Growth From Surrounding Neighborhoods Inspires Officials To Urge Ditching Cars For Mass Transit; Some Deem That ‘Solution’ Impractical
By Cara DeGette
Brian Rodeno is standing on the corner of 17th Avenue at Krameria Street. Cars stream down his residential street. One by one they slow down, long enough for drivers to make sure there is no oncoming traffic. All clear, they skip right through the stop sign – never mind stopping.
When they do have to stop or risk getting T-boned by oncoming cars, they line up along Krameria four, five, six, seven deep.
This is how it is on Krameria every day, including holidays. “Holy cow, this is a very narrow street that was never meant to carry that amount of traffic,” says Rodeno.
Since 2010, city officials estimate a 40 percent increase in the overall traffic flowing through parts of Park Hill. On his 1800 block of Krameria, Rodeno puts that figure at a 75 percent spike.
The development of Stapleton to the east and Lowry to the southeast, places Park Hill as an easy route downtown and to other points north and west. And, the redevelopment of the site of the former University Hospital to the south will add to the strain of traffic in Park Hill.
The massive increase in traffic shouldn’t be a surprise. But, Rodeno and others maintain that Denver officials have not been diligent in preparing a comprehensive plan to direct and control increased traffic flows – and help alleviate traffic jams.
“It astounds me that 30,000 people are going to be living [in Stapleton alone], and we’ve never had this discussion of how people would get downtown,” he says.
Rodeno’s street is one of only a few north-south streets in Park Hill that directly crosses from the north side across Colfax to the south side. As a result, it has (unexpectedly, at least for Rodeno) become a collector street, bringing a steady stream of cars.
Krameria now may be a collector but is still a two-lane residential street. People can still park in front of their homes, but the risk their cars will be hit has increased exponentially. If they park in their driveways, good luck being able to easily back out.
Increased traffic negatively impacts property values and creates safety concerns. People, Rodeno points out, no longer spend time in their front yards, getting to know neighbors. He worries a child will get hit.
“They have more or less made this a freeway,” says Barbara Redmond who, along with Rodeno detailed concerns during the Feb. 6 meeting of the GPHC.
“This started out being all about me, but now I’m worried about the entire neighborhood,” Rodeno says. “This is coming to a 19th Avenue, or a 26th Avenue, near you.”
The ultimate solution
In his presentation, Rodeno complained that, with the exception of City Council President Mary Beth Susman and her staff, the city has been largely unresponsive to his requests for help.
But, in an interview with the GPHN, Susman noted that, in her mind the city has indeed responded. Four-way stops have recently been added to slow down traffic along Krameria. Signs that restrict right and left turns during high-traffic parts of the day have been added, as well as a sign that prohibits turning into the neighborhood from the McDonald’s on Colfax and Krameria.
“It is true that the traffic has increased, by virtue of Krameria being one of the few through streets,” Susman said. “The ultimate solution to stop traffic would be to block it off, which the city will not do.”
Susman, along with city traffic planners, maintains the only true solution is to get people out of their cars and use mass transit.
“Two-thirds of Los Angeles is roadway devoted to cars and I wouldn’t want that for our city,” says Susman. Denver, she says, has a policy of not widening existing roads.
“Our solution is [public] transit; it can’t be more parking spaces and building more roads. We need to make it so people will want to get on transit of some kind.
“Denver is a booming place, the No. 1 destination for people ages 25 to 34,” she continues. “The younger generation tends to buy fewer cars,” and uses mass transit.
Look in the mirror
Greater Park Hill Community Board Secretary Bernadette Kelly says she and two other GPHC board members recently met with city traffic planners to talk about what can be done to address the flood of traffic into Park Hill.
The city is in the process of figuring out potential options to the clogged north-south Quebec Street arterial on the east side of Park Hill (see sidebar). However, Kelly says the group was told a comprehensive study is not in the cards, as the city does not study traffic by individual neighborhoods.
Rather, the citywide focus is the goal to encourage people to walk more, ride their bikes more, and use mass transit. In other words, the response, Kelly said, was to “look in the mirror and change your whole behavior … stop driving your cars.”
“I totally understand that as valid, but I don’t think it is realistic,” she said. “Between the time you start that change in behavior, to being successful, you still need to deal with the traffic.”
Another Park Hill resident, who asked to remain unnamed, says, “This is not a new issue … it’s been around a looooong time.”
“Currently the city keeps repeating the solution; get people to stop driving. Where’s the city’s comprehensive plan to drive that behavior? Where’s the City’s comprehensive plan to entice people to stop driving? Where’s the City’s comprehensive plan to allow people to get out of their cars?
“Without a comprehensive mass transit system in place that allows people to get from point A to their final destination, it’s not going to happen.“
People, Kelly noted, will not stop driving their cars and start using mass transit until taking mass transit takes less time than driving. For example, she says it makes no sense for her to consider light rail, because it wouldn’t take her anywhere near her house.
The last mile
Susman concedes the problem of what she calls “the sticky problem of the last mile” – that is, how to get people from their homes to mass transit, and from the mass transit stop to their final destination.
The closest light rail connection to Park Hill is the north line to Denver International Airport, and won’t be completed until 2016. Even then, the closest stops will be at Colorado Boulevard and 40th Avenue to the west, and, to the east near the Stapleton Wal-Mart.
Susman, who represents the southernmost portion of Park Hill, as well as the Hilltop and Montclair neighborhoods to the south, suggested several potential options:
• Circulars (like the small buses currently used to shuttle DIA passengers to and from their cars) that travel around the neighborhood and deliver people to and from mass transit stations.
• Encouraging shared cars (like Car2Go and the Lyft cars).
• Determining ways to increase RTD service to anticipate riders – rather than responding to demand as is current policy.