The Mayor’s 2017 Budget

by Jill Locantore on September 21, 2016

A step in the right direction, but not nearly enough to meet transportation needs.

globeville-bus-stop-credit-wes-marshallAt the beginning of his second term, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock declared “New realities demand new ways of thinking, so we will be increasing our focus on mobility. That takes vision, that takes leadership and that takes significant investment.”

The City’s annual budget is where Mayor Hancock has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership and make a significant investment in projects that improve mobility for all Denver residents.  While the Mayor’s proposed 2017 budget [PDF] offers a few wins for Denver residents yearning for more safe, healthy, and convenient transportation options, overall it falls short. Below is our analysis.

Support for Vision Zero, but not on Colfax, one of Denver’s most dangerous streets.

148237_origPedestrians waiting to cross the railroad tracks at 47th and York.

Earlier this year, the Denver Vision Zero Coalition recommended specific items for inclusion in the 2017 budget that will further progress toward the goal of zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries. We are delighted to see several of these items in the Mayor’s proposal, including a staff position dedicated to Vision Zero; continued and potentially expanded use of photo red light and photo speed enforcement (a proven strategy for reducing serious crashes); and Safe Routes to School infrastructure improvements (traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for school-aged children).  We are particularly pleased to see funding for a safe pedestrian and bicycle crossing at 47th and York, currently a major hazard for students attending Swansea Elementary.

imagine-a-safer-colfax

A glaring omission, however, is funding for the infrastructure improvements along Colfax Avenue requested by the Vision Zero Coalition in partnership with the Colfax Collaborative, a joint effort of four Colfax Avenue Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) who work to make their districts clean, safe, and friendly. Colfax is currently one of the deadliest streets in Denver, with six fatalities in 2015.

The Colfax Collaborative has launched a petition requesting the inclusion of $500,000 in the 2017 budget for these projects.  This funding would pay for the design and engineering of enhanced pedestrian crossings at Fairfax, Adams, and Madison Streets along East Colfax, and at intersections between Utica and Osceola Streets on West Colfax.

Sign the petition today and add your voice to the hundreds of residents who want Colfax to be a safe and vibrant main street for people walking, biking, and taking transit.

Denver Deserves Sidewalks? Only adjacent to City-owned property.

46th-ave-and-shoshone-3Missing and substandard sidewalks at 46th and Shoshone in Denver’s Sunnyside neighborhood.

Nearly 3,000 individuals and 34 organizations signed on to WalkDenver’s Denver Deserves Sidewalks petition, calling upon the City to assume responsibility for building and repairing sidewalks (current policy places the burden on the adjacent private property owner), and to dedicate funding for this purpose. The Mayor’s budget allocates $2.5 million for sidewalks adjacent to City-owned property, which is certainly a step in the right direction. But as Colorado Public Radio recently noted, “that’s a really small amount compared to the $475 million needed for a complete system of city sidewalks. It’s one thing to say you’re committed to sidewalks, it’s another thing to put the bucks there. Is this city committing enough money to improving conditions for pedestrians?” We would say, “no.”

Ultimately, a lack of vision and strategic thinking.

The Mayor’s budget falls short of the funding needed not only for sidewalks, but for transportation infrastructure overall.  As the City continues to grow by leaps and bounds – 1,000 new households move here every month – our transportation system has not kept up.  Driving will inevitably get more difficult – there’s just a limit to how much space we can devote to cars in dense urban areas – which makes improvements to walking, biking and transit imperative.

Reflecting this reality, the Mayor’s 2020 Sustainability Goals include reducing trips in single-occupant vehicles (SOV) to no more than 60% of commutes. Recent data, however, shows the trend is in the wrong direction: the percent of workers in Denver who drove alone increased from 71.6% in 2005 to 73.0% in 2015. Reversing this trend will require a massive investment in pedestrian, bicycle, and transit infrastructure, to make up for decades of underinvestment in these modes.

denver-2020-sustainability-goal-mobility-chart

About one third of the transportation funding in the Mayor’s budget is allocated to pedestrian, bicycle, and transit projects.  While this is a substantial portion, the overall amount of funding for transportation projects – about $96 million out of a $1.92 billion budget – is woefully inadequate compared to the need.

As noted above, $475 million is needed just to build out the sidewalk network.  Projects in the Denver Moves Bicycles Plan add up to $119 million, compared to only $2.2 million allocated in the 2017 budget.  An untold amount is needed to build pedestrian and bicycle bridges over rivers, railroads, highways and other major barriers; to retrofit streets and intersections that are dangerous by design, encouraging speeding and other hazardous behaviors; and to provide frequent transit service to all Denver neighborhoods, not just between downtown and suburban communities. Clearly, the Mayor needs to grow the pie of funding available for transportation.

The Mayor could also allocate funding for walking, biking, and transit more wisely.  While the budget includes laudable one-time projects such as improved access to bus stops in Globeville, Elyria, and Swansea – low-income neighborhoods that have suffered from severe disinvestment – the budget completely lacks a programmatic approach to building out the full network of sidewalks, bicycle lanes, safe crossings, and other multimodal improvements desperately needed throughout the City.  This dearth of systematic thinking is perhaps most clearly illustrated by the allocation of $10 million for building curb ramps accessible to people in wheelchairs, which sounds great until you realize many of those curb ramps connect to substandard sidewalks inaccessible to people in wheelchairs, or to no sidewalk at all.

20160917_161834-croppedA brand new curb ramp to nowhere in Park Hill.

Overall, we are grateful to see Mayor Hancock allocating funding for projects that will make it safer and easier to get around Denver on foot, bike, or transit, but we’re disappointed to see such a low level of investment. The Mayor’s budget reflects a “status quo” mentality, not a vision for a world-class multimodal city.  In the Mayor’s own words, “that takes vision, that takes leadership, and that takes significant investment.”

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