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Walk around Denver’s transformed Lower Downtown neighborhood, and you’ll find impressive museums, posh restaurants, and Union Station, one of city’s most stunning landmarks. You’ll find overpriced coffee, a glut of new development, and enough well-to-do millennials to make sense of the Fyre Festival. Between Coors Field and the Pepsi Center, you’ll find a vibrant urban locale growing in real time.
But you probably won’t find Billy LoDo. He’s there all the time, maybe strolling the sidewalk chatting up strangers. Maybe cracking jokes with his favorite barista. Maybe placing an all-too-casual call to the Denver Police Department. But it’s unlikely you’ll recognize him. The 68-year-old—one of the neighborhood’s more permanent residents—often wears a navy blue ball cap with no logo, mirrored black shades, and a zip-up jacket. He has the look of an undercover cop, like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Departed, but it’s betrayed by a soft smile and a retiree’s beard.
Billy LoDo has been living at 18th and Larimer streets for the past eight years as a resident of a Volunteers of America (VOA) building, where he and about 250 other seniors have seen Denver’s skyline grow around them, blocking a once-expansive mountain view. For the most part, Billy LoDo has taken Denver’s growth in stride. The number of young people moving to the city every year doesn’t bother him much. It’s their new method of transportation that has him in fits.
My first encounter with Billy LoDo was about five months ago. He showed up at the 5280 office last fall, asking to speak with someone about the “electric scooters possessing our sidewalks.” I had been on the scooter beat since the electric machines suddenly appeared last May. As I was covering the news, Billy LoDo—then unknown to me—was waging a war against the machines causing an uproar around the city.
When I called him back a few days later, he explained that he and his fellow residents had a problem: Companies like Bird, Lime, Spin, Lyft, and Razor were dropping scooters each morning on the sidewalk outside the VOA building, and the seniors were afraid they’d be run over and injured by the flocks of hip riders buzzing around. Moreover, he told me, there were several blind residents tripping over the scooters and terrified to hear something whizzing past them. He claimed he’d even been “brushed” by a scooter on 17 different occasions.
He had a simple if ambitious goal: He wanted every electric scooter banned from the planet. But if he couldn’t make that happen, he’d settle for having them removed from his sidewalk. “Personally, I think President Trump is fake news,” he told me near the end of our first conversation. “But I hope his tariffs kill these damn scooter companies.”
He asked me to drum up bad press on the scooters; I explained I couldn’t do that. We did, however, agree to share information. He was on a mission—he read everything about the scooters and was trying to learn as much as possible. I was doing the same. As I learned more about the scooters in Denver (city ordinances, pending legislation, fleet sizes, etc.), I would pass it his way. I even supplied him with contacts at each scooter company so he could call and air his grievances.
Before long, we were meeting up for coffee and comparing notes. Each time, he’d arrive with a manilla folder stuffed with newspaper clippings, emails to and from city officials, and a few conspiracy theories about foreign money. It was over these coffee meetings that we became friends. It was also how I learned he was Billy LoDo.
The truth about Billy LoDo is that his name isn’t actually Billy LoDo. He gave himself that moniker because sometimes when he walks the streets of downtown Denver he stops by luxury apartments and tours multimillion-dollar units just for fun. When leasing agents ask his name, he gives them “Billy LoDo.” And when it became time for him to launch a crusade against the scooters, he used that alias in his initial emails to city officials.
When I asked if he’d let me tell his story, he agreed, but only on the condition that we wouldn’t publish his real name.
Billy LoDo was born in California, but he spent time in New Jersey and Albuquerque before he arrived in Denver. Memory issues forced him to retire and collect disability in his fifties, but he worked as a container shipment broker before that and traveled all over the world as a salesman. Because of his health, his world is much smaller now than it once was. But that doesn’t stop him from keeping busy.
His friends call him an instigator. A rabble-rouser. A lovable scamp who can’t help but have his nose in everything.
“He is interminably, exhaustively stubborn,” says Ron Evans, a resident of the VOA building and one of Billy LoDo’s closest friends. “He knows how to get in touch with enough systems that [people in power] resign and say: ‘Can you get this guy off our ass?’”
Before he had scooters in his crosshairs, Billy LoDo won a battle with RTD. Two years ago, when RTD considered removing the bus stop right outside his building, he rounded up at least two dozen folks from the VOA and showed up at RTD’s office in protest. According to Evans, a public meeting that would have otherwise had a handful of people became a packed room. When the meeting was opened to public comment, Billy LoDo gave a three-minute speech, after which he asked all the VOA residents to stand up and show their numbers. RTD kept the bus stop in place. And though Billy LoDo will never accept the recognition, Evans credits him for the win.
“Billy LoDo is loyal friend, a concerned citizen, and willing to go out on a limb to look out for his fellow human without any compensation,” Evans says. “In fact, he disdains anything good we say about him. It’s rare to be that selfless.”
In his most recent battle, Billy LoDo targeted scooter executives whose products were dropped all around LoDo with what he says is little regard to the neighborhood’s senior residents. Billy LoDo started with Bird. He called to express his displeasure and, to his surprise, the Bird “nests” soon disappeared. He then called Lime, which was also responsive. He did the same with Lyft, Spin, and Razor, and after several weeks—to his own surprise—the companies actually cleared the sidewalk of the dockless scooters.
His victory was cheered by residents of the building, even those who don’t mind the scooters. Unlike Billy LoDo, Evans actually loves the new method of transportation. “They fill a valuable need,” he says. “I think they should be part of the transit infrastructure in every city.” But he does recognize the virtue in his friend’s work. “We disagree on whether or not we need scooters, but since they’re here anyway, we do need an advocate for them to be used safely,” Evans says. “Nobody was doing that until he came along. He’s a renegade.”
Still, you won’t find Billy LoDo celebrating. Even after he saved his building from the tyranny of scooters and Denver City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the machines from operating on sidewalks except in certain circumstances, he remained unsatisfied
“I didn’t feel like we really won on the scooters,” he says. “I wanted them all banned.”
Then, in early February, he left me a voicemail. “Out of the blue,” he said, “Lyft started parking their scooters smack in front of the building again, and we’ve had an accident or two with the blind.” He said the police were unwilling to help him and the number with which he originally reached Lyft was now directing him to an order-by-phone sex service. He wasn’t interested in pleasure; he was frustrated and wanted to know if I could help.
I passed along another contact number for the company and he went back to work. The scooters have not returned since.
It’s hard to know what exactly motivates Billy LoDo. It’s possible he’s a natural leader with a vigilante spirit. It’s possible he’s having an extreme reaction to relatively benign new technologies. It’s also possible he’s a chronic pest with too much time on his hands.
Tony Mikesell, a wheelchair-bound resident of the VOA building, says Billy LoDo is motivated by “an underlying need to improve people.” But what makes him successful, according to Mikesell, is that he has absolutely no fear of making contact with another person.“He’ll go talk to cops all the time. I’ve pulled him out of a couple of those,” Mikesell says. “I’m sure he’s pulled himself out of thousands.”
In fact, the same day Billy LoDo called me to report the return of Lyft’s fleet, he picked up a few scooters off the sidewalk and threw them into the street. He then called the Denver Police Department’s non-emergency line and reported his act of civil disobedience. The operator apparently recognized his voice from previous calls and cautioned him against committing venial crimes.
The police let him off the hook and today he remains a free, stubborn, determined instigator. He also remains a champion for a community of senior and disabled residents who call Denver’s Lower Downtown neighborhood home.
Just ask Ron Evans.
“Billy is the hero of LoDo,” he says. “It used to be Dana Crawford. Before that it was John Hickenlooper. Now, it’s Billy LoDo.”