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Blast from the Past: 16th and Wewatta from Above

No place in Downtown Denver has changed as much in the past few years as the area around Denver Union Station. I took the photo below on August 11, 2009 while on a hardhat tour of the then-under-construction 1800 Larimer project.

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In this view we see the area around 16th and Wewatta. What’s missing from this photo? The Triangle Building, One Union Station, DaVita Headquarters, 1601 Wewatta, Cadence, Platform, and the now-under-construction Hotel Born/1881 16th Street and 16 Chestnut projects. What’s in the photo but no longer there? The light rail tracks along 16th Street and the former platforms behind the historic station.


Exercising While Living in a City is Redundant

by John Riecke

You know what I don’t like? Exercising. I don’t like taking the time or making the effort. Blech. You know what I do like? Walking to the coffee shop on the weekend. Strolling to the fancy restaurant down the street on a date. Hoofing it to the grocery store and not fighting for a parking spot. A leisurely fifteen minute bike ride to work, sans-spandex. Sauntering downtown to meet friends for a drink and not worrying about how to get home. Even hiking the dog around the neighborhood, to the park, seeing the people and buildings and interacting with them along the way. And finally, I enjoy that I don’t have to exercise because my neighborhood is structured in a way that lets me avoid it.

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I love the variety of things to do in my city and especially the fact that they’re all so close that I don’t have drive to them. I’m not choosing to walk for my health—it’s actually the best choice given the great variety that my neighborhood offers. Why would I choose traffic and parking when I could literally waltz to my destination if I choose? Getting from A to B shouldn’t be a battle or a chore; it should be an experience, an opportunity. Don’t people always say it’s the journey, not the destination? That shouldn’t apply only to vacations and vision quests, our city should be built to allow people to experience their journey every time they leave the house. Why do I always feel that when I’m driving somewhere the destination is the most important thing and the journey is an inconvenience? I never feel like that while walking to the taco place, or biking to the movie theater, or taking the bus to work. The chore is gone and the journey becomes part of the experience.

So then I have to ask you what kind of city you want. One that makes the trip as engaging as the destination or one that encourages you to get in and out as quickly as possible? I’ve found that one is better for my soul. City leaders are also beginning to remember that walkable neighborhoods with plenty of destinations are better for civic culture, not to mention the bottom lines of their budgets. Denver’s urban future is on the way and I’m looking forward to experiencing more parts of the city that have remembered how to build neighborhoods that allow people to live healthily instead of travel quickly.

~~~

John Riecke holds a degree in Political Science from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. A resident of Capitol Hill, John is a volunteer for the local neighborhood organizations, Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation and Capitol Hill United Neighborhood and enjoys studying economic systems and engaging with city planning efforts. John became interested in city-building like many do when he bought his first house.


Transportation Variety Makes for a Vibrant City

by John Riecke

Part of the reason we live in cities is because we want options. Options for where to work, where to play, where to shop for groceries. Last week the options in which I was interested were transportation options. I had a busy day scheduled and needed to be in different places on a tight schedule.

You see, I live in Capitol Hill and I usually bicycle to work but my trusty steed had been victimized by a goat head.

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The trusty steed.

This particular morning I had taken the other trusty steed to work.

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The other trusty steed.

After work I walked to the nearest MetroRide stop where I happened to meet a friend I hadn’t seen for a while waiting for the same bus. I talked with her while transiting down to Union Station, I for my meeting and she for her transfer.

Steed of convenience.

The meeting ran longer than I had anticipated so my plan to take the bus to my next appointment was scrapped in favor of walking out front and hopping in a Car2Go and heading towards Cheesman Park.

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Trusty steed for when the other trusty steed is too slow.

After that meeting I decided to walk home rather than hop back in a car. This was serendipitous because I was joined by two other people going the same direction who wanted to continue the discussion. Because of that decision we were able to analyze the results of the meeting while working off some of the energy generated by the intense discussion. Just today I threw my bike in the back of my hatchback and hauled it to a local shop to repair the flat and give it a tune-up.

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Trusty steed for when the trusty steed has a flat.

My point here is two-part. First, not every mode of transportation is appropriate to all circumstances and no single mode provides the same or the best opportunities and benefits to all users. Is a bicycle the best choice for every person for every trip? No. Is a single occupancy vehicle the best choice for every person for every trip? Also no. We need the right tool for the job and if you can receive ancillary benefits by your choice, like for example socializing while traveling or exercising while commuting, all the better. We also need the city to build infrastructure to support these options.

My second point is that living in a vibrant city with lots of different nearby uses and plenty of different ways to get around is amazing. Even better than that is it’s healthy. Not just for the body (biking), but also for the mind (talking while walking), the soul (relaxing while commuting), and society (random social encounters). Get out there and enjoy your city today and whether you walk, bike, or bus, or maybe even drive, you won’t regret it!

~~~

John Riecke holds a degree in Political Science from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. A resident of Capitol Hill, John is a volunteer for the local neighborhood organizations, Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation and Capitol Hill United Neighborhood and enjoys studying economic systems and engaging with city planning efforts. John became interested in city-building like many do when he bought his first house.


Enterprise Enlivens 30th & Lawrence

The rise of the sharing economy has contributed to a renewed interest in the importance of community. The pooling of resources, trading of ideas, bartering of talents and services—these economic exchanges necessitate the existence of an underlying culture that prioritizes social ties. They also highlight the benefits that can arise from embracing diversity of thought, experience, and ownership.

Enterprise, a 66,000 square foot co-working space that opened last month, is here to create just such a culture.

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Located at the intersection of 30th Street and Lawrence Street—in RiNo or Curtis Park, depending on who you ask—Enterprise is the most recent addition to the Denver area’s nationally-recognized cache of co-working spaces.

Formerly the Denver Enterprise Center, a business incubator space active from the mid-eighties to 2008, this mid-century office building had been shuttered and vacant for almost a decade before Focus Property Group identified it as a viable site for rehabilitation. Below is a photograph taken by James Florio in 2014, showing the side of the old Denver Enterprise Center facing 30th Street, before renovations began.

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A $14 million investment bought the mid-century office building an impressive face-lift, with architecture and design services provided by Boulder architect/contractor Tres Birds.

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The interior décor is clean and modern, smooth grays and bright whites accented by pops of color, awaiting personalization from future members. Drop-in tables; dedicated desks; office suites; conference, meeting, and class rooms are available for members at varying monthly rates.

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Removable walls between office suites offer members the ability to grow and expand without needing to relocate. Sleek air conditioned phone booths accent the open work spaces, recalling ’60’s Star Trek set decoration brought into the 21st century by an Apple product designer.

Common spaces are dotted throughout the building. A library space on the lower level promises a quiet working environment, while a state-of-the art kitchen on the other side of the building features offerings from local brewery Ratio Beerworks, along with a nearby game room.

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A coffee shop on the first floor is open to the public, and a rooftop patio offers an incredible view of downtown Denver.

Mobility options for Enterprise members and guests are diverse, with a B-Cycle station onsite, along with personal bike parking, seventy-seven rentable parking spaces, and four electric car charging stations.

Billing itself as a collaborative and innovative work space where the diversity of ideas among its community members are its distinguishing feature, Enterprise promises to be a welcome addition to the new economy in Denver.


Blast from the Past: Denver Union Station

Five years ago, here was the scene at the light rail station end of the Denver Union Station transit district:

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Taken on July 26, 2011, we can see the air intake stack for the Union Station Bus Concourse is still being framed in, while the two air exhaust stacks are a little further along. The area around the stacks is now Light Rail Plaza, which opened to the public in May 2012.


RiNo Infrastructure Part 9: Blake Street Conversion and Broadway Cycle Track

With this post we wrap up our recent series on infrastructure investments in the River North district. Previously, we looked at RTD’s 38th & Blake Station followed by Part 1: 35th Street Pedestrian BridgePart 2: 38th Street Pedestrian Bridge, Part 3: Brighton Boulevard Reconstruction, Part 4: River North Park, Part 5: Delgany Festival Street, Part 6: River North Promenade, Part 7: RiNo Pedestrian Bridge and Part 8: 35th Street Woonerf.

On this Google Earth aerial I’ve outlined the general extent of the Blake Street and Broadway improvements discussed in this post. Click to biggify.

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The Blake Street two-way conversion/bike lanes and Broadway cycle track project is fairly straightforward:

Blake Street, from 35th to Broadway, is currently a one-way street with two overly-wide vehicle lanes heading southwest-bound, parking lanes on both sides of the street, and no bicycle infrastructure. With this project, Blake Street will be converted to two-way traffic—a 10′ vehicle lane in each direction—with 6′ striped bicycle lanes in each direction and 8′ curbside parking lanes on both sides of the street. Northeast of 35th Street, Blake is already a two-way street.

Here is Blake Street today, looking southwest from around 28th Street:

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Back a few years ago, Larimer Street looked similar to how Blake Street does today: a multi-lane one-way street with no bicycle infrastructure. Thanks to a 2011 project by Denver Public Works, Larimer Street is now a two-way street with bicycle lanes and on-street parking, much like what is proposed for Blake Street.

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Broadway, between Blake and 29th Street, is a modern roadway that was constructed in the early 2000s as part of the removal of the old Broadway viaduct. It features wide (16′) pedestrian walkways on both sides of the street that are separated from the vehicle lanes by concrete walls and fencing for much of this stretch. These walkways will be converted to shared-use paths with the addition of a cycle track in each direction.

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Pavement striping and signage will delineate the pedestrian and bicycle zones within each path. At 29th Street, the cycle tracks will connect to the new cycle tracks planned as part of the big Brighton Boulevard Reconstruction project that will start construction very soon.

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If some of you are thinking “With Blake being converted to two-way, there’s no point in keeping Walnut as a one-way street since Walnut and Blake operate as a one-way couplet”—you’d be right! The conversion of Walnut northeast of Broadway to two-way with bike lanes will likely happen in the future. According to the Northeast Downtown Neighborhoods Plan (2011), Walnut is identified as a street with good potential for conversion to two-way. From the plan: “Evaluate conversion of Walnut contingent on significant redevelopment along this street that eliminates most of the existing loading docks. This recommendation is long-term and reliant on land use changes.” The city will soon begin a study of Walnut to evaluate the situation given the intense redevelopment activity in the area.

The Blake Street two-way conversion/bike lanes and Broadway cycle track project represents another important step in more fairly balancing the use of the public right-of-way in the Downtown area between different transportation modes. Work on the Blake Street project is scheduled for late August 2016. Thank you Denver Public Works… keep up the good work!

While this may be the end of our current series on RiNo, this won’t be the last of our coverage of new infrastructure in the area. We’ll continue to spotlight these and other projects as they move forward. Nor is list of projects we covered in this series exhaustive either. Additional projects such as new sidewalks around the 38th and Blake station, the rebuilding of the Blake Street bridge over 38th Street and other small but critical improvements here and there are helping elevate River North’s outdated industrial-era streets into a walkable/bikeable public realm suitable for an urban, transit-oriented, mixed-use district.


Denver’s Civic Center Station Reconstruction Gets Underway

The long-awaited reconstruction of RTD’s Civic Center Station started this morning with a “pillar-toppling” ceremony to begin the demolition of the current station. Check out our video of the event:

Civic Center opened in the early 1980s as part of the 16th Street Mall project and served as RTD’s Upper Downtown terminal with its Lower Downtown counterpart at Market Street Station. Market Street Station closed in 2014 when RTD’s Union Station Bus Concourse opened. The former Market Street Station site will be redeveloped into a mixed-use project by Continuum Partners.

Per RTD, the new Civic Center Station will feature:

  • Nine bus bays
  • Glass-enclosed terminal building
  • Bus concourse rebuild
  • Bus ramp extension connecting Broadway to Lincoln
  • Open view from 16th Street Mall to the State Capitol
  • Building structure that is easier to maintain and repair long-term
  • More open and welcoming environment
  • Land parcel preserved for future development opportunities

Here are a few renderings, courtesy of RTD, Mortenson Construction, Perkins Eastman, and SEH. You’ll note minor variations in the station design among these renderings. I’m not sure which is the most recent, but these will give you a good general idea of what the new station will look like.

Bird’s-eye view towards the State Capitol:

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Street-level view crossing Broadway:

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Another street-level view crossing Broadway:

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View from station’s upper level:

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In addition to the station’s revitalization, the City, RTD, and the Downtown Denver Partnership recently completed the Civic Center Transit District Plan. You can visit the plan’s page here where you can also download a PDF copy of the plan document.

This is an image I extracted from the plan document that shows another view of the station design concept:

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An interesting aspect of the new Civic Center Station design is the bus loading zone between Broadway and Lincoln north of Colfax. It appears this design feature will allow southbound buses from Broadway to be able to turn left, load/unload passengers, and then turn north onto Lincoln without having to make left turns onto and from Colfax. Traffic turning movements onto Colfax from Broadway and onto Lincoln from Colfax represent major conflict areas with pedestrians in the crosswalk, so this design feature is a welcome improvement.

Finally, you’ll note the grassy area between Colfax and this new bus loading zone. What could go in that area in both the short-term and long-term is discussed in the Civic Center Transit District Plan linked to above. Please do check it out.

The reconstruction of Denver’s Civic Center Station is not only a big win for RTD but for all of Downtown Denver. It will greatly improve the pedestrian experience in the Upper Downtown end of the 16th Street Mall and the Civic Center Park area, and will provide a fresh, modern counterpart to the new transit facilities at Union Station.

We will track this project through to completion, estimated at 15-18 months.


Denver Urbanists Unite! MeetUp #19 Coming July 20, 2016

It’s time for Denver Urbanists MeetUp #19!

Our next meetup will be held:

When: Wednesday, July 20, 2016 starting at 5:30 PM
Where: McLoughlin’s Restaurant and Bar (map)
Cost: Free!

In case you’ve never been to a Denver Urbanists MeetUp before, we have three rules: 1. Put on a name tag, 2. Get your own food/drink, 3. Have fun meeting and talking to people about cities and working together to make Denver an even greater city!

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You don’t have to register to attend, but by RSVPing on our Eventbrite page, you’ll get on our mailing list and receive email notification for future meetups.

See you on July 20!


RiNo Infrastructure Part 8: 35th Street Woonerf

In Part 8 of our RiNo Infrastructure series, we take a look at the improvements proposed for 35th Street, a key east-west connector for the River North neighborhood. Previous posts in this series include RTD’s 38th & Blake Station followed by Part 1: 35th Street Pedestrian BridgePart 2: 38th Street Pedestrian Bridge, Part 3: Brighton Boulevard Reconstruction, Part 4: River North Park, Part 5: Delgany Festival Street, Part 6: River North Promenade, and Part 7: RiNo Pedestrian Bridge.

What is a woonerf? It’s a Dutch term (pronounced VONE-erf) for a street that is designed primarily for pedestrians and bicyclists while still allowing motor vehicle access at slow speeds. Popularized in Europe, a woonerf functions as a shared, social space somewhat like a linear plaza while still providing local access to vehicles. A woonerf design typically uses more subtle infrastructure elements such as bollards, landscaping, and different paving materials to distinguish the areas where pedestrians, bikes, and vehicles travel rather than the traditional curb, sidewalk, and bike lane.

35th Street between Arkins Court and Wazee Street is a perfect candidate to be redesigned as a woonerf. First, it isn’t a through street for motor vehicle traffic; it’s only four blocks long and is blocked by the river on one end and railroad tracks on the other. Second and more critically, 35th Street is identified as a prime east-west pedestrian/bike corridor through RiNo as it will connect the RiNo Pedestrian Bridge over the river with the 35th Street Pedestrian Bridge over the railroad tracks and run adjacent to the planned River North Park.

Here is a diagram from a recent presentation provided by the city’s North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative showing a conceptual cross-section for 35th Street:

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An example of something similar to a woonerf in Denver may be the newly redesigned Fillmore Plaza in Cherry Creek North. It has several features found in a woonerf, such as the street and sidewalk being at the same grade and a strong pedestrian-focused design. Here’s a Google Earth street view image of Fillmore Plaza:

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Here’s a Google Street View image of the Bell Street woonerf in Seattle:

As River North transitions from an automobile-oriented industrial zone to a multi-mode mixed-use district, transforming 35th into a great pedestrian street will be key in that evolution. The combination of the RiNo Pedestrian Bridge + River North Park + 35th Street Woonerf + 35th Street Pedestrian Bridge has the potential to have the same transformative impact on connecting River North to the rest of Denver as the Highland Bridge + 16th Street Plaza + Platte River Bridge + Commons Park + Riverfront Park Plaza + Millennium Bridge combination did in connecting Lower Highland with Downtown Denver.

The images below show 35th Street in its current rough-around-the-edges state:

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Currently, the 35th Street Woonerf is in the conceptual design stage. Funding for construction has not yet been identified, but paying for the 35th Street Woonerf could come from a variety of sources including potentially the city, local improvement districts, and adjacent developments.

Next up in this series: Blake Street Two-Way Conversion + Bike Lanes. Stay tuned!