Denver Is Your 2017 Parking Madness Champ!


Take a moment to absorb this parking fiasco. Hard to believe it’s near the middle of a major city.

This is the image that carried Denver through four rounds of competition to emerge as the champion of Streetsblog’s 2017 Parking Madness tournament. In a tightly contested final that came down to a riveting back and forth on the last day of voting, Denver edged out scrappy Poughkeepsie 451-434.

For the tournament this year we focused on parking craters near transit stations to highlight how American cities are failing to support their transit infrastructure with walkable development. And Denver’s monster parking crater is a classic of wasted urban potential: a huge swathe of land close to downtown, served by three light rail stations, and overwhelmed by massive parking lots for sports stadiums that barely get used much of the year.

Chad Reischl at Denver Urbanism estimates that there are 50 acres of parking surrounding the Pepsi Center and another 15 acres to the immediate north and west as well. (The satellite view above is oriented so the top of the photo is facing west.)

Reischl has developed an infill plan for the area that would divide it into small, walkable blocks, consolidate parking into decks (cyan), and add mixed-use housing (yellow) and retail and office (blue). Existing mixed-use buildings are shown in red:

An infill development concept for Denver's championship parking crater. by Ken Schroeppel of Denver Urbanism
An infill development concept for Denver’s parking crater by Chad Reischl of Denver Urbanism

Denver Planning Department spokesperson Andrea Burns said the city is hoping for redevelopment here. “A key recommendation of the 2007 Downtown Area Plan was to attract more housing, mixed use and pedestrian friendly development to this area,” she said. “We are seeing downtown development of the Central Platte Valley kind of moving this direction. I think some time in the not too distant future we will see that start to change.”

But in the past ten years, however, the city has not pursued redevelopment strategies or incentives for the area around these light rail stations.

Streetsblog Denver editor David Sachs says this reflects a broader problem in Denver, where car commuting to the city center is on the rise despite its significant investments in light rail.

“Denver receives a lot of nice superlatives about its transit system that shape the city’s national reputation,” he said. “The reality is, vacuous parking lots and car-oriented development surround a lot of the city’s stations, undermining our investments in transit infrastructure.

“Hopefully some notoriety will help make the case for this part of the city to resemble more walkable areas anchored by transit, like Union Station.”

We now present the 2017 Golden Crater — don’t let this moment of infamy go to waste, Denver.


Correction: This post originally attributed the TOD plan to Ken Schroeppel, who runs the blog DenverUrbanism. The plan was created by DenverUrbanism contributer Chad Reischl. 

19 thoughts on Denver Is Your 2017 Parking Madness Champ!

  1. Congratulations to Denver!

    Is there going to be a presentation at the next city council meeting?

  2. I think Denver councilman Jolon Clark, should step up and collect this award on behalf of the city. He’s cars first, people last.

  3. They do get built, but not in the European style where you have both a street and courtyard face. Generally, you get just one.

  4. Guess any American city with major sports teams’ arenas/stadiums basically all grouped together can win with parking madness…

  5. Not so. All of Baltimore’s stadia are clumped together near a light rail stop, but there is far far less parking overall. All the venues share the same parking which prevents 2 teams from playing at the same time(which was a problem when the Ravens won the super bowl) but mostly it’s not an issue. It’s a crater for sure, but probably a tenth the size of this one.

  6. Really, this is downtown Denver not “close to downtown.” It’s just that it is a gigantic parking lot, so nobody calls it “downtown” but if you look at downtown on a map, this award winning parking crater is right there. This matters for a variety of reasons, first, the land underneath this parking would be incredibly valuable if auctioned and zoned for high density mixed use. Denver could easily convert this land to much more productive use without any government subsidies — though taxpayers are already subsidizing the transit access. Second, the proper zoning here is high density, not medium density: think eight to twelve story buildings in single street walls, not three story townhouses. This is a downtown of a metro area of more than a million people and is well served by transit and is in walking distance of the region’s employment center.

  7. Toronto probably takes the cake for the least amount of visible parking surrounding a stadia cluster. Major facilities are located very similar to Denver on the edge of the CBD and transit but (after years of infill) have almost no visible surface parking. Most of the lots that remain are now slated for highrise condo and office building developments.

  8. Stan Kroenke (Kroenke Sports and Entertainment) owns the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Pepsi Center and the surrounding parking lots. He’s also a major partner in Revesco Properties, owners of the Elitch Gardens amusement park next door. Speculation is they plan on reducing the parking at both locations, replacing some with parking structures, and turning much of it into mix-used properties. See Denver Post article here: which tags this article above.

    With downtown commercial spaces, condos and apartments going for the highest rates ever, makes sense to put plans into action ASAP. With most of Denver’s best restaurants and entertainment within walking distance, plus one of the hottest job markets in the country, its a no-brainer. Has to be a better money maker than renting out the parking lot to Cirque Du Soleil every summer.

  9. Did you click the link in my answer? We do not have this building type anymore. We used to up until a few decades ago. The typical European perimeter block is different in so many ways too different to describe here. And it better than what we are building now. Read the link!

  10. So, they don’t get built; something else that somewhat looks like it gets built here, but it is not nearly as good. I have dual citizenship, I know!

  11. Pretty sure, sadly. Building the buildings most of the world is building in their cities is mostly illegal in the US, and at the very least highly disincentivized. Just because it looks similar from an aerial does not really get us close on the ground. It’s a shame, because our cities would be so much better with different buildings types. Just wrote an article about this not long ago. I just noticed that somebody from Germany would obviously assume that we would do what he knows so well from back home. He does not know that it is near impossible here.

  12. I have to say, after recently moving to his district, I’ve been quite impressed with his walkability/bikeability advocacy. I’m certainly not saying your wrong (I’m new to the district), but his office (sometimes he himself) seems to be very timely and responsive when I direct my concerns. Of course I’m coming from car-friendly Jeffco…

  13. Elitch Gardens in particular is within a flood plain and is a brownfield that was cleaned ONLY for amusement park purposes. So some undetermined amount of cleanup will be necessary. Second, next door lies the Pepsi Center which holds two of the Big Five sports franchises; NBA and NHL. Stan Kroenke owns the sports venue and is an investor in Elitches. Nobody going to auction off their private property.

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