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Denver Is on Track to Drop I-25 and C-470 Expansions as Focus Shifts to a Climate-Minded Future for Transportation

As the demand for more pedestrian and bike paths increases, city planners in Denver are shaping a climate-minded future for regional transit. 

Colorado has long had a reputation as an environmentally-friendly state, and more recently, there has been a push for alternate means of transportation, including commuting by bike or electric bike or walking instead of driving. 

Public transportation departments in larger metro areas are getting in on the plan, offering secure bike storage areas for commuters who combine biking and light rail or bus for their traveling needs.

After spending millions of dollars to create a highway infrastructure catering to smooth flow for moving vehicles, the Denver metro area is moving away from more multi-lane highways, increasing pedestrian and bike infrastructure, and expanding its RTD lines.

The Long-Term Agenda from the Denver Regional Council of Governments

The Denver Regional Council of Governments, a planning organization comprised of elected government officials, is set to vote on long-term planning measures at the end of September. These changes are intended to reduce greenhouse emissions from transportation, as per a state mandate enacted earlier this year.

The proposed plan includes moving $900 million from expanding roads to initiatives that boost transportation that is climate-friendly, such as cleaner energy for public transit and an overhaul of the city streets to streamline bus travel. 

Furthermore, the planned expansions of C-470 and I-25 would be scrubbed, as well as some planned widening on smaller thoroughfares in the area.

The change represents about 10% of the state’s travel and infrastructure budget, according to Ron Papsdorf, DRCOG’s director of transportation planning and operations.

Making Clean Transportation Options Safer

The Denver Regional Council of Governments is federally designated as the author of the region’s long-term transportation plans. 

However, the organization controls relatively little of the transportation monies in Denver, instead relying on funding from the Regional Transportation District and the Colorado Department of Transportation, as well as local governments.

The organization’s new proposal aims to make non-car travel options safer and more environmentally friendly, as well as acknowledge the realities of travel infrastructure in the metro area. 

While expanding bike lanes and creating pedestrian corridors is an important first step for many commuters and residents in Denver, the reality is that once the snow and ice hit, the majority of non-driving commuters may switch to driving instead. Therefore, some expansions of vital thoroughfares are still necessary.

“Our approach has never been to … [be] very strategic about the changes we're making,” Papsdorf said. 

The Planned Transportation Strategy

The shift from traditional transportation to electric-powered public transit and other green initiatives is a major shift and not one that will come cheap for Colorado. 

Clean transportation experts urge officials from the state and legislators to incentivize Colorado drivers to reduce single-occupant trips and drive less in general. Instead, the state aims to make walking, biking, and taking buses safer and even more convenient with infrastructure and roadway changes.

However, the road to greener travel in Colorado is not without its detractors. Some state leaders and elected officials anticipate political blowback in a state where residents are used to driving most places.

Republican Douglas County Commissioner weighs in stating, “I honestly feel it’s a form of political fad that will likely reverse.” 

How the DRCOG and CDOT’s Planned Changes Could Affect You

Some of the planned expansions of major highways and interstates in Colorado include adding extra lanes, but it’s not to re-route or streamline car travel. 

Instead, the Colorado Department of Transportation’s vision includes creating bus-only lanes through some of the busiest and most congested parts of the road, allowing them to travel faster and arrive at their scheduled stops on time.

Some of the areas of highway slated for the changes include the section of I-25 between Downtown Denver and Santa Fe Drive, a corridor known for traffic collisions.

“There are multiple crashes nearly every day on that corridor that impact people’s lives and contribute to congestion,” Papsdorf emphasized. 

He further noted that the RDCOG is starving to address the safety issue, but in a way that aligns with the climate-minded transportation plans that the regional planners are developing. 

Another proposed change is the removal of a toll lane that was installed on C-470 between I-70 and Wadsworth and the creation of five other BRT (bus rapid transit) corridors to be completed by 2030, located at:

  • East Colfax Extension between I-225 and E-470
  • East Colfax in Denver and Aurora
  • Federal Boulevard
  • Colorado Boulevard
  • State Highway 119 between Boulder and Longmont

“That's the starting point,” Papsdorf said. These bus lanes will be funded by local governments and the DRCOG and administered by RTD.

What Denver’s New Transportation Changes Mean for Pedestrians and Cyclists

If you enjoy riding your bike for fun or getting around on foot, then your options for safe travel throughout the Denver metro area may improve very soon. For example, in Wheat Ridge, the mayor pro tempore, Rachel Hultin, is working with city planners to address the increase in pedestrian-friendly transportation many residents say they want. 

Hultin is also the Director of Sustainable Transportation for Bicycle Colorado, a cycling safety advocacy group. But this group isn’t the only party desiring safe bike path expansion. Hultin says, “What I hear the most is people want to see investments in safer places to walk and ride a bike.”

Pedestrian safety is a hot topic for the state. The Colorado State Patrol announced earlier this year that troopers would be cracking down on motorists guilty of lane violations, including changing lanes without signaling, drifting into another lane, and failing to share the road with cyclists. 

Although pedestrians and bike riders have the right of way in traffic in many areas of Denver, they are still urged to use caution when walking or riding their bikes to avoid a collision with a car.

If you’ve been struck by a vehicle while riding your bike or walking, you may have legal options.

Consult with the Law Office of Stuart Mann, experienced local pedestrian and bike accident attorneys, to learn more.

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