May 11th, 2016

How Denver improvised a new contracting model to deliver change fast

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Denver bike lane
Denver bike lane

When Denver first set out to build a parking-protected bike lane couplet on two miles of downtown streets in 2015, it thought the work would just involve some restriping.

But to make a quality project, the city realized that more work was needed, from moving parking meters to creating new floating bus stops. As the scope changed, Denver Public Works staff realized that projects like these fall in between the city’s usual categories.

“They’re too big for in-house capabilities, but not a multimillion-dollar capital project,” said Denver Urban Mobility Manager Emily Snyder. “And that’s the two worlds right now we live in.”

But the lanes were a priority. So, with backing from public works managers, Snyder and her colleagues created one of the most unique project delivery plans in the city’s history.

Brittany Price, assigned as the lead engineer for both projects, tapped experience from her private-sector background to essentially double as the city’s in-house general contractor herself. For concrete and pavement marking, she drew on the city’s existing on-call contracts. For signal work and meter relocation, she found in-house staff who don’t usually work on bike projects, such as parking meter repair workers, to do that work between their regular tasks.

Two weeks before construction started, Price’s team led a huge “all hands on deck” meeting of 40 people representing every team that would be involved. “We spoke to everyone on the phone and were like, ‘We really need you there,'” Price said. “I can’t stress how important it was to have the management team be supportive and to make that priority one. Otherwise it wouldn’t have happened, for sure.”

During installation, Price also functioned as the implementation manager. That meant spending about half her day in the field, split between morning and night to answer the questions of workers on both the day and night shifts.

It worked. Mayor Michael Hancock cut the ribbon personally on Dec. 3 … and promised three more protected bike lanes in 2016. For those, public works is hoping to somehow create a new system that will let them hire external general contractors for jobs under $1 million or so.

“We’re basically working on the best ways to deliver mid-size but complex projects,” Snyder said.

Download our 24-page report on quick-build projects here, or email aisling@peopleforbikes.org to request a hard copy.

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