One of Rose Community Foundation’s grantmaking priorities is to support programs that allow people in the Greater Denver community to age in place — or stay in their own homes and neighborhoods — and live independently for as long as possible. Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities or NORCs are one important avenue for ensuring that people have access to and are aware of resources in their own neighborhoods they need as they age. One of the NORCs the Foundation funds is in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It sits alongside RTD’s busy 15 bus line.
NORCs are communities that, while not originally designed for older adults, have a significant amount of residents over age 60. When these communities are identified, often a nonprofit organization will work to identify needs and coordinate care and social services to meet those needs. In the Capitol Hill NORC the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender (GLBT) Community Center of Colorado and Capitol Hill Care Link work to establish connections with older adults in the area and then make sure they know where and how to access services and resources available to them.
People over 60 who are aging in place face many challenges, but among the most daunting and difficult to solve is isolation. While the Capitol Hill Care Link works to connect the older adults in the neighborhood to resources to age in place, it also helps residents connect through social events and volunteer opportunities, including yoga classes, lunch and learns, and support groups. The organization also convenes a Resident Advisory Board regularly to stay in touch with residents’ needs and interests.
Rose Community Foundation, along with The Colorado Health Foundation and Daniels Fund also support organizations that work in NORCs in Wheat Ridge and Edgewater.
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.
The Colorado Health Foundation’s vision is that Colorado will be the healthiest state in the nation. We work to improve the health and health care of Coloradoans by increasing access to quality health care and encouraging healthy lifestyle choices. To be successful in this, we know that we must engage those beyond the usual partners in health care and public health; in fact, we believe that health is everybody’s business. Health doesn’t just happen in the doctor’s office; it happens in schools and early childhood settings, in our workplaces, at the local park, in our homes and even in our transit system. That’s why we are proud to be a member of Mile High Connects. Our engagement began in 2011 and Foundation staff currently participate on the Steering Committee, Grant Fund Committee, Internal Equity and Inclusiveness Committee and the Advisory Council. When the Foundation first joined Mile High Connects, we were in the early stages of shaping a Healthy Communities approach within our Healthy Living outcome area. Over time, we have expanded our Healthy Communities work, including launching a Healthy Places initiative, seeding the Colorado Fresh Food Financing Fund, making program-related investments in supportive housing and community facilities and using our grantmaking to support a variety of nonprofit and public sector organizations working to increase opportunities for healthy eating and active living in communities across the state. Mile High Connects has provided the Foundation a unique opportunity to offer our perspective and expertise while learning from and collaborating with a diverse set of partners, all working toward making the Metro Denver region a place of opportunity for all residents.
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.
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.
The buildout of FasTracks, a multi-billion dollar expansion of public transit throughout metro Denver, has highlighted major challenges that low-income riders face when attempting to access the transit system. Many transit station areas have missing or inadequate sidewalks, dangerous crossings, and poor lighting. First and last mile connections (FLMC) refers to the built environment elements that help people get from their home to a transit stop, or from a transit stop to their final destination. Mile High Connects did a deeper dive into these important issues and this research is the culmination of 48 survey responses, 3 best practice case studies and 7 focus groups with participants representing city staff and agencies, non and for-profit developers, community organizations, and transportation management agencies all of whom provided stakeholder insight into barriers and solutions to financing these crucial connective elements.
The report provides a baseline understanding of how FLMC are currently funded in the Denver region, identifies best practices both locally and nationally, and makes recommendations on policies, practices, and funding mechanisms to address FLMC challenges. MHC hosted a report release event on September 3rd and over 100 people attended from jurisdictions around the Denver Region, the nonprofit sector, planning departments, RTD, the Denver Regional Council of Governments, and other community organizations. Resident leaders from Globeville Elyria-Swansea LiveWell also shared their important advocacy work on FLMC and highlighted these issues in real time. Recommendations from the report were shared as well as case studies on FLMC from other cities. The links below include the report, presentations from the release event, and the media pieces on Colorado Public Radio and Denver Streetsblog.
* WalkDenver Presentation
* NRDC Presentation
* Colorado Public Radio Piece
* Denver Streetsblog Piece
WalkDenver and BBC Research developed this report on behalf of Mile High Connects (MHC), with support from MHC members FRESC: Good Jobs, Strong Communities and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Yesterday a team of representatives from the Affordable Fares Task Force met with RTD staff and board members to discuss the fare increase recommendations and how RTD plans to build accommodations for affordability for low-income riders into their set of fare recommendations. The Task Force asked that RTD not increase fares without also creating an income based pass for those at 150% of the federal poverty level or less (or about $35,000 a year for a family of four).
While focusing specifically on the primary recommendation of the income-based discount pass, the group emphasized a need for the review of pass programs in the fare study to also focus on affordability. A copy of the presentation shared with staff and board members can be found here.
The Affordable Fares Task Force is a group of over 100 nonprofit, philanthropic, public and private sector organizations who have been working together for the past year to encourage RTD to ensure that considerations for affordability for low-income riders are included in the fare study.
To share your own comment about the affordability of bus and light rail fares and passes or other perspectives about the proposed RTD fare recommendations, we encourage you to attend a public hearing between now and April 8th. A complete list of public hearings can be found here.