By Susan Shepherd and Debbie Ortega, Denver City Council
As a society, our public spaces are a reflection of who we are. They tell the story of how we care for our most vulnerable and demonstrate the value we place on the experiences that occur while walking along our streets or sipping a cup of coffee on a sidewalk café. The places that we share with each other can be great and they can be inspiring, but these same opportunities for greatness can also be lost when our public places are designed primarily for cars and not people.
The national “complete street”s movement seeks to address this very problem and advocates that streets be designed for the safety of all users — pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and motorists, which becomes especially important as more and more people are walking and biking to their destinations.
As members of the Denver City Council, we take this responsibility very seriously, a fact demonstrated by our recent vote to nominate bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure one of our top budget priorities for 2014.
With this decision, we are thinking about the diverse residents and visitors to the Mile High City: the student who is putting himself through school by serving food at a local restaurant, wants to live in the city, and could afford it if he gave up his car, but feels alternative transportation options are too limited to make that choice.
We also consider the older widow who has sold her home of many years because she could no longer care for it and has also chosen to give up her car. She would love to continue living in the neighborhood she raised her family in, where she has friends, but are there affordable housing options that are close to transit? Is the sidewalk network consistent enough for her to get around safely?
As a city, we need to remember that 40 percent of people do not drive, and the design of our streets should represent that. Those 40 percent are children, seniors, the disabled, people who can’t afford a car, and baby boomers and Millenials who are choosing not to own one.
Recently, with the rousing encouragement of the biking community, the Public Works Department changed direction and decided to pilot a protected bike lane along 15th Street. We hope to see more such pilot projects and that those projects become permanent.
In our role as council members, we’ll be doing our part to encourage an accelerated implementation of Denver’s bike and pedestrian plan, Denver Moves. Right now, only about 5 percent of the plan is implemented each year; we’d like to see that increase to at least 10 percent next year, with more in subsequent years. In order to accomplish that goal, it is essential that we hire more planners who focus solely on designing pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
We also hope to soon see an update to Denver’s right-of-way regulations so they prioritize pedestrian and bike uses above cars. This includes updating the permitting process for bicycle parking infrastructure. Also, when Denver hires a new chief traffic engineer, we will encourage Mayor Michael Hancock and the manager of Public Works, Jose Cornejo, to hire an experienced complete streets champion.
We’ve heard from so many parents, students, older adults, health officials, land-use experts, neighborhood activists and businesses who want to see safer, more accessible options for pedestrians, cyclists and users of alternative transportation. We are listening! There are also many organizations working in Denver to make your streets the places you love to be and safe for all users. Although by no means an exhaustive list, we encourage you to connect with Walk Denver, Bike Denver, the Transit Alliance, CNU Colorado, Denver B-Cycle, and the many other local complete streets advocates.
We need you to keep speaking for your streets, connecting with your city council representatives, your mayor, and others. Denver is ripe for this movement to complete our streets and move forward in designing them for people. You have a council that supports you; together we can take hold of this opportunity for greatness.
DenverUrbanism greatly appreciates the leadership and advocacy of Councilwomen Shepherd and Ortega and the rest of the Denver City Council for their support for better bike/ped infrastructure and safety improvements!