The message I heard, during the November 21 Westminster City Council Study Session, is that the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) is planning to let traffic congestion get worse and that they hate cars. It wasn’t a surprise. Nearly every level of government on the Colorado Front Range seems to hate cars. That is why DRCOG thought they could celebrate their latest car-hating program at our study session, they were among friends.
Here’s their program. Do not add capacity to the Denver Metro Area (DMA) road network. DRCOG is planning on letting the roads clog and make travel times longer. This approach condemns the people that live here to an increasingly crowded, frustrating and progressively restrictive lifestyle. Eventually we will be trapped in our neighborhoods. For a place to live, most people will have to choose which element in their life is most important: work, school, friends, community or faith.
We take for granted the freedom and benefits that a fast, efficient highway network gives us. It is a mixing and unifying force to the whole of society because it reduces the restrictions that geography and distance impose and that trap people. The convenience of short travel times enhances each person’s participation in the free market. Convenient, short travel times let people make better choices for themselves, and by extension society, about jobs, schools, shopping, social groups, and recreation.
A future of choice and freedom is what I want. However that is not the future the DRCOG is offering in the 2106 public review draft of their Metro Vision. Their solution to traffic problems is to let wealthy cities control islands that will prosper.
DRCOG does not call them islands. DRCOG calls them urban centers. Quoting from the report “Urban centers are active, pedestrian-, bicycle- and transit-friendly places that are denser and offer more use types than surrounding area.” Pretty words which don’t sound like an island and hide the reality that neighborhoods not in walking distance to centers/islands could sink, or may even drown.
Look at goals from the report.
Share of the region’s housing and employment located in urban centers: 1) Housing from 350,000 (10%) living in urban centers today to 1.1 million (25%) in urban centers in 2040. This translates into 2 of 3 new persons to Denver Metro being directed into these centers. And 2) Employment from 36% (2014) to 50% (2040). An ambitious goal that would make any job growth outside of the centers very difficult.
Additionally, these urban centers will never be economically equivalent. Some will be vastly more desirable than others. These urban centers will end up contrasting and exacerbating the inequities between communities in the Denver Metro Area. Urban centers will inflame the revenue fights among local governments.
The alternative is to have government, including DRCOG, serve the needs of the entire Metro Area rather than push us into a future of “Haves versus Have Nots” that voters never affirmatively approved. This means advocating for and building the road network needed, even if this means asking voters to increase the gasoline tax. This also means we stop subsidizing growth: charge a road network fee (similar to a water tap fee) for all new residences built in the Denver Metro Area. And we must recognize the Regional Transportation District (RTD) as a failure. 19th Century trains and ideas will not work in the 21st Century. We need to employ and expand ideas like driverless cars, ride-sharing, and other mobility focused ideas that don’t depend on a fixed-guidance system, to get to a transportation system that serves all. We should redirect RTD taxes.
Population of Denver Metro Area 1962, about 1 million. Road network- I-25 and I-70.
Population of Denver Metro Area 2016, about 3.1 million. Road network- double capacity on I-25 and I-70, ring roads E-470, I-225 and C-470. Is it 3 times the capacity of 1962? No.
Population projected 2040 4.3 million. Road network- the same as now.
1962 gasoline tax yield (2016 dollars) per vehicle mile traveled 6.4 cents (Federal tax 4 cents, state tax 6 cents, gas mileage for 1962 fleet average 12mpg, inflation factor 8 times).
2016 gasoline tax yield (2016 dollars) per vehicle mile traveled 1.6 cents (Federal tax 18.4 cents state tax 22 cents, gas mileage for 2016 fleet average 25mpg.
Bruce Baker is an elected member of the Westminster City Council.