No, you’re not imagining it: There are fewer parking meters downtown. Since 2011, the streets of LoDo and the Central Business District have lost roughly 600 parking meters, a 19 percent decrease. More than 250 of those 600 have disappeared in 2023. “The change is real,” says Cindy Patton, senior director of operations for the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI). “We are repurposing parking. DOTI’s mission is to move people, not cars.”

The most recent meter removals, combined with summer construction projects that have taken meters offline for extended periods of time, are causing the parking pain points. Either way, some downtown business owners say it’s problematic. “My clients have been having a hard time finding a meter for a two-hour appointment,” says Kelli Potthoff, co-owner of LoDo’s Luxe Salon. “No one wants to pay for a full day at a lot for a two-hour haircut.”

That may be true—OK, it’s definitely true—but DOTI hasn’t been pulling out meters just for the fun of it. The agency has been methodically implementing changes based on Denver’s 2010 Strategic Parking Plan, the city’s 2011 Denver Moves bike-specific plan (which was updated in 2015), its Comprehensive Plan adopted by City Council in 2019, 2019’s Blueprint Denver Plan, and on the Denver Moves: Downtown strategy from 2020.

“All of [these documents] were created with public input,” says DOTI communications director Nancy Kuhn. “[In them,] you are going to see common themes and a vision for Denver that includes creating a multimodal transportation system; developing mobility options that prioritize walking, rolling, biking, and transit; reducing emissions; reducing single-occupancy vehicle trips; and building more high-comfort bike lanes in a network across the city.”

In short, Denver residents asked for and then—at least tacitly—approved the lack of streetside parking we’re now experiencing. Those strategic plans looked at curbside spaces with a lens toward access, not just as parking spots for Subaru Outbacks. In late spring and early summer, for example, DOTI installed two miles of bike/scooter lanes and several blocks worth of dedicated bus lanes along Blake and Market streets downtown. Later in the summer, bike/scooter lanes were built along 17th Street. These new protected paths are part of a yearslong push to complete 125 lane miles by 2023, a goal the city has now reached.

In some cases, these projects completely removed metered parking spaces. In others, the meters have been red- or yellow-bagged, making those spaces unusable during construction of, for example, protected bike lanes. Furthermore, unrelated construction projects by the city and private developers often briefly block meter use. DOTI doesn’t track how many meters are temporarily offline at any given time or in any given area, which means, especially during this summer and early fall, there may have been (and may continue to be) parts of the city core where streetside parking was, and continues to be, extremely limited.

Kuhn acknowledges that there is a “tradeoff” to making changes we all say we want to make with regard to climate change and community health. Patton also says the DOTI team understands that removing meters can impact small businesses.

But if our collective goal is to create a shift in how we move through downtown, Patton says, we’re all going to have to be a little more flexible and adaptable. It also helps, she says, when we all better understand the ramifications of these changes in advance of a trip downtown. With that in mind, Kuhn and Patton offer a few suggestions.

  • “When you come downtown by vehicle, give yourself extra time to find a parking spot,” Patton says. “Don’t expect that you’ll find a spot right in front of the place you need to go. No one expects that in New York City; we can’t expect that here any longer. You might have to walk several blocks.”
  • “When you do have a little extra time to get where you need to go, consider trying something different to get downtown,” Patton says. “Ride your bike. Take public transportation. Ride share. It helps to know how long that might take so you can incorporate that into your routine on days when it’s feasible.”
  • “Don’t park at red- or yellow-bagged meters or where the meter head is missing, even if it looks like there’s no reason why you can’t park there,” Kuhn says. “It’ll just set you up for getting a ticket.”
  • “Try not to get frustrated,” Patton says. “Remember these changes mean more people can use downtown streets safely and that the curbside areas are better used as travel lanes than places where we just leave our cars for hours and hours. This is better for everyone in the long run.”