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Denver's all grown up with no place to park

Planners push alternative transportation over more spaces


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The rapid influx of people to Denver is forcing city planners to figure out how to solve a drastic parking shortage through innovative transit planning.

Denver added 13,028 people in the year that ended July 1, 2016, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released in March.  And with more people come more cars — a reality that’s evident to anyone trying to find a parking spot in the city, whether it’s downtown or a surrounding neighborhood.

While it might seem like the shortage is a signal to develop more parking spaces, urban planners and government officials say that’s not the answer. The solution, they say, is to get people out of their cars and onto their feet, bikes or public transportation.

To do that, Denver must invest in a robust and comprehensive transit system that gives people viable alternatives to the automobile — and it has to happen now, says Ken Schroeppel, an assistant professor in urban and regional planning at the University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture and Planning.

“We have to disincentivize people from driving,” Schroeppel says. “If we continue to make driving the most convenient form of personal transportation, then we are never going to achieve our goals of having a great walkable, bikeable, transit city, specifically in the urban core neighborhoods.” 

The city has installed dedicated bike lanes on a number of downtown thoroughfares, a move that’s eaten into the number of parking spaces on Denver’s streets. The new bike lanes carry out the vision of Denver Moves, the city’s bike and pedestrian plan updated in 2011. Since then, the city has been using the term “DenverMoves:” as the brand for all transportation plans. “DenverMoves: Bicycles” and “DenverMoves: Pedestrians” have been adopted to address bikes and pedestrians.   

“DenverMoves: Transit” is in the works, as is “DenverMoves: Pedestrians and Trails.”

Denver’s Department of Public Works also is working on solving parking problems with its Go Denver app, a mobility platform that helps residents and tourists make educated transportation decisions. So far, about 15,000 people have used the app roughly 50,000 times, says Cindy Patton, acting manager of parking operations for Public Works’ transportation and mobility division. The city also is working on installing a parking assistance system into the Denver Center for the Performing Arts garage that will allow people to see whether there’s availability.

The Denver Go app takes a person’s destination and desired arrival time and calculates different routes available. It can analyze options based on what’s important to the user, whether it’s speed to destination, cost or sustainability.

“It shows you different ways to use different modes of transportation either individually or in combination with each other,” Patton says. “It allows you to sort results based on ‘sooner, cheaper, greener’ and gives you a summary of the estimated trip time, calories burned and carbon emission.”

The Denver Go pilot program has ended, but Public Works wants to figure out how to keep it or procure something similar through a competitive bid process. The city also needs to work with neighboring communities to ensure the transit system is seamless throughout the region.

“There’s a lot of development (of the app) that we’d like to see,” Patton says. “We want to make seamless trips between points A and B, even if they are in two different cities.”

It’s not just downtown that has issues. Some previously unrestricted streets in the Lower Highland neighborhood now limit parking to two hours to prevent people from leaving their cars all day after parking and walking or taking a B-Cycle to work.

Then there’s Cherry Creek. The tony shopping and entertainment district has grown so much that Cherry Creek Shopping Center implemented a paid parking system to protect the mall’s convenient parking for its own customers. Many of the shopping center’s 5,001 parking spots were being used by commuters and people living or shopping in Cherry Creek North, making it difficult for mall patrons to find a spot.

“People from all parts of the neighborhood would park their cars here and leave them all day,” Cherry Creek Mall General Manager Nick LeMasters says. “That’s never good for a retail environment. You have to have turnover in your parking lots.

“But parking is a symptom of a larger issue. We have to get our transportation infrastructure to a point where parking isn’t at such a premium,” he says. “If we were building the mall and opening today with paid parking, nothing would be said. If you have something for free and that’s taken from you, it rubs people the wrong way.” 

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Margaret Jackson

Margaret Jackson is an award-winning journalist who spent nearly 25 years in the newspaper industry, including seven years as a business reporter for The Denver Post covering residential and commercial real estate. She can be reached at myjackson7@gmail.com.

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