BY FREDA MIKLIN
Earlier this month, Denver South Transportation Chair and Lone Tree Mayor Jackie Millet welcomed Denver South partners live and virtually to the Lone Tree Arts Center for their October 2021 regular meeting which was all about transportation. Mayor Millet began by pointing out that, “What makes this Denver South corridor so successful… is the private-public partnership and the investment that has been made from I-25 down through Ridgegate Parkway on the I-25 corridor… We didn’t just invest in freeways or in transit. It has been a complete multimodal investment that has really driven investment in this corridor. Lone Tree has been the beneficiary of some really high-profile companies (that) came here because of the multimodal transportation offerings.”
Millet talked about a large company who is considering moving to the area. They told her, “We would not have considered coming if you had not installed the multimodal transportation.” Millet continued, “Denver South has been a strong key partner, not just for the City of Lone Tree, but for the cities of Centennial, Greenwood Village, the southern part of Denver, and Arapahoe and Douglas Counties. I cannot overstress the importance of Denver South in the vision for multimodal transportation in this corridor. Millet closed with, “What we know for sure is that transportation is going to continue to be a key to our success and investment in transportation is going to continue to pay off for us.”
On the current state of transportation overall, Mayor Millet pointed to the post-pandemic changes that have seen different travel patterns throughout the day compared to rush-hour spikes before COVID, along with a lack of return to ridership on transit. She also pointed to Lone Tree’s investment in micro-mobility with the Lone Tree Link Shuttle, partially funded by Denver South “that has made a huge difference in the ability of folks to move in our community.” She shared that while it was envisioned to be used for the first-and-last-mile for those who use the light rail, the first people to use it were two residents of a nearby senior living facility who took it to go buy shoes at the mall on a Saturday morning. So the possibilities are endless.
Colorado Department of Transportation
Paul Jesaitis, Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) director for region one that includes 50 percent of all Colorado residents on roads from east of Denver west to the I-70 Eisenhower Johnson Memorial Tunnel, described the 3,700 lane miles, 912 bridges, 10,000 culverts, 2.5 million feet of guardrail, 376 traffic signals and thousands of signs that his region includes and must be constantly maintained. Overall, Jesaitis said the biggest challenge CDOT faces is keeping up with wear and tear on the system.
After showing a chart demonstrating that vehicle miles traveled in the state increased over 25 percent between 2001 and 2018 while road capacity has barely changed, Jesaitis said, “We are not going to build our way out of congestion.” To address the problem, “CDOT, over the last decade, has been doing managed lanes because they provide a reliable trip and they also help pay for infrastructure where we just don’t have a lot of funding to build these big projects.”
The most significant piece of news that Jesaitis shared is that CDOT has created a ten-year-plan specifying which projects have been identified and their priority to receive new funding. It can be found at https://www.codot.gov/programs/your-transportation-priorities/vision. The first project, the I-25 South Gap project, is 70 percent complete and expected to be done on-time and on-budget in November 2022. One of the expected outcomes is to reduce animal/vehicle crashes by 90 percent by the addition of 28 miles of deer fence. Next on the list is the Smart 25 system of interconnected ramp meters on northbound I-25 between the Ridgegate Parkway and University Boulevard exits that we first reported about in The Villager on July 22.
Jesaitis also talked about innovative ideas CDOT has adopted, like micro transit at Floyd Hill and mobility hubs in the corridor “so that we can provide an alternative to just riding in your vehicle alone up the corridor to go up to the mountains.”
Other challenges include trash removal, on which CDOT spends up to $3 million annually, including to clean up more than 50 homeless encampments annually. He talked about a $1 million pilot program CDOT is doing with Adams County, which he described as an “interested local government” where homeless advocates and law enforcement want to work together and organize clean-up crews and counselors to help the homeless early on, when there are only a few of them, “to try to find them a different situation” and clean up the camp before the amount of trash becomes overwhelming. They are also working with the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless to find CDOT-owned right-of-way land on which they can put homeless camps as a civic gesture to alleviate the situation and help those in need.
Lastly, Jesaitis presented data on traffic fatalities in region one, which did not change much during the pandemic (2019 = 163, 2020 = 150). He pointed out that the main reason people die on the roads is poor driver behavior, with speeding, following too closely, and distracted driving being the leading causes of death.
Regional Transportation District
Brian Welch, senior manager, planning technical services, talked about the recently adopted “RTD Strategic Plan 2021-2026, Change, Challenge, and Connections.” It begins with the vision, “To be the trusted leader in mobility, delivering excellence and value to our customers and community.” He continued, “REIMAGINE RTD (which can be found at https://www.rtd-denver.com/ reimagine ) is intended to fulfill that. “ RTD’s plan to accomplish its goals begins with three steps:
1) assess its services; 2) compare existing travel patterns (including Uber and Lyft) to those services; 3) assess its financial capacity. Welch described some of the challenges RTD is facing as the fact that bus service was already in dire trouble before the pandemic and, in a survey of pre-pandemic rail users, 25 percent of them reported that they did not plan to come back, which he pointed out is a nationwide problem. Of course, a key result of these problems is that fare revenue is “way down.”
To attract riders, RTD aims to have simple well-defined corridor routes, consistent service spans with fewer irregular trip patterns. They believe they can improve reliability by eliminating long routes. They also plan to make their services more customer-faced by providing important added FlexRide services, local routes to serve communities, and by entering into partnerships with ride-hailing and other transportation services. They also plan to have fewer overlapping routes so as to achieve one-minute transfers between trains.
RTD will focus on system optimization including transit network integrity as it decides which pre-pandemic routes to add back to its system. Most importantly, it will engage the community of riders and local governments for public input.
Bill Sirois, senior manager of transit-oriented communities at RTD said they are about to undertake a systemwide fare study to address customers’ feelings that the fare structure is too complicated and too expensive.
In response to a question from former RTD director Kent Bagley, Welch pointed to the “Mines Rover, ten automated shuttles operating at the School of Mines in Golden,” saying emphatically, “That’s the future.” (This is the same project, on a larger scale, as Denver South and Smart Cities Alliance proposed to the Greenwood Village City Council that we reported in the February 11, 2021 issue of The Villager.) Welch and Sirois said autonomous technology, though mostly still a few years away, could also help address ongoing and consistent labor challenges.
Nico Probst, director of government relations for Lime (www.li.me.com) talked about micro-mobility, focusing on the shared scooter program in Denver. He explained that the pilot program that began in summer of 2018 resulted in key regulations about where vehicles needed to be located, how they needed to be parked, where they should be ridden, and where they shouldn’t be ridden. Lime, one of six companies invited to participate in the pilot program, which was conducted in specified neighborhoods, achieved over 1.5 million trips covering 1.7 million miles during the pilot program.
The scooters are mainly used downtown, near Coors Field, in LoDo, and near the Broncos stadium. When they began the process of going to bid on a five-year contract to begin in May 2021 after the pilot program was completed, Denver’s goal was to achieve wider availability of scooters across the city, achieve equitable outcomes, and provide new offerings for individuals who are most in need of transportation options. Denver also added the availability of bikes as a requirement for its micro-mobility provider.
Lime added e-bikes to its inventory and was one of two providers chosen from over 20 vendors who made proposals. Probst shared that Lime operates in “over 200 cities across the globe including Paris, Berlin and London, and on any given day, Denver is in our top five (of ridership).” Scooters and e-Bikes used today in Denver “have come lightyears in terms of technology since 2018. They are much more durable and are curbing user behavior in the right ways, including better parking behavior,” said Probst.
Lime will soon be rolling out adaptive vehicles on demand to accommodate the ADA community completely free of cost to the user. Pricing for bikes and scooters is also less in defined opportunity areas around Denver. Scooter or bike trips at full price cost $1.00 plus $0.32 per minute, while that per-mile cost for scooters in opportunity areas is only $0.15. Bike trips in the opportunity area are priced at $1.00 for 30 minutes.
In all, Lime has accomplished over one million trips in Denver in the past five months alone. They launched a program in Boulder in August and in Colorado Springs just a few weeks ago. Denver South hopes to bring the program to this area soon.