Report: 21st Century Transportation for Colorado

Colorado’s Transit, Biking and Walking Needs Over the Next 25 Years

How Much Colorado Needs to Invest and Why It Is the Right Path Forward
Released by: CoPIRG Foundation

Transit, walking and biking are critical components of a 21st century transportation system in Colorado but have been underfunded for decades.

Without significant investments in transit, biking and pedestrian services and infrastructure, Colorado will not be able to meet the demands and challenges of our shifting demographics and growing population, and will miss out on the many benefits transit, walking and biking provide.

Colorado needs to increase investments in transit, walking and biking by $1.05 billion dollars per year over the next 25 years to ensure every Coloradan in our towns and cities experiences the multitude of benefits that come from good access to adequate sidewalks, safe bicycle infrastructure including safe shoulders on rural highways, and good transit service within cities as well as a comprehensive statewide, bus-based, intercity transit system. 

The benefits of this investment are immense. 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. 

Coloradans from all backgrounds and all parts of the state will benefit whether it is a family in Denver who can ride a bus to the ski areas; or an aging resident of Craig who needs to get to a critical medical appointment 100 miles away without a car; or for a child in Greeley to safely walk to school; or for a bicyclist in Longmont to commute to Boulder; or for residents of Aurora to have access to employment opportunities from Louisville to Highlands Ranch riding fast and frequent bus rapid transit.

An increased investment in transit, biking and walking can save a Coloradan thousands of dollars each year by providing more affordable options for travel and reducing the need to own a car. Expanded and improved transit service combined with bike and walking investments 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.

Traveling as a pedestrian, bicyclist or transit rider provides significant health benefits by reducing air pollution like greenhouse gas emissions and smog forming particulates. These modes of travel also offer a way to combat obesity and improve individual health by providing active transportation options. Transit, walking, and biking can play a big role in shorter trips of 3 miles or less, which make up a majority of the total trips along the Colorado Front Range. 

Walkability, bikeability and transit-oriented areas provide benefits to local businesses. Better pedestrian, bicycle, and transit services and infrastructure are critical tools for eliminating transportation-related crashes and fatalities.  

With 2.4 million more people pouring into Colorado in the next 25 years, transit, biking and walking are important transportation options to combat congestion.

Finally, 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.

This will require a partnership between local, state and federal government and the private sector to both reallocate existing funds and generate new money for multimodal transportation needs.

Transit, Biking and Walking Investments Needed Over the Next 25 Years

An additional $1.05 billion dollars per year in transit, walking and biking builds a complete sidewalk system in cities and towns across Colorado; brings intracity bike infrastructure up to the standards of the best communities in Colorado and adds regional bicycle connections and safer biking options along rural highway shoulders; and would bring good transit service to the major Colorado population centers, provide fare-free service in the Denver metro area, complete over a dozen local bus rapid transit lines, and build out a comprehensive statewide, intercity transit system including dozens of buses from Denver to ski areas and demand response bus service to meet the growing rural transit needs. 

Colorado needs to increase investment in transit, bicycle, and pedestrian investments by $1.05 billion per year in the following ways:

  • $243.6 million per year for walking infrastructure
    o    $133.9 million to build the 6,000 miles of missing sidewalks and to repair 8,600 miles of inadequate sidewalks in Colorado urbanized areas
    o    $109.7 million to maintain the entire system

●    $229.5 million per year for bicycle infrastructure
o    $100.8 million to bring the biking infrastructure in every city up to the standards of the best communities in Colorado
o    $17.4 million to build regional bicycle routes that connect cities and towns across the state
o    $100 million to ensure we have safe shoulders on rural roads to allow safe bike travel
o    $11.3 million to expand bike share programs to increase access to biking options

●    $573.6 million per year for transit including
o    $341.6 per year for the Denver metro region’s transit including launching 14 bus rapid transit (BRT) lines that provide efficient and convenient cross community service along some of the busiest corridors; completing the North Metro Rail Line as well as the Central and Southwest Rail Extensions; offering fare-free access to RTD’s current services, increasing ridership by 100 million trips

o    $113.1 million per year to increase the quality of city-run transit services outside of the Denver metro area including:
           $15 million per year in Colorado Springs
           $29.6 million per year in the North Front Range including
                        $12.9 million in Fort Collins
                          $2.7 million in Berthoud, Greeley-Evans and Loveland
                           $14 million for regional service
            $12 million per year in Pueblo

             $8 million per year in Mesa County
           $36 million per year in the Intermountain Transportation Planning Region (IMTPR) encompassing Eagle, Garfield, Lake, Pitkin and Summit Counties
           $12.5 million per year for the rest of the smaller transit providers
o    $3.3 million per year in annual operating costs and $3 million in one-time capital costs to expand Bustang, the statewide bus service
o    $25.6 million per year to provide recreational bus service along the I-70 mountain corridor including buses leaving for five different destinations every 20 minutes during weekends
o    $17 million per year to provide BRT service in managed lanes between Denver and Fort Collins
o    $43.2 million per year to meet the growing rural regional transit needs including routes from Lamar, from Walsenburg, from Greeley along U.S. 85 and along the U.S. 40 corridor in northwest Colorado
o    $29.8 million per year to meet the growing demand for specialized rural transit service

Click here for infographics of Colorado's transit, walking and biking needs and some of the benefits of investing in transit, walking and biking in Colorado.

Policy Recommendations

To meet the needs of transit, walking and biking in Colorado over the next 25 years, policymakers should:
●    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 one mode of transportation. Currently, state law restricts the Colorado Department of Transportation’s (CDOT) use of the vast majority of state transportation funding to highway and road projects. In 2013, the legislature removed this restriction from cities and counties through the passage of SB 13-048. The legislature should give the same flexibility to CDOT.

●    Require that toll revenues be used to support transit service in the same corridor. Increasingly, the state has turned to toll lanes as both a way to finance highway expansion and a way to manage congestion in those lanes, by charging a higher toll during congested periods. In order to make sure that these projects serve all income ranges and support Colorado’s multimodal needs, the state should require that a portion of toll revenues be invested in public transit in these corridors.

●    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. The state and the regional planning organizations currently develop detailed projections of funding needs for both maintenance and expansion of highways. These plans don’t just show what can be done with existing funding, but identify funding gaps. This level of analysis should be fully extended to transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

●    New state funding sources for transportation should be designed to provide Coloradans with options to meet the broad multimodal transportation needs of our residents.  While the state is not solely responsible for transportation investment – local and federal funding play a big role – it is a crucial partner for implementing good public transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, in addition to highways. In 2016, the two proposals to increase state funding that received the most attention were a proposal to issue $3.5 billion in bonds and another to raise the state sales tax by $670 million per year. Unfortunately, these proposals provided either zero or minimal funding for transit, walking and biking.

●    Colorado’s Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) should use the funding that comes to them to support the broad range of multimodal needs. MPOs such as the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), the Pikes Peak Council of Governments and the North Front Range MPO are the lead agencies for programming how federal transportation funds get invested in their regions. Many of these federal funding streams are flexible dollars that can be used for all modes of transportation. While some MPOs have used this flexibility, others spend the vast majority of flexible funds on roadway projects. MPOs should more robustly fund multimodal investments needed to serve their regions.

●    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. Local funds, typically generated from sales taxes, property taxes and fees on development, are an important source of transportation dollars in Colorado.

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