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With Colorado poised to spend billions of dollars on transportation in the coming years, a new report released today by the CoPIRG Foundation and the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP) finds that Colorado needs to invest at least $1.05 billion per year in transit, biking, and pedestrian infrastructure and services to meet the demands and challenges of the state’s shifting demographics and growing population.
According to the report, investing in transit, walking and biking would increase the affordability, accessibility and safety of Colorado’s transportation system, improve public health, enhance economic opportunities, reduce air pollution, help meet the challenges of a fast growing population and provide critical options that Coloradans in urban and rural areas are increasingly demanding and relying on to reach jobs, schools, medical appointments, grocery stores and other needs and amenities.
“Transit, walking and biking are a critical part of our transportation system in Colorado,” said Danny Katz, co-author of the report and Director the CoPIRG Foundation, a Colorado consumer advocacy group. “Unfortunately underinvestment has led to inadequate or nonexistent sidewalks and unsafe bicycle infrastructure for too many Colorado communities and an insufficient local and statewide transit system.”
“We spend a lot of money on transportation right now. The Denver region alone spends about $4 billion per year,” said Will Toor, co-author of the report and Transportation Program Director with the public interest group the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP). “So as we look at how to spend that money and any of the recent proposals to increase transportation funding, our report demonstrates the need for and the benefits of investing a lot more in transit, walking and biking.”
According to the report, $1.05 billion a year over the next 25 years would build a complete sidewalk system in cities and towns across Colorado, bring urban bike infrastructure up to the standards of the best communities in the state, and add regional bicycle connections. In addition, it would significantly improve transit services in communities across the state including providing fare-free service in the Denver metro area, completing over a dozen local bus rapid transit lines, launching weekend bus service from Denver to the ski areas along I-70, and ramping up transit service in rural areas to meet the growing needs, especially of the increasing aging population.
The report calls for Colorado to invest in the following ways:
● $243.6 million per year in walking infrastructure to build 6,000 miles of missing sidewalks, repair 8,600 miles of inadequate sidewalks in Colorado’s urbanized areas and maintain the whole system.
● $229.5 million per year to bring the biking infrastructure in every city up to the standards of the best communities in Colorado, build regional bicycle routes that connect cities and towns across the state, ensure we have safe shoulders on rural roads to allow safe bike travel and expand bike share programs to increase access to biking options.
● $573.6 million per year on transit, which would:
- Launch 14 new bus rapid transit (BRT) lines in the Denver metro area that would provide efficient and convenient service along some of the busiest corridors
- Complete the North Metro Rail Line and Central and Southwest Rail Extensions
- Offer fare-free access to RTD’s current services, increasing ridership by 100 million trips
- Increase the quality of every other local transit service across the state
- Expand the statewide bus service, Bustang, by adding destinations in Pueblo and Grand Junction and increasing the number of buses on all routes as well as adding new BRT service between Fort Collins and Denver if express lanes are added to I-25
- Provide recreational bus service along the I-70 mountain corridor including buses leaving for five different destinations every 20 minutes during many weekends
- Meet the growing rural regional transit needs including adding fixed routes connecting areas like Lamar, Walsenburg, Greeley along U.S. 85 and communities in the northwest U.S. 40 corridor with larger population centers as well as ramping up specialized demand response rural transit service to help rural Coloradans meet critical needs
“Whether it’s a complete sidewalk system, a safe and efficient bike system or better transit around town, around the state or to the ski mountains, these investments will bring significant benefits to Coloradans across the state,” said Katz.
“Transit, walking, and biking are critical to increase the safety, accessibility, and affordability of our transportation system and reduce the negative impacts on our health, local economy, environment and quality of life from a mostly single-mode, car-oriented transportation system,” said Toor.
The report finds that investments in transit, biking and pedestrian infrastructure would bring significant benefits to Coloradans. For example, transit, walking and biking can help households cut their combined housing and transportation costs in half by living in a community where they can reduce the number of cars they own by one. Since the average annual cost of owning and operating a vehicle is $8,698 for the average American, Coloradans can save thousands of dollars if they have access to good transit, walking and biking options.
Moreover, the report finds that expanded and improved transit service combined with bike and walking investments can increase the accessibility of employment opportunities, schools, medical services, grocery stores and entertainment for the nearly 10% of Coloradans of driving age who do not have a driver’s license and the hundreds of thousands of additional Coloradans who want to get around without car. The report also identifies transit connections to medical appointments as a particularly important lifeline for rural communities where the percent of residents over the age of 75 is projected to nearly double from 6 percent to 11 percent by 2040.
Another benefit that the report cites is the ability for transit, walking and biking to provide active transportation options that can tackle obesity and improve quality of life. For example, in Seattle, researchers found that a 5 percent increase in walkability of an area saw an increase by 32 percent in biking and walking.
The report highlights that traveling as a pedestrian, bicyclist or transit rider provides significant health benefits by reducing air pollution. For example, the state’s vehicle-driven transportation system contributes approximately a quarter of Colorado’s greenhouse gas emissions. In Denver, on-road vehicles also contributed 32% of the nitrogen oxides (NOx) and 16% of the volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions, which can lead to smog and can cause asthma, lung disease and premature death.
The report also presents examples of the economic benefits for local businesses in walkable, bikeable and transit-oriented areas as well as the potential for these modes of travel to improve the safety of our transportation system and reduce the 488 deaths from motor vehicle crashes Colorado saw in 2014.
“With 2.4 million more people pouring into Colorado by 2040, we need to dramatically increase the options available for people to take a trip without a car. Since a majority of trips along the Front Range are 3 miles or less, transit, biking and walking can play a huge role in meeting the growing demands of our transportation system in a way that is more affordable, accessible, safer and healthier for all of us,” said Katz.
“We need to increase investments in transit, walking and biking because that is what Coloradans say they want in polls and surveys, whether it is the swelling Millennial population or the aging Baby Boomers who are found not just in urban areas but in rural communities across the state,” said Toor.
The report highlights that underinvesting in transit, walking and biking is not new. In 2012, the average investment by states in transit operating was 26% and 12% in capital. However, Colorado did not start investing in transit operating until last year and invested only about 1% in transit capital.
“There is no silver bullet solution to adequately fund transit, walking and biking but there are a whole range of policy changes that would chip away at these needs,” said Toor.
Recommendations in the report include:
- Ensure that existing state transportation funding is flexible and can be used to address the particular transportation needs of a corridor, rather than being arbitrarily limited to only highways.
- Require that toll revenues be used to support transit service in the same corridor.
- The state and every regional planning partner should conduct the same level of analysis to identify funding gaps for transit, bicycle, and pedestrian infrastructure as they do for roads and highways.
- New state transportation should have significant funding options for transit, walking and biking.
- Colorado’s Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), cities and counties should adequately fund sidewalks, safe crossings, and local bicycle infrastructure, in addition to partnering with transit agencies to provide adequate transit to their residents.
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