In the seventh through ninth paragraphs of the recent Denver Post editorial regarding the mix of drivers and other users on city streets, the Post provides statistics without context. Without coming right out and saying it, they seem to imply that since 79% of Denverites currently commute via single-occupancy vehicle and 8% bike/walk, we shouldn’t attempt to update our street layout to accommodate other modes.
Does the Post not think that maybe the layout of our streets has something to do with the overwhelming number of cars on the street? That maybe if we designed our streets differently we’d get a different mix of mode users? Using their numbers, what if the city spent 79% of their transportation construction and maintenance funds on car-only lanes and 8% on bike lanes and sidewalks? Does the Post think we’d get a different mix? I know every non-driver in this city would take that deal in a second considering that sidewalks currently get 0% and bike lanes get less than 1% of the city’s transportation budget. Spending 8% of our funds per year upgrading the walking and biking network would quickly make it safer and more inviting to bike and walk. Then more people would choose to do so, thus moving the budget needle even further towards those options. A virtuous cycle.
This also brings up the notion of having your cake and eating it too. Every time we find money for transit, we always have to find money for car drivers too, so as to make the investment “balanced.” Take, for example, the TREX project on I-25 that doubled highway capacity right along side a new light rail line. When the highway opened up, more people moved farther away from their jobs downtown and filled up the highway again. Now the highway is just as crowded as before the billions of dollars were spent, and we’ve got thousands of more cars trying to force their way into the downtown street grid during rush hour every morning. Why bother building a train when you undermine it by expanding the highway a few feet away? And Denver is about to make the exact same mistake with I-70, all as a sop to people who can’t seem to envision a future not choked by car traffic: people like the editorial board of the Denver Post.
This is Part 5 of a six-part response to the Denver Post editorial of February 23, 2017.