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.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rulemaking – Centering Equity in the Process

10/14/2021
Subject: Green House Gas Emissions Rulemaking – Recommendations for a more equitable process

The undersigned members of the Denver-based Land Use Work Group (LUWG) led by Mile High Connects, Denver Streets Partnership, and YIMBY Denver applauds CDOT in its stakeholder outreach and thank you for the opportunity to provide input on the draft Rules Governing Statewide Transportation Planning Process and Transportation Planning Regions. The LUWG is a Denver-based group of 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.


While the draft rule proposes important policies to mitigate transportation pollution, it fails to adequately and directly promote climate-friendly land use, a key near-term strategy listed in the state’s GHG Pollution Reduction Roadmap.

More investment in multimodal transportation is essential to reducing VMT and should be coupled with smart land-use policies to locate housing, jobs, schools, goods, and services near one another. Achieving an 11% VMT reduction target by 2030 requires a comprehensive approach that integrates transportation and smart land use planning.

The following recommendations seek to create a more equitable approach that responds to the needs of the community:

  • Strengthen and Review Travel Demand Modeling: Fundamentally, the success or failure of a project depends on the modeling involved, and yet state DOT models have a track record of being inaccurate. To improve the accuracy of project assumptions, modeling scenarios must be strengthened and periodically reviewed to ensure that modeling results reflect real world data. Additionally, Both CDOT and MPOs should be required to model the impacts of transportation projects to evaluate plans for compliance. CDOT should also maintain its commitment to project-level modeling in addition to program or transportation-plan level modeling. Finally, to prevent conflicts of interest and ensure accuracy, CDOT should require an independent agency to verify and validate results produced by all compliance models.
  • Center People and Climate Justice for Greater Equity: CDOT should seek to strengthen public engagement in the decision-making process, with an emphasis on climate resilience and advancing equity. We believe that, while engagement has been positive, this is an opportunity to test innovative solutions to gather meaningful input. The rule should incorporate the following:
    • Adopt a transportation equity framework identifying equity-related performance measures adopted at the state and national level, and indicators that drive local decision-making. Assessing equity includes quantitative and qualitative analysis, and a decision-making process that is inclusive and representative of communities that are most burdened, leading to a more equitable outcome. Incorporating an equity lens provides a complete picture of the overall impact.
    • Support capacity building, including education about planning processes, to realize meaningful engagement and powerful collaboration among community organizations and CDOT in implementing the rulemaking.
    • Transparency in the equity evaluation process is crucial to emphasize inclusion in numerous ways – at the staff level, decision-making level, and through deliberate community engagement.
  • Lead with Smart Land Use Strategies: DRCOG’s Metro Vision 2050 Scenario Modeling compares different transportation and land use scenarios to identify pathways to achieve their Metro Vision GHG and VMT targets. One scenario would invest $16 billion in transit over 30 years, resulting in a 2% decrease in VMT per capita by 2050. A second scenario combines the same $16 billion transit investment with a land use scenario that focuses two-thirds of all new housing and employment in existing urban centers and along high-frequency transit corridors. The result is a 25% reduction in VMT per capita. CDOT and MPOs are required by Senate Bill 21-260 to “consider the role of land use in the transportation planning process and development strategies to encourage land use decisions that reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions.” Reports have shown that daily VMT are about three times higher in suburban areas, than in compact multimodal neighborhoods (VTPI, 2021). Therefore, CDOT should aim to incorporate smart land use policies within transportation funding to reduce car dependence and overall VMT, specifically among suburban locations. Furthermore, CDOT should consider the role of specific land use policies such as ADUs, equitable transit-oriented development, up zoning in dense urban areas, reduced parking requirements, etc. in transportation planning efforts. The rule should incorporate land use metrics in the evaluation of each transportation project by requiring CDOT and MPOs to:
    • Measure the VMT and VMT per capita impacts of individual transportation projects in all planning and programming, including the RTPs and 10 Year Plans, and the TIP and Four-Year Prioritized Plan project selection process.
    • Gather baseline data on transportation-efficient land use for each local government in Colorado.
      • Once baseline data is determined, local governments should be required to report on specific land use metrics in each plan to demonstrate progress toward VMT and GHG reduction targets.
    • 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-use infill development, 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.

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

Equitable Vaccine Distribution? Leverage Existing Transit Infrastructure.

In the months since the COVID vaccination efforts kicked off in the state, we’ve made enormous strides – over half of Colorado’s state population has been at least partially vaccinated to date, and community vaccine sites are emerging thanks in large part to organizations and leaders championing the cause.  While there may no longer be eligibility and appointment restrictions, other barriers keep our metro Denver residents from getting vaccines. More recently as more people have gotten vaccinated, demand has declined, and dose availability has increased, a default narrative is taking center stage: that those who remain unvaccinated are choosing not to be so. However, the reality is that many of our Black, Brown, Indigenous and other People of Color (BBIPOC) and low-income community residents do not have transport options that are affordable, accessible, or reliable to get to and from vaccine sites. In fact, many residents that are looking for a vaccine are also looking for a ride.

As we reimagine recovery and revolutionize how we use the built environment to support public health and community well-being, we encourage going further in leveraging existing infrastructure to better connect services to the people.

Thanks to an analysis (see below for link) of RTD’s Park-n-Ride (PNR)s, we have a better understanding where the need is and what locations would best serve those who are hardest to reach. PNR locations are suitable for semi-permanent vaccine sites because they are accessible by public transit, car, and other micro-mobility options, they have established infrastructure such as protected areas, utility connections and waste management services, and they tap into and enhance existing infrastructure to meet the moment and ensure access to services as a public health necessity. The report’s author, Luna Hoopes, identified 36 PNR sites as eligible for semi-permanent vaccine operations to serve our low-income and BBIPOC communities who often rely on public transit, have been disproportionately impacted by COVID and will likely need a more sustained rollout due to other access issues and potential need for booster shots.

While this analysis show gaps in vaccine site distribution as a snapshot in time and the landscape is evolving rapidly as we move away from mass vaccination sites to community-based locations, it reveals a strategic and timely opportunity to provide easily accessible vaccine sites through existing infrastructure.  In Covina, CA, the Foothills Transit agency had built a three-level bus depot and PNR garage last March just before COVID hit. The transit agency pivoted to use this new space to provide an easily accessible location for transit riders to get vaccinated. They also “wanted a location that would support the community where this transit center is located.” Across the country, at least 450 public transportation providers are providing free transit to vaccination sites, according to those behind the VaxTransit campaign aimed as providing those without transportation access to vaccines.

We know that transit agencies across the country have been rocked by devastating loss of riders, issues hiring bus and train operators, and an unpredictable future as we climb out of the pandemic mess. Instead of continuing to place more of a burden on RTD to go out of its way to transport people to vaccine sites, why not bring the two services together and remove that additional burden from RTD? We can partner with vaccine operators to utilize RTD’s existing infrastructure to reach more people and take advantage of existing opportunity. By placing one service near another service, the resulting proximity and ease will allow more equitable access to those who most need and deserve it, and give more residents a fair shot at getting a shot.

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

Travel Training: Lyft Shared Scooters and Discounts

Join Mile High Connects, DRMAC and Lyft to learn about how to get around the Denver Metro area safely, knowledgably, and affordably. Latoya Prante will walk us through the various ways to get around, and how to plan your trips. This is the final training of six in a series.

In this session, you will learn:
– Lyft shared scooters
– How to download the Lyft app
– How to purchase / unlock shared scooters
– How to safely ride a scooter
– Lyft area restrictions
– Lyft discount Community Pass program

Please register for this event by clicking on the website URL below.

Travel Training: How to Ride RTD

Join Mile High Connects & DRMAC to learn about how to get around the Denver Metro area safely, knowledgably, and affordably. Latoya Prante will walk us through the various ways to get around, and how to plan your trips. This is the fifth training of six in a series.

In this session, you will learn:
– A review of how to purchase tickets
– How to board RTD buses & trains
– How to use RTD bike racks
– Fare inspections
– Bus & train safety

Please register for this event by clicking on the website URL below.

Travel Training: RTD ‘LiVE’ – How to Use

Join Mile High Connects & RTD to learn how to use your discount LiVE card once you have been approved for the program and your card has been mailed to you. This is the fourth training of six in a series.

In this session, you will learn:
– What the LiVE discount program is
– What to expect once you have submitted your LiVE application
– What you do once you receive the LiVE card & how to use
– How to replace your LiVE card

Please register for this event by clicking on the website URL below.

Travel Training: RTD ‘LiVE’ – How to Apply

Join Mile High Connects & Denver Human Services to learn more about RTD’s income-eligible discount program, LiVE. David Taylor of DHS will walk us through how to know if you’re eligible for LiVE, what documentation you need to apply, and how to complete the application process. This is the third training of six in a series.

In this session, you will learn:
– What the LiVE discount program is
– LiVE Eligibility
– LiVE Application Requirements
– How to Apply for LiVE

Please register for this event by clicking on the website URL below.

Travel Training: RTD Fares and Ticketing

Join Mile High Connects & DRMAC to learn about how to get around the Denver Metro area safely, knowledgably, and affordably. Latoya Prante will walk us through the various ways to get around, and how to plan your trips. This is the second training of six in a series.

In this session, you will learn:
– Fares, fare zones and costs
– RTD discount programs
– How to purchase tickets
– How to use the RTD ticketing app

Please register by clicking on the website URL below.

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