Antiquated to Elevated: Looking Forward

This is the final installment of the Streetsblog Denver series covering the Elevate Denver General Obligation bond. Every week, we’ll dissect 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. Read parts one, two, three, and four, five, six, seven, and eight

High density, advanced bike infrastructure and walkable neighborhoods—these are the hallmarks of a quality pedestrian-friendly city. Amsterdam, for example, is widely regarded as one of the best cities in the world for pedestrians. American urban areas like Denver have struggled to replicate these conditions, often resulting in dangerous and inequitable streets and a lack of real transportation choice. $400 million in transportation upgrades from the Elevate Denver General Obligation (GO) bond, however, could make serious changes to the pedestrian experience in the Queen City by the time the bond expires in 2027. This funding cannot transform Denver into a pedestrian haven overnight, but in looking ahead to the future of the Elevate Denver bond and particularly its effects on citywide mobility, there is hope for the state of transportation in Denver. 

Interviewees with Streetsblog over the last few months have consistently expressed excitement regarding the forthcoming transportation upgrades from the GO Bond. “These are entirely transformational changes across the whole city,” says Frank Locantore, the Executive Director of the Colfax Business Improvement District, when asked about the bond’s effects. Political leaders, community organizers and City staff are eager for these projects to be realized. It’s just a matter of when that will actually happen. 

On November 2, Denver City Council voted to accelerate the issuance of funds inside the Elevate Denver bond. Instead of releasing the planned $77 million for the fourth issuance, City Council issued $170 million to inject money into an economy that has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the City, this money will be used to keep over 1,800 people employed. This increase in spending means that for some, the projects they have been waiting on might be finished sooner than originally expected, although many projects are still years away from being completed.

As Streetsblog explored during the course of this series, a cornerstone of this package is the development of the project list by and for residents across the city. In the 2019 Elevate Denver Annual Report, Mayor Hancock reminded readers that this is not just an investment in concrete, bridges, and other tangible objects. Rather, “It’s an investment in what matters, both today and tomorrow,” he writes. “The core of a city is its people, and Elevate Denver is an investment in just that—our workforce, small businesses, and future generations.”

Furthermore, the bond process teaches us fundamentals about how to approach transportation planning and access. Involving community members in the process from the beginning was key to the success of these projects. Whether you find yourself in Baker or Globeville or Park Hill, there is something that each of us can do to make a difference for one’s community. Staying focused and resilient throughout the tumultuous and bureaucratic process can prove difficult at times, but the result is a transformation in the opportunities and access for neighbors, friends and families. 

This series only began to scratch the surface of some of the projects and stories behind the GO bond. Changes have already occurred or are just around the corner all over Denver, some very well in your own slice of the city. You can find a list of all the projects and information about them on the City of Denver’s Elevate Bond website. As discussed last week on Streetsblog, it can seem impossible to work together as a small neighborhood group to build a massive, expensive piece of infrastructure, and much smaller changes can feel equally tough. If anything, the Elevate Denver Bond process is a lesson in how small efforts over time from concerned residents do, in fact, make a difference. Cities are meant to be planned and built by those who experience it firsthand. If nothing else, the Elevate Denver process has proven that Denverites have the capacity to come together and make our city a more equitable and resilient place to live. We may not become the internationally-recognized pinnacle of pedestrian access anytime soon, but Denver can pave its way to 21st-century mobility and transit options with the help of those who want to see it succeed the most—her very own residents. 

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