Why Denver Has Become a Terrible City for Driving

Why Denver Has Become a Terrible City for Driving
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When Denver was recently named one of the best American cities for driving, one question immediately occurred to us: Are they out of their freaking minds?

A number of factors fueled our doubts. For one thing, the source of "USA's Best Cities for Driving," which ranked Denver as the sixth-best motoring city in the nation (behind Charlotte, Fort Worth, Chicago, Philadelphia and Columbus but ahead of New York City, Dallas, San Antonio and Houston in the top ten) is Insure My Rental Car, which isn't exactly our go-to website for unimpeachable, rigorously researched analyses. For another, a report released by Bankrate in December 2018 deemed Colorado the eighth-worst state for driving — and last time we checked, Denver is actually located there.

But the most important reason for our reaction had to do with our experiences on the streets of the Mile High City, which have been bad for years and are only getting worse.

Why? Here are our top ten reasons, out of a possible one billion.

Number 1: Highway Construction

Major highways in the metro area are torn up just about everywhere you look. Take Interstate 70, where the controversial Central 70 project regularly results in lane shutdowns and shifts through construction zones and even full closures. Moreover, sections of the twelve-mile stretch in question are going to remain a mess until at least 2022 unless critics succeed in the tall task of killing the whole thing — and if that happens, two other highways (I-270 and I-76) would need renovating to handle the increased traffic.

From a commuter's standpoint, that's a lose-lose proposition, at least in the short run — if "short" can be used to describe something that would last years.

Construction is also happening along C-470, and in May 2018, we were told it was supposed to be finished this spring. Based on what it looks like right now, however, that's a pipe dream.

The Colorado Department of Transportation tries to keep traffic flowing through areas under construction, particularly during rush hours, and much of the work is being done at night. But that hasn't prevented gridlock from being a regular occurrence in these sections and on either side of them — and as a result, many of us are torn between measuring our commute times with a sundial or an hourglass.

Either of which would work all too well.

A February Colorado of Department of Transportation photo showing preparations for Central 70 project construction related to Colorado and Brighton boulevards. - COLORADO DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
A February Colorado of Department of Transportation photo showing preparations for Central 70 project construction related to Colorado and Brighton boulevards.
Colorado Department of Transportation

Number 2: Surface Street Construction

Whoever makes orange street cones is making a mint in Denver. Turn any corner in the city and you're likely to encounter at least one of them — and they're typically accompanied by plenty of pals.

Some of the work gets done pretty quickly, including the repair of potholes, which the city pledges to fill within three business days of them being reported. But there are also many areas that are under siege from crews for weeks or months at a time.

For evidence, click on the construction map for north Denver. A recent visit revealed two temporary intersection closures, more than a dozen temporary bus stop closures and so many lane restrictions or road closures (some temporary, some permanent) that the graphic looks like an intricate maze with no exit.

Number 3: Dangerous Ramps

The transitions between Denver highways and surface streets can be a little slice of hell, even when they've been completely eliminated. Note that the permanent blockading of the York Street on-ramp to westbound I-70 (another gift from Central 70) has led to a slew of unexpected and unpleasant consequences for residents of RiNo and the Cole neighborhood.

Loads of working ramps bring risks of their own. In March 2017, a Denver Police Department list of the most dangerous intersections in the city was dominated by highway exits. Interstate 25 at Yale Avenue experienced twenty accidents between January 1 and March 5 of that year, and this total was only good enough for tenth on the roster. During the same period, Interstate 25 at Sixth Avenue bore witness to sixty crashes.

Think the situation's gotten better since then? Doubt it.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts