Commentary: How a new emphasis on safer streets could drive big change in Colorado

Danny Katz speaking to KMGH Channel 7
Danny Katz

This guest commentary is by Danny Katz, Executive Director of CoPIRG (Colorado Public Interest Research Group) and Chair of the Denver Streets Partnership. Danny was born and raised in Colorado and lives in NW Denver. He is on LinkedIn and Twitter @dannykatzbc. Find CoPIRG on Facebook @CoPIRG and Twitter @CoPIRG. This piece was originally published at CoPIRG.org.


With the passage and signing of Senate Bill 21-110: Fund Safe Revitalization Of Main Streets, Colorado will add $30 million to the CDOT safe streets programs that put the safety of people first. This new injection of money builds momentum for the kind of transformation we need to see on our main streets and downtowns: change that needs even bigger investments over the next decade.

We need streets that are safe for everyone, whether you are walking, biking, rolling, riding transit, or using a car. Sign this petition to make all our main streets people-friendly.

Streets are for people.

Yes, we use them to travel through a community. But streets, especially our main streets, are also where people live, work, play, shop, sit outside, and enjoy the mostly sunny weather that makes the quality of life in Colorado so great. Unfortunately, too many of our streets are unsafe for people. Designed to maximize traffic throughput and vehicle speeds, many streets are barriers that unnecessarily endanger people’s lives every day.

Some streets are more dangerous than others. A handful of streets tend to make up the vast majority of the crashes that result in serious injuries and fatalities: a high-injury network. According to DRCOG’s 2050 Metro Vision Regional Transportation Plan, approximately 10% of roads in the Denver metro region make up the area’s high-injury network. They account for an astounding 71% of all fatal crashes and 82% of the crashes resulting in death or serious injury for people walking.

High injury network infographic from DRCOG 2050 Metro Vision Regional Transportation Plan
Source: DRCOG 2050 Metro Vision Regional Transportation Plan

Many of the streets that make up the Denver region’s high-injury network are urban arterials: streets like Federal, Colorado Boulevard, Colfax, and Wadsworth. These streets were originally state highways. As residents and businesses built up around them, they are now the equivalent of main streets for hundreds of thousands of people.

In addition to these urban arterials, many of our rural highways are the literal main streets of towns across the state. For example, just driving on state highways from Denver to Durango takes you straight through the heart of dozens of downtowns.

Focusing dollars on main streets in urban rural areas not only puts the dollars where we have our high-injury network and can prevent deaths and serious injuries, it also supports the quality of life for millions of Coloradans.

Enter two new CDOT programs focused on main streets. 

The Revitalizing Main Streets program was launched in June 2020 with an initial investment of $4 million to promote public health during the COVID emergency through socially-distant active transportation and economic development opportunities in downtowns across Colorado.

The Safer Main Streets program, launched last spring, is for building out sidewalks, adding safety signals, improving intersections, and increasing safe access to transit and bikeways on main streets across the Denver metro area. In December 2020, CDOT partnered with DRCOG to announce the initial thirty projects for the Safer Main Streets programs, totalling $59 million.

What they are funding is great. 

Here are some examples with descriptions from CDOT’s release:

  • Sidewalks – Installing new sidewalks and curb ramps with access for people with disabilities where sidewalks are missing or damaged on Federal Boulevard from US 285 to West Floyd Avenue
  • Protected Bike Intersection – In Boulder, add protected east and west bike lanes on Colorado Avenue between Regent Drive to east of 28th Street (US 36) intersection. Improvements also include rebuilding pedestrian refuge islands, new crosswalk and bike lane markings, new southbound left turn lane on Colorado Avenue and an additional traffic signal. 
  • Transit Access Improvements – Provide safe pedestrian and bicycle access along the US 287-120th Avenue corridor in Broomfield by improving and building sidewalks, pedestrian crossings and access to transit stops
  • Pedestrian Safety Improvements – Improve pedestrian safety in Denver by removing a through lane on West Mississippi Avenue between Eliot Street and Quivas Street, adding a raised-curb median and building out curb extensions
  • Shoulder Improvements for Bicyclists – Widening narrow shoulders with rumble strips in Douglas County will warn drivers when they are leaving the lane, provide refuge for drivers that need to pull off and a safer space on the shoulder for bicyclists and pedestrians traveling to and from Daniels Park Road and Happy Canyon Road

Project costs range from $248,000 to $10 million. Many of them move beyond just fixing a specific intersection and will invest dollars throughout a whole corridor. There’s an additional $18 million pending with announcements expected soon.

This is exactly how we should spend money to ensure our streets are safe and people-friendly.

With the new $30 million from the legislature, the total for both programs stands at $111 million. It feels like a lot, partly because we have so rarely focused dollars in this way.

These safety improvements can often seem like small stuff compared to the bigger rail, highway, and road repaving projects that dominate transportation budgets, which often are not worth the hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars those large projects receive. But these smaller dollar projects will have a real impact on people who live on main streets and downtowns or those who have to travel along them as part of daily life.

Downtowns, main streets, and the urban arterials that have become so many of our main streets should be vibrant community centers, but people need to feel safe accessing them, no matter how they get there. At some point, everyone is a pedestrian on a main street, grabbing food, accessing services, or enjoying the people and culture that make Colorado so great.

So while $111 million is a lot in comparison to past spending, it won’t overcome decades of underinvestment. Let’s take the next few years and focus our limited transportation dollars on making every downtown and main street people-friendly. We need to do two things to keep this momentum going. First, we need to get these dollars spent and these safety projects online quickly and ensure the initial goals are met. Second, we need Coloradans to contact elected leaders at the legislature, municipal level, the governor’s office, and CDOT to applaud them for this new emphasis and call for more.

I believe that Coloradans value the benefits of people-friendly main streets and downtowns where you can eat outside, stop in at a brewery, shop at a farmer’s market, attend a concert, play in a fountain, and access important services. However, I don’t think our decision makers fully recognize this, especially when you look at how little is being spent on the livability of main streets. That recognition is starting with $111 million and a couple of great new programs. It’s our job to ensure the momentum grows. Add your name to this petition, and let’s show them how important safer main streets are to us.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Danny Katz speaking to KMGH Channel 7

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