Startup Downtown: Lessons from an Innovator

How Downtown Denver Implemented Start-Up City Principles to Create a Bike Lane

Review by: Faith Broderick, IDA Research Associate and Aylene McCallum, Director, Downtown Environment, Downtown Denver Partnership

February 2017

Gabe Klein, the former director at Washington DC’s Department of Transportation and Chicago’s Department of Transportation began his career in the trenches of two nascent startups; one being a food truck company and the other being Zipcar. It is with this entrepreneurial spirit and passion for innovation that Gabe forged ahead, leading both Washington DC and Chicago’s transportation departments to implement emerging transportation infrastructure and technology at a pace normally reserved only for the private sector.

Admittedly, Gabe Klein was an atypical figure in government. His first opportunity in the public sector came from Mayor Adrian Fenty and former DDOT Director Dan Tangherlini. They both felt that Gabe’s insight and experience working in the private sector would be an increasingly relevant skill for building a smarter, more innovative Washington DC.

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A cyclist rides down buffered bike lanes in the center of Washington, DC’s Pennsylvania Avenue. (Photo by WNYC).

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The ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of protected bike lanes in Denver. (Photo by DenverUrbanism)

While in DC, Gabe faced numerous bureaucratic obstacles, but drew upon his start-up experience and belief in basic, but effective, management principles such as failing fast, S.M.A.R.T and Six Sigma to push forward with projects that were inexpensive, easy to replicate and easy to adjust. One such project was developing a bike lane that ran down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. After extensive planning and coordination, Gabe’s team began laying down the paint to construct a protected bike lane on one of the nations most recognized avenues and ultimately proved that innovative urban infrastructure can be fast, cheap, and safe. Despite encountering a few hiccups and bureaucratic red tape, the city applauded the bike lane and gave DC residents a mobility option that had been missing.

Cities across the country are now installing bicycle and pedestrian projects with a similar approach that Gabe started modeling almost a decade ago. For example, in 2014 and 2015 the Downtown Denver Partnership and the City of Denver collaborated on the design and implementation of a new set of protected bike lanes bisecting downtown Denver along Arapahoe and Lawrence Streets. The Downtown Denver Partnership took on an unorthodox fundraising approach for the project by leading a crowdfunding campaign to pay for the full design of the Arapahoe Street Protected Bike Lane and the city agreed to pay for its construction. This required an entirely innovative implementation process due to the smaller nature of the capital project. In the end, the Arapahoe Street Protected Bike lane was identified, design and constructed in approximately one year — significantly faster than the four-year time frame of the preceding protected bike lane project in downtown Denver.

Gabe Klein’s innovative approach for community planning can be replicated. Building smart cities is a top priority for city officials and urban place management professionals. Recognizing that our downtowns need to innovate to keep pace with people’s changing lifestyles, new collaborations and partnerships are required to build solutions to complex issues. Strong partnerships between public officials and private entities can help to leverage new ideas, create faster, more affordable solutions and build community support.

Read more about Start-Up City by Gabe Klein.