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New Study Shifts Paradigm For Transportation Planners

Jim Hill
Traffic slows on I-25 approaching Alameda/Santa Fe in Denver, Colo.

The way the country gets from point A to point B is changing; it seems all across the country we’re driving less. Danny Katz with the CoPRIG foundation says it's because we’re moving from a car-centric idea of travel, to a more multimodal view. Think more walking, bikes, buses and other public transportation.

“Here in the Denver metro area we’re seeing a decline in driving,” said Katz. “When it comes to bicycling, we’ve seen the fourth largest increase of any metropolitan area in the country, when it comes to declines in driving; Denver has seen the 8th largest decline in driving of a metropolitan area.”

The reasons people are driving less vary, but CoPIRG’s recent 'Transportation in Transition' study suggests a few reasons – including the increased ability to work from home and an ever growing use of public transportation.

That new paradigm has Denver’s transportation planners taking a relatively new ‘complete streets’ view of transportation planning – focusing on everything between the curbs as well as the sidewalks next to them.

Take for example the development of the 15th street bikeway.

“It says a lot about our mayor and our city council, and even our governor,” said Molly North of cycling advocates Bike Denver. “It says a lot about the priority that this state and this city puts on a healthy lifestyle.”

Credit Nathan Heffel / KUNC
A new bicycle traffic signal at 15th and Lawrence St. in downtown Denver.

Council member at-large Robin Kniech says the changing focus has prompted Denver to create the new position of Transportation Director. Formerly, it used to be known as a Traffic Engineering Director.

“It used to be about the formulas of how long cars should be sitting at lights, and that’s really important,” said Kniech. “It’s important about how folks feel about your city and how business gets done, but we know that as more and more of our residents are using bikes or their own feet or transit, we have to accommodate all of those modes.”

While vehicle miles driven are down, is hasn’t done anything for traffic. It isn’t any less congested says Steve Erickson with the Denver Regional Council of Governors. He describes the continuing trend for miles driven as “flat to declining for the last five or six years.”

“The flip side of that is that we’re expecting the region’s population to grow by about 1.2 million people… and as a result it’s not really expected that traffic congestion will improve markedly. Matter of fact, it’s expected it probably will become a little more problematic,” said Erickson.

DRCOG is currently working with cities to develop multi-modal transportation plans to ease future congestion – including a new app that can map transit routes and provide cost estimates for all available transportation modes, from car to public transportation to biking.

For its part, the Colorado Public Interest Research Group says its data proves the driving boom, which increased each year between the 1950’s and 2000, is over. It’s not just happening in Colorado… New Orleans, Milwaukee and Madison, Wis.all saw large driving declines.

The car will always be king says Councilwomen Robin Kniech, “as our population grows, some people will still – many people will still be choosing cars, they’re always going to be a part of urban life and so we do have to accommodate them.”

Which means there’s still going to be plenty of traffic headaches during your morning commute for the foreseeable future.

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