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Blast from the Past: SugarCube

Ten years ago, the corner of 16th and Blake was a surface parking lot. As you know, surface parking lots are soul-sucking black holes in the urban fabric, so naturally, we celebrate their eradication. In the photo below, taken on December 14, 2006, we can see that former surface parking lot being removed in preparation for the construction of SugarCube.

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Visit this corner today and imagine how empty and unsatisfactory it would feel if SugarCube were not there.


Denver Rolls Out New 29th Avenue/15th Street Bike Lanes

Denver Public Works is in the final stages of implementing a major new east-west bicycle connection through Northwest Denver. Stretching about 2.3 miles from Sheridan Boulevard to just past Central Street on the downtown street grid, the new West 29th Avenue/15th Street bike lanes make bicycling along the corridor a safer experience and provide a more equitable balance in the use of the public right-of-way between automobiles and bicycles.

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New northwest-bound bike lane on 15th Street between Central and Boulder streets.

Along different segments of the corridor, the existing lane configurations were changed to accommodate the new bike lanes. For example, from Sheridan to Lowell, curbside parking was removed on one side of West 29th Avenue to make room to add the bike lanes. Between Lowell and Federal, enough space was freed up for the bike lanes by eliminating a center turn lane.

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Google Earth aerial with the extent of the new 29th Avenue/15th Street bike line highlighted in yellow.

Between Federal and Speer, the former condition was a mess of travel lanes, turn lanes, and striped islands that made for a confusing drive for motorists and a daunting experience for bicyclists:

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The previous condition of 29th Avenue between Federal and Speer included a confusing mess of travel and turn lanes. Source: Google Earth

Now under the new configuration, it’s pretty simple: one travel lane in each direction for motor vehicles, a buffered lane in each direction for bicyclists, and curbside parking along the south side of the street:

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Diagram showing new street cross-section for West 29th Avenue between Speer and Federal. Source: City and County of Denver

West 29th Avenue also received a road diet between Umatilla and Clay streets, where previously there were two westbound and one eastbound travel lanes. One of the westbound lanes was eliminated to squeeze in the new bike lanes. However, in the process, West 29th Avenue picked up a new curbside parking lane between Umatilla and Zuni that hadn’t existed before.

Likewise, in the one-block stretch of 15th Street between Central and Boulder/Umatilla (collision of the street grids!), there were two northwest-bound lanes and one southeast-bound lane. One of the northwest-bound lanes was removed to make room for the bike lane, as can be seen in the photo below. Unfortunately, there’s currently not enough room for a southeast-bound bike lane.

One northwest-bound travel lane and new bicycle lane on 15th Street between Central and Boulder streets.

Finally, an important lane reconfiguration that everyone needs to be aware of occurs on the 15th Street bridge over I-25. To transition from two northwest-bound lanes to one, the right lane on the bridge becomes a right-turn-only lane for Central Street:

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New lane configuration on the 15th Street bridge over Interstate 25.

To see maps and before-and-after diagrams of all of the different segments of this project, check out this presentation by Public Works from a November 2015 public meeting.

While this is a huge improvement for biking in Northwest Denver, there’s still the big gap in the bicycle network on 15th Street between Central Street and LoDo. That missing link is being studied by Public Works this year, so hopefully by the end of 2016 or early 2017, a design solution for providing a safe and convenient bicycle connection between Lower Highland and Lower Downtown will be identified.

The new West 29th Avenue/15th Street bicycle connection was a recommended project in the Denver Moves: Bicycles plan, and it is very exciting to see this and many other new bicycle infrastructure projects being implemented throughout the city. Thank you Denver Public Works!

Oh, happy Bike to Work Day too!


Damaged Road? Fix It Immediately! Damaged Sidewalk? Forget It!

Last Sunday, a section of Buckley Road in Aurora buckled due to the extreme heat we’ve been experiencing lately, according to a report by 9News. Here’s a photo of the damage, courtesy of 9News:

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Of course, this is a major public safety issue. Drivers could lose control of their vehicles if they sped over the broken concrete unaware, potentially injuring themselves and others and causing damage to vehicles and property. So, the street was immediately blocked off and street crews were quickly dispatched to fix the situation. By Monday afternoon, road repairs had been completed and the street was reopened. While this particular incident happened to be in Aurora, it could have just as easily occurred on a Denver street, and Denver Public Works would have responded similarly if it had.

And then there are sidewalks—you know, the streets equivalent for pedestrians. If a Denver sidewalk has crumbling concrete or buckled joints that pose a serious trip hazard to pedestrians, does the city of Denver fix the situation as quickly as they would if a street had suffered similar damage? Have Denver Public Works crews rushed into my neighborhood to fix this sidewalk segment down the block from me?

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Of course they have not. In Denver, private property owners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalk adjacent to their property, even though the sidewalk is located within the city-owned public right-of-way. Damaged sidewalk segments like the one pictured above can be found ten thousand times over throughout the city, yet there is virtually no enforcement of the city’s sidewalk maintenance policies. According to Streetsblog Denver, the city cited only 16 property owners in 2015 for failing to fix the sidewalks in front of their property.

The solution is not better enforcement of the current policy. The current policy itself is absurd. Can you imagine if the city took the same policy approach and required property owners to fix the potholes in the streets in front of their homes? What we need in Denver is for the city to treat sidewalks as critical transportation infrastructure that’s on equal standing with streets, with the city taking responsibility for the construction and maintenance of our public sidewalk network.

Fortunately, there is strong interest in doing just that, thanks to groups like WalkDenver. The city recently launched the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee and District 6 City Councilman Paul Kashmann is leading the Council’s new Sidewalks Working Group to “determine policies and funding mechanisms that will improve our pedestrian infrastructure while making paying for sidewalks less burdensome than our current system….” Even the Denver Post agrees that the status quo is unacceptable.

In my opinion, a citywide sidewalk fee that would generate dedicated revenue for the city to take over the construction and maintenance of all public sidewalks is the most comprehensive and equitable solution. But regardless of whether you support a sidewalk fee or a different approach, if you believe the city’s current policies abdicating responsibility for Denver’s sidewalks are unacceptable, please contact Mayor Michael Hancock and Councilman Kashmann and let them know that. You should also plan to participate in DenverMoves: Pedestrian and Trails, part of the city’s new Denveright planning initiative.

Walking is the default mode of human transportation. You’d think Denver would make having an outstanding pedestrian network its default transportation priority.


RiNo Infrastructure Part 7: RiNo Pedestrian Bridge

Part 7 of our RiNo Infrastructure series focuses on the proposed RiNo Pedestrian Bridge over the South Platte River. 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, and Part 6: River North Promenade.

Denver’s River North district generally consists of three major areas: the area west of the South Platte River, the area between the river and the Union Pacific/RTD railroad tracks, and the area east of the railroad tracks. Much like how the 35th and 38th Street pedestrian bridges help connect the middle and eastern parts of RiNo together, the proposed RiNo Pedestrian Bridge over the river will help connect the middle and western parts of RiNo. The RiNo Pedestrian Bridge will be built at the foot of 35th Street, as can be seen in this diagram on the planned River North Park:

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These photographs show the proposed approximate location of the bridge’s eastern end at Arkins Court and 35th Street:

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The city recently started preliminary (30%) design for the RiNo Pedestrian Bridge after receiving public input over the past year or so through several public meetings and web surveys. The design work is being paid for by the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative and the city’s Office of Economic Development and should be finished by the end of the summer. Having a preliminary design will then allow for cost estimates to be made and for fundraising to begin to help pay for the bridge’s construction. Completion of the 100% design is targeted for 1st Quarter 2017, while fundraising will continue throughout the year. Ideally, sufficient money will be raised by the end of 2017 to allow for bridge construction to begin in 2018.

Based on cost, constructability, and public input, a suspension bridge is the type of bridge chosen for this project. Designing and building the RiNo Pedestrian Bridge is a public/private/non-profit partnership, with the City representing the public sector, Zeppelin Development and potentially other RiNo property owners and businesses representing the private sector, and Bridges to Prosperity representing the non-profit sector. The image below, courtesy of Bridges to Prosperity, is an example of a suspension-type pedestrian bridge they helped construct in Nicaragua. While the RiNo bridge will be shorter and not necessarily the same design as this example, it illustrates the basic bridge type proposed for River North.

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The RiNo Pedestrian Bridge will not only help connect the different parts of RiNo to each other, but it also will provide an important bicycle and pedestrian connection for the Globeville neighborhood. Located west of the river and north of the Burlington Northern rail yards, getting from Globeville to River North by bicycle currently isn’t easy, as Washington Street/38th Street are rather automobile-heavy, bike-unfriendly roadways. In the future, bicyclists will be able to head south from Washington Street while still on the west side of the river and cross over using the RiNo Pedestrian Bridge, providing direct access to the new River North Park and the 38th and Blake Station via the proposed 35th Street Woonerf (the topic of our next post in this series!) and the under-construction 35th Street Pedestrian Bridge.

Additionally, the Denver Public Library, a strong advocate for the new RiNo Pedestrian Bridge, is planning to have a special facility in the proposed River North Park, so the new bridge will provide nice access to their new facility for Globeville residents.

The RiNo Pedestrian Bridge will be an important new link in Denver’s expanding infrastructure designed for people, not just cars.


The Mall Experience Study – Call for Research Volunteers

The City and County of Denver and the Downtown Denver Partnership—along with world renowned architecture firm Gehl Studio—are leading the Mall Experience study to elevate the 16th Street Mall to become a better place for people and help it reach its fullest potential as a premier destination in the heart of Downtown Denver. As part of this study, the DDP is seeking passionate individuals with an interest in cities this summer to conduct observational studies which will help inform future changes and investments along the 16th Street Mall.

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Follow the link below to learn more detail about this study effort and to sign up for research position time slots

DDP Research Study Information Page

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This is a great way to have fun this summer and help improve Downtown Denver too!


Blast from the Past: Denver Union Station

Exactly six years ago today, this was the status of the Denver Union Station transit project (click/expand to view in full 2400 px width):

On June 1, 2010, excavation was in full swing on the western half of the underground bus concourse. Visible in the center of the photo behind the historic station is the old light rail station, mall shuttle terminus, and Amtrak platforms. A temporary support wall is in place along the edge of Wewatta Street. (Note how HUGE that dirt pile is by comparison to the workers on top of it!)

This was approximately the 6-month mark of construction on the 54-month Union Station project.


Join the WalkDenver Data Challenge May 31-June 14!

Improving Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure (sidewalks, crosswalks, lighting, etc.) is critical as more and more people rely upon walking as part of their daily routine. Making those pedestrian improvements in an efficient and prioritized way requires data. However, Denver doesn’t collect data on sidewalk conditions because the City doesn’t maintain or repair sidewalks. Denver property owners do. In other words, there is no equitable, citywide, proactive program for sidewalk maintenance and repair in Denver.

Our friends at WalkDenver have been working hard for several years to change that situation.

WalkDenver is launching a two-week-long WALKscope Data Challenge to collect sidewalk and crosswalk condition data across the city from May 31 – June 14. We need your help! You may even win $1,000 for your neighborhood in the process! All of the details are available on the WALKscope Data Challenge web page.

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WALKscope is an easy-to-use tool you use on your smartphone to collect and submit sidewalk and crosswalk data. Admit it: you walk around staring at your smartphone anyway, so why not do something helpful for your community while you’re at it?


Blast from the Past: Denver Justice Center

In May 2005, Denver voters approved the construction of the Denver Justice Center, a three-building facility (courthouse, detention facility, and parking garage) built along West 14th Avenue between Delaware and Fox streets in Denver’s Civic Center district.

Construction began on the parking garage in the fall of 2006 with work on the courthouse and detention facility commencing in the summer of 2007. In this photo taken on April 12, 2008, the courthouse (left) and detention facility (right) are starting to go vertical.

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The complex would open as the Lindsey-Flanigan Courthouse and Van Cise-Simonet Detention Center in the summer of 2010.


RiNo Infrastructure Part 6: River North Promenade

So far in our RiNo Infrastructure series, we have taken a look 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, and Part 5: Delgany Festival Street. In this post, we will review the proposed River North Promenade.

The River North Promenade is essentially a redesign of Arkins Court between 29th and 38th Street into a pedestrian-oriented promenade. The promenade has been divided into three zones, each representing a different conceptual design. Here’s a Google Earth aerial showing the current condition and the project’s extent:

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This map shows the same area as above with the project’s three character zones. All of the exhibits below are courtesy of the City of Denver and landscape design consultants Wenk Associates, and are conceptual in nature. They are not final designs.

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A description of each zone:

Let’s explore each of these zones.

The Urban Residential zone extends from 29th Street to approximately 32nd Street. The “Urban Residential” name relates to the adjacency of several proposed multi-family housing projects, such as the Industry Apartments. In this section, Arkins Court would continue to provide access for motor vehicles, but with a rebuilt street offering one travel lane in each direction, on-street parking, and a pedestrian promenade ranging from 20-30 feet in width.

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Key features of this zone may include a River Overlook and a Linear Park:

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In the middle is the Park/Open Space character zone from 32nd Street to 35th Street. This zone’s main design influence is the proposed River North Park (visit that post for renderings). A feature here may include a Boxcar Garden:

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To the east is the Mixed-Use/Entertainment character zone from 35th to 38th Street, where adjacent residential, office, and restaurant land uses would help activate this stretch of the promenade. One idea for this zone is to integrate a café into the promenade design:

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The city and the local property owners recently identified funding to begin the preliminary (30%) design for the promenade. No funds have been secured yet for the construction of the promenade, but finding a way to pay for the project is a priority for RiNo stakeholders and the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative. Some sections of the promenade may be built in conjunction with adjacent new private-sector developments.

Here is what Arkins Court looks like today:

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Next in our RiNo Infrastructure series: the RiNo Pedestrian Bridge over the South Platte River.