Bringing Little Free Libraries to Your RTD Station

Community artist & leader Nikki Biefel has started a movement, transforming newspaper boxes at RTD stations into mini works of art, filled with books and treasures for the community! Little free libraries are found throughout RTD, including Gold Strike Station in Arvada, Sheridan Station in Westminster, Clear Creek Station, and Pecos Junction, just to name a few.

Nikki shared her tips with Mile High Connects in the hopes that others will find inspiration in transforming these spaces into community centerpieces.

What the Infrastructure Deal Means for Colorado Communities

Following the mid-November signing of what has been called a “once in a lifetime investment”, the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill (BIF) has left many wondering what the impact will be on communities. The bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was signed into law, provides $973 billion over five years and aims to rebuild the United States’ roads, bridges, airports, and rails, expand access to clean drinking water, ensure high-speed internet access, tackle the climate crisis, advance environmental justice, and invest in communities that have too often been left behind. The bill includes historic levels – $284 billion – in new investments for transportation projects, responding to the urgency of climate change and the need to address long-standing inequities in mobility access.  

Here’s what the transportation funds included: 

(Graphic: National Association of Counties)


Joined by speakers Alvaro Sanchez, Vice President of Policy with The Greenlining Institute, Molly McKinley, Policy Director with Denver Streets Partnership and Luke Ilderton, Deputy Director with Energy Outreach Colorado, MHC convened a regional conversation on the transit, broadband, and equity components of the BIF to unpack what this means for Colorado and how community organizations can best position themselves to be able to influence and access the federal funds. Below are just a few ways you can ensure this investment reaches your community:  

Equity Advocacy- Keeping equity at the center of investments 

While the ambition for equity is there, explicit details related to operationalizing/enforcing equity measures are missing from the deal. Alvaro shared the following ways for community-based organizations to best access and influence investment dollars: 

  1. Read up on what your state is anticipated to receive. 
  1. Sign up for alerts from key agencies including DOT, EPA, DOE, Department of Commerce, Department of Interior, and the White House to get updates on how they are implementing the dollars. 
  1. Connect with our state departments of transportation, energy, water, and broadband and ask how they are going to decide what to fund and how information will be tracked. 
  1. Start promoting priorities, projects, definitions, standards, and locations that advance racial equity. 
  1. Work with colleagues tracking implementation to build coalitions focused on funding implementation. 

Transportation Advocacy  

According to Molly, it is important that the state takes full advantage of the flexible dollars designated to funding highways in the deal. There must be a push for utilizing funds to invest in public transit projects and transit operations. Additionally, we must use a fix it first model, ensuring that existing infrastructure is safe and accessible prior to creating new infrastructure. Finally, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) is currently determining projects to fund throughout the state. This serves as an opportunity to influence CDOT spending and advocate for projects that advance equity.  

Broadband and Weatherization Advocacy 

Luke Ilderton emphasized that while the investment provides a massive investment in modernizing our entire energy grid (the good!), there is concern about how households who need the most assistance can truly benefit from this initiative. He also shared that the BIF investment will enhance the Department of Energy Office’s current weatherization assistance program. This enhancement will allow the Colorado Energy Office to increase participation and embrace the State’s greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets. Furthermore, the BIF will introduce the Affordable Connectivity Program, increasing broadband access for low-income consumers with limited income-qualifying restrictions. Get more details about funding opportunities available for your local governments here, and be sure to check out the additional resources below!  

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rulemaking – Centering Equity in the Process 2.0

11/18/2021

This was the second letter we sent to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) to advocate for equity in the greenhouse gas rulemaking process.

The undersigned members of the Denver-based Land Use Work Group (LUWG), including nonprofit advocacy organizations, nonprofit developers, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), and residents tracking and amplifying local efforts while advocating for policy change to reflect the nexus of housing and transportation and ensure that investments in the built environment reduce racial disparities, maintain community, build a culture of health, and respond to the climate crisis.

Thank you CDOT for undertaking the project on Rules Governing Statewide Transportation Planning Process and Planning Regions and providing the opportunity for public comment. We appreciate the changes that have been incorporated into the revised rule and for the chance to further improve the rule to ensure we remain on track to meet the state’s climate goals and address the needs of communities that have been disproportionately impacted by climate change.

The rule thoughtfully addresses the importance of multi-agency modeling, ensures mitigating measures stay local among road projects, explicitly acknowledges the role of induced demand, and many other modifications to mitigate transportation pollution. Nevertheless, the current rule still fails to adequately promote climate-friendly land-use policies and center people and environmental justice.

The following recommendations seek to create a more equitable approach to reducing greenhouse gas emissions while centering the needs of Colorado’s most disproportionately impacted communities (DICs):

Center People and Climate Justice: It is imperative that the rule is centered around communities that have been the most disproportionately impacted by the effects of transportation pollution. While the revised rule acknowledges the importance of mitigation investments that provide localized benefits to DICs, it fails to directly provide explicit measures for community benefit and does not emphasize the need for public engagement within decision-making processes. To strengthen climate justice and advance equity the rule should incorporate the following:

  • Immediate adoption of a transportation equity framework must be a priority for CDOT. The framework should be vetted by community, modifiable to meet the unique needs of different communities, and equity measures should address community-voiced needs. Equity assessments should be used to inform the transportation equity framework by collecting and analyzing community-shared information related to harmful transportation project development and pollution.
  • Establishment of a Community Advisory Committee or Steering Committee comprised of community residents, organizations, youth, etc. charged with reviewing equity assessments submitted by community.
  • Increased opportunities for community engagement and outreach to identify disparities among community. Community input should shape the specific equity metrics and outcomes used to measure the direct/project benefits related to improve air quality and mobility options and access among DICs.
  • Resources for community informed processes to assess and co-create solutions that mitigate the health impacts of GHG emissions in DICs.
  • Consider funding opportunities for Community Benefit Agreements among DICs based on project location and potential impact. OR provide funding for building capacity amongst community benefits groups.
  • Elevated needs and benefits of equitable transit-oriented development, prioritizing projects that increase access to transportation, education work, food, goods, and services, etc. this move the needle enough to create real change and meet the statutory requirements?

Reduction targets for VMT: Reducing VMT serves as one of the best ways to permanently reduce transportation pollution. To meet the state’s climate goals, the rule should include explicit and measurable VMT reduction levels required by each planning region. Allowing three consecutive years of non-VMT reduction among MPO areas prior to conducting revisions, will not achieve VMT reductions that are necessary to meet state goals. Furthermore, we cannot consider VMT reductions without including smart land use strategies. To increase knowledge of the undoubtable connection between smart land use strategies and VMT reduction CDOT should:

  • Consider local land use and development patterns and the extent to which they contribute to VMT per capita reductions for the proposed transportation project.
  • Prioritize projects that incorporate additional smart growth strategies such as up zoning, mixed[1]use infill development, adaptive re-use, and transit-oriented development.
  • Create a bonus for projects that advance equity by incorporating affordable housing and TDM programs that lower the combined housing and transportation costs for low-income households.
  • Act swiftly to expand mitigation measures should any region fail to achieve the 2025 GHG or 2030 reduction targets. The reductions are cumulative – the lessons of climate change indicate that early action is the cheapest action.
  • Ensure that RTD and other regional transit authorities are explicitly funded by name to guarantee certainty in service delivery going forward

We appreciate your commitment and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, improve air quality, and provide more travel options throughout Colorado, and your consideration of these recommendations.

Sincerely,


Mile High Connects
YIMBY Denver
Denver Streets Partnership
All In Denver
JJK Places

Download a copy of the letter in PDF here.

What to Know About RTD’s Income-Based Discount Program: LiVE

illustration by Dion Harris

As our communities recover, we have an eye on those most adversely impacted by COVID-19, the economic downturn, and inequitable systems. Prior to the pandemic, low-income riders made up about half of RTD transit riders, and those who continue to rely on public transportation are mostly Black, Brown, Indigenous, other people of color and low-income workers. Building on our advocacy work from years past to help establish an income-based discount program within RTD, we want to be sure this resource is known widely in community and accessible to those who qualify – especially now.

Before the pandemic hit, we were working with community partners to inform transit riders of this new income-based discount fare program, and had to shift to virtual engagement as lockdown measures were put in place. In doing so, Mile High Connects partnered with the Denver Regional Metro Council of Governments (DRMAC), Denver Human Services (DHS) and RTD to provide virtual trainings on this program, specifically on eligibility requirements, the application process, and how to use the discount program once you have qualified.

Below is a library of training materials, including recorded videos and printed training materials in English and Spanish, detailing RTD’s LiVE program. We encourage you to share widely with your networks.

RTD LiVE Discount Fare: Eligibility & Application

Community is Leading the Way. Let’s Clear the Path Ahead.

“in community, our potential is truly realized…we have the capacity to hold each other, serve each other, heal each other, create for and with each other, forgive each other, and liberate ourselves and each other.” – adrienne maree brown, “in relationship with others” blog post, July 7, 2009

The rapid worldwide spread of COVID-19 greatly transformed our communities as the healthcare, and subsequent economic, crisis unfolded last year, compounding impact disparities that our BBIPOC partners face ongoingly, while highlighting the fragility of the systems upon which we collectively depend. The resilience of our region continues to be challenged amidst uncertainty, a dearth of clear and accurate information, lack of access to goods and services (including vaccines), and overall isolation. However, if there is one lesson that continues to shine through for us all to learn from, it is that hyper-local, community-driven solutions that build true community power and shared wealth are the keys to equitable, resilient and restorative systems where everyone not only survives, they thrive.

The indispensable role of community and its collective power has been tragically called forth by the pandemic and beautifully displayed through emergency response efforts of community groups such as the Colorado Changemakers Collective, also known as the Colectiva Creando Cambios, CCC, or Colectiva. This Montbello-based group was created in 2018 with a long-term vision of community transformation that is grounded in the belief that those most affected by social inequalities must be central to the work that has to be done. In 2020, the critical nature of Colectiva’s work was laid bare, as they quickly mobilized community partners to meet the emerging needs of the Latinx community, including access to basic needs and food.

We learned about Colectiva’s journey by way of our community partners, Montbello Organizing Committee (MOC), who were integral contributors to the collective response. We were eager to learn more and have them share their experience at a community gathering on Zoom in February. At the gathering, Maricruz Herrera, founder of Colectiva, gave a heart-felt, up close and personal account of their COVID-19 Community Response Network’s fast evolving work throughout last year, as 13 separate neighborhood organizations banded together to create a resourceful response network that worked tirelessly to meet the emergency needs of community as our region locked down to curb the coronavirus outbreak. To date, they have served over 2,500 families in Denver, Westminster, Aurora, Commerce City, Rifle, and beyond!

In a very short period, the Montbello community mobilized its network – a net that works; a net that has always worked but has been hindered by systemic barriers – by connecting community members to resources through trusted relationships. La Colectiva’s powerful engine was driven by the work of community navigators or promotoras and fueled by local volunteers and funders, including The Denver Foundation, Mile High Connects, and COVID relief funds. As our communities continue to recover and redefine normal, we can no longer collectively turn our gaze from the disproportionate impacts of concurrent crises on BBIPOC communities, nor can we afford to miss any opportunity to support and build on the wisdom of and solution in community centered response.

It is time to learn from community and support their tried-and-true efforts, like Colectiva’s COVID-19 Community Response Network. In partnership with Colectiva, Montbello Organizing Committee, and many other local community serving organizations, Mile High Connects is committed to its community stewardship where our work centers community, responding to immediate local needs while elevating local voice in recovery and redevelopment. Our goal is to unlock community power through greater local control, community ownership, and preservation of place, and we must heed the pathways to liberation that communities keep showing us.

Advocates and Leaders Discuss Transit’s Role in Economic Recovery

Mile High Connects and Denver Streets Partnership hosted Transit is the Future: Denver Transit Justice Forum, a panel discussion with elected officials and area leaders on the importance of public transit as a critical piece in reconstructing a more equitable, resilient, and sustainable economy.

Framing the conversation, Downtown Denver Partnership President and CEO Tami Door stated that  “A successful city is a resilient city, and transit is at the very center of that.”

Debra Johnson, new General Manager and CEO of RTD, shared that “Transit has been largely underfunded across the country for decades. The transit problems we’re experiencing aren’t indigenous to Denver.” 

Attendees also heard from Grace Rink, Executive Director of the Denver Office of Climate Action Sustainability and Resiliency; Shoshana Lew, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, Boulder County Commissioner and Air Quality Control Commissioner Elise Jones, Denver Resident and NAACP state conference member Gina Jones, and Grishma Pradhan, Legislative Counsel, Office of Sen. Michael Bennet.

For more on this and future events, visit Mile High Connects’ event page and Denver Streets Partnership.

The Acute Meets The Chronic: The Work of Our Collaborative in 2020

Our Program Update, July 2020:

COVID-19 has acutely demonstrated that everyone needs to live in safe and healthy communities – communities that advance economic opportunity, prevent residential, commercial and cultural displacement, build on local assets, promote mobility and connectivity, and enable equitable access to planning, development, and decision-making. Our work now is to collaboratively navigate escalating risks while continuing to lay the foundation for a new system paradigm – one that we have been working for all along. 

Mile High Connects is taking a stand for an equitable, resilient Metro Denver where community-driven solutions are at the center of transformative change. In order to increase equitable investment into community-centered solutions, we are committing to:

  1. strengthen community leadership and development with financial resources and technical assistance,
  2. institutionalize equitable development through advocacy and practice, and
  3. activate and deploy equitable capital for catalytic projects that will influence and leverage public investments while preserving place

Based on years of deep engagement in community, and the continued generous support of The Denver Foundation, the Piton Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation, Gates Family Foundation, Colorado Housing and Finance Authority, Wells Fargo and US Bank, we have recommitted our program work to three local geographies that experience persistent trauma, inequitable allocation of resources, and are most at risk of displacement pressures – Southwest Adams County, West Denver, and East Denver. Leveraging continued support from the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC), a multi-city national cohort of regional collaboratives, our goal is to increase equitable investment into community-driven solutions by 2023.  

Community ownership is a critical opportunity in this moment and its success will rely upon connected, informed and organized communities with strong leadership. Work across our target geographies will focus on building community development infrastructure and leadership development. In West Denver, for example, we will support the growth of their Community Connector program established to get folks connected to resources in response to the health and financial crises. In Southwest Adams County, we will support the design and development of a community organizing institute. We will also explore Community Investment Trust (CIT) models and identify local opportunities to implement a pilot.

Critically, in our effort to institutionalize equitable development, we will identify policy gaps and opportunities brought to light by COVID-19 and recent social unrest, and advocate for local, state and national policies that reduce displacement of residents and businesses. We plan to influence local and regional planning efforts to support the application of an equity lens in every decision made. We will also sponsor and promote existing Community Benefits Agreement (CBAs) efforts across our region.

Capital is a crucial piece of the community ownership puzzle, and we are committed to the equitable deployment of it. Mile High Connects will continue to support pre-development efforts in West Denver along Morrison Road to support BuCu West in creating a business corridor that preserves culture and place. We will also support the development of Montbello’s grocery-store-anchored cultural hub that includes affordable rental housing. Over in East Denver, with compounded displacement pressures at play, we will align resources and partners to create and preserve affordable housing units.

As our community partners focus both on recovery efforts and the long-term root cause remedies to systemic oppression, we stand where the acute meets the chronic. We have an opportunity to reimagine the way forward, one that unlocks community power, promotes racial equity, rebalances our economic structures, and ensures housing for all.

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