31 May 2006

Denver Happenings

The City has a map (page 8, warning, large file) showing where graffiti takes place. There is, not surprisingly, very little in the area South of 6th Avenue and East of Downning. It is also scarce in Park Hill and all points East of there. West Denver, Five Points, Downtown and Capitol Hill, in contrast, are graffiti hubs.

The same report also has a nice little chart explaining how bad various flood levels (when driven by rain alone) are likely to be, although the report is incomplete as it doesn't even acknowledge that many of the worst urban floods involve the failure of some part of the flood control infrastructure (and this is not just a New Orleans Hurricane issue, we've seen levy failures causing flooding in both mountain towns and Grand Junction, Colorado. In Denver, a high line canal breech could cause real damage).

Finally, the 16th Street pedestrian bridge over I-25 (the Highland Bridge)is under construction (and has its own website). This link, in connection with the existing Millenium Bridge over the rail lines South of LoDo, and the Platte River bridge, will finally establish a dedicated foot and bike connection between Northwest Denver neighborhood of Highland and Downtown, and will effectively extend the 16th Street Mall all the way from Broadway to Northwest Denver. The design, shown in numerous artist's conceptions in the links above, is less high concept than the Millenium Bridge. It is a simple functional suspension bridge with small concrete plazas at each end, with similar materials and style choices (despite its greatly simplified form) to the Millenium Bridge. It will look done, according to the project schedule, with an arch and deck in place, at the end of July. The actual completion date will be in October of this year.

And, while the construction projects are all exciting, this doesn't mean that everything is humming in Denver's City government. While Mayor Hickenlooper has taken many positive steps to improve Denver, one of the items he campaigned upon, improving the permit process, remains unfinished, as he has himself admitted in interviews with the press. The concrete impact of that is that I personally have encountered three different businesses who have been seriously harmed by delays in the permitting process. Two failed with resulting substantial financial hits to the prospective entrapreneurs. One finally managed to get up and running, but at great cost to the business people involved. The problem is not that the process is too expensive, indeed, it may very well be too cheap, since it doesn't seem to be funding the necessary staff. The problem is delay. A typical new business loses tens of thousands of dollars of revenue for every month of delay, and new businesses tend to lack the working capital before the begin to suffer this delay with equaniminity.

I am not anti-regulation, and neither is Mayor Hickenlooper. But, a process that takes a long time simply discourages voluntary compliance with the rules, even by people who are more than ready to comply with those rules, and to the extent that these delays are not substantively necessary but merely the result of red tape, do not advance any public purpose.

This may be a case where the main problem is not really the process, although those timelines could be trimmed. This may be a case where simply increasing staffing, at entrapreneur expense through higher permit fees, may be all that is necessary to make a big dent in the problem. Also, as new regulation is enacted, the City needs to think twice about proposing permit based solutions. Often, this don't work anyway, as a recent case where an unpermitted limo driver with a DUI conviction who was a registered sex offender ran over a young woman going to prom, costing her leg illustrates. Reports on the case indicated that most limo drivers, knowing that the fine for non-compliance was only $100, simply ignored it, and in most cases, where the permit is simply another tax, why shouldn't they. Laws that simply make it illegal to have a driver who is not in compliance and impose civil and criminal liability for the failure, combined with business based auditing, might be just as effective, if not more so, even in the absence of a permitting process.

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