Denver Urbanists vs. Traffic Calming Conspiracy Theorists

With a fast-growing transit network, Denver is grappling with how to build walkable places around its new rail lines, and the Denver Business Journal is running a package of stories about the potential for transit-oriented development. Overall it looks like a solid introduction to the notion that Denver needs to reduce car dependence, but the series did take an unfortunate detour into “war-on-cars” fantasy-land today with a he-said/she-said piece titled “Are transit-oriented developments a campaign against cars?”

Transit oriented development isn't a conspiracy against driving, it's an attempt to level the playing field for other modes. Photo: City of Denver
Guys, this is not a conspiracy against the middle class. Photo: City of Denver

Still, it’s helpful to get a reminder of what urbanists are up against in cities like Denver. In this case, the “debate” started with a Denver Post column by City Council President Mary Beth Susman published in June. In a fairly moderate plea for better transit options, Susman noted that in addition to providing incentives — “carrots” — to entice folks to try walking, biking or transit, the city is planning to use some disincentives — “sticks” — to discourage driving. The two “sticks” she mentioned were reducing parking requirements — we’re talking about loosening government regulations that compel  — and refraining from widening roads in some areas of the city.

In response, the conservative Colorado Peak Politics called Susman’s editorial an “astonishing” admission that the city’s policy was trying to “actually make driving inconvenient.” The outraged, anonymous blogger asserted that nobody with kids to drop off, or a “client-facing position,” or groceries to pick up will ride a bike in Denver, and that policies that try to make biking safer and more practical are a “dangerous” attack on the middle class.

But the real hidden gem of this whole episode comes from Kathleen Calongne of the sprawl-loving American Dream Coalition. While it’s regrettable that Business Journal reporter Caitlin Hendee treated Calongne as a credible source, she’s at least good for some laughs.

“Research reveals that traffic calming projects are often motivated by individuals in our federal and local governments willing to sacrifice safety in an effort to discourage travel by car,” Calongne claims. Exactly what is motivating national and local government leaders to mislead the public in their quest to make driving worse, she doesn’t say. She does, however, go on to argue that traffic calming and transit-oriented development are bad for people with disabilities and the elderly.

Calongne doesn’t specify what research backs up her claims, but her credentials appear to consist mainly of this ancient article hosted by the National Motorists Association, purporting to show evidence that traffic calming harms people. Even back in the early aughts, when that article appears to have been published, there was ample evidence that traffic calming saves lives: A 1997 study [PDF] published in the Institute of Transportation Engineers reviewed 85 studies of traffic calming cases in Europe, North America, and Australia and found a decrease in collisions ranging from 8 to 95 percent.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Today’s Headlines

|
Longtime Backers of California High-Speed Rail Raise Legal Objections (LAT) Would the Maryland Gas Tax Go to Transit or Roads? (Examiner) WSJ: “Welcome to the Revival of the Railway Age” Rep. LaTourette: Miles-Traveled Tax Could Happen “Tomorrow” (Bloomberg) NOLA Transit Strives for Accord With Civil Rights Act (NOLA.com) Denver Sees Transit-Oriented Development After Decades of […]

Today’s Headlines

|
Seattle and Los Angeles Transit Agencies Speak Out Against Trump’s Transit Cuts (MyNorthwest, Urbanist) Missing in Reuters Story About Uber-Riding City Dwellers Who Go Car-Free: Any Mention of Transit People Love Talking About Them, But Self-Driving Cars Do Not Yet Exist and Are Far in the Future (Economist) Hampton Roads Transit Death Spiral: Ridership Drops, Pols Ask How […]

How Denver Repaired Its Epic Parking Crater

|
The above photo is downtown Denver in 1976. Not pretty is it? But Denver doesn’t look like that anymore. And that’s no accident. Even though that picture is what inspired Streetsblog’s Parking Madness competition, Denver didn’t even make it past the first round in our hunt for the worst parking crater in an American downtown. This is what […]

Today’s Headlines

|
Decades-Old Transportation Priorities Still Shape Dallas Metro (Next City) Foxx Promoted Walk to School Day in Hometown Charlotte (WCNC) Survey Ranks Seattle, Boston Tops for Pedestrian-Safety, Detroit Lowest (Boston Globe, Metro Times) In Arkansas, Shuster Talks Highway Trust Fund Options (Arkansas News) The Major Challenges in Shifting Away From Car-Oriented Cities (CityLab) Report: Atlanta Development Clustering Around Transit (Atlanta Biz […]

The Secrets to Success for Transit-Oriented Development

|
“Transit alone is insufficient to make a real estate market,” said Dena Belzer, the president of Strategic Economics, an urban design consulting firm. Her group is a partner in the Center for Transit-Oriented Development (CTOD), which this week released a new report on the effects of transit expansion on real estate markets. Transit won’t, on its own, […]