Mayor Hancock’s big mobility plan
In his State of the City address Monday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock called for a major new-urbanist expansion of bus service, protected bike lanes and a completed and improved sidewalk system that is certainly bold — if not just a little too optimistic — and the kind of forward thinking our city needs. Details that explain how some key components of the plan are to work are forthcoming, and will need careful review, but the overall grand vision is an exciting one.
Hancock seeks to commit the city to spending $2 billion over 12 years on infrastructure. About $400 million of that would come from a $900 million bond package the mayor is asking the City Council to send to voters this election season. The city would increase its yearly spending on roads and transit from $75 million to more than $100 million. As always, officials would continue to look for state and federal funding.
The mayor also plans to create a new city department focused on mobility. Such a move, in place in other large cities, sounds reasonable, but much will have to be worked out with the Regional Transportation District.
A big component of the plan is to transform bus service on Colfax Avenue downtown into a dedicated bus rapid transit system to make room for bigger buses that run more frequently. The city has been studying the shift for years. Findings suggest that changes could improve transit travel time by 10 minutes. The findings are based on sequestering the far lanes in the corridor for buses only during the morning and evening rush hours, as is presently done for buses on Lincoln and Broadway.
We’ve expressed significant reservations about such a strategy, and look forward to seeing detailed plans later this summer. But who can doubt the corridor during rush hour is only getting worse? Should the mayor present a solution that drains car commuters from neighborhoods along its path — which also reasonably serves traditional commuters, and doesn’t overwhelm nearby streets — we would be happy to rethink our concerns.
The mayor also wants to address Denver’s broken sidewalk system. Presently, 23 percent of the city has no sidewalks. A working group assembled by the mayor is studying ways to find the money or the will to fix the problem. Legally, it’s up to homeowners to provide sidewalks, but the political headache of an enforcement-only approach has the group looking at other ideas, like a citywide tax to solve the $475 million problem.
Yes, it’s a little optimistic, and more than a little patronizing, to suggest that Denver can lure vastly more drivers in our sprawling city to either carpool or leave their vehicles altogether. Hancock wants to push down the current rate of single-car trips — at 73 percent — to 50 percent by 2030. We would hope that in the push to expand multi-modal options, traditional drivers who need and will continue to need their cars aren’t constantly referred to as part of the problem.
Denver’s population is expected to top 700,000 in coming months. And while growth slowed in 2016, it wasn’t by much, and remains on a better than 1,000-newcomers-amonth pace that makes planning for the future vitally important. We can’t sit back and call the present system — already too subject to gridlock — adequate for our needs. Waiting for self-driving cars to save the day won’t cut it.
With his mobility plan on the table, Hancock has presented a citywide approach to addressing this challenge. We look forward to more details, and the coming conversation.
Improved bicycle lanes and an expansion of bus service are parts of a mobility plan unveiled on Monday by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock.