To the surprise of no one, downtown residents and regulars recently told city officials that the parking situation sucks. So does bicycle access. And -- oh, yeah -- the signage leading into downtown is confusing.
But they like the 16th Street Mall shuttle. They really, really do.
The city hosted a "focus group" on Tuesday, January 28, asking for public input on improving access to downtown. And in an oddly open-government gesture, the city did so before the consultants rallied and any deals were done. Well, except for scrapping any idea of a downtown subway, a holdover notion from 1986, when the city last addressed the issue in its Downtown Area Plan. (Still, some 2003 addendees held firm, putting a subway on their wish list.)
About 150 people showed up for the two-and-a-half-hour meeting at the Webb Mahal, where RTD director Bill Elfenbein gave an overview of the project and Don Hunt, owner of the Antero Company and a longtime downtown resident, waxed poetic about his involvement with the 1986 review process and the challenges -- er, opportunities -- now facing Denver.
"We talked about some of the things that are working well getting downtown in any mode," says Brendon Harrington, transportation program manager for the Downtown Denver Partnership, which is a co-sponsor of the initiative, along with the city, RTD, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Denver Regional Council of Governments. "Then we went into the things that could be improved and talked about creative ideas to solve some of the problems."
The neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and West Wash Park were heavily represented, with a number of those areas' residents urging that a free bus/light-rail/shuttle/moving-sidewalk system circumventing downtown's borders hub at Union Station. Other ideas included fare-free zones in downtown areas; elevated light rail in the core city, with a loop connecting it to City Park and the Denver Coliseum; a citywide parking summit; a trolley between Cherry Creek and downtown; putting Colfax underground at Civic Center; and better bicycle access.
"There was a lot of good thinking and dialogue going on -- people were generating ideas left and right," says Catherine Cox, a senior city planner in the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development. "Many folks were drawing on experiences in other cities like D.C., Seattle and Boston."
Of course, all this good thinking and dialogue occurred before RTD announced its largest-ever proposed service cuts -- including reductions on the 0 and 15 lines, two of the major arteries bringing riders into downtown.
Ticket to ride: Former Bronco Chris Watson may have been traded to the Buffalo Bills, but his cousin, Corey Carver, is still rollin'. In a Yellow Cab limo.
Carver followed the 1999 third-round draft pick from Illinois to Denver, where he started driving a cab and set up a limo business while Watson patrolled the field. When his cousin left after only one season, Carver decided it was time for a trade, too. He sold his business but kept two cars and asked Yellow Cab if the company wanted a yellow limousine.
It did, and Carver's been prowling downtown in his nine-passenger Lincoln since December. "This is like Taxi Cab Confessions for real," says the 28-year-old entrepreneur. "I work the hotels, and people can call and request me. Some kids and some adults have never rolled in a limousine. So why shouldn't they be able to hit the grocery store in style?"
Especially when it's a mere 81 cents a mile -- the same rate as a regular taxi. "There's no premium just because it's a longer car," says Doug Masser, director of business development at Yellow Cab.
The company also runs a Mercedes stretch in Boulder, where it's a favorite with University of Colorado students. "To encourage hotels to use taxis, we thought we could offer them the same vehicle painted in yellow as painted in black," Masser explains. "It's the same excellent service."
Carver's endeavor has been so successful -- he makes more money subcontracting with Yellow Cab than simply driving for the company -- that he's added a 1997 conversion van to his fleet. "My grandfather had a cab company," he says, "and I'm planning to do this for the rest of my life."
Which is more than Watson can say.
Outta here, with a bullet: It's strike two for Rick Stanley. Less than a year after a Denver jury nailed him for having a 380-caliber semiautomatic handgun in his holster during a downtown rally celebrating the Bill of Rights, on January 30 Thornton judge Charles Rose found Stanley guilty of carrying a .357 Wesson at the Thornton Harvest Festival on September 7.
Incensed by the ruling, the self-proclaimed constitutional activist and 2002 Libertarian candidate for U.S. Senate issued a statement, which was promptly ignored by the mainstream media that gave him so much ink last fall: "Judge Rose ignored his sworn oath of office to defend both the State and National Constitutions with his actions in court today, prosecuting a Colorado citizen with the guaranteed right to keep and bear arms, for actually exercising that right, under the FRAUD of color of law. This traitor to America and Colorado was given petitions that proved State passed legislative law, as well as Supreme Court citations, which he chose to ignore, violating Stanley's constitutional, civil, jurisdictional and property rights."
Stanley intends to appeal the decision, just as he did the Denver decision. (His next step in that case is to file with the Colorado Supreme Court on February 12.) "The reason I did both were acts of civil disobedience," he says. "It's not like I run around everywhere with a gun on my hip."
Colorado's judges may not be sympathetic to Stanley's cause, but 1,271 people have sworn their allegiance to his Million Gun March, to be held the first Fourth of July that he finds a million gun-toting compatriots.
Only 998,729 to go.
Steer clear: Denver is not a cowtown. Paul Burns is very adamant about this. We're a steer kind of place, he says.
That's why he eschewed CowParade -- which licenses the concept of auctioning off fiberglass bovines for charitable fundraising to interested cities -- and instead created Steer Around Town. Rather than the artistic cows that have been herded through Zurich, Chicago, London, New York and a host of other cities, Denver will boast life-sized fiberglass steers. "We thought about doing buffalo," Burns says, "but they just did that for the Salt Lake City Olympics, and it identified CU, so we backed off."
The choice also keeps Denver out of the litigious fray that has surrounded CowParade. The concept originated in Zurich in 1998, and a Chicago businessman fell in love with the idea of having businesses sponsor cows that would be painted by local artists, then displayed and auctioned off for charity. He brought the concept back to the Windy City, and a phenomenon was born.
But the Swiss originators sued U.S.-based CowParade Holdings Corporation, claiming it doesn't have the right to license or distribute the canvas cattle drives. In turn, the U.S. company is suing the Swiss. Not to be left out, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued then-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani's administration and the organizers of CowParade NYC 2000, demanding that a PETA cow be included in the project. Organizers had earlier rejected that submission, which depicted a butcher-shop cow covered with claims such as "Eating meat causes impotence."
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"I wanted to stay away from the politics of CowParade and everything associated with it," Burns says.
Not to mention the licensing fees. Ringo Starr and Damien Hirst contributed designs to the London and New York shows, elevating the CowParade's popularity -- and the cost of bringing it to new cities. By starting his own event, Burns need only cover the cost of having his steers manufactured by a Rockford, Illinois, fabricator. "We're going to have two poses, and a local person is doing the second," he says.
Chipotle is the latest business to buy a $4,800 steer sponsorship (by contrast, a sponsorship in this year's Atlanta CowParade runs $7,500), which includes a $1,000 stipend for the artist creating the masterpiece. Burns says he has twelve others in the works and hopes to have a herd of fifty to a hundred steers on display in downtown Denver next January, when they'll be auctioned off at the end of the 2004 National Western Stock Show in a benefit for the Osteogenesis Imperfecta Foundation.
In New York, a cow sold for $110,000 -- so we could be talking serious moo-la.