By Allen Cowgill
City Council has taken an interest in the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) budget for 2024. Due to the nature of Denver’s strong mayor system, the administration of Mayor Mike Johnston controls the majority of decisions on the budget, but Denver City Council has the opportunity to influence the budget during the fall budget process.
The current City Council has been much more aggressive in asking for amendments to the mayor’s budget. At the Oct. 30 City Council meeting, Councilman Paul Kashman noted it was a historic $80 million in budget amendments requested by council, when normally council would only ask for $3-5 million. Kashman noted in the initial round of budget negotiations that the mayor agreed to a historic $12.5 in amendments.
A budget amendment sponsored by council members Parady, Lewis, Hinds and Watson sought to restore Vision Zero funding by $550,000. The mayor’s budget had redirected a portion of Vision Zero funds to a Speer Boulevard tunnel upgrade.
Vision Zero is Denver’s goal to reduce traffic deaths in Denver to zero by the year 2030. During remarks, Councilwoman Shontel Lewis said that “traffic deaths and severe injuries are unacceptable and preventable, and safety must be the most important consideration for every Denver street.” She noted that Denver is headed toward another record year of traffic deaths, on pace to surpass last year’s record. As of Oct. 31, 71 people had died in traffic crashes.
Councilman Darrell Watson noted that the Transportation Mobility Special Revenue Fund was created with a commitment to enhance bike, pedestrian, transit and Vision Zero projects. The Speer Boulevard tunnel project involves revamping the fire suppression system in the tunnel to bring it up to standards. Watson said that funding the Speer Tunnel improvement project, while important, should be funded from elsewhere in the city budget, since upgrading the fire suppression system does not fall in line with the intention of the Transportation Mobility Special Revenue Fund.
In a roll call vote, council unanimously voted for this amendment to direct additional funds to Vision Zero. Denver’s 2022 Vision Zero action plan calls for annual funding of around $6-10 million to hit its goal. While many DOTI budget line items contribute to Vision Zero, this proposed increase would bring the total dedicated Vision Zero line item to around $2.2 million, along with an additional $150,000 for Vision Zero marketing, still well short of the funding called out in the action plan.
The DOTI-proposed budget for 2024 includes an expansion of the popular Denver Connector micro transit program to Denver’s west side. Started in Montbello, and recently expanded to Globeville and Elyria-Swansea, the Denver Connector is an on-demand micro transit service that allows residents to request to be taken around the neighborhood in smaller vehicles like minivans, often to places that conventional RTD routes do not serve. While details are forthcoming, the expanded service is likely to include Denver’s west side as well as Sun Valley.
Also proposed for 2024, DOTI plans to repave about 365 miles of city streets and replace some of Denver’s vehicle fleet with electric vehicles. And the city plans to spend about $15 million on multimodal improvements for pedestrians, safe routes to schools, transit users and bike lanes.
The final 2024 city budget must be approved on or before Nov. 13.
Allen Cowgill is the City Council District 1 appointee to the DOTI Advisory Board, where he serves as the board secretary.