Air quality, transportation and water: How Denver’s next mayor and City Council can protect the environment

Denver boasts one of the country’s fastest-growing economies and expects to add tens of thousands of new residents by the end of the decade.

The city’s rapid and continued expansion comes at a cost, though. Air quality on the Front Range languishes, pollution threatens the city’s most vulnerable populations and experts worry for the region’s water supply.

Whoever voters elect to run Denver and to sit on its council can take action most directly, experts say, by relying on new technology, tweaking building and zoning codes, partnering with nearby governments and state lawmakers and even limiting the types of lawn care equipment residents can use.

Already Denver officials set a goal to cut greenhouse-gas emissions 65% by 2030 and by 100% over the next decade. The city’s goal is also to hit net-zero energy use by 2040.

Perhaps the biggest piece of Denver’s air-quality problem would be solved by expanding the city’s public transit options, Jill Locantore, executive director of Denver Streets Partnership, said.

Each piece overlaps with the others, Locantore, whose nonprofit works to reduce the city’s dependence on cars, said.

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“The key is land use and transportation. Reduce vehicle miles traveled. Reduce land consumption. Reduce water consumption,” Locantore said. “We’ve known the answers for decades, it’s just a matter of political will for implementing them.”

Air quality on the Front Range is so poor that the Environmental Protection Agency reclassified Denver and the rest of the region as “severe” violators of federal standards. As a result gas prices will increase and the number of businesses needing air pollution permits will more than double.

Statewide, transportation accounts for a quarter of carbon emissions, according to a report from the environmental nonprofit Conservation Colorado.

The next mayor will have broad authority to set Denver’s direction for the city’s roads and public transit, Locantore said. As the city is currently laid out, residents are forced to rely on their cars. Often many can’t rely on existing public transit from the cash-strapped Regional Transportation District.

RELATED: Here’s what every Denver mayor candidate says about Denver’s environment

Denver’s mayor could buy additional, dedicated service from RTD, like Boulder does, Danny Katz, executive director of the nonprofit Colorado Public Interest Research Group.

Building new train lines would be expensive, time-consuming and would consume land that’s already occupied or needed for other things, Katz said. Better to increase service on existing train lines to start.

“First run a bunch of buses, build up the ridership and if it becomes clear that, for some reason, a train would run it better then we could do that,” Katz said.

Additional routes plus more consistent service would equal more riders, Katz said. All of that would translate to fewer cars on the road and less carbon emissions.

For the most part, Denver has total control over its own streets, Locantore said. So city officials could transform them to be more …read more

Source:: The Denver Post – Politics


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