Denver Area Transit: The Post and Streetsblog publicly spar re: mobility, cars, bikes, pedestrians

DENVER, CO – APRIL 3: Denver has plans to dramatically increase bicycle access and lanes downtown. Two B-Cycle riders cross 17th Street as they ride along Lawrence Street with a view of Denver’s Union Station in the background on Friday, April 3, 2015. (Photo by Cyrus McCrimmon/The Denver Post )

In a recent article by the Denver Post, Mayor Hancock and the City Council’s approach to missing sidewalks, transit gaps, bikeways and pedestrian safety was reviewed.

Denver’s mayor says he shares the sense of urgency expressed by pedestrian, bicycling and transit advocates who want the city to channel more money to projects aimed at helping residents get around easier.

Michael Hancock sees fast-growing Denver at a turning point. He says he plans to deliver in coming months by making “bold commitments” for the next three to five years that could draw on borrowing, new revenue sources or other means to make it more attractive to move through the city without driving on its increasingly clogged roads.

The article goes on to include comments made by Streetsblog Denver editor David Sachs at a Downtown Denver Partnership breakfast panel on increasing mobility options:

Sachs laid out one challenge for city leaders — while framing it in a way Hancock likely wouldn’t.

“It’s too easy to drive,” Sachs said. “It’s not enough to make transit better and biking better, which the city is very, very slowly doing. But they get it. We have to make driving harder — and that’s really hard to say, politically — but are we going to just do that after the traffic gets really, really bad?

Last week The Post’s Editorial Board responded directly to Sach’s challenge, publishing an article “No, Denver shouldn’t make driving more difficult.”

“We support transit solutions that take cars off Denver streets, but don’t punish those who need to drive.”

As Denver prepares to ask voters for a $500 million to $600 million bond package, we just want to take a moment to remind everyone that, like it or not, we are a society dependent on vehicles and we will continue to rely on cars — even, and maybe especially — if they become autonomous in the foreseeable future.

Sure, we support transit solutions that take cars off streets: Fewer drivers means decreased congestion for those who continue to drive and decreased emissions for a city that struggles with existing ozone limits.

But let’s consider for a moment the extreme side of that policy being advocated by some, like Streetsblog Denver writer and transit advocate David Sachs, who told city officials, “We have to make driving harder.”

Let’s not do that, please.

On Friday Sachs responded:

The Denver Post wants the city to slow down on this whole 21st Century transportation thing. In its latest editorial (“No, Denver Shouldn’t Make Driving More Difficult”), the paper warns against setting aside street space so people can get around quickly and safely on the bus or a bike.

The piece sprang from a comment I made in a forum held by the Downtown Denver Partnership. We were in the midst of a conversation about how policies like cheap on-street parking and employer subsidies for parking induce people to drive instead of taking transit or riding a bike. As a city, I said, “we have to make driving harder” if we’re going to deal with our growth without getting overwhelmed by traffic.

However you want to frame it, the bottom line is that all Denver has done for the last 70 years is make driving as easy as possible, and look where it’s gotten us — this approach hinders economic development and literally kills people with dangerous street design. The status quo of subsidized parking and car-first streets isn’t working for anyone — least of all the drivers who deal with mounting congestion thanks to policies that generate more traffic.

The Post opines that prioritizing people walking, biking, and using transit before cars is “extreme.” Points for sensationalism for conjuring up an “anti-car movement” that will yank the paper’s subscribers from their cars against their will. But in real life, cities like Seattle and San Francisco use another term for a street hierarchy that prizes efficiency, safety, and sustainability: “transportation planning.”

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