A news site founded on the proposition that Denver streets aren’t just for cars is losing its only employee.
Andy Bosselman’s last day at Streetsblog Denver was Wednesday. The site Bosselman served as executive director, fundraiser and reporter will continue under the auspices of the Denver Streets Partnership, which brings together advocacy groups such as WalkDenver, Bicycle Colorado and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition to collaborate on improving walking, biking and public transit infrastructure.
“Since the beginning we have really appreciated Streetsblog Denver as readers,” said Jill Locantore, WalkDenver’s executive director.
Locantore said Streetsblog Denver’s now-dissolved board approached Denver Streets Partnership about taking over late last year. She said communications staff at the partnership will continue posting daily headlines to Streetsblog Denver on transit issues and the stories of people killed or injured in crashes, as well as material from a loose national Streetsblog network of independently-run sites. Locantore said the new incarnation of Streetsblog Denver also would have blogs by unpaid commentators and analysts and would occasionally hire freelance journalists to cover breaking transit news.
“We just won’t have a full-time journalist,” Locantore said.
Bosselman said the problem for Streetsblog Denver, a nonprofit that relied on grants from Colorado’s Gates Family Foundation and others, was money.
“As our costs grew, our fundraising wasn’t able to keep pace,” he said.
The main costs were Bosselman’s salary and paying an editor.
Alan Gottlieb has served on Streetsblog Denver’s board since soon after the site was founded in 2015 by David Sachs, who left last year to become Denverite’s city reporter. Gottlieb, who chaired Streetsblog Denver’s board at the end, also co-founded Chalkbeat, which like Streetsblog Denver is a nonprofit news organization focusing on a single topic that was incubated at Colorado Nonprofit Development Center. Gottlieb said that unlike Chalkbeat, which focuses on education, Streetsblog Denver struggled to attract national funders.
Raising money “just proved over time challenging in the extreme,” Gottlieb said.
“I just really want to give kudos to Dave first who was really amazing in the job and to Andy who followed him,” Gottlieb said. “They did it with a lot of energy and were pretty good-natured about what was really an impossible job.”
Gosia Kung, who stepped down as head of WalkDenver in 2017, said she has been a Streetsblog Denver reader since the beginning. Kung said Streetsblog Denver quickly gained a reputation for talking about transportation from a perspective beyond that of motorists, and of asking tough questions about what the city was doing to ensure safety. She said she and other advocates and city policymakers eagerly awaited Sachs’s daily reports, wondering “what was he going to say this time?”
“They provided this independent voice that was important and much-needed,” Kung said. “It will have lasting impact.”
Ben Fried started as a Streetsblog reporter in New York, where the national network began in 2006, and went on to become its editor-in-chief.
“The idea was that no one was really covering transportation issues from the perspective of people who ride transit and ride bikes and primarily get around without cars,” said Fried, who is now communications director for TransitCenter, a national think tank on transportation that was a Streetsblog Denver funder.
New York was followed by other sites in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago. While Denver did not have the public transit ridership of bigger cities, it was a growing community where some were questioning whether reliance on cars as a way to get around was adding to the stress of change.
Denver had advocates for thinking beyond cars who seemed in need of “the type of online gathering place Streetsblog was in New York,” Fried said.
“I definitely think Streetsblog generated pressure on the Hancock administration to take street safety more seriously,” Fried said.
Mayor Michael Hancock announced during his 2017 State of the City address that the city was committed to eliminating traffic-related deaths and serious injuries by 2030. He committed to improving bike lane and sidewalk infrastructure and getting drivers to slow down. It was an embrace of the Vision Zero philosophy developed in Sweden in the late 1990s.
According to the city, preparation for Vision Zero in Denver began in 2015, the year Sachs founded Streetsblog Denver.
“It was Dave Sachs as the first editor at Streetsblog Denver who really started talking about Vision Zero when the rest of us were saying, ‘What is Vision Zero?”‘ WalkDenver’s Locantore said.
The conversation led to a wide realization that “traffic deaths absolutely are preventable, and we should be holding our city leaders and state and county accountable,” she said.
Fried said smaller Streetsblog operations have run into funding problems, but Denver’s is the first with a full-time journalist to falter. He said he hoped the Denver Streets Partnership would be able to one day steer Streetsblog Denver back to a point where it could again hire a reporter, which Locantore said was possible.
While Streetsblog had a clear stance on transit, its stories presented multiple points of view, Gottlieb said.
The Denver Streets Partnership is “committed to having dissenting voices and vigorous debate on the site,” Gottlieb added.
Reader Kung worried about losing a watchdog.
“It’s all different when you rely on volunteers to do that kind of work,” she said. “It’s all our responsibility to keep it going. It’s going to be hard without that reporter.”