Interstate 25 traffic and exhaust fumes Denver Colorado

Traffic on Interstate 25 in Denver.

As Denver works on a plan to reduce the number of trips by lone commuters by half and increase the number of commuters biking, walking or taking public transit by 15%, city planning officials are  looking to developers and building owners for help.

One strategy, proposed by Denver Public Works and presented during a Tuesday meeting of the City Council's Land Use, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, intends to leverage the infrastructure being built around the city by tying it to something called  transportation demand management.

TDM, as it’s most commonly known, aims to alter the way people travel to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicle trips, increase transportation system efficiency, and achieve specific planning goals set out by the city.

If the plan is adopted, building developers will be expected to offer a suite of TDM options to new residents, including incentives such as transit pass discounts, car-share and bikeshare membership discounts, and bicycle parking.

When residents move into a new apartment or a business moves into a new building, owners will also be expected to offer welcome kits with educational information about the nearest bike options, transit options, walkable routes and more.

The program would also help mitigate some impacts of growth in the city, lower harmful emissions in the air and increase transportation options for Denver metro residents.

 “We don’t see this as the silver bullet, but certainly a really important tool to have in our toolbox to make sure we’re looking at all opportunities that we possibly can to meet those aspirational goals,” said Jennifer Hillhouse, the director of planning for Denver Public Works.

At least six U.S. cities, two counties and the state of Washington have already implemented similar programs. Seattle, which has had a program in place for decades, has seen a 70% increase in non-single-occupancy vehicle transportation in its downtown during a time of significant growth, said Zack Wallace Mendez, Denver’s associate city planner for multimodal transportation.

In other words, “we’re not reinventing the wheel here,” he said.

The planning process, which started about a year ago, is about 80% complete. The process included establishing goals, reviewing peer and academic research, conducting focus groups, identifying potential strategies and incentives, developing draft concepts, having the city review those concepts, and conducting a stakeholder meeting.

The plan puts responsibility largely on developers and building owners, who would be required to implement and monitor their own TDM programs and report results to the city. They also would conduct surveys among residents to measure TDM program impacts.

Despite the fact that periodic spot checks would be carried out by the city to ensure compliance by developers and building owners, Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca expressed concern that developers would overwhelmingly be holding themselves accountable.

“It just feels like it’s not real if we’re not monitoring it,” CdeBaca said.

She suggested the planning team build in a mechanism for reporting ongoing complaints, which could be met down the road with a penalty, such as a fine.

Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore as well was skeptical on ensuring compliance, particularly once a property is sold to a new owner. She also suggested a requirement for property owners to educate the surrounding neighborhoods so that residents are educated and understand TDM implementations are a responsibility of developers and building owners.

Denver Public Works’ Hillhouse and Mendez assured councilmembers that implementing a combination of new resident welcome kits, information kiosks, marketing and more would assist in the outreach and educational efforts. They also said matters would be discussed further with city attorneys to ensure full compliance.

Next steps in the planning process include developing final concepts, creating an online TDM tool that developers can use to ensure they are building in compliance with the program, and continuing outreach efforts to educate property owners. Implementation is slated to begin Spring 2020.

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