Westwood is a neighborhood in southwest Denver, SW of the corner of Federal & Alameda. The auto-oriented streets have narrow sidewalks and are poorly lit. Westwood Unidos organizes community members to help them achieve their priorities for a safer and healthier community. Resident-led projects include improving sidewalks, slowing traffic, improving transit access, and improving lighting.
In 2014 – 2015, with support from Mile High Connects, Westwood Unidos and 9to5 Colorado successfully advocated for the Route 4 Bus Line to be re-opened on Morrison Road. Since then, the route has been a big success; ridership numbers have justified the need for this route in the Westwood community.
On July 18th, the community celebrated a big victory with the successful passage in City Council of the Westwood neighborhood plan. Community members testified in support of the plan, which recommends calming traffic, increasing transit access, improving greenways, allowing for accessory dwelling units, and building a recreation center.
In 2016, the Westwood Unidos Safety Action Team has been busy beautifying the neighborhood to make walking and biking safery. Their project creates a safe walkway along 8 alleys that connect Federal Boulevard and local schools. These 8 alleys are overgrown with brambles and weeds, covered with graffiti, and full of dumped furniture and trash, making it impossible to walk safely and comfortably.
In order to tackle these alleys, on Saturday, April 23 Extreme Community Makeover and Westwood Unidos organized over 300 volunteers from Westwood and surrounding communities to pick up trash and clean graffiti during “Go Westwood! On June 28 and July 16, dozens of residents tackled the alleys again, continuing to clean graffiti and beginning to install art. The goal is to complete the alley on July 28th with the installation of art and mosaics and painted tires.
Finally, Westwood Unidos has partnered with various organizations to train youth leaders with a focus on economic opportunities and access to nature. In addition to testifying successfully in front of City Council, the youth leaders are semi-finalists in a grant to open a youth-run bike workshop.
Community members and partner organizations interested in getting involved in Westwood Unidos are welcome to the monthly Westwood Unidos Safety Action Team meeting, every 4th Monday of the month at 9 AM at Paloma Villa, 4200 Morrison Road.
Alley Project in Westwood
In the course of longer-term campaigns, there are always periods of time where the detail work needs to get done and the public face gets a little quieter. For Mile High Connects and the Affordable Fares Task Force, we are in just such a moment. After productive continued meetings with RTD senior leadership team members in January, March and April, the Task Force is working through the more specific nuances of formalizing partnership with agencies already conducting means testing to provide income-qualification for the program, as well as continued work to secure external resources to match the anticipated foregone fare revenue for RTD at the program’s launch. We anticipate this work to continue throughout the summer months and invite all who are interested in this part of the conversation to join us as we work through the many technical, technology and policy components.
Meanwhile, conversations about adding a transit benefit to the MyDenver, card issued to thousands of DPS students each year, are picking up steam. While there is still much to explore, there is good energy around addressing the transportation affordability challenges for Denver youth, as it relates both to school choice and to supporting youth employment, internships, after school programs and other things that relate to overall well-being.
First and Last Mile Connections & Accessible Transit
Since March, the Montebello Organizing Committee (MOC) has worked closely with a group of key community stakeholders convened by Denver City Councilwoman-at-Large Debra Ortega to create a new bus stop that will take the place of the former Park-and-Ride near Peoria Street and Allbrook Street. The primary goal of the group was to ensure that the bus stop is safe and accessible to local riders. In addition to MOC and members of Councilwoman Ortega’s staff, the group included representatives of RTD, Denver Public Works, Denver District 11 City Councilwoman Stacie Gilmore, Denver Police Department District 5, Denver Fire Department Station 27, and Mile High Connects.
As a result of this work, Denver Public Works has identified several actions that it will take immediately, as well as mid- and longer-term actions to improve pedestrian safety, traffic flow and emergency vehicle access. In addition, RTD will conduct a point check at the new bus stop to count the number of pedestrians crossing the street to use RTD service. The success of the project demonstrates the effectiveness of a strong collaborative process and commitment to its goals by all members of the group.
MHC Grant Fund
We are excited to release our funding guidelines for the Equitable Initiatives in The Denver Region grant fund for 2016. The deadline for applications is June 1, 2016, 5:00 MT.
We will offer two grant application workshops in 2016. Workshops are open to organizations and groups interested in learning more about the application process; please note that attending a grant workshop is not a requirement of the overall grant application process. Please RSVP to Davian Gagne, Grants & Operations Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and contact information of staff members interested in attending, and indicate which workshop you would like to attend.
- Wednesday, April 20, 2016 | 10:00 am – 12:00 pm | United Church of Montbello | 4879 Crown Blvd., Denver
- Thursday, May 5, 2016 | 2:30 pm – 4:30 pm | UFCW Union Hall | 7760 West 38th Ave., Wheat Ridge
Affordable Housing & Community Facilities
The Colorado Housing and Finance Authority (CHFA) has hired Beth Truby into a new Preservation Program Manager position. The program manager will work closely with CHFA staff and external stakeholders to develop a long term strategy and action plan for identifying, prioritizing, and preserving critical affordable housing units statewide. This position will serve as a connection with the Preservation Working Group (CHFA, HUD, DOH, DHA, City of Denver, Enterprise, the Piton Foundation, and Mile High Connects) and other key housing stakeholders working on specific preservation activities and transactions. Beth brings a wealth of knowledge, experience and relationships to this role, having previously worked for the City of Denver for over 25 years managing a variety of community development and housing programs. MHC is thrilled to have Beth in this role and is grateful to CHFA for its commitment to preserving affordable housing.
First & Last Mile Connections
As communities work to solve issues related to transit, it becomes incumbent to engage with a variety of partners. Even a seemingly “simple” problem may require the participation of many different groups to arrive at a satisfactory, comprehensive solution. As Montebello residents wrestle with the closure of the existing Park and Ride near Peoria Street and Allbrook Street, many different factors come into play as RTD makes a decision about where to locate the new bus stop. Chief among these are how to provide the most efficient service to neighborhood residents who depend on this stop to access the transit service on which they depend while ensuring their safety. Other factors include pedestrian safety and accessibility, crime deterrence, traffic management and adequate access for safety vehicles. In an effort to encourage collaboration among all interests in addressing as many of these concerns as possible, Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega convened a meeting of major stakeholders including Montbello Organizing Committee members, RTD, Denver Police Department, staff representing City Councilwoman Stacie Gillmore, and management from the Village Apartment complex near the stop. High-level leaders from these organizations attended the meeting including RTD General Manager Dave Genova and Denver Police Department District 5 Commander Ron Thomas. A week after this meeting, members of the group met with representatives from Denver Public Works and Denver Fire Department Station 27 to discuss infrastructure problems and possible solutions. This process marks a major step in creating a solution that meets all needs. More importantly, it serves as a model for collaborative problem-solving that can serve as a model moving forward.
Affordable Fares & Meaningful Service Routes
King County Sees Success in First Year of Affordable Fares
Last March, King County Washington and the Seattle area launched an innovative program called ORCA LIFT, one of the first comprehensive income-based fare programs in the county.
Chris Arkills, Transportation Policy Advisor to the King County Executive gave presentations to a variety of stakeholders including the Mile High Connects Advisory Council, Affordable Fares Task Force, RTD Board and staff and other interested elected officials. Said Arkills, “we built it into the cost of doing business. We’re a region that prioritizes equity and we know that it was the right thing to do.”
Among key findings at the program’s one year anniversary:
- In February, 25,000 riders registered for the ORCA LIFT program. King County has been seeing steady growth in the program’s popularity, with approximately 2,000 more riders signing up very month.
- 96% of program participants are satisfied with the program
- People are using the card – there were almost 350,000 boardings by ORCA LIFT riders in February alone
- 42% have increased ridership
- ORCA LIFT riders are not putting additional pressure on the system by making buses and rail too crowded. Because people frequently ride during the day or work swing shifts, increases in ridership have been seen primarily at times that transit is running under capacity
We thank Chris for joining us and providing us with such an interesting learning opportunity.
is a coalition of Westwood residents partnering with organizations to make Southwest Denver a healthier place. Westwood Unidos’ unique approach trains resident leaders to advocate for equitable resources, to organize their neighbors, and to increase civic engagement community-wide. Currently, Westwood Unidos’ campaigns are to transform blighted streets and alleys into safe and active community places, to organize community to improve public transit options, to re-develop parks and build new parks, to build a Recreation Center in Westwood, and to promote drinking water and good nutrition. Westwood Unidos is pleased to announce the opening of “La Casita,” at 3790 Morrison Road, a community-run space that is open for residents to teach exercise, academic, and art classes and host support groups.
Thanks to funding support from Mile High Connects and strong partnership from 9to5 Colorado, Westwood Unidos has been able to provide dedicated efforts to increasing transit access in Westwood. Projects include cleaning bus benches, petitioning for new lights to be installed along walking routes, and staffing a successful campaign to reinstate an RTD bus route on Morrison Road. 9to5’s community organizing expertise and Mile High Connects funding support and strategic guidance were leveraged by Westwood Unidos’ Community Connector’s community knowledge, trust and relationships. Community leaders participating in Westwood Unidos’ Built Environment Action Team kicked-off the campaign by conudcting hundreds of community surveys and learning that many residents had difficulty accessing jobs and food due to there not being any bus service in the middle of Westwood. Westwood Unidos’ Community Connector, Maricruz Herrera, along with Andrea Chiriboga Flor, from 9 to 5 Colorado, began a multi-month campaign to organize dozens of community residents who wanted increased bus access. These community members met with RTD decision-makers and went to RTD Board meetings to request that the bus on Morrison Road be reinstated. The community effort and persistence paid off. The new bus began service in May 2016, and it has been a success, with ridership above expectation. Due to the new bus route, community members living in the heart of Westwood now have a way to get to work, to the supermarket, and to the light rail station on Alameda using RTD.
Westwood Unidos is grateful to Mile High Connects for its commitment to transit equity in Denver, and to its support in the form of funding, research, technical assistance, advocacy and strategic thinking.
Montbello Organizing Committee
The Montbello Organizing Committee (MOC) is a grassroots organization composed of residents working to positively affect the quality of life for all who live, work, or volunteer within the neighborhood. A fairly new organization, the have delved into addressing issues in three major areas. Their goal of alleviating the food desert status is catalyzed by the work to develop healthy accessible food for all residents. They are also engaging neighbors in reshaping the narrative of Montbello―often unfairly and negatively characterized―through community enhancement efforts, which include a 50th Anniversary Celebration of Montbello, later in 2016. MOC’s work addressing public transportation accessibility in Montbello led to a victory in late 2015 when RTD altered a bus route that would have made accessing the community’s only grocery store very difficult. The group recently learned that RTD is planning to close the Montbello Park and Ride on Peoria and Albrook, a highly trafficked area for pedestrians, riders, and drivers. With the closure, an increase in traffic along Peoria is anticipated (especially since Havana is closed for construction and the increase in traffic to and from DIA). An increase safety concerns is also predicted, since sidewalks are in need of maintenance and are not capable of supporting the high quantity of riders waiting for the buses. MOC, with the help of Mile High Connects, is gathering stakeholders such as riders, RTD, City Council, and Public Works to find solutions to this new challenge.
Affordable Housing & Community Facilities
During the Building Station Areas that Build Community event in February, Denver Shared Spaces and Mile High Connects released a report looking at a handful of station areas in our prioritized geographies and the community benefits they may have to offer to the surrounding neighborhoods. The report, 2015 Community Facility Scan: Opportunities for Community-Benefit Commercial Development at Transit in Metro Denver, illuminates the assets and challenges of the station areas and provides recommendations for each. Participants also had the chance to try out the story map tool. The base layer of the tool are MHC’s prioritized station areas; it then incorporates layers of data on things such as health equity, employment, education, and existing community facilities. In addition to the data, it offers rich context for each station area, which provides a comprehensive story for the user. It also highlights recommendations to consider to increase opportunity around the particular station area. Click here to try out the story map tool. We are excited about the report and interactive tool and will continue to use station areas as touchstones for opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color.
First and Last Mile Connections
Programs embraced by municipalities provide are some of the most effective contexts for bringing about change because they represent an existing commitment by local government. The City and County of Denver is involved in many such efforts and has created new opportunities recently through which we can work as partners to enhance transit equity and accessibility. On February 17, Mayor Hancock announced Denver’s commitment to the Vision Zero Initiative, an international effort to eliminate traffic related deaths and serious injuries. Vision Zero will require new and improved infrastructure, transit and public education strategies – including those on which Mile High Connects is focusing as part of its transit equity efforts. In addition, Denver City Council has created a Sidewalk Working Group to explore issues and needs related to this basic infrastructure element that directly impacts the ability of people to access transit. The Sidewalk Working Group is chaired by Councilperson Paul Kashmann and staffed by Shelley Smith. Mile High Connects is participating in both of these efforts to help achieve our organizational goals. We urge our partners to use meetings and other events offered by these programs to inform elected officials and staff of community needs and opportunities.
New Belgium Family Foundation
Recently, MHC talked with Lucy Cantwell at the New Belgium Family Foundation, funding partner of MHC.
Describe the NBFF’s role in MHC. What do you see as your biggest contribution to MHC and its work?
I would describe our role as primarily one of learning – there are many people and groups with deep experience in the room and it helps our work to be able to listen and learn from them.
Why does NBFF think MHC is important?
Public transportation is absolutely a necessity in our increasingly resource- and space-constrained world, but infrastructure development needs to be coupled with a real effort to make that useable by all residents – especially given the increasing economic inequity facing the US (and the world.) We think MHC is important because it is not only working to make public transportation accessible, but it also recognizes that public transportation is essentially a means to an end: a way of getting to work, to school, to healthcare, or healthy food. By working at the intersection of those needs and transportation, MHC helps advance a vision of the modern city that is accessible and supportive of all residents.
What’s the biggest thing that the NBFF has learned or way your organization’s own work has grown as a result of being involved with MHC?
The clear-headed emphasis on equity that MHC has championed has been a role model for the NBFF as we continue to refine our vision for the foundation.
Last week during the Building Station Areas that Build Community event, Denver Shared Spaces and Mile High Connects released a report looking at a handful of station areas in our prioritized geographies and the community benefits they may have to offer to the surrounding neighborhoods. The report, 2015 Community Facility Scan: Opportunities for Community-Benefit Commercial Development at Transit in Metro Denver, illuminates the assets and challenges of the station areas and provides recommendations for each. Participants also had the chance to try out the story map tool. The base layer of the tool are MHC’s prioritized station areas; it then incorporates layers of data on things such as health equity, employment, education, and existing community facilities. In addition to the data, it offers rich context for each station area, which provides a comprehensive story for the user. It also highlights recommendations to consider to increase opportunity around the particular station area. Click here to try out the story map tool. We are excited about the report and interactive tool and will continue to use station areas as touchstones for opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color.
Healthy Places: Designing an Active Colorado, an initiative of the Colorado Health Foundation, was engineered to increase physical activity in three communities including the southeast portion of Arvada, the city of Lamar and the Westwood neighborhood in southwest Denver. Characterized as low-income and experiencing greater than average health disparities, these three communities face significant barriers to physical activity due to the built environment. It is important to note that the average low-income household spends 25.3 percent of their monthly income on transportation costs, compared to 17.1 percent for the entire population. Healthy Places seeks to improve the built environment in these communities through improving safety and infrastructure.
Community engagement is and will continue to be a key element of Healthy Places. It has helped inform tailored recommendations from an expert panel of Urban Land Institute (ULI) members and played a crucial role in the prioritization and selection process. Community members will continue their involvement as the work moves into the implementation phase. In developing recommendations, ULI was given the guidelines to prioritize walking and biking as safe, viable, and enjoyable modes of transportation and recreation through the community. Additionally, ULI was tasked with developing solutions to fill the gaps in pedestrian and bicycle networks needed to create a continuous interconnected system.
All three communities are hard at work to create healthy places including the creation of new parks or renovation of old ones. Some projects include building the 7-mile Lamar loop, designing a Skateboard and BMX Park and many others. Here’s a few examples of transit-related efforts currently underway:
Healthy Places: Designing an Active Arvada
• Sidewalks are being installed on W. 60th Ave. (at Sheridan and 60th Ave.) between Lamar and Sheridan as a key pedestrian connection to the Gold Strike Station.
• Pedestrian level wayfinding signage is being installed throughout southeast Arvada to connect residents from the neighborhoods, to parks, community gardens, transit centers and grocery stores.
• Weekly bike rides take place every weekend from April through October and include tours of the three transit stations in Arvada to help residents navigate to them safely.
• A bike corral and on-street parking facility, that can accommodate many more bikes than a typical sidewalk rack, is being piloted in Olde Town Arvada during the summer of 2015. It will be installed permanently in 2016 prior to the opening of the Olde Town transit hub.
Healthy Places: Designing an Active Westwood
• Westwood residents, 9to5 Colorado and Westwood Unidos, rallied together to petition the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) to reinstate Route 4 public bus service on Morrison Rd. Westwood residents and community organizations turned out in mass at RTD route service change meetings. Residents shared their personal stories about relying on public transportation for various needs such as commuting to work, sending children to school and visiting the doctor. In February 2015 the RTD board voted ‘Yes’ to Route 4 on Morrison Rd.
• Community members and organizations participated in the Callejón de la Amistad, or Friendship Alleyway, to transform what was once a dumping ground and graffiti-ridden alleyway into a safe and colorful place to play and walk to school. The design is based on the ideas and creativity of Westwood residents. On Aug. 24, the Westwood neighborhood celebrated the Friendship Alleyway Inauguration, which is located on S. Lowell St. between W. Virginia Ave. and W. Custer Pl.
Research shows that transit-dependent riders struggle to find an option for safe, affordable and reliable travel between their homes, transit stations, work and other destinations. The Foundation, a proud partner of Mile High Connects, is working through initiatives like Healthy Places to create more active communities near transit stops with the goal of increasing access to places where Coloradans live, work and play.
Graduate students from the University of Colorado at Denver’s Masters of Urban and Regional Planning Program recently finalized a report on Metro Denver’s transit area stations, which provides a comprehensive analysis of the stations. “This report evaluates the design and development of the half-mile areas(transit zones) around the 45 light rail transit stations in the Denver Metro area as of January 2015. Each transit zone was scored on the level of site development, accessibility, affordable housing, and jobs and economic development.” This lifts up the important issues areas of Mile High Connects and tells the story of how the stations are leveraging opportunity for the communities around them as well as where challenges still remain. Read the full report here.