2040 goals hindered by questions of funding, need for policy changes
PUBLISHED: August 6, 2018 at 8:00 am | UPDATED: August 6, 2018 at 9:27 am
Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post
Large cranes can be seen all over the Union Station area in downtown Denver on Aug. 9, 2017.
A suite of new plans for Denver chart out a two-decade vision that calls for rapidly expanding the transit and parks systems, filling in the pedestrian network and making smarter development policies.
Those plans, if realized, could help Denver get ahead of a population boom that has overwhelmed some parts of the city since the last time some of the plans were updated more than 15 years ago.
One of them — the first-ever citywide transit plan — calls for Denver to take a more prominent role in paying for, and potentially even providing, bus and transit services in addition to the system run by the Regional Transportation District.
Drafts of all five new plans, each with a different focus, were released Monday, starting a public-review period that lasts through Oct. 31. The plans have emerged from Denver’s largest-ever citywide planning effort, the two-year “Denveright” program. (You can find the draft plans here: land use/transportation, parks, transit, pedestrian/trails and the Comprehensive Plan.)
If current and future city leaders are able to carry out the plans successfully, by roughly 2040 all 78 neighborhoods would have access to a park within a 10-minute walk, and those parks would be designed to be more environmentally friendly.
At least half of homes in 60 neighborhoods, up from 16 now, would be within walking distance of quality transit, jobs and retail.
The share of commuters who drive alone to work would decrease to 50 percent from the current 73 percent, and three-quarters of households would be within a quarter-mile of bus or rail lines offering service at least every 15 minutes.
And 80 percent of new housing would be built in areas that fit with a growth strategy that targets higher-density development to existing and emerging neighborhood centers and corridors.
Standing in the way of reaching those goals are significant questions of money and a need for policy changes.
But most of all money: Billions of dollars would be needed to build new parks and recreation facilities, to fill in an estimated 350 miles of sidewalk gaps while expanding the city’s network of off-street trails, and to vastly improve urban bus routes and other transit services so that they are more frequent and reliable where they’re needed most.
“The devil was really in the details,” said Paul Aldretti, who served on the transit plan task force as well as two others.
Image from Denver Moves: Transit 2018
The Denver Moves: Transit draft plan includes a map of potential transit corridors prime for city investment to boost service.
Of the plans’ aspirational focus, he said, they “are almost written to the point where who’s going to argue with any of it? It’s Mom and apple pie and Christmas. It’s really going to get interesting in the implementation.”
Leaders of the effort for Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration say more than 20,000 pieces of community input helped shape the plans. Task forces led each’s formation, and officials sought opinions at community events and open houses as well as through surveys and online comments.
“It really is an unprecedented amount of coordination and integration,” said Brad Buchanan, the executive director of the Department of Community Planning and Development, during a recent media briefing.
Since 2002, when the last Blueprint Denver plan was adopted, Denver has added 150,000 people, with the population recently passing the 700,000 mark.
In the next 22 years, the draft Blueprint plan projects that the city will add another 189,000 residents, with its population nearing 900,000, and add 136,000 jobs.
The city, in some ways, is at a crossroads: So far in this century, as the Blueprint plan’s draft points out, Denver has become wealthier and whiter as longtime residents of color have shouldered the heaviest burden of displacement and higher housing costs in gentrifying neighborhoods.
All of the proposed plans focus in their recommendations on improving social equity and inclusion through new approaches.
After the public-review period ends, three of the plans — Blueprint, the parks and recreation plan, and the overarching Comprehensive Plan 2040 — will go to the City Council for formal adoption in early 2019. Two others, the transit plan and another covering pedestrian access and trails, will be approved administratively.
The city also is planning a Denveright community event offering more information on the plans. It’s set for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 28 in the City Park Pavilion.
Here is more about each plan:
Denver’s land-use plan is familiar to anyone who’s advocated in favor or against a rezoning change in Denver, since the 2002 version set out general policies and patterns for growth in the city. In the most familiar feature of the old plan, it identified 18 percent of the city’s land as “areas of change,” or where most development should occur, with the rest categorized as stable areas.
Two-thirds of new housing development has occurred in areas of change. The new Blueprint, however, chucks that simple black-and-white designation out the window in favor of a new scheme of designations that are aimed at fostering what planners call “complete neighborhoods.”
Image from Blueprint Denver 2018
The Blueprint Denver draft plan includes a map of “future places” that designates every part of the city. Centers, corridors and districts are considered ripest for varying levels of mixed-use development.
Buchanan says that will channel the largest-scale development into centers and street corridors categorized into local, community and regional designations. But the plan still envisions smaller-scale growth and change of varying types in quieter areas, where residents prize their peace.
For example, the plan recommends a zoning change to allow for accessory dwelling units, or backyard cottages, in all residential areas. They’re allowed only in certain neighborhoods now.
Kimball Crangle, an affordable housing developer who co-chaired the Blueprint Denver task force, called the new Blueprint’s approach more nuanced than the old version.
“One of the things we have been working on on the task force is to make sure we are contemplating what kind of unintended consequences could happen from the plan,” she said. “We understand that for the city to maintain its livability, all of the places in the city are going to constantly be evolving. In different ways — but all of Denver will evolve over the next 20 years.”
And Buchanan said the plan takes to heart some of the recent frustration over development
“There are strategies outlined that are really about asking more from developers,” he said. “We’re suggesting that we do that by creating improved design-quality tools, and those can range from design guidelines and pattern books to design review in some neighborhoods.”
In its twin focus on transportation, the Blueprint plan recommends that the city expand on recent changes in street design and try out new approaches as it makes more corridors “multimodal.” That means giving more priority on some car-dominated streets to pedestrians, bikes or transit, making them safer for more people.
Game Plan for a Healthy City
The plan for Denver Parks and Recreation focuses on two big themes: access and equity.
As it’s grown, the city’s park acreage per resident has declined, and the money budgeted for parks hasn’t kept up with population — exacerbating longtime inequities in park access in different parts of the city, generally favoring well-off neighborhoods. Among big cities, Denver’s rankings for spending and parkland per capita have suffered.
Image from Game Plan for a Healthy City
A chart comparing Denver to other cities from The Game Plan for a Healthy City.
The plan charts out recommendations for adding new parks, diversifying the system’s outdoor and recreation facility offerings, and adapting to forecasts of both more flooding and more droughts as the climate changes.
How to pay for the system’s expansion? Already, the City Council has referred a proposed sales tax dedicated to parks to the Nov. 6 ballot. If approved, the tax — 2.5 cents on a $10 purchase — would raise an estimated $46 million next year.
The plan doesn’t endorse that ballot question, but it does propose a couple other ideas for consideration. One is a development impact fee that would assess charges on new building projects based on the demand for parks they create.
Some needs already are being addressed in the city’s voter-approved $937 million Elevate Denver bond program.
Allegra “Happy” Haynes, the parks department’s executive director, said the changing climate and changing demands from residents will result in new approaches to parks. Landscaping that uses less water is expected to be used more, both at existing and new parks.
“The plan calls for evaluating a lot of our current traditional landscaping that is very water-intensive,” she said, “and determining whether, where and how we can introduce more resilient — that’s how we term it — landscapes. Both from a resource perspective, but also from the standpoint … that our community, and our youngsters in particular, want experiences in nature more.
“So we’re creating opportunities to connect to nature with more than just bluegrass.”
Provided by the city of Denver
A rendering shows how East Colfax Avenue would change at North Krameria Street with the introduction of center-running dedicated bus lanes in a bus rapid transit system.
Denver Moves: Transit
The transit plan identifies 19 corridors ripe for boosting RTD’s current offerings, with an eye on increasing service frequency to at least every 15 minutes, and sometimes better. The plan lays out options for varying levels of service, from enhanced bus service to bus rapid transit — where buses function similarly to streetcars — to full rail lines.
Depending on the options chosen, those plans could cost roughly $1 billion to $5 billion, the plan projects.
But that’s before the city has done much planning — or figured out the extent to which the city would “buy up” service from RTD by paying the agency to improve its bus offerings in the city or launch its own services to supplement RTDs. All options are on the table, said Eulois Cleckley, executive director of Denver Public Works, and RTD leaders have been part of the conversation.
- February 20, 2018 Latest version of Denver’s Blueprint plan recognizes that not all neighborhood change is created equal
- November 29, 2017 Denver releases a wishlist of sidewalk and trail projects. It would cost at least $1.2 billion
- September 14, 2017 Is your area a “community center” or “regional corridor”? Blueprint Denver update will influence growth patterns
- March 18, 2017 Denver’s population is surging. Its summers are getting hotter. How will the city’s parks system adapt?
Among the highest-profile corridors are Federal and Colorado boulevards, Speer Boulevard/Leetsdale Drive and Colfax Avenue, where the city already has plans for a bus rapid transit line.
“We do need to take the time to do more analysis on all of our corridors to truly understand what all the next steps need to look like,” Cleckley said, pointing to a second phase of the transit plan in coming years.
Aldretti, who works for Mile High Connects, a transit advocacy group, said: “The fact that they’re calling out that transit has to be more equitable is a huge win. … I think the fact that the city is looking at this is tremendously exciting.”
Denver Moves: Pedestrians & Trails
The plan focusing on sidewalk gaps and improvements to the trail system has already been finalized, after the release of a draft in November. But the city is still soliciting comments.
It amounts to a wish list of sidewalk and trail projects — albeit one that advocates for the disabled and pedestrians say is necessary to improve basic infrastructure and quality of life. The plan prioritizes sidewalk projects that could cost up to $1.3 billion and trail projects amounting to $400 million.
A handful of suggested projects will benefit from the bond program, and the city is starting a sidewalk inspection and repair program. But the challenge of funding will be significant in coming years.
Comprehensive Plan 2040
Unlike the other plans this one — shorthanded as the “comp plan” — is an overarching document that seeks to incorporate other city plans and the Hancock administration’s priorities into a coherent vision. The comp plan was last adopted in 2000.
Under six “vision elements,” the plan outlines strategies to reduce the number of “cost-burdened” households that can’t afford housing; to increase the number of neighborhoods with access to transit, jobs and retail; to reduce the dependence on driving alone; to increase the share of jobs supporting a diverse and innovative economy; to reduce Denver’s impact on climate change; and to reduce health inequities across city neighborhoods.