Today, the average commuter wastes around 42 hours a year in traffic. Congestion in the city of Denver is worse than the national average, with the average Denver commuter spending 49 hours in traffic each year. According to projections by the American City Business Journals, the populations of 10 U.S. cities, including Denver, are poised to grow by more than 50 percent in the next 25 years. How can cities like Denver address rising congestion levels due to increased urbanization?
Traditional ways of addressing congestion, like widening highways, have failed in the past. To combat increasing traffic levels, cities will have to adopt “smart mobility” solutions to create an efficient, multi-modal transit system. “Smart mobility” are transportation solutions that have developed from the rise of the sharing economy, and include ridesharing apps like Lyft and Uber, companies like car2go and Zipcar, and bicycle sharing programs. A comprehensive infrastructure that combines smart mobility solutions with efficient public transportation systems will be the way forward for urban areas hoping to improve gridlock in their city centers.
Fortunately, Denver is already embracing many forward-thinking transportation solutions. The city was ranked as the tenth best metropolis for ridesharing in 2015. In Denver, carpooling features, like Lyft’s “Lyft Line,” utilize empty seats, allowing for the transportation of multiple people without adding any vehicles to the road. Carpooling rates have declined from 20 percent in 1970, to less than ten percent today, but ridesharing apps are looking to change that. A study by MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory found that with widespread adoption, carpool services like Lyft Line could reduce the number of vehicles on the road by 75 percent. This drop would have a welcome effect on the commutes for Denverites.
Denver is also a congenial city for cyclists, ranking in the top ten “most bike-friendly” cities in the U.S. In 2014, the Downtown Denver Partnership launched a crowdfunding campaign to pay for protected bike lanes. Bike lanes encourage bicycle commuting by providing a safe, dedicated space for travel. Currently, the city of Denver has four existing protected bike lanes, with plans to create four more in the near future. Currently, around 8,000 downtown Denver employees bike to work every day, a 42 percent increase since 2013. The rise of bike sharing programs, like B-cycle, could be another reason behind this recent increase in bike commuters. Bike sharing systems allow users to check out and return bicycles from numerous stations located around the city, making bicycle commuting possible even for individuals who don’t own bicycles. In Denver, B-cycle has 88 stations and 700 bikes located throughout ten central Denver neighborhoods. Similarly, car2go, a car sharing platform recently expanded its service area allowing more Denverites to choose an alternate form of transportation for their commute.
The city is also expanding more traditional methods of transportation with a recent $500-million renovation of Denver Union Station. This remodel has turned the station into a multimodal transportation hub for the Mountain West region, and includes a bus facility with 22 bays, an eight-track commuter rail hall with five platforms, and routes that go all the way to the airport. These upgrades provide Denver commuters with even more options to get to work without sitting in highway traffic. While Denver still has a long way to go to become a “transit-rich” city, these improvements to the system will only encourage more people to embrace public transportation options for their commute.
Their improvements show that Denver takes its commitment to creating a smart, multimodal transportation system seriously. In 2016, the city participated in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, which invited seven cities to “provide a holistic, integrated approach to improving surface transportation performance within a city.” Although Denver didn’t win the challenge, the city is still moving forward with its MOBE (Mobility on Demand Enterprise) pitch, which “seeks to eliminate the typical barriers of the transportation marketplace to provide transit options for everyone, regardless of income or disability.”
The Denver Department of Public Works has also created a “Strategic Transportation Plan (STP)” which aims to use a “unique and innovative approach to identifying future system needs and community values, and a method for incorporating them into [Denver’s] future transportation decisions and solutions.” Unlike most transportation plans, the STP focuses on moving people instead of vehicles for a “transformative approach to transportation” that will not grow Denver’s road footprint.
By embracing shifts in mobility options, cities like Denver can set themselves up for a future with less congestion through the adoption of smart mobility solutions, and the implementation of an infrastructure that supports multimodal transportation options.
Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.