Denver Wants New Developments to Help Reduce Cars on the Roads

DOTI wants developers to help reduce traffic.
Colorado Department of Transportation
DOTI wants developers to help reduce traffic.
Denver could soon enact a policy that would require developers to help reduce the number of cars on city streets.

"This is really cross-cutting. It’s going to help meet various goals. There are benefits from a climate perspective, from air pollution, public health and affordability. It gets at quality of life and how Denverites have access to get around the city and go about their daily lives and do that in a more sustainable, accessible and affordable way," says Alana Miller, who has been working on a transportation demand management proposal with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure.

The proposal, which a Denver City Council committee will consider on March 30, would require developers to implement specific programs to reduce the number of single-occupancy vehicle trips taken by tenants of new developments.

For example, the proposal suggests, developers could offer subsidized transit passes for tenants or install showers, lockers and changing rooms for people who bike to work. According to city officials, who have been working on this proposal for two years with help from an advisory group that includes developers, many new developments have already implemented these programs.

If approved by Denver City Council, the rules would apply to all new developments — whether commercial, residential, industrial or office — that fit into the medium- or large-size categories of the proposal. Smaller developments, such as residential projects with 25 or fewer units, would not be subject to the transportation demand management requirements.

"There’s tons of different transportation demand management strategies that can be implemented. And developers want to choose a strategy that makes sense for their building, their location and their tenants," says Matt Kaufman of Urban Trans North America, which consulted with Denver on the proposal.

A developer building a new project in downtown Denver could focus on walkable areas and access to transit, which will achieve higher transportation demand management goals than a developer building a new development in an outlying area. "If you’re in a more suburban location, maybe you want to focus on how you help people carpool more," Kaufman suggests.

Cities and counties across the country, including San Francisco and Virginia's Fairfax County, have adopted transportation demand management programs to create more walkable and pedestrian-friendly areas. Kaufman believes that Denver's program, which could take effect as early as late spring, could lead to a 6 to 10 percent reduction in car commutes in ten years. In 2016, 73 percent of Denver commuters commuted to work in a single-occupancy vehicle; the city has a goal of reducing this to 50 percent by 2030.

To ensure the program's success, DOTI has added compliance requirements and enforcement mechanisms to the proposal. New developments that fall into the large category will have to track single-occupancy vehicle trips and ensure that they've come in below the target number. Developers that don't comply with the new regulations will face administrative repercussions.

"This program does have teeth, so that’s a key aspect in making sure that we’re achieving our goals," says Zack Gambetti-Mendez, who also worked on the project for DOTI. Unlike programs already implemented in other areas, Denver's would include affordable-housing developments.

"Other cities have excluded affordable housing," Gambetti-Mendez points out. "We felt that that doesn’t really help us advance our equity goals. We just want everyone to really have access to those benefits."

The program requirements are designed to be low-cost. "The developer could increase lease rates to offset the cost," Kaufman offers. "In that scenario, the cost might be pushed off to the leasee, but I would argue that there’s a lot of cost savings to offset that. Alternately, the developer might take it at a reduced profit."