In response to “worsening congestion and safety and limited mobility options,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock is planning a reorganization of the city’s public works department to prioritize transportation, his office announced Wednesday. The restructuring could lead to a new cabinet-level Department of Transportation and Mobility.
“Restructuring Denver Public Works to elevate transportation and mobility — now one of the highest priorities for the people of Denver — and then creating a new Department of Transportation and Mobility, will advance our ability to move more people, more efficiently and more safely,” the mayor said in the release.
According to the Denver Post, creating a new department of transportation — unlike restructuring the department of public works — will require voter approval of an amendment to the city charter. It’s not expected to go on the ballot this November, but could go before City Council and be sent to voters next year. A city spokesperson says no estimates were available yet on the budget impact of creating the department, but Hancock is increasingly prioritizing transportation funding and has pushed for transit and mobility projects to make up the majority of an an in-the-works $900 million bond issue.
The city’s announcement comes in the wake of data showing car-commuting on the rise. In February, a Denver-area survey found that for the first time in five years, more downtown commuters drove alone to work than took transit.
“This is an important step for Denver,” Piep Van Heuven, Bicycle Colorado’s Denver director, told the paper in an email. “It will help transportation planners innovate and deliver efficient solutions so that people have more safe, convenient choices to get around. Cities like Pittsburgh, Oakland, Seattle and Washington, D.C., have all benefited from stand-alone transportation departments.”
One city, however, provides an interesting contrast. In February of 2016, Miami-Dade’s transportation and public works agencies merged into one “in a bid to improve efficiency and better integrate services into the full gamut of county projects,” Jen Kinney wrote for Next City at the time.
“For many years we’ve had basically two different … transportation groups, and they each take a different approach to a certain issue,” director of the joint department Alice Bravo said in a release. “By unifying the two departments now there’s a common mission. That mission is: improve mobility.”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.