Mayor Michael Hancock is forging ahead with his mobility plan now that City Council green-lighted his 2020 budget and Denver voters overwhelmingly approved his initiative to create a transportation department.
The Nov. 5 vote will transform the Department of Public Works into the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure come 2020.
In an 11-1 vote, the mayor’s budget swiftly passed on the floor of Council, with Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca voting against the proposal, and Councilwoman Kendra Black momentarily absent from the vote.
As of Wednesday morning, Denver voters appear to have overwhelmingly supported the passing of Referred Questions 2A, 2B, 2C and 2D.
Commuters trying to take a train or bus Tuesday during a snowstorm that dumped several inches of snow across Denver were left feeling cold and in the dark — but not just because of the weather.
The decision was “a big deal” and will “help meet the city’s goals,” said Eulois Cleckley, who heads Denver Public Works and will soon lead the transportation department.
By passing the charter amendment, voters have “better equipped [the department] to address our neighborhoods’ mobility needs, reduce congestion and take on the gaps in our transit system,” Hancock previously said in a statement.
During a Wednesday meeting hosted by Denver Streets Partnership, a coalition advocating for “people-friendly” streets, Cleckley said the department’s focus is to “ensure all the work we’re doing has an equity lens,” and that the people, the assets and the areas in the city that need the most help receive the most attention.
Hancock’s nearly $1.5 billion budget for the upcoming year, approved by Council on Tuesday night, carves out $118 million to improve transportation.
The new department has more than a thousand projects in its capital budget, which Cleckley said equates to about $1.2 billion worth of work. There also is a capital maintenance budget of $150 million, as well as a wastewater management group with an operating budget of another $150 million.
“We have a lot of dollars … going in a lot of different areas,” he said.
The department is targeting 70% of its maintenance funds and capital projects toward “equity areas,” where people do not feel like their voices are being heard and the city’s investments aren’t for them.
“We have to figure out a way to explain … when a bike lane goes into your community, it’s not a signal of gentrification,” Cleckley said. “It’s a signal that you deserve the same type of infrastructure that another area of the city has.”
Having those conversations will not be easy, he said, but it’s “completely necessary.”
Much of the work, some of which already is underway, will focus on dedicated bike, bus and multimodal lanes throughout Denver, particularly in underserved neighborhoods, such as Montbello, Five Points and Sun Valley, which house “vulnerable” residents.
Both Five Points and the Sun Valley neighborhoods have a higher percentage of workers riding transit compared with the city-wide mean.
The percent of income spent on transportation in Montbello is two percentage points higher than the city-wide mean of 18.4%. The average household annual transit costs in the Five Points neighborhood is $346 compared with the city-wide average of $269. And in Sun Valley, the average number of annual transit trips is 343, compared with the 227 city-wide average.
Data points such as these are driving the direction of the department, Cleckley said.
Safety and abiding by the Vision Zero program will also be a major priority, so traffic hot spots like Downtown Denver will be targeted too.
As the new department moves ahead with its projects, equity will remain a “guiding star,” Cleckley said, a principle he hopes will lead the city to having “a sound transportation system that moves people around effectively.”