Denver Streets Partnership: Advocating for Safer, More Humane Roads
POSTED BY Scott O’Sullivan
July 12, 2021
2021 is on track to be one of the deadliest years in history on Colorado’s roads. In just one week in May, we lost Gwen Inglis, world champion cyclist; a 12-year-old boy who was killed on his bike while crossing a street in Littleton; and a third person was killed on a motorcycle near the Central Park neighborhood.
This, after 2020 saw a precipitous drop in fatalities due to COVID restrictions. If only we had learned from this silver lining of COVID: when the city of Denver saw record numbers of people out walking or biking, they created “shared streets.” Fewer cars = fewer fatalities. What does that tell us about our streets?
I talked about this with Jill Locantore, executive director of Denver Streets Partnership, a coalition of over two dozen organizations focused on making roads in Denver and Colorado safer for those who aren’t in cars.
Jill is a longtime advocate for safer streets and she has partnered in her various roles with the city of Denver to champion the city’s Vision Zero goal, which is to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030. According to Jill, we have a long way to go to achieve that goal, but it is do-able if we put our minds (and wallets) into it.
“The most dangerous streets in Denver have to move a lot of people every day,” she explains. “Think of Colorado Boulevard. It is intended to move as many people as possible as fast as possible, so it is treated like a highway. There are very few crossings for pedestrians and bikers, and they are dangerous, so it’s not surprising that they are deadly.”
The key to moving lots of people more safely is transit, and specifically buses, says Jill. “You can put 60 people on a bus, make bus lanes, add pedestrian and bike amenities, and you can transform these roads from deadly highways into human-scale roads that are actually safe for people to be outside of cars,” she says.
But obviously, some systemic changes need to happen. Buses need to be perceived as faster and more reliable than car travel, which requires lanes and schedules that give the advantage to buses and their riders.
“People don’t use buses in Denver because they are perceived as slow and we see them stuck in traffic like everybody else,” explains Jill. “If, instead, you were sitting in your car on Colfax Avenue and a bus went whizzing by you, you’d be more likely to choose that option.”
Schedules are also important to the transit solution.
“Denver buses also need to run more frequently,” she says. “The ideal is that you wouldn’t have to check a bus schedule. You don’t have to check a schedule to use a car; the same should be true for buses. Buses would run every 5 or 10 minutes so that all you have to do is walk to the bus stop and you’re guaranteed a ride very soon.”
I asked her if there was a city that was doing this right, a place Denver could emulate, and she pointed to Seattle.
“Seattle is similar to Denver in terms of size and its pace of growth,” she says. “But they have invested in bus service. Their population has grown as fast as ours but the number of cars on the street has stayed the same. It proves that it is entirely possible to grow without increasing the number of people on the street.”
So, clearly, investment is critical to the Vision Zero solution. But Denver doesn’t have a lot of transportation funding to spare.
“A huge portion of Denver’s annual budget for transportation is in maintenance, and even in that, we are falling behind,” says Jill. “Our sidewalks are in woeful disrepair. We need to look at other funding sources.”
Jill’s organization, Denver Streets Partnership, is working on all aspects of these challenges, from community advocacy to policy-setting to budget discussions. She encourages anyone who cares about Denver’s future as a livable, equitable city to get involved with her organization or just think more honestly about their own choices.
“We need to be willing to make changes to our city streets,” she says. “Are you willing to lose a few parking spots to add a bike lane or a bus lane? I am! It might add 30 to 60 seconds to your commute. That’s it. We need people to show up and say, ‘It’s worth it to me!’”