets, a majority of these projects focus on complete street upgrades, bike and pedestrian infrastructure enhancements, and transit improvements, such as a portion of the long-awaited Colfax Bus Rapid Transit. 

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Map of projects funded by the Elevate Denver Bond. Source – https://www.denvergov.org/content/denvergov/en/elevate-denver/overview-of-projects.html

In determining which projects were to be selected for funding under the GO Bond, the City assembled six committees made up of community representatives and city council members to evaluate all projects proposed by the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure and those brought up in public forums. In total, these committees heard more than 4,000 hours of public comment on which sites across the city necessitated improvement. These committees then sent out their recommendations to the Mayor and then-City Council President, Albus Brooks. In August of 2017, City Council voted on the makeup of the final budget and which projects were to be on the November ballot for referendum. 

Each of the seven different components of the bond passed with more than two thirds support by voters, with approval ratings ranging from 67%  to 75%. Mayor Hancock showed his confidence in the human-centered nature of this process saying that it was “the most robust Denver had undertaken for a bond program, and helped set the stage for a comprehensive program aimed at making the city more inclusive and better connected.” 

Many of these projects are specifically designed to serve groups and communities who have been left behind in previous large-scale mobility upgrades. In some neighborhoods across Denver, residents have lived without ADA-compliant sidewalks for years, if the sidewalks exist at all. Additionally, where freeways, train tracks and other busy thoroughfares have physically torn communities apart, parts of this bond seek to reconnect neighborhoods with safer spaces for bicyclists and pedestrians. In Elyria-Swansea, for instance, a new bridge for people walking and biking has already been installed over the train tracks at 47th and York St., an upgrade funded entirely by the Elevate Denver bond. Though these improvements can not remedy the damage already inflicted by massive projects like the I-70 expansion, city leaders have expressed confidence that increased transportation options for residents and safer streets in general are a step in the right direction to mitigate harmful planning practices.

Another planning trend sure to be a focal point in the Elevate Denver bond package is the development of “complete streets” around the city. The GO bond calls for some of Denver’s busiest and most dangerous arterials to be redesigned to become safer for everyone, especially vulnerable road users not encased in 2,000 pounds of metal and glass—AKA: cars. Bustling roads including Colfax, Federal, Washington, and Hampden are all slated to receive safety improvements. These updated street designs are intended to align with the city’s 2019 Complete Streets Guidelines. Changes to the roadways can include lower speeds, wider sidewalks, and dedicated bike lanes. However, it begs the question if it even is possible to turn these streets into places for people, and from there, how that might affect the makeup of entire neighborhoods. In a city that already sees so much displacement, who are these upgrades going to serve? Those who call it home now or those who might push them out later?

This Streetsblog series on the Elevate Denver Bond will take a deeper look at how transportation and mobility projects under this massive investment will impact the way Denverites move about our city. We’ll check the city’s progress and ask how people’s connectivity and mobility is changing, if at all. As we venture from one corner of the city to another, we hope to take you out of your own neighborhood, showcasing how these different improvements are affecting life across the Mile High City. 

Depending on how the next seven years go, this might be a look into the future of human-centered and equity-concerned city planning. Will Denver provide a blueprint for building cities with inclusive transportation options? We can only hope that this type of people-focused change can open up the world for thousands of people everyday. That includes all those kids who just want to get to school safely before the bell rings. 


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