Denver’s Immobility Plan

Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock has issued what he calls a Mobility Plan. But if carried out, it will actually reduce the mobility of the residents of America’s nineteenth-largest city. Instead of doing anything to relieve congestion, the number one listed goal of the plan is to increase the share of commuters walking, cycling, or taking transit to work to 30 percent. Such a 146-percent increase over the current 12.2 percent is unattainable, so the plan ends up devoting most of the city’s transportation funds to forms of transportation that are either insignificant or obsolete.

Click image to download a 5.5-MB PDF of this plan.

The centerpiece of the Mayor’s plan is dedicated bus lanes on Colfax, Denver’s most important east-west street. Currently, buses carry about 22,000 people a day, more than any other corridor in Denver. But, as the Antiplanner noted recently, dedicated bus lanes can move than many people per hour, and even the 50,000 people per day that the city optimistically projects for Colfax isn’t enough to justify dedicating that much street space to buses.

Beyond this, the plan proposes to build new sidewalks and bike lanes, make streets narrower (which may be good for pedestrians but is bad for cyclists and motor vehicles), and rebuild a few intersections in the city to make them safer. Traffic congestion costs Denver-area residents more than $2 billion per year, but except for a minimally funded proposal to dynamically coordinate traffic signals, virtually none of the plan’s actions aim to relieve congestion.

This is the wrong way to plan. Instead of starting with an unattainable objective and then allocating funds as if it were attainable, the plan should set goals such as congestion relief and pollution reduction and then attempt to find the most cost-effective ways of achieving those goals. While the plan does have a goal of reducing emissions, there is no evidence that city planners made any effort to find the best way of reaching that goal.

As in so many other places, Denver’s transit ridership is declining even as the city proposes to spend even more on transit infrastructure. Ridership in the first six months of 2017 was 7.7 percent lower than the same period in 2016. Of course, the Antiplanner contends that shared driverless cars will reduce ridership to nearly zero, thus rendering any spending on transit infrastructure a complete waste.

The mayor’s plan pays lip service to driverless cars, saying the city will “work with the Colorado Department of Transportation, Panasonic Enterprise Solutions Co., and other partners to prepare for the introduction of connected and autonomous vehicles.” Wait, who? Panasonic Enterprise Solutions is a high-tech company that recently received millions of dollars in state and city subsidies to locate its technology center near Denver’s airport. So, after giving the company millions in subsidies, the city is promising to make Panasonic the preferred provider in whatever it is the company tries to sell.

Meanwhile, the mayor’s proposed 2018 budget would fund the reconstruction of three intersections, construction of 15 miles of bikeways, and a variety of other “multimodal projects.” In short, the mayor proposes to do very little for congestion relief.

Like it or not, 86 percent of Denver workers drive to work, and Denver residents use automobiles for an even higher percentage of other travel. City planners can’t wave a wand and suddenly double transit ridership and/or walking and cycling. So the city should plan for what people will do, not for what planners wish they would do.

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17 thoughts on “Denver’s Immobility Plan

  1. albert

    re: ” City planners can’t wave a wand and suddenly double transit ridership and/or walking and cycling.”

    That’s not really true. Cities have dramatically increased bike mode share, and some have done so quickly. Seville, for example, saw a 10x increase in about 36 months.

    Statements like this come off as pro-car. Instead of being pro-car, shouldn’t we be pro-PERSONAL MOBILITY? There are three (and only three) forms of personal mobility: walking, biking and driving.

    While cars are dominant – and I have no problem with that – I see no reason to throw the other two modes under the bus.

  2. prk166

    @antiplanner, you may want to keep an eye on the 61st and Pena station. It looks like Denver and Panasonic are putting out a lot of green PR on this development, implying that it’ll be ultra transit oriented like other Panasonic projects without making any real concrete claims.

    It’ll be interesting to see how they spin it. They’re building a TOD that’s 19 miles from downtown Denver. It could be handy for for some airline employees but even that’s not clear. The largest, best paid of those are pilots. I know quite a few of them. Not a single one takes or has interest in taking transit to work. In fact, several of them don’t live in their base city, so their commute to work doesn’t just involve a drive to the airport and employee shuttle bus but a flight just to get to work. I suspect that in not having to drive to work every day, the appeal of transit is lowest for them.

    Overall though it seems an odd thing to be doing, trying to square that hole where the city built a new airport 25 miles out of downtown when they already had a perfectly good one. Now there’s a giant light bulb 25 miles out from downtown attracting all sorts of development.

  3. prk166


    Based on guidance from Denver’s Strategic
    Parking Plan, implement innovations in pricing
    and regulations to better optimize both the
    supply of and demand for public on-street and
    private off-street parking, while respecting each
    neighborhood’s land use, mobility network,
    context and character

    Does this mean Denver is moving toward market pricing for street parking?

  4. prk166

    Sorry, on more, Mr. O’Toole did you see that the plan invoked the microtransit ( aka bridj ) buzzword? If Denver wants microtransit it seems like a cost free solution would be let loose those 14 passenger vans to roam and city as they find fit,.

  5. The Antiplanner Post author

    albert,

    Sorry, I should have made clear that I meant no city has doubled the transit+walk+bike share. Portland has more than doubled bike’s share, but some of that came at the expense of transit, so the share of the three modes did not come close to doubling. Since Denver is proposing a 150 percent increase of transit+walk+bike shares, I contend that is unattainable.

  6. JOHN1000

    Please note that ” the number one listed goal of the plan is to increase the share of commuters walking, cycling, or taking transit to work to 30 percent.” Who are they to declare that 30% of the population must travel the way the elitists decree?

    Whenever someone from high (whether it be the Politburo, Castro, etc.) says we will get the people to do something, they mean they will “force” people to do something – whether they like it or not.

    After blowing huge sums of money ineffectively, they will fail due to incompetency and the will of the people to do what they actually want to do. To achieve the 30%, they will have to either resort to force (or, to forcefully make it too difficult or impossible to drive a car).

    And when the 30% are now doing what the elitists want, they will then fail to provide the needed maintenance etc. while complaining that too many people are using the transit they were forced to use, and that is why it fails to work. We’ve seen all this before.

  7. CapitalistRoader

    Cities have dramatically increased bike mode share, and some have done so quickly. Seville, for example, saw a 10x increase in about 36 months.

    Seville: Winters are mild: January is the coolest month, with average maximum temperatures of 16.0 °C (61 °F) and minimum of 5.7 °C (42 °F).

    Denver: December, the coldest month of the year, has a daily average temperature of 29.9 °F (?1.2 °C). The average window for measurable (?0.1 in or 0.25 cm) snow is October 17 through April 27; although, measurable snowfall has fallen in Denver as early as September 4 and as late as June 3..

  8. the highwayman

    Frank: “There are three (and only three) forms of personal mobility: walking, biking and driving.”

    And skateboarding.

    THWM; Canoe could also be an option too if the origin and destination are close to water.

  9. prk166

    I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at. Minneapolis never built a new airport and has experienced large growth in passengers and departures during the same time period. Same with Vegas and some others. Denver spent some money on improvements the existing airport to handle it. Denver spent $10billion in 2017 dollars just to build the airport. They’ll have RTD spend another $7 billion to build + run a train to it for the next couple of decades. Heck, they even had to move some burrowing owls to get it built. You can’t put a price on those little guys losing a home. 😉

    The point being is that:

    a) Denver did not _have_ to spend what it did. Much if not all of it’s growth would’ve been captured via Stapleton.
    b) If the city is so worried about people driving, the last thing to do would be to have built that airport. I don’t think it’s an entirely crazy thing. I do find it crazy to create a city that from corner to corner spans more land than some countries and then go “oh no, how do we get people not to drive so much?!??!?!” Not have an airport half-way to Kansas would be a good start. And taxpayers would have another $10 or 20 B in their pockets to boot.

  10. prk166


    Biking in Denver… I don’t see that as a year round option.
    ” ~ NoDakNative

    There’s year around bikers in places like MPLStown and Boston. Denver’s winter is fairly mild compared to those. It’s not as practical as driving but it’s not that crazy. A pugsley with studded tires, some lobster gloves, ski goggles and marine grease and you can do it year around regardless of the conditions. And all that will cost you no more than a bottom of the bin clunker of a car.

    But ya, it’s hard to picture large numbers of people doing that at any point in time, let alone anytime soon.

  11. Billll

    Denver is very much anti car with limited parking and high rates. People are clever though, and drive to the park-n-ride nearest their destination and use transit for the last mile. I just attended a week long conference in Denver with presentations scattered all over town and what I’m seeing is this: Getting from one side of downtown to the other by transit is frequently impossible. It’s geared to getting you to a single point and leaving you there until quitting time. Driving is prohibitively difficult unless you have a pre-paid spot from your employer. Without that, it’s just prohibitively expensive. The work-around seems to be the low-powered scooter which appeals to the ladies as well as the men, requires no license plate, and is allowed to park at any of the numerous bicycle stands on the sidewalks. And yes, with the right gear, bike season is pretty much all year round.

  12. prk166


    As in so many other places, Denver’s transit ridership is declining even as the city proposes to spend even more on transit infrastructure. Ridership in the first six months of 2017 was 7.7 percent lower than the same period in 2016. Of course, the Antiplanner contends that shared driverless cars will reduce ridership to nearly zero, thus rendering any spending on transit infrastructure a complete waste.
    ” ~anti-planner

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