Traffic in Denver sucks. If you drive along Speer Boulevard after 3 p.m. on any given day, you have to battle not only congestion, but new development construction that is apparently permitted to stop traffic whenever it pleases. Then there's the nightmare known as Colorado Boulevard, a street where no one should ever have to drive, let alone ride a bicycle — or, god forbid, walk along its skinny, scary, gravel-strewn sidewalks. Even the once sort-of-sneaky North-South paired passageways like Josephine and York streets or Corona and Downing streets are too congested to be useful anymore. I-25 is a joke and it's usually faster to get off the highway and cut through neighborhoods (oh, and fill Denver's neighborhoods up with the highway traffic, yippee!). Hell, if you've tried to go to Boulder on 36 or anywhere in the mountains using I-70 over any recent weekend, you know that lousy traffic conditions aren't limited to Denver.
Recently, though, I spent 24 hours in Los Angeles — and eight of those hours were spent in the car, a hellish time span that taught me this: Denver has nothing on L.A.
As Coloradans, we may have spent an average of 49 hours in the car last year — up from 46 hours in 2011 because no duh, we've added several hundred thousand people to our city's population in those three years and they all came in their cars. Still, we cannot compare Denver's traffic to the decades-old congestion cycle of Los Angeles, where residents spend an average of eighty hours of their lives in cars each year. Yet I hear Denver being compared to Los Angeles over and over again. I've even screamed something along the lines of "What in the fuck is this? Am I in L.A.?" while stuck in that horrendous section of I-25 north between Downing and Colfax, which seemingly hasn't recovered since T-REX broke ground almost fifteen years ago.
The same goes for comparing the two cities' rent situations. It's true — rent in Denver is unbelievably high. Places you wouldn't set foot in five years ago are renting to the highest bidder. I've heard terrible story after terrible story of friends looking for a new apartment for months, unable to find anything in their price range — or anything at all. Basically, unless you find one of those hidden gem buildings that is still owned by a human person and has not yet been swallowed up by a big property company, you're kind of screwed. But L.A. isn't any better: We stayed with my boyfriend's brother, and he pays $750 a month to live in a studio apartment in West Hollywood with a refrigerator and a hot plate. And he inherited that "great deal" from a friend.
Everything in L.A. is more expensive: gas (obviously,) drinks, food, basic necessities. It's all more expensive than it is in Denver. I've thought many times about moving to L.A., but it's never been because it would be cheaper. And it's also never been because I thought traffic wouldn't be worse — in fact, that's one reason why I probably wouldn't move there. I already hate driving.
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Being in a bigger city always comes at a price, which makes me think: Maybe Denver is that bigger city now to some people. We've always been a small town at heart — I can't walk out my front door without running into a coworker from three jobs ago, a old friend from Catholic school or a musician I used to be in a band with. Denver has always felt small to me, but lately, it's clear that we're growing and not looking back.
If anything, my short trip to Los Angeles reminded me why Denver is so great. Beyond our traffic and skyrocketing rents, beyond the crushing development that seems to be filling our city with temporary luxury housing, beyond the myriad issues involved with how our city government is or isn't handling this growth, we are still doing okay. There's a lot of room for improvement, especially in our own civic duty as residents of Denver. As voters, we can make decisions about roads, highways and mass transit. As people, we can protest changes to our neighborhoods that we disagree with complain when we see a change in the city that we don't like. It took me visiting another big city to see the potential that Denver has to stay great: We just have to make sure that as citizens, we make our voices heard. If you want to move to Los Angeles, you should! But don't do it because Denver feels like it sucks right now. Instead, I encourage you to stay and try to ride it out. Denver can be be great, I swear. It's why I'm convincing myself to stay in this city even as I type this.
Be my voyeur (or better yet, let me stalk you) on Twitter: @cocodavies