One word for Denver’s 2019 election: growth

April 23, 2019

Denver’s 2019 election is about growth.

That’s the takeaway from a month of election activity hosted by the School of Public Affairs (SPA) in advance of the May 7 election.

Four local reporters offered insights on the issues at the SPA First Friday Breakfast election panel, and four mayoral candidates shared their visions for the city at a “Meet the Candidates” forum, co-sponsored by the Urban Land Institute.

School of Public Affairs

April First Friday Breakfast Denver 2019 Election

Moderator: Nolbert Chavez, director of CU Denver CityCenter


Jennifer Brown, reporter for The Colorado Sun

Patricia Calhoun, editor of Westword

Andrew Kenney, City Hall reporter for The Denver Post

David Sachs, City Reporter for Denverite. 

2019 Denver election voter guides from panelists’ news outlets

Denver Post

“There’s no question that growth, development and change are driving the elections for City Council and mayor,” said David Sachs, city reporter for Denverite, and one of four journalists on the panel.

Part of the election will be decided on whether the challengers can convince the populace that they could have done a better job at managing growth than the incumbents, said Westword Editor Patricia Calhoun. 

Balance regional collaboration and Denver focus

As Denver evolves into one big urban region, Calhoun said that regional cooperation is critical for Denver on a number of fronts, including homelessness, housing, the economy, aging infrastructure and cultural amenities. 

“Denver is just not on its own. If you don’t work with the surrounding cities, the six counties, it’s just not going to work,” said Calhoun.

“The interesting thing about Denver politics is that it’s obviously a landlocked city, in every sense of the word. It can’t grow out anymore,” saidThe Denver Post City Hall Reporter Andrew Kenney, noting the importance of regional planning as Denver and the suburbs evolve into a more distributed urban region in the next 15 years.

2019 Municipal Election Information from Denver Elections Division
The election is underway now, and all ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on May 7.
Voting by mail – Ballots were mailed to voters the week of April 15, and drop-boxes are located across the city through May 7.
Voting in person – Vote centers open on April 29 and will be available through May 7.

Transportation and mass transit

The panelists discussed discontent over potholes, and then they turned their attention to mass transit.

Trains work best when there is population density, said Sachs, and the investment in light rail is diminished when suburban communities resist development near rail stops.

Kenney said it will be important for Denver’s next mayor to convince surrounding communities to develop along the light rail, and for Denver to set an example; if the RTD FasTracks Program delivers on its promise, high-density housing along the bones of the light rail system may alleviate some of Denver’s housing crisis.

While RTD and FastTracks address regional transportation, Sachs said there is a growing need for Denver to “look inward” to improve mobility from neighborhood to neighborhood within the city.

“Denver is realizing that its intercity transit is not what it needs to be,” said Sachs.

A “Meet the Candidates” mayoral forum was hosted by the Urban Land Institute and the School of Public Affairs on campus on April 11.

Mayoral candidates on mobility

The Denver Business Journal’s government reporter, Ed Sealover, asked mayoral candidates what they’d do about intercity transportation at the “Meet the Candidates” forum he moderated on campus with the Urban Land Institute and the School of Public Affairs.

Sealover reported that Mayor Michael Hancock is setting up a transportation department for Denver that could operate local buses and build more bike lanes. Here is what some of the Denver mayoral candidates said about the issue:

  • Mayor Hancock stressed the importance of bicycle infrastructure.
  • Jamie Giellis advocates to bring back the streetcar system.
  • Penfield Tate suggests shuttles that connect with RTD routes.
  • Lisa Calderon proposes charging fees to discourage motorists from driving in congested areas at peak times.

Sealover’s full article, “How Denver’s mayoral candidates want to get people out of their cars,” appeared in The Denver Business Journal on April 16.

Research Highlight

All of the candidates are exploring alternative transportation options to reduce reliance on cars. What about transportation disruptors like Uber and Lyft? And how will driverless cars impact the transportation system?

The candidates are exploring alternative transportation options, but we’ve heard less about the ride-hailing companies and the disruptive technologies coming in the future, including autonomous cars. Two recent studies have insight for city planners. These studies are co-written by Wes Marshall, associate professor, Civil Engineering Department and lead author Alejandro Henao as part of his Ph.D. thesis.   

September 2018: Ride-hailing increases vehicle miles traveled

“Cities still need better data to inform policy decisions about the many mobility-disrupting companies, and we have reached a point where we should expect, and probably need to require, more data transparency,” said Marshall

March 2019: Cities rethink parking as ride-hailing grows and parking revenue declines

“We need to make the technology fit our cities, not the other way around,” said Marshall. “If we focus on the fundamentals of walking and biking, the city will be livable on a human scale, and the technology will adapt to that,” said Marshall.

Homelessness, affordable housing and mental health

Initiative 300, or “right to survive,” backed by advocacy group Denver Homeless Out Loud, would reverse Denver’s ban on camping in public spaces. Vocal opponents include businesses and real estate developers.

Research Highlight

Tony Robinson, associate professor and chair of the Political Science department, is the lead author of a new study produced in collaboration with Denver Homeless Out Loud:

Unhealthy by Design: Public Health Consequences of Denver’s Criminalization of Homelessness.

According to Calhoun, vague language in Initiative 300 will be a problem for all sides if the measure passes. For example, it’s unclear if 300 would overturn the curfew in Denver Parks.

“I think 300 is going to be what drives people to vote in this election, because it’s getting more and more rancorous,” said Calhoun. “And if it passes, we will be seeing endless lawsuits, because it is so vague.”

The ballot measure is putting a spotlight on issues of homelessness, mental health and housing.

“We need to deal with mental health and affordable housing in a better way. A lot of people will recognize that this isn’t the solution to what the problem is in Denver, and hopefully mental health becomes more of a focus,” said Brown, noting that the Coalition for the Homeless is not supporting 300.