Widen Quebec Street? Yes, for dedicated transit lanes.

by Jessica Vargas on September 21, 2017

New bus lanes on Quebec could move more people, more safely on Denver’s East Side

Today, Quebec Street is an unpleasant place for just about everybody.  People driving are often stuck in congestion.  People taking transit rely on buses that are stuck in that same congestion, making service slow and unreliable. People walking are faced with missing or substandard sidewalks along 50% of the corridor, and people riding bikes have no dedicated facilities at all. To top it all off, Quebec is part of Denver’s High Injury Network – the 5% of streets where 50% of fatal traffic crashes occur.

For these reasons, the City and County of Denver has been studying Quebec Street for several years, and recently secured $23 million in federal and local funds for improvements between 13th Avenue and 26th Avenue. A Community Open House [PDF] on September 27 will kick off the next planning phase focused on selecting the best multimodal design option for the corridor.  

A major project like this is an important opportunity to make progress toward Mayor Hancock’s ambitious goals of reducing the percent of people who drive alone from work from 73% to 50% and eliminating traffic fatalities by the year 2030. Unfortunately, the City’s current proposal — to widen Quebec from two lanes to four lanes, add sidewalks, and create a parallel bike route on Syracuse — won’t move the needle on either of these goals.

While new sidewalks are great, widening roads is generally a bad idea.  Experience has shown time and again that adding lanes just generates more traffic, and congestion quickly returns to previous levels. Even worse, wider roads are significantly less safe, particularly for people on foot.  Wider roads encourage people to drive faster, and force pedestrians to cross longer distances while exposed to dangerous speeds. Simply adding lanes to Quebec will therefore only exacerbate the problems plaguing the corridor today.

On the other hand, adding new, dedicated transit lanes to Quebec could make the corridor work better for everyone. With dedicated lanes, bus service can operate much more rapidly and reliably, and can move many more people through the corridor than personal vehicles. The Denver Moves Transit planning process has already identified Quebec as one of 19 candidate corridors for major transit improvements. Whichever of these corridors rise to the top of the list, the City must find funding to implement the desired improvements, which could take many years to build out.  With $23 million already allocated for Quebec Street improvements, why wouldn’t the City use this funding to achieve a quick win for transit?  

Furthermore, this section of Quebec intersects with the planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Colfax.  Implementing rapid transit on both of these corridors simultaneously could jumpstart the buildout of an actual rapid transit network. Just like a street grid, transit creates the most freedom of movement when people can combine east-west and north-south routes to get wherever they need to go.

Dedicating new lanes on Quebec specifically for transit would also help improve the safety of the corridor.  Limiting personal vehicles to just one lane in each direction reinforces safe speeds and thereby reduces the likelihood of crashes that result in serious injuries or fatalities. Dedicated transit lanes also allow for additional traffic calming measures such as landscaped medians and pedestrian refuge islands, features included in the most recent plans for the Colfax BRT.

It would be tragic for the City to miss this opportunity to transform one of Denver’s major arterials into a safer, more people-friendly street that provides more and better options for getting around. The community’s voice matters – you can speak up and let the City know that any new lanes on Quebec should be dedicated for buses by attending the Community Open House [PDF] on September 27!

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