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Denver Adds Density, EPA Removes Gas Stations

Even as Denver City planners and the Denver City Council push for increased density, EPA regulations (among other things) are contributing to a decline in the number of gas stations.  Inevitably, this will lead to increased pump prices, and increased inconvenience for drivers, and more density isn’t the end of the story.

Recently, the City Council, in pursuit of additional density and with the approval of new Planning Director Brad Buchanan, approved upwards of 230 new units near the University of Denver, on South University Blvd.

Neighbors went on to mention height, traffic, and parking as concerns.  Add to that the inconvenience of filling up.

I recently drove University from the DU neighborhood south to Orchard (about 5.5 miles), and north to I-70 (about 8.5 miles).  Segments of that route carried upwards of 20,000 vehicles a day 6 years ago, according to traffic studies.  In that 14-mile stretch of heavily-used road, I counted exactly three gas stations.  And we could be about to lose one of those.

The southernmost was a relatively new Shell station at South University and Orchard.  One was 5.5 miles farther north at University and Evans, tucked into a difficult-to-navigate convenience store.  The last was in the Bonnie Brae neighborhood, at University and Exposition, 2 miles north.  And with the station at Josephine and Colfax having closed, that’s it, all the way to I-70.

(It should be mentioned that at Cherry Creek, University splits into two one-way streets, southbound York and northbound Josephine.  There is a Conoco station at 6th Avenue between the two one-way streets, but getting to it from either York or Josephine requires an odyssey that takes you several blocks out of your way, and forces you to traverse several lanes of traffic, if you want to resume your northbound or southbound travels.)

The inconvenience of this can’t be overstated, especially if you’re in a hurry, and trying to navigate the already-snarled rush hour traffic around Bonnie Brae or the University of Denver.  This is the place where Brad Buchanan and the City Council want to add more units.  Since the two gas stations near Exposition and Evans are on opposite sides of University, if you want to tank up without navigating across a busy University Blvd., you’ve only got one option in each direction, for over 14 miles.

The disappearance of independent gas stations is a national phenomenon, driven by a number of factors, but largely by the inability to compete with deep-pocketed national operations.   One of the added burdens to the smaller owner is EPA rules surrounding older underground storage tanks, first adopted in 1989, and extended in 2005.

The National Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing (NACS), notes that there are 25% fewer retail fueling sites in the United States than there were 20 years ago.  Station closing is such a common event that there’s even a national conference devoted to re-purposing close gas stations.

The station at Bonnie Brae is old enough that it may end up having to close at some point, which would force drivers to go more than a mile out of the way in each direction to find another gas station.

Thus are the local effects of city planners failing to take into account national regulations felt by the individuals who live in those cities.

Joshua Sharf

Joshua is co-editor of Watchdog Wire - Colorado. Contact him at Colorado@WatchdogWire.com to learn how to get involved with citizen journalism in the Boulder State. Follow him on Twitter: @joshuasharf

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Categories: Energy & Environment, Must Read, Regulation
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