Denver, a mid-sized city by US standards, is one of America’s fastest-growing cities. Denver’s population is expected to increase by more than 30 percent by 2050, and the city faces the challenge of accommodating additional mobility needs. Fortunately, they have the opportunity to apply the lessons learned from their peer cities, such as Minneapolis, and reinvent themselves with transit-oriented developments, including high quality walking and cycling facilities and first/last mile connections, as well as reliable and convenient frequent transit services, which would distinguish Denver as a world-class city.
Last month, ITDP hosted an event at the Downtown Denver Partnership, titled ‘Future Denver: Getting People Near Frequent Transit’ featuring Minneapolis City Council President, Lisa Bender, alongside representatives from the Regional Transportation District (RTD), the city department of public works (DPW), and the regional council of governments (DRCOG). The convening included a presentation by Lisa where she shared challenges and progress made in her city, an assessment of indicators for sustainable mobility by Joe Chestnut from ITDP, as well as interactive discussions and a group brainstorming exercise on how to increase people near frequent transit in the city of Denver.
This event was held at a pivotal moment for Denver. The city has plans for a multi-modal transport network, encouraging mode shift to reduce single-occupancy vehicles (SOV) to 50% from the current share of 73% by 2030. Reaching this target will be a long process, requiring commitments to intermediate milestones accompanied by corresponding funding allocations.
While Denver’s population continues to grow, the city has not made significant progress toward reaching the lower SOV target. Increasing density around high-capacity transit-corridors, or “getting people near frequent transit” will be a key strategy to meet this objective. The 2016 mode split for the Denver metro region leaves a lot to be desired:
Source: U.S. Census Bureau (ACS 2016 Report) & Denver Mobility Action Plan
Like many American cities, Denver’s transit offerings are limited by car-oriented parking regulations. The city has historically allocated investments toward expanding suburban rail, however the land uses around the station areas are low density and include park-and-rides as required by CDOT. The parking around certain rail transit stations is so vast, it requires knowledge of specific destinations or imagination to trust what lies beyond the sea of asphalt. Municipal bonds used to pay for the rail build-out preclude redevelopment of the vast parking craters surrounding the stations. The bonds stipulate that the majority of funding be dedicated to public use (at least 90%), thereby preventing RTD from engaging private developers to construct mixed-use projects.
Source: ITDP (Data: GTFS)
ITDP benchmarked how Denver compares to other peers cities on a host of indicators, including the percentage of jobs near frequent transit with first/last mile connections made by walking and protected bicycle lane networks. Denver performs fairly well on many of the metrics, aside from the People Near Transit metric.
Other cities that perform well on the metric, including Minneapolis, have seen the results of setting intermediate goals and budget allocations to reach targets. Minneapolis is ahead of many other cities that were evaluated on the People Near Transit metric largely due to investing in quality walking and bicycling facilities, and designing bus services to connect high demand destinations to move closer toward achieving their mobility goals. Denver has set the goal to increase the percentage of bike and pedestrian commuters to 15%, and public transit to 15% respectively by 2030. Yet current funding allocations put into questions whether the targets will be reached.
Source: ITDP (Data: GTFS)
Minneapolis also has updated their comprehensive plan (2018), implemented a protected bikeway plan (2015) and complete streets policy (2016), allocated additional funding for parks and streets (2016), adopted parking reforms into their building codes (2015), and are beginning to implement a new zoning code that allows for accessory dwelling units, duplexes and/or ‘granny flats’ to address the supply of affordable housing.
Denver is now faced with the opportunity to reinvent themselves from a predominantly car-oriented city to one with transit-oriented developments, including high quality walking and cycling facilities as first/last mile connections, with reliable and convenient frequent transit services, distinguishing themselves as a city that truly puts people near frequent transit.