Outside of rush hour, how bad is traffic?

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Highlights:

  • Is traffic truly a nightmare?
  • Or is traffic mostly bad only during rush hour?
  • Can walking, biking and car-sharing be a viable solution?
Looking west on Irving Street and West 32nd Avenue at 2:30 p.m. last Friday.

Looking west on Irving Street and West 32nd Avenue at 2:30 p.m. last Friday.

I hate traffic.

Whenever I attend a public hearing on a development issue, it quickly becomes clear I am not alone in my distaste for being stuck behind a line of cars, trucks and SUVs.

Most recently, I heard plenty of traffic complaints when I attended a rezoning hearing for the Emmaus church site at West 32nd Avenue and Irving Street.

Listening to the conversations buzzing around me, I heard a number of people say that stretch of West 32nd Avenue from Lowell Boulevard to Speer Boulevard is such a nightmare that they avoid it all costs, all the time.

The way some people were talking, you could be forgiven for thinking that to reach the trendy restaurants and bars along 32nd Avenue, you would have to navigate the Thunderdome before reaching your destination.

I’ve heard the same complaints along West 17th Avenue, the northern boundary of the St. Anthony’s development across from Sloan’s Lake. That is a strip I’ve found to be a true horror story to be avoided at all costs during rush hour, but most other times a goose can take its time crossing without having its feathers ruffled.

Residents also have complained that horrific traffic congestion will only worsen if developments get the green light in neighborhoods such as Crestmoor Park and Lowry.

Personally, I have experienced bumper-to-bumper backups going east on West 32nd Avenue from Perry Street to Speer Boulevard, a 0.6-mile stretch.

Traffic wasn't exactly overwhelming at 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday. Photo credit: Chris Frampton.

Traffic wasn’t exactly overwhelming at 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday. Photo credit: Chris Frampton.

But that was during a snowstorm when the streets were sheets of ice.

While I am no “roads scholar,” I have found that if I avoid rush hour, it is easy to drive the speed limit on West 32nd Avenue, as well as most streets in Denver.

If I leave for downtown by 7:15 a.m., for example, unless there is horrible weather, I can crank up my scooter to 25 mph along most of 32nd Avenue all the way to Zuni Street in LoHi.

Coming home around the lunch hour, not only is traffic typically moving at a nice clip on 32nd, but there are so few cars on Speer Boulevard that if anything, the temptation is to drive too fast (if you are in a car).

In my experience, South Colorado Boulevard seems to be one of the few corridors that is almost always busy.

I’ve also experienced traffic backups along Wadsworth Boulevard in the suburbs fairly early in the afternoon during the week.

Chris Frampton, managing director of East West Partners, the developer of Riverfront Park and a development force around Union Station, has noticed that most streets in Denver don’t seem to be snarled outside of rush hour.

Traffic wasn't a nightmare after the rush hour was over on 20th Street. Photo credit: Chris Frampton.

Traffic wasn’t a nightmare after the rush hour was over on 20th Street. Photo credit: Chris Frampton.

“That is totally my impression,” said Frampton, who recently took photos of Market, Larimer and other downtown streets that were deserted at 6:30 p.m. on a weekday.

“Last Saturday night, I saw the same thing along South Broadway near Alameda by the Mayan,” theater, he said.

Sidewalks on either side of Broadway were packed with pedestrians, but traffic was not bumper-to-bumper.

Of course, it’s not always possible for many people to avoid streets when they are the most congested.

You might have to drop your kids off at school during the rush hour or business requires you to be on the road when traffic is at its worst.

Frampton recently had a meeting at 5:30 p.m. at Santa Fe Drive and West 8th Avenue and it took him 35 minutes to reach his destination from Market and 15th streets.

“If I could have left at 5:45 p.m., there would have been no problem, but I had to leave at 5 p.m.,” Frampton said.

He was recently speaking to a friend who was complaining that the almost $2 billion plan to “bury” Interstate 70 in the Globeville area, noting the primary purpose is to ease congestion for only an hour a day.

Without taking a side on the proposal, Frampton opined: “You kind of do build roads for that one-hour a day. That’s an important hour.”

Frampton admitted he doesn’t know the answer.

Traffic wasn't snarled heading east on West 32nd Avenue between Irving Street and Speer at 2:30 p.m. last Friday. The intersection is to be avoided during rush hour, if at all possible, though.

Traffic wasn’t snarled heading east on West 32nd Avenue between Irving Street and Speer at 2:30 p.m. last Friday. The intersection is to be avoided during rush hour, if possible, though.

“I’m not a “street guy,” but I find this whole thing fascinating,” Frampton said.

Architect Gosia Kung believes the answer is to think of streets in a different way.

“I think the problem is that we think of transportation in terms of moving cars, not people,” said Kung, founder of the non-profit WalkDenver, an advocacy group whose mission is to make Denver the most walkable city in the U.S. by 2040.

“No matter how big a street is or how many lanes, if there is any kind of slow down, it becomes congested,” she said.

“There really is no way to accommodate peak traffic,” according to Kung.

“We’ve over-designed our streets and they take up too much space,” she said.

Streets also are dangerous for bicyclists and pedestrians, especially when they are at their busiest, she said.

Kung practices what she preaches.

“I rode my bike to a meeting today,” from her office in the Sloan’s Lake area, Kung said on Monday.

“I brought along my poncho, because I thought it might rain.”

However, there are times she needs to get behind the wheel.

“When I take my daughter to choir practice at Yale and Monaco I always drive,” said Kung, mother of a 6-year-old and a 10-year-old.

Her goal is to drive 50 percent of the time and walk or bike the other half.

Asked if she thought that more development inevitably means worse congestion and parking woes, Kung answered: “There is a school of thought that congestion helps the economy. Cities that are congested typically have healthy economies and that is not a bad thing. It is just a fact of life.”

But perhaps that is not the way to look at streets that are true nightmares, at least during rush hour.

“Maybe that is the wrong question,” Kung said. “Maybe we need to be focusing on creating non-driving options,” and embracing car-sharing operations such as Car2Go, Uber and Lyft,” she said.

There also is another compelling reason to drive less and walk and bike more.

“I’ve lost 30 pounds,” since reducing her driving, Kung said.

Join the conversation. Post your comments on traffic and solutions at the of this blog.

Have a story idea or real estate tip? Contact John Rebchook at JRCHOOK@gmail.com. DenverRealEstateWatch.com is sponsored by 8z Real Estate. To read more articles by John Rebchook, subscribe to the Colorado Real Estate Journal.

 

 

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John Rebchook

John Rebchook has more than 30 years of experience in writing and communications. As the Real Estate Editor for the Rocky Mountain News, he wrote about residential and commercial real estate for 26 years. He has won numerous awards for business stories and columns that he wrote, both as an individual and part of teams. In addition to real estate, he also covered economic development, banking and financing, the airlines, and cable TV for the Rocky. In addition, he was one of the original freelance writers for GlobeSt.com, covering commercial real estate for the Internet publication.

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