Denver has a parking problem. The problem is that everyone wants free parking and they want the city to provide it. The problem is that we’ve written free parking into the zoning code in the form of parking minimums for all new developments outside of downtown. The problem is that we’ve built our lives on the theory that every place we go will have abundant free parking. We’ve even built our neighborhoods with the expectation that we’ll always have convenient free parking on the street in front of our homes and businesses.
But why is this a problem? Why shouldn’t we expect free and abundant parking everywhere throughout the city? Is this not America? Do we not have freedom and cars? Did our founding fathers not say we are entitled to life, liberty, and the parking space in front of our house? I’m glad you asked.
*pulls up podium*
*starts slide projector*
Parking is not the solution to our woes, it is the cause of our traffic. Parking is why our streets are packed with cars. After all, why take the bus when there’s free parking right out front of my destination? Why walk to the neighborhood shop when I can easily park at the mega-lot in front of the big box store? Why ride my bike to work when the building has a multi-story garage just waiting to be filled and is otherwise empty and wasted space? In summary: parking encourages driving, which creates traffic. Traffic clogs our streets because there is little incentive to use other modes or find alternate destinations. Stop with the parking and the traffic will be reduced.
Parking is not the solution to our woes, it is cause of our poverty. Parking is why our budget is screwed up. After all, who pays more taxes, parking lots or businesses? Parking lots or homes? Parking lots or literally anything else? Even parks add beauty to a city. Even utilities add function. Parking adds asphalt, which is mostly empty, which rips the fabric of neighborhoods into isolated shreds, and which reduces the amount of space in the city devoted to productive use. Stop with the parking and the budget will improve.
Parking is not the solution to our woes, it is the cause of our isolation. By supporting car parking over housing we exclude people from our city. After all, how do we increase housing when we force entrepreneurs to spend tens of thousands of dollars on parking spots instead of homes, or businesses, or amenities? How do we meet neighbors when we’ve only got thirty seconds in between them opening the car door and then walking into their houses? How do we meet the neighborhood kids when it’s too dangerous for them to play on the street? Stop with the parking and our social contact will increase.
Our neighborhoods are falling apart, in some cases are being torn apart, by the addition of parking. It’s expensive, it causes congestion, it causes pollution, it causes unsightly and untended garbage, it isolates people in places that feel unsafe, and it leaves no space for building relationships or even for meeting new people. Stop with the parking and our fortunes will turn.
Parking is not the solution to our woes, it is the ugly destroyer of our city.
mostly agree….. but our bus system is pretty awful. for example, getting from wash park or cherry creek north to union station is at least 45 minute endevour requiring switching buses…. we need to invest in more direct bus routes to/from where people actually want to go!
And reducing/charging for parking, will encourage people to take the bus and when ridership increases, so will the quality of service. It is a chicken or the egg conundrum to some extent though.
Certainly the older I get the more confused I (still) am over which came first: the chicken or the egg?
John, I think you have already laid out your critique of Denver’s oversights following assumptions around car-only-planning and how that kind of planning has hurt the city (i.e. huge, dead-zone parking lots, deferred transit investment, etc). BUT you have not devised an actionable alternative vision for what Denver needs to do address its transit issues within the reality that Denver has been built within the suburban model of driving in private automobiles for decades. You are not addressing the demand problem – people still want and many still need cars to get where they need to go. Denver is not going to make itself a more desirable place to live, nor its downtown a successful case in mixed-use development, if we just build and ignore parking. People will vote with their wallets to invest in places where there is at least some parking.
I agree with Phil, Denver really is in need of a reshuffle of its bus network that better connects suburbs not just with Downtown but also other regional job hubs like Cherry Creek and the Tech Center. Right now, the bus system takes far too much longer than driving for most trips that anyone who can drive, probably will unless they are going from their house to downtown. We cannot just undo the problems of reliance on the car simply by not building more parking – this was something I articulated on your last post “Choosing to Build Two Parking Spaces or Two Bedrooms Shouldn’t Be Difficult”. People who can afford cars WILL continue to buy and use them for the foreseeable future. Transit around Denver has not progressed enough to where enough of the city is connected seamlessly enough for people to live without them. Sure, maybe they can commute with the bus or the light rail, but they are still going to want to drive to the mountains to ski/hike, they are still going to drive to that random store across town that has that unique item they need quickly. For most people, they are still going to drive to the pharmacy or grocery store simply because right now given where they are in Denver, using transit to get what people need is still too hard. and takes too long.
Getting Denverites to ditch their cars completely is not going to happen – too many still want them for some part of their week, even if they just use it on weekends to drive to the mountains. We get your case on the problems of parking – yes, the automobile and the planning mindsets that came with it was really killing our cities – but the damage is done, and now we need to look to grow well and learn from it. Your time would be better spent figuring out and articulating how to make transit better so people will choose to use transit for more trips that they are currently doing with their cars. More transit and less driving is should be the goal, not making it harder for people to find housing with a parking spot. So let’s figure out what FasTracks 2 is – articulate how Denver can improve its bus network, what cities it can look to, etc. Where in Denver would a streetcar make sense – Cherry Creek, Capital Hill, Downtown, and Highlands? How much of RTD’s rail system should be extended? Should the G-line go to Golden? What outside-the-box thing can RTD do to get the B-line extension going? Finally and most importantly, how can we help RTD foster a transit culture in Denver like Seattle does without making their same mistakes? These are questions that an examination would be useful, people get that Denver has a parking and housing supply problem. The market is arguably working on the supply of housing, we need to help RTD and Denver get the transit.
Well the problem, James, is that if you build more suburban crap with plenty of free parking, it will not foster a successful transit system. Only cities without loads of parking are successful with transit and walkability. Anything that is close to a train station should have low parking requirements and anything say, more than a 10 minute walk, should have higher parking requirements. We can make Denver a walkable city, but a strong built environment must come first.
I said nothing about “suburban crap”, you are simplifying my argument to a point that is intellectually disingenuous. I would modify your statement from “Only cities without loads of parking are successful with transit and walkability” to cities that focus on allowing people to go about their day and to get what they need without having to drive are most successful. These are two different things – the way Denver grew in the past would not permit a corrective action where we just start getting rid of residential parking (though an argument with limited commercial parking might be a little more realistic depending on the density of the neighborhood). There is no way most people can go about their weekly routines without a car in Denver – some people can commute with transit, few can live without cars.
I have a huge problem with your statement: “Anything that is close to a train station should have low parking requirements”. Draconian regulations like that exclude people who live in the suburbs. How exactly are we supposed to get suburban residents on trains if they cannot get to the train stations? These TOD principles are so exclusionary when applied like that. The whole purpose of having suburban light rail stations with park & rides further outside the city is to allow people who do not live within walking distance of a train to drive, park, and take the train in. This keeps cars out of downtown which is a major goal we are supposedly trying to support! We cannot undue the errors in judgment of past development by making it hard for people who cannot afford to live downtown or by shiny, new TOD and exclude them from transit access. We need to build realistically, and parking is going to be part of a solution in at some stops (Although obviously not all).
I think I agree with your statement “We can make Denver a walkable city, but a strong built environment must come first.” But we need to build within the reality that Denver has been built without transit for decades – building transit while ignoring that accessibility problem for people who will not live within walking distance of a train will be self-defeating.
James… Wow, I am so impressed with your reasoning and ability to articulate it.
Bcuz i’m a big transit fan I devised a $15.5 billion metro “transportation” plan (over 25 years) of which $6.5 billion would go to RTD. The intent was to find a plan that would pass the voters smell test, always critical when you’re asking for higher taxes. City of Denver ofc can do some things for themselves but RTD will be needed to do the heavier lifting. http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showpost.php?p=7654458&postcount=9988
Transit infrastructure is so dang costly and if it’s not that it’s the recurring operating and maintenance costs. It just does take boatloads of money.
James, the solution is mentioned in your examination of the problem. Because we are so sprawled out, we don’t have the density (both in people and taxable property value) to financially support high intensity transit infrastructure to most major destinations in the metro. So we are limited to piecemeal solutions that perpetually don’t do enough to support a completely car free life styles.
So the solution is twofold, we need to first redesign and reinvest in our public transit systems, and begin building it around the major destinations in the metro area. This includes both current major job/recreation/entertainment/education/transport centers, and those areas that show great promise to become some. The goal would be to create redundancy and efficiency in the systems by building high speed, grade seperated transit corridors between each destination and it’s nearest 3-5 other major destinations. The high speed grade seperation on the major corridors allows for the time travelled on public transit to be time competitive to driving (similar to how flying is much faster despite waiting around most of the time). We then build out last mile transit connections within .5 of 90% of citizens in the region. This does not have to be high speed, and could simply be a reconfiguration of our current bus system with frequencies of no less than 15 minutes. These two solutions would make it the same or faster to travel on public transit and would shore up the major argument for transit, which is that it is too slow.
However, this solutions is ridiculously expensive and financially feasibly under our density levels because everyone would have to pay too much to build it, and ridership wouldn’t be enough to pay for it. This is where John’s (and all urbanist’s) proposition of removing unnecessary density barriers to significantly increasing the physical density of people, businesses, and the built environment comes into play. By building and living denser we allow enough people to live in an area for their ticket revenues to begin making the financial feasibility work. Additionally, and unlike freeways, adding lanes, and the car environment, public transit actually gets better from a fiscal and utilitarian standpoint as more people use it. When more people need it, the service frequency/capavity increases, and cost per rider goes down/begins covering more of its subsidies. And because of the nature of the perpetually densifying built environment surrounding and supported by rail transit, we can continually add more people and taxable property immediately surrounding the infrastructure to support the future investments necessary improve speed and increase capacity.
Whereas, the very nature of an auto dependant transportation system only allows for low density sprawled out built environments that doesn’t allow for the necessary densification to support the future investment requirements (think about the costs per person, right now, of expanding our freeway systems). The added benefit of building more dense and mixed use is that we can completely eliminate the need to take either transit or private vehicle for simple trips to the grocery store or pharmacy since people can simply walk or bike.
As mentioned, this is a bit of a chicken and the egg situation because we currently don’t have the density (and financial power) to support a metro-wide investment in high intensity transit infrastructure. The goal should be using almost all of our future transportation dollars to increase the speed, capacity, access, and redundancy of our current systems and focus our capital expenditures on lines that have the highest ridership potentials (think Cherry to downtown, Boulder to everywhere, downtown to the mountains, CC/DU/DTC/Golden to airport, etc).
We need to be advocating for a much smarter use of our transportation dollars than just adding more lanes. We need to begin to think about capacity from a people basis and not a car basis. We need to think about cost of infrastructure per added capacity (hint, sidewalks move the most people for least amount of money). We need to start building where people are and people want to go to increase ridership and fiscal feasibility. We need to build in ways that nullify the arguments against public transit being slow, inefficient, inaccessible, and that is doesn’t go anywhere besides downtown. We need to invest in public transit that goes deep into the mountains so people can go hiking, skiing, biking, etc without being required to have a private personal vehicle to get them there.
These are the solutions to the problem. They won’t be easy, quick, or cheap to fix in the short term, but in the long run, the other way leads to financial ruin.
Tony, I 100% agree with you; this is what I want DenverUrbanism to write more about – to articulate actually HOW to “increase the speed, capacity, access, and redundancy of our current systems and focus our capital expenditures on lines that have the highest ridership potentials”. Creating plans and maps for new/altered transit corridors would be so interesting, and comparatively more productive in my opinion. They have not written about that in too long – too many pieces here are just echoing the problems we know we have without offering nuance. “Removing unnecessary barriers to density” does not include getting rid of people’s ability to park somewhere on their property, that is unrealistic and will fail based on how Denver is currently designed and where demand is. What I think is achievable is being selective in what we invest in – maintain roads of course, but invest in ways where BRT, streetcars, and other transit modes will benefit most from every dollar spent. So I agree not to blindly widen roads as the fix, but the fix is not to stop building housing with convenient parking.
My point was that these parking articles are a little misled and even a little pointless. Denver knows it has a problem with availability of parking, but people who can afford cars are not going to give them up. Demand for weather-protected, underground parking spots downtown will continue and we need to let the market build that – people who can afford to own cars will not pay for housing where it is inconvenient to park so I think we need to stop spending time acting like that is a solution while we ignore demand. Therefore, I think DenverUrbanism needs to explore exactly what you said – more about how transit CAN be improved and where dollars can go furthest. We need to go beyond saying that parking and blind road-widening is bad – more of these articles need to offer specific solutions for specific parts of the city.
John, I’m afraid you’re living in a fantasy world. If we “stop with the parking,” then just where the heck are we supposed to put our cars? We still need a place to put our cars, John. Perhaps there are certain households that don’t necessarily need one car for every adult in the household. Perhaps those of us who are wealthy enough to live downtown can walk or bike more often than we drive. For most of us however, attempting to live without a car substantially reduces our quality of life. It forces us to take the bus. In other words, it forces us to spend an hour getting some place that would otherwise have been a 10-minute drive away. It makes certain parts of suburbia virtually inaccessible.
I can speak from personal experience. I have a chronic health issue that prevents me from being able to drive a car. I take the bus everywhere. I take it to my physical therapy appointments; I take it to the grocery store; I take it everywhere. I waste hours every day on those buses. Sometimes it’s not so bad because I get lucky and don’t need a transfer. But it can also be very unpleasant – perhaps because I have to deal with multiple transfers on a stormy day, or perhaps because I have to deal with an unpleasant odor or riffraff that lacks a sense for other people’s personal space. (Although I suppose the latter is just life in the city.) I don’t live in an urban bubble. The vast majority of this metropolis consists of car-oriented suburbia. I have family and friends that live there; I have vendors that are located there, and man, they sure seem so far away now that I can’t drive there. I really hate to stereotype the people I see on the bus every day, but I would venture to guess the vast majority are taking the bus only because they have to either due to poverty or disability. Honestly, I’m sick of the bus. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to drive again so getting around is no longer so difficult.
I consider myself an urbanist. In my fantasy where I get to play simcity with Denver, there’s a downtown subway connecting Union Station to Civic Center Station. There are street cars running along Colfax, Speer, Broadway, etc. The whole system runs more frequently, and actually runs on schedule (unlike now – try risking a 5-minute transfer when you need to be some place on time and see what happens). It’s so convenient that most people opt to use it in lieu of driving. The city becomes so dense that due to increased traffic (which happens organically – not because of bad public policy that punishes people for driving,) public transportation is actually often quicker than driving. But that fantasy is unfortunately still a very long way from becoming a reality. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime. In the meantime, most of us will still need a place to put our cars.
I should note that I don’t support mandatory parking minimums. A developer should be allowed to not include parking. But I wonder how often they would if it were allowed. I’ll bet not very often. Real estate without parking is a hard sell in this town.
(BTW I love these conversations.)
I would “like” this if I could, I totally agree with you! Build more transit and make it more reliable, accessible, and comprehensive. Let’s not try to pretend that “ending parking” will increase quality of life or make Denver a more desirable place to live. There has to be a compromise that accepts reality of how people move AND encourages those who can drive less to drive less.
Ha! The sacred cow of parking makes even the Urbanists into idolators!
The complaints I hear seem to break down into “people want their cars”, “transit isn’t good enough”, “the city isn’t built for it”, “the mountains”, and “it’s unrealistic”.
Of course people want their cars – especially when we’re absolutely willing to build cheap and accessible parking literally everywhere. Stop building parking and when people find it easier to change their method of transportation or their destination they will. This won’t happen overnight but rather over time as people see a need and an opportunity. As in, “Wow, it’s a real pain in the butt to drive to the barbershop (or the restaurant, or the grocery store, or my job), I wish there were one nearby…” but as long as we write enormous amounts of parking into the code for every new building people will continue to drive until the streets are gridlocked with cars. Which by the way they are already during rush hour. Question: if we add 27 new skyscrapers downtown with 1000 parking spaces each to allow every employee to park what do you think happens to the downtown street grid with 27000 more cars on it? It doesn’t work. Build those skyscrapers without parking though and now you have 27000 people who need a better way to get to work. Bam – demand for transit.
But transit sucks, you say. I think Tony put it well up above. There’s no need to demand and receive excellent transit when it’s super easy to park at my destination. I’ll just drive, adding to street traffic and becoming increasingly frustrated by everyone else also driving because it’s still easier to park than ride the bus. And if any pedestrians crossing the street slow me down, well, we’ve seen how that works out.
The city isn’t built for it. Well, that’s because we keep building the city for cars. Step one is to stop building the city for cars. That includes parking, which should be self-evident. Once we allow developers (who aren’t in the game to lose money) to build developments with the parking needed (maybe none) rather than the parking required then people’s habits will shift. Again, currently there’s not reason enough for a car driver to shift modes.
The mountains. This is actually the easiest fix. Rentals. I can rent a cheap car (or join a club) to go to the mountains any time I want. More people sharing the car (me this weekend, someone else next weekend when I have to work) means less need for parking. It means saving money on insurance and maintenance, which means more money to spend on local, walkable businesses because I’m not maintaining a vehicle to drive five blocks to the grocery store and back because parking is so convenient.
It’s unrealistic. Under our current regime (I mean system of thought, not persons in power although that too to some extent) you’re right. No one wants to give up their short term parking convenience in order to have a physically healthier, economically stronger, socially more vibrant, and fiscally more solvent city in the medium to long term.
In my mind it boils down to this: everyone wants the carrot (sidewalks, bike lanes, great busses) but no one wants the stick (less travel lanes, reduced parking). We’re not going to move the city without both, and now is the time to do it, while we’re in the painful transition, rather than later when we’ve screwed it up even further by stalling when we should be acting.
Here’s the problem I have with your argument, John: What you’re basically suggesting is making mode of transportation A more appealing than (the currently much more efficient) mode of transportation B by impeding mode of transportation B. Once our ability to use mode B is hindered to the point where it has become less efficient than mode A, only then will mode A begin to look more appealing in comparison – even if it’s every bit as inefficient as it was before mode B was hindered. (And just think how many decades this would take it in Denver’s case.) What you’re suggesting is a near-term, yet decades-long, downgrade to our overall transportation system. I’m suggesting an upgrade.
Another problem I have with your argument is you’re implying that if developers are including parking, the city cannot become conducive to public transportation. This is wrong. What makes a city conducive to public transportation is density. If Denver continues to grow and densify at a rapid pace, it will continue to become more conducive to public transportation – even if developers are continuing to include parking (as long as it’s not surface parking). It will happen organically.
Every development is essentially a product. These products are brought to market based upon demand. Commercial real estate development is a tricky and very risky business. Smart, successful developers do their research to find out exactly what is in demand, and where it is in demand, before they build. In Denver, the demand is there for parking. You don’t want parking minimums? Great, neither do I. They’re not needed; I agree. And we happen to have a neighborhood right here in Denver with no minimum parking requirements that we can examine. It’s the densest, most well-connected neighborhood in the city: the central business district. Is it conducive to public transit? Absolutely. Is it dense? Very. Are its developers hindered by parking minimums? No. And yet virtually every major new development includes parking. Why? Because there is demand for it. It takes a hell of a lot longer to sell hundreds of condos if they don’t come with parking. And it takes a hell of a lot longer to lease hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space that doesn’t include parking (I don’t know if it’s even possible). This puts the whole financial feasibility of the development at risk. This discourages developers from developing – which not only slows development, but hurts the local economy. What also hurts the local economy is degrading the overall transportation system by impeding what is by far the most efficient transportation option, without first upgrading its alternative. The urban core becomes much less accessible and therefore less competitive with other markets and, ultimately, this urbanist utopia we wish to create, in which the city is dense, the neighborhoods are all very walkable and connected by transit, and cars are not necessary, takes longer to come to fruition.
All we need is the carrot, John. We don’t need to artificially force a stick into the equation. The stick will come on its own as the city continues to grow, as automobile traffic continues to increase, and most importantly, as the city continues to densify.
Building better transit is absolutely part of the equation. But I disagree with your last point. I believe we need both carrots and sticks. Actually, I’m not even sure if what John is talking about is really a stick. It’s really just exposing the reality of how excessively we’ve been favoring the automobile at the expense of all other modes. If automobile driving had to grapple with the barriers, disincentives, and lack of resources we’ve saddled the other modes of transportation, more people would reconsider how they get around. Let’s be clear about our goal here: We absolutely want to reduce the mode share of the automobile. We economically, spatially, and environmentally cannot sustain allowing every individual who lives or works in the urban core to get around primarily in their own car. To make that mode share shift happen in a meaningful way, we must use both carrots and sticks.
I wish I could post a photo on this page of my wife and I snowshoeing this past weekend. It was lovely in Rocky Mountain National Park. We were able to get there, and to all our hiking and camping trips without owning a car. We haven’t owned a car since 1998. We rented a car this past weekend. And, if you need a recommendation for where to rent, Avis at 19th and Broadway is great. Owner Lisa is superb and the check in and out (especially if they have your info in the system) is painlessly quick. There are multiple bus lines that can get you to Avis, or Bcycle stations are nearby.
It is possible to go shopping for food, clothes, booze, etc. without a car. Door to Door Organics food delivery, rental cars, car share programs, transit, are all achievable.
The saddest thing in the world to me is when we gather together as a community to discuss opportunities, aspirations, and other neighborhood issues and, regardless of the topic, the conversation always, always devolves to talking about parking. It makes me want to scream.
Challenge 1: Next time you are at a community meeting, talk about access and transportation to a particular place. Driving is ONE manner of getting to a place.
Challenge 2: Next time you are putting directions on an invitation to a meeting, party, etc., start with direction via transit – show the bus routes/rail lines that service the area. Encourage your visitors/travelers to use the “Transit” option on Google Maps when planning their trip.
We’ve saved oodles of money by not paying for insurance, parking, car payments, etc. That’s been nice, especially since businesses, movie theaters, and doctor’s offices downtown never offer to “validate” my transit or give me a free bus pass after my patronage, but they always offer to validate my parking.
The means to achieve a “transition” from a city with a transit culture in its infancy to a city where there is a developed transit culture around a robust mass transit system that people rely on is the key point of contention here. No one here is idolizing parking, the fact we are here is that we all share a vision of a more dense, and urban Munich/Tokyo-ized Denver. Freddie and myself were acknowledging how Denver grew differently for the past 50 years compared to the European and Asian cities we are trying to emulate and that we feel that many comments here sound like they are looking to skip steps in order to get to the goal we agree on. The ideas so far seem punitive to your average reader – to deliberately make commuting by car (the mode for the vast majority of Denverites) worse by removing lanes and parking – which sounds to your average Denver commuter like their driving experience will be more painful: slower driving which will take longer with fewer places to park…this is what is being offered as Denver’s traffic solution before anyone else has articulated how to build a transit system alternative that works for the people who are currently not riding transit. To me, it is clear that such a message (and such strategy if it became one) will fail – both politically and practically. To people who drive now, this does not sound better.
The biggest problem is that if the transition is not offered with a transit solution for enough people (where a real, convenient, and working transit system is in place), then we’re just making things worse – the transit solution has to be superior. Transit will have to be better than driving otherwise people are not going to switch to transit. If it takes longer and is less convenient, people are simply not going to do it. Trying to use institutions to force this is not going to work either – Seattle is a great example of what happens when transit does not keep up with growth and the entire transit situation is intolerable for everyone once the roads clog up – Denver needs to avoid this, not make that happen prematurely. The reality is that if the government tried to take away lanes and parking without a robust multi-modal transit system on the horizon, people would throw a fit and the backlash against transit and TOD would be severe. We do not want to set ourselves back.
We need an alternative system first BEFORE we start talking about building housing without parking. People need to be able to get from point A to B. Most of them don’t personally care about transit, it isn’t universally seen as a good or necessary thing by most people. We need to convince them that its better – so let’s talk about that first – how are we going to make transit work in Denver – what modes go where, what needs to be built next, and how are we going to pay for it. THIS is what DenverUrbanism should write about – we need to sound like we’re being constructive rather than punitive.
All this chicken-and-egg ranting about driving-versus-transit options ignores that most of Metro Denver has not yet reached “Critical Mass” in density. Having lived and worked in much bigger cities — DC and LA — where traffic and parking are far worse than in Denver, I’ve experienced that the simple answer is that getting around has to get much harder and costlier, before expensive mass transit gets built. But thinking that higher densities will eventually force local governments into making transportation work better is a fantasy. DC has arguably the best Metro rail system in the country, and car traffic in the city and all around the Beltway is terrible — and parking is almost as costly as in Manhattan. On the other hand, LA, the Car Capitol of the Universe, is finally a building massive rail system, which will never catch up to the choking car traffic across Southern California. San Francisco, Boston — car-impossible cities — have pretty good mass transit for many, but not everyone. The point is, the bigger the city, the worse the traffic, the parking, the congestion, no matter how good the mass transit. Most of the bloggers here seem to think there are easy solutions to urban problems. The reality is, the bigger the city, the worse the congestion, the higher the costs. And Denver is growing fast, and so are its problems.
I don’t think it’s a chicken and egg scenario. If you want better public transit, build better public transit.
Before I comment on the topic, I want to clarify my comment in the context of the article. When I read the article, I saw references to “the city”, which I took to mean the city of Denver. For those who are stating that this can’t apply to suburban cities, you are correct: it would be too impractical.
Now, for the most part I agree with the sentiment of the article, but I think it better applies to free parking than to all parking. Parking is a commodity and, in a city with limited space, it needs to be priced accordingly. Mandatory minimums also fits in there because it forces subsidization of free parking. When people are not cognizant of the true cost of parking, than they come to expect it to always be free.
However, it is not just about should free parking be restricted (eliminated), or transit be improved, or trying to accomplish both at the same time. Yes, but it is also about land use. Establishing potentially car-free lifestyles in neighborhoods cannot be accomplished by just improving transit enough so residents can take a bus everywhere they need to go rather than driving. Neighborhoods need to be walkable with walkable destinations so that a person can satisfy their daily needs by walking to them and just leave commuting for work or to specialty/unique destinations. And there is another hurdle. With the citywide rezoning in 2010, the city established mixed-use zoning in neighborhoods that had mixed-use/commercial areas. For the most part, those areas can’t grow organically without a rezoning, thereby limiting a neighborhood’s potential to become more walkable. And if an existing commercial building is redeveloped or torn down, than the existing business might have to move to another neighborhood if there is not more mixed-use space. For example, the most recent neighborhood plan for Sunnyside identifies commercial/mixed-use corridors. However, the zoning is mixed-use for only portions of those corridors.
What I would like to see is how walkability (i.e. walkscore) and transit (score or actual high frequency lines) intersect and overlap or not. Do those “main street” type areas (pockets, streets, etc.) that currently within neighborhoods align with bus lines? If not, how large is the gap? What is the potential for those “main street” type areas to expand? How can the city designate permanent transit corridors through neighborhoods so that people and businesses will know that is where transit will always be?
Capital Hill is Denver’s densest neighborhood, is arguably the most vibrant, authentic, and livable, and there is a huge “shortage” of parking. It’s also made lists of top 10 most beautiful neighborhoods in the US. How many Denver neighborhoods would be considered beautiful? It’s a short list.
How many American suburban neighborhoods in general would be considered beautiful? Much less, the neighborhoods with average incomes under 250k/year – how many of those suburbs with people who aren’t rich living in them would be considered REALLY beautiful? I personally find even the McMansions of Los Angeles, Dallas, and Houston’s richest suburbs to be kind-of tasteless and ugly but I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Capital Hill was built before the automobile became mainstream – of course it is going to be designed to be more walkable with cars being peripheral – it wasn’t designed where parking was a factor. I have a bunch of friends who live there – it’s still relatively affordable and guess what, ALL of them have cars because aside from the 1 or 2 who work downtown, everyone else’s commute would take 45+ minutes longer without their car. The two who work downtown still own cars that they use every weekend to go up to the mountains. Capital Hill’s age is not evidence for it being a model for how the rest of the Denver suburbs should be – if the vast majority of the rest of Denver was built around the automobile, then the neighborhoods that try to buck the trend without any sort of compromise will not work as well.
Building neighborhoods without parking or just street parking should not be the model, at least not while the rest of Denver relies on the car – that is skipping steps. We should be looking to use square footage more efficiently to be certain, but underground parking or garages where the house just has an extra floor is done all across the world and is efficient enough within the market to be replicated over and over.
No Urbanist can really win against real arguments based on demand, even if they contradict their worldview. Denverites, those that live downtown and in the suburbs, are not going to give up their cars. I don’t care how walkable their neighborhood, how easy it is for them to get groceries, or how close they live to work. To be clear, I want urbanists to support all those things – we want to promote density, mixed-use development, and reliable transit access that connects to major job centers. BUT, even for many of the people who want to live that lifestyle, the VAST majority of whom will still have cars. Even if they use them just on weekends, there will be enough of a value judgment based on convenience that they will demand SOME parking. With the numbers that exist on how Denverites commute and the amount of households that use cars, we are kidding ourselves if we think we are going to get a considerable amount of them to just stop.
You are combining two different types of residential areas that should be treated differently: (1) downtown Denver and most of the neighborhoods within the city of Denver and (2) the outer portions of the city and the suburbs. The first group could be less dependent on cars and even car-free, not only for commuting but for everyday needs, if transit (frequency, infrastructure, more destination-beyond-downtown routing), walkability (ease of walking around), and walkscore (walkable destinations) were all improved concurrently. Portions of the west side suburbs (Lakewood, Wheatridge) could also be included in that first group because those are were initial built before car use was that widespread. In other words, the bones are there. For the second group, transitioning to that kind of environment would be very difficult except around the suburbs existing ‘downtowns’, if they have one, and rail stations. Car dependency in those areas will always be quite high, although it can be lower than it is currently.
Native Coloradan, left for many years and spent a lot of time in major cities, including NYC where no one owns a car. Now I’m back in Denver and am trying to remain carless… so this is something I spend a lot of time thinking about. It’s not easy in Denver. I make it work because of specific circumstances: no kids, work is along a major bus route, I live downtown. But the key is that my parents live in Park Hill, and I can use their car when I really need it (I’ll usually fill the tank or bring beer in exchange). I’m big on going to the mountains, but I have no trouble finding friends to go up with (again, they get beer or gas $ out of it).
I rely largely on public transportation and it’s coming along in Denver, but there’s HUGE room for improvement. I use the bus to get around. It often comes every 30 minutes… this means I am perpetually 15 minutes late or 15 minutes early to everything. I am constantly planning my life around catching the bus. Missing it often means paying to hop in a Car2Go so I’m not late. The bus doesn’t always go very close to where I need to be, and the relative infrequency between busses makes transfers a pain. Of course, there often aren’t enough riders to justify increasing bus frequency… which is where the chicken/egg problem comes in.
One option I think may be helpful is something like D.C’s Circulator bus. It’s affordable (theirs is $1 per ride), but it stays in the urban core and really just connects major neighborhoods. I think that could be really useful in Denver, maybe doing some sort of LoDo/S Broadway/Cherry Creek/Colfax+Colorado/City Park/Uptown loop. That would connect you to other major bus lines to get to areas like Highlands, Anschutz Med, DTC, and while it really only services city areas, I think it could be a good start in encouraging public transportation use.
The light rail could be great, too, but for now it’s really a commuter rail rather than transit for people living in central Denver. In my dreams, Denver has a subway that starts in western Highlands , connects to Union Station, then runs down Colfax all the way to Anschutz/I225. You can easily hop off and grab a bus (or onto more subway lines!) to RiNo/S Broadway, City Park/Cherry Creek/DU, Park Hill/Glendale, etc. I’m sure we could accomplish that with just a few billions 😉
Kate, as another former big city dweller who’s come back to Denver, I agree with you about “dream” rail routes around central Denver — and that it would cost billions. Looks like city planners are moving towards designating “transit corridors” along obvious main streets, which seems too comprehensive for the present. Why not just start with ONE streetcar “demonstration line?” Like a Broadway-Lincoln loop between Downtown and the Broadway RTD Transfer Station? Or along Speer, Highland-Downtown-Cherry Creek? Or how about RTD finally finishing the Central Line, Downtown-Five Points-A Line at 38th? It was actually the FIRST light rail line built — but never finished by RTD. Why can’t the city just come up with the money to get ONE streetcar line finished, up and running? Seems like getting public support for streetcars has to start with people riding on a system that OTHER higher density neighborhoods will want, too. Build a demo line, and create demand for more of it.
Jim, I too long for a streetcar system in central Denver, but I think previous experience with a proposed light rail line down Broadway and along MLK Blvd. to the Stapleton neighborhood has RTD spooked–and rightly so. Business owners along Broadway fought the proposal by screaming that construction and placement of the line would permanently destroy the corridor. As for MLK Blvd., community leaders brought in national figures to protest that the line would separate and burden the neighborhood. Many people seem to want improved transit, but just as many are afraid the change may negatively impact their lives–despite evidence to the contrary.
Very interesting discussion here. Some have suggested we should be talking more about actionable suggestions for what we can do today. I’d be interested to hear people’s opinions on Denver’s current moratorium for small lot parking minimum exemptions and the upcoming city council vote for an amendment. Seems this directly affects the conversation happening here. I’ve emailed my opinion to my city council person and plan to attend the planning meeting on February 1st. I tend to agree with parts of what almost everyone here has written, but think at the very least shouldn’t we have parking minimum exemptions for small lots on the very limited existing high-frequency transit corridors in Denver? These are the only current places in the city that offer the option for people to save money by not owning a car and city council wants require people pay for car storage to live along these transit lines?! I’m not advocating we infringe on anyone’s right to pay the full cost of car-ownership, but just let people have the right to not pay for it if they choose to.
Here’s a link to details on the amendment. Would love to hear if people are attending Feb. 1 or have arguments for or against this amendment.
I agree Denver public transport infrastructure is in huge need of improvement. However, I think there are enough people looking for carless/different life style and there are ways to do this in Denver, but policy seems to ignore this fact. for the past few years, there has been a significant increase of people moving to downtown. People like me that want to work, live and play in the same place and not waste time sitting in traffic. Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods like Five Points, Highlands and Capitol Hill allow for various alternatives to get to/from work/activities including walking, B-cycles, biking lanes, and buses. Also, there are plenty of Car2Go and Uber/Lyft cars available. All these options cost significantly less owning a car (car+insurance) and parking (especially downtown where daily parking is $15-20/day). This is not a solution that works for other neighborhoods or suburbs, but at least in the immediate downtown and core, it is ridiculous that the city requires developments to build tons of parking. Yes, some people in the downtown and immediate neighborhoods will still choose to own a car, but until we change policy, we are still requiring all development to continue to build for cars
This will all be moot in 20-40 years as autonomous vehicles take over.