Denver needs to spend more for bike, pedestrian projects, group says

Cyclists ride past Coors Field in Denver. 

More than a thousand Denver residents desire more space for outdoor activities while having to maintain physical distancing, a new Denver Streets Partnership survey found.

After polling more than 1,400 city residents, Denver Streets Partnership, a coalition of community groups advocating to “reclaim Denver’s streets for people,” found that 87% of survey respondents agreed the city should reallocate more street space for people. 

Nearly 80% of those surveyed said they are walking and biking as much or more now for exercise and mental health reasons more than they were prior to the crisis, Jill Locantore, executive director of Denver Streets Partnership, said in a Friday morning webinar in which she announced results from the survey.

The city began closing streets to vehicle traffic amid the COVID-19 outbreak earlier this month to provide opportunities for residents to access the outdoors while maintaining safe distances from each other.

“Open streets are so important for our physical and mental health right now, even in weeks or months or whenever the stay-at-home order is lifted, we’re going to continue to need physical distancing,” Molly McKinley, the grassroots advocacy manager at Bicycle Colorado, a nonprofit that advocates of bicycle safety and accessibility, said during the webinar. “As long as we have physical distancing in place, we need more physical space to move around.”

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock on Friday announced that the city’s stay-at-home order would be extended through May 8, as city public health data shows that residents are not yet “out of the woods.”

“I think this is a good opportunity in the short term to keep people healthy and safe by providing them space to move around with that extra 6-foot barrier during the pandemic,” said DSP board chair Danny Katz, who is also the director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group (CoPIRG). “But it also seems like this is an opportunity to identify the places that work so well that we decide we should just do this even after the pandemic.”

Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, said it’s “sad” activists are using a health and economic crisis to promote their “anti-car, anti-safe transportation agenda,” in an email to Colorado Politics.

“As transit ridership plummets and (the Regional Transportation District) makes drastic cuts, the need for access to personal vehicles is clearer than ever,” he wrote. “Exploiting this pandemic to push to keep streets closed after the crisis would deliberately increase traffic congestion, create more pollution and hinder the community’s ability to rebound economically.”

Locantore said Denver Streets Partnership would be opening another survey as of Friday to ask residents “about their experience actually using the streets: How did they like them? How can they be improved? Would they like to see some version of these streets maintained even after the pandemic?”

She said the data from that survey will be available in a couple of weeks.

“A key point is this: These are resources that need to extend beyond stay-at-home orders,” Katz said.

As orders are easing, he said, “We still need this space because it seems quite clear that the COVID pandemic is going to require us to maintain extra physical space between ourselves for months and months come. So even if we don’t have stay-at-home orders, we’ll need to have this extra space for us to live healthy lives here in the city of Denver.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a quote from Danny Katz. 

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