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Walking in Denver Part 4: How Unsafe Streets Play Out at One Intersection

by Jenny Niemann

This is the fourth in a series of posts that will review the basics of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure and new developments that may help you get around. In our first, second and third posts on this topic, we reviewed Denver’s sidewalk dilemma, the city’s primary pedestrian advocates, and factors contributing to Denver’s walkability. This week, we review the final element of walking in Denver: safety.

Denver has seen an uptick in pedestrian- and bicyclist-involved collisions in the past year—as of November 4th, 22 people have died on Denver’s streets. That’s about two deaths in the city per month, and we can all probably agree, it is 22 too many.

This fall, WalkDenver’s Policy Committee has been studying Denver’s five most dangerous intersections for pedestrians. At 13th Avenue and Broadway, one of these dangerous intersections, there were nine pedestrian-car collisions between January 2012 and December 2015.

What are we doing about this? Mayor Hancock committed the city to Vision Zero last winter. Vision Zero is an international movement that believes that all traffic deaths are preventable. Started in Sweden, the movement has spread to the US and asks cities to commit to a goal of zero deaths on our streets. A simple way to think about vision zero is: what is the acceptable number of your friends and family that die while traveling? Zero is the answer, so zero should be the goal we set for everyone.

Mayor Hancock’s commitment means the city’s goal is to eliminate all traffic deaths on Denver’s roads. While this effort will involve all modes, pedestrians face greater risks by mile than drivers. Interventions that improve sidewalks and slow down cars will need to be a big part of getting to zero traffic deaths.

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The vision zero coalition was formed  to support the City and County of Denver’s adoption of Vision Zero and the goal of zero traffic fatalities or serious injuries. The coalition’s lobbying recently led to an extra $500,000 in the 2017 budget for Vision Zero efforts to improve intersections outside of the city center. However, gaps remain between the city’s commitment and its budget priorities, as Streetsblog recently explored.

Public Data: As part of Denver’s Vision Zero efforts, it has published a public “crash dashboard” of traffic collisions. You can use this tool to look up how many collisions have happened in the past few years, at any intersection in the city.

Using this dashboard, we looked at 13th Avenue and Broadway. This intersection is a good illustration of why pedestrian environments are more complicated than you’d think, as discussed in our last article. On the surface, this intersection just south of the State Capitol, the Central Library, and downtown seems reasonably safe: wide, well-kept sidewalks allow the many pedestrians around to comfortably walk to many of the nearby destinations. To cross the intersection, pedestrians receive walk signals at every traffic signal cycle, allowing crossing on two sides of the intersection via wide crosswalks that are present at all four crossing areas. There’s a lot to walk to, nearby bus stops, and the wide sidewalks keep pedestrians reasonably well-separated from cars. It passes many of our walkability criteria.

Is this intersection truly dangerous? Yes, as evidenced by the high number of crashes. But this intersection is busy: many people are walking to the nearby Denver Art Museum, the Library, and to the bus stops on Broadway, which serve multiple frequent bus lines. There’s certainly a lot of car traffic on both 13th Avenue and Broadway. More pedestrian and car traffic at an intersection means that more collisions are likely: the more we drive, the more collisions (and deaths) there are. Yet this isn’t in the top-five busiest intersections in Denver, and it has far fewer car collisions than nearby intersections. What makes this intersection so unsafe for people who are walking?

Despite the wide sidewalks, this area is still dominated by cars. Broadway is five lanes wide where it hits 13th Avenue—not counting two parking lanes that make the road seem even wider, just north of the intersection. 13th Avenue has four lanes of traffic when it hits Broadway. That’s simply a huge area dedicated for automobiles.

Many pedestrian-car collisions happen when cars are making turns at intersections. At this intersection, pedestrians receive a walk signal when the light for parallel car traffic is green. This means that pedestrians are crossing the street while cars also have a green light to turn. The dashboard data tells us that six of nine of these pedestrian-car collisions occurred when the car was making a left turn, that is, turning from westbound 13th Avenue onto southbound Broadway.

On October 30th, Karina Pulec, a 28-year-old lawyer, was struck and killed at 13th and Broadway. The driver fled the scene, but turned himself in four days later. Pulec was crossing 13th Avenue when she was hit by the driver, who was turning left from 13th onto Broadway. We don’t yet know why Karina Pulec was killed, but as a Vision Zero city, we need to start highlighting each and every single death. Yes, drunk drivers, distracted drivers, and negligent drivers contribute to thousands of deaths each year. But the design of our streets also plays a part in protecting pedestrians from errant drivers and giving them a safer place to walk.


The Problem Isn’t Automobiles—It’s Subsidizing Automobile Dependency

A common refrain from people who don’t want to see change in the way we handle our transportation system is that “people have cars and they won’t get rid of them.” Or, “it’s impossible to live in Denver without a car.” Or my favorite, “you can’t force people to walk and bike in some socialist utopia, they want to drive!”

All these arguments boil down to missing the forest for the trees. I put it forward that we don’t need to do anything so drastic as making cars illegal in order to affect commute share, only that we need to stop subsidizing one particular transportation mode—driving.

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Driving and car ownership are subsidized in a multitude of ways, from expenditures in the general budget for street maintenance, to the zoning code that forces all housing to include car storage. We subsidize driving by designing our neighborhood streets to allow fast driving while discouraging walking and making bicycling dangerous. Our whole city has been configured to move cars at speed, store cars at every location, and generally make the lives of car owners easy and cheap.

I say that if we simply remove the many subsidies we provide to car drivers—that is, if the full cost of street damage done by cars was borne by drivers, if the necessary amount of parking was decided by the market instead of the city code, if neighborhood streets were designed to move people around their neighborhoods instead to move cars through them at high speed—then people would make rational decisions in response. They would live closer to work, walk and bike more to their needs, and neighborhoods would be developed with services that support nearby customers instead of giant parking lots and high speed arterials.

Increasing car-specific taxes to cover infrastructure maintenance holes currently plugged by general revenues would cause more people to re-examine their choices. Decreased opportunities to park would cause them to consider alternate travel modes more often. Lower speed limits or differently configured streets would cause them to look for conveniently placed services and jobs nearby instead of focusing their desires on huge driveways and tiny lawns.

Some people would inevitably choose, as is their right, to continue with their daily 15-mile commutes and drive to every necessity, but others would decide that maybe driving and searching for parking aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Maybe they’d look for neighborhoods that support their lives instead of their driving habits. The best part is, we don’t have to force anyone to do anything; we simply build a city that works for people instead of for cars and then watch as our citizens make rational decisions regarding their own needs within the newer, more efficient system.


Walking in Denver Part 3: Beyond the Sidewalk

by Jenny Niemann

This is the third in a series of posts that will review the basics of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure and new developments that may help you get around. In our first and second posts on this topic, we reviewed Denver’s sidewalk dilemma, the city’s primary pedestrian advocates, recent policy developments and how you can get involved. This week, we review what else affects how Denverites get around on foot.

This series began with sidewalks, the building blocks of the pedestrian environment. Yet your walking experience is made up of much more than the simple surface that your feet (or stroller, or wheelchair) use to walk down the block. There are a number of other forces at work in Denver that affect your walk to the park, and how often we all choose to walk instead of drive.

Jeff Speck, a national walkability expert, outlines “10 Steps of Walkability” including street trees, friendly and unique building faces, mixed uses, balanced parking, frequent transit, pedestrian protection through slower speeds and curbside parking, streets designed for bikes, and pedestrian spaces that are comfortably enclosed by good design and interesting buildings.

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You know good walkability when you see it. Walking down South Pearl Street, you’ll find a plethora of small shops and restaurants that make the walk interesting, outdoor seating gives life to the street, trees provide shade, and parallel parking separates traffic and the sidewalk. On the other hand, it’s easy to identify poor walkability when you see it, too: walking along Denver’s arterial streets like Alameda, Federal, or Colorado Boulevard, you’ll notice that nothing separates the sidewalk from high-speed traffic, few trees provide shade, and most often what borders the sidewalk is a parking lot. There’s little to attract—or distract—someone walking down the street, which is why so few people do.

Our everyday decisions about how to move around the city are affected by all of this: whether or not you walk or drive to the nearest corner store likely depends on how interesting, comfortable, and safe that walk is. So what is Denver doing to get walkability right, beyond the sidewalk? From the Community Planning and Development Department’s work on neighborhood plans and citizen groups lobbying for crosswalks, there are a lot of things going on.

Denveright: The City of Denver is currently working on a Denver Moves: Pedestrian & Trails plan as part of the Denveright planning process. The Pedestrians and Trails plan will establish community priorities that can help guide funding for sidewalks to the most important areas first—such as near transit or schools. The city’s first transit plan, Denver Moves: Transit, may also help improve walking to transit stops. See DenverUrbanism’s past coverage of the Denveright process here.

Changes on Colfax: Colfax Avenue is wicked, quirky, and full of attractions you might like to walk to. The problem is that it’s pretty car-dominated and hard to get across, unless you happen to be crossing at an intersection with a traffic light. Fortunately, the Mayor’s recent budget proposal, after strong advocacy by the Denver Vision Zero Coalition and the Colfax Collaborative, now includes $500,000 for design work on four enhanced pedestrian crossings on Colfax. This came after more than 1,800 people signed a petition for this funding. This will make it easier—and safer—for people to cross the street and make Colfax less of a barrier splitting up the many great neighborhoods along it.

Development bring redevelopment: As covered by DenverUrbanism last month, the Brighton Boulevard Corridor Redevelopment project includes new protected pedestrian crossings, landscaping, benches, and pedestrian-scale lighting, in addition to badly needed sidewalks along the corridor. All the development on the corridor will give you plenty of interesting places to walk to. The city’s project will make walking possible and safe.

Neighborhood plans: While less shiny than Brighton Boulevard, the City continues to prioritize pedestrian infrastructure in many of its recent neighborhood plans: Westwood’s new Neighborhood Plan recommends improvements to the pedestrian environment; the I-25 and Broadway Station Area Plan calls for the creation of shared streets, multi-modal bridges and pedestrian amenity zones. Many other neighborhood and station area plans prioritize pedestrian mobility within neighborhoods and improving pedestrian connections to transit.

Crossing guidelines: In the spring of 2016, Denver released new crossing guidelines: these standards dictate what treatments (crosswalks, pedestrian islands, curb extensions, etc.) should go in at the many places where pedestrians cross streets without the benefit of a traffic light or stop sign. Check out this document so you know what to expect for places where you might want to see a crosswalk.

Bonds: Finally, The City of  Denver will seek taxpayer approval for a 2017 general obligation (GO) bond to fund capital asset and infrastructure needs. What will get funded through this bond will be determined after a public process. The bond may present an opportunity to allocate further funding for sidewalks, but it is not a long-term funding source that would ensure sidewalks are properly maintained over the long term. Streetsblog Denver breaks down what we know here. Head to the upcoming community meetings to have a say in funding priorities.

Citizen and Business Groups: The West Colfax corridor has gotten public art, painted intersections, and wayfinding, due to the work of citizen volunteers and the West Colfax Business improvement District. The Drive Chill Park Hill campaign asks drivers to pledge to be compliant, cell-free, cautious, considerate, conscientious, and chill. Both of these groups, among many others, are working for neighborhoods that slow car traffic and are better—and safer—places to walk around.

Denver, its residents, and developers can make our city a better place to walk in every day, from new storefronts to snow-shoveling to slowing down traffic. Let us know in the comments what affects your walk. In my next post, we’ll talk about pedestrian safety.

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Jenny Niemann is a graduate student in the University of Colorado Denver’s dual-degree in urban planning and public health. Her graduate work involves alternative transportation and healthy food systems and how the benefits of these sustainable city services can be accessed by households of all incomes. A native of the suburbs of Washington, DC, Jenny enjoys exploring Colorado’s growing cities and mountains by bicycle.


Walking in Denver Part 2: Sidewalk Movers and Shakers

by Jenny Niemann

This is the second in a series of posts that will review the basics of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure and new developments that may help you get around.

In our first post on this topic, we reviewed Denver’s sidewalk dilemma and how it affects Denver’s health and prosperity. Now let’s take a look at Denver’s primary pedestrian advocates.

Who is involved?
Denver has been discussing sidewalks with increasing frequency over the past year. There have been a number of policy developments that could have a big impact on Denver’s sidewalks. Here are some of the groups involved:

  • WalkDenver is Denver’s dedicated pedestrian advocacy organization, working to make Denver the most walkable city in the country through advocacy, data collection, community programs and tactical urbanism.
  • The Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee is a group appointed by the mayor to advise on pedestrian issues and upcoming plans.
  • The Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails task force will be a key voice in the Denveright planning process going forward.
  • The Denver City Council created a Sidewalk Working Group, chaired by Councilman Paul Kashman, last spring. They are looking to find a policy solution to Denver’s sidewalk problem, and started with this white paper.
  • Denver Public Works is the department ultimately responsible for transportation in Denver, including pedestrian mobility.
  • Streetsblog Denver is the Mile High City’s outspoken online voice for spotlighting the deficiencies in Denver’s pedestrian environment and promoting initiatives such as Vision Zero.

What’s happening now?
At the end of 2015, WalkDenver launched the Denver Deserves Sidewalks campaign, calling upon the City to assume responsibility for building and repairing sidewalks, and establish a dedicated funding source for this purpose. Nearly 3,000 people signed the Denver Deserves Sidewalks petition, and 34 organizations provided letters of support.

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This got the conversation started and led to the creation of the City Council’s Sidewalk Working Group. That group held meetings over the summer, and now is considering various policy options to find a solution to this problem. Potential solutions all start with active assessment of the sidewalk network, but private property owners retain legal responsibility for construction of sidewalks. The policies vary in the way they help property owners pay for sidewalk improvements.

There’s been some limited progress in the City’s budget: The Mayor’s 2017 budget includes $2.5 million for sidewalks adjacent to City-owned property. However, this doesn’t help out private property owners. Councilman Kashmann and the Mayor’s office are currently discussing a plan to help low-income homeowners pay for sidewalk repairs.

And incremental improvements are ongoing: The Department of Public Works is making progress on streets around Denver, like the new sidewalks that will be constructed along Hampden and Havana streets. See a list of upcoming pedestrian projects here.

There’s been good progress over the past year, and advocates like WalkDenver are hopeful that the City Council will find a solution soon. But for now, we’re stuck with the status quo: private property owners are still responsible for the sidewalks along their property. The City Council’s proposed policy solutions would help the city share in some of the cost of sidewalk repairs, but property owners would remain responsible even though sidewalks are part of the public right-of-way.

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The City is admittedly in a tough position: few have the appetite for new government spending, so it may seem easiest to let the responsibility remain with property owners. But the health and safety of Denver’s residents make it imperative we find a way to overcome this challenge. Denver’s residents pay taxes so that we can provide public goods like safe roads and bike lanes for all residents. Sidewalks should be no different.

Want to get involved?
Great! To learn more, you can use WalkDenver’s WALKScope tool to check out the conditions of sidewalks in your neighborhood, and add data yourself on any sidewalk in the city. This tool was created by WalkDenver and PlaceMatters to allow crowd-souring of pedestrian infrastructure data—allowing anyone to report information on the quality of Denver’s sidewalks, providing valuable information to both advocates and the City government, which does not keep such detailed records of sidewalk conditions.

You can also report poor sidewalk conditions to the City—once a year, one report per person. So pick the worst sidewalk infrastructure in your neighborhood and send in a report before the year is over. See Public Work’s guidelines for complaints here.

You can head to the Denveright site for more information and to give feedback on your vision for Denver’s pedestrian network; you can also provide input on the transit plan, too.

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To help the movement keep pushing forward, you could also become a WalkDenver supporter and make a contribution to support their ongoing Denver Deserves Sidewalks campaign.

And lastly: winter is coming. We’ve got to make sure the sidewalks we have are passable for people who choose—or must—get around on them. A friendly reminder to do your part and clear your sidewalk, and maybe your neighbor’s, too. Check out the city’s sidewalk shoveling requirements (and other resources) here.

There’s a lot more to walking than sidewalks. Next time, we’ll explore other components of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure, and the many planning efforts that affect walkability. Stay tuned!

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Jenny Niemann is a graduate student in the University of Colorado Denver’s dual-degree in urban planning and public health. Her graduate work involves alternative transportation and healthy food systems and how the benefits of these sustainable city services can be accessed by households of all incomes. A native of the suburbs of Washington, DC, Jenny enjoys exploring Colorado’s growing cities and mountains by bicycle.


Denver’s Smart City Ambitions Leverage Technology to Increase Mobility

by Camron Bridgford

What exactly does it mean to be a Smart City?

The most exciting part for many urbanists, technology innovators, open data proponents, and transportation and social justice advocates may, in fact, be the lack of a clear answer. However, through recently announced support from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Transportation for America, Denver may be in the driver’s seat to develop their own, unique definition.

The idea of a Smart City—which received significant attention through the highly-competitive Smart Cities Challenge grant offered by USDOT in 2015/2016—is to leverage rapidly evolving technology to meet increasingly complex transportation challenges in urban centers. For instance, according to Transportation for America, 85 percent of the country’s total population now lives in urban areas. While this illustrates the immense demand for urban living and a renewed investment in our cities’ centers, it also underlines mobility challenges that arise with denser populations, such as continued dependence on manual, single-occupancy vehicles, as well as growing transportation disparities for low-income and minority groups, many of whom are technologically disconnected.

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Overall, a Smart City looks to address these symbiotic challenges by seeking solutions that emphasize data collection and sharing to publicize successes and failures in transportation innovation; promote a willingness to take on risk and serve as a mobility incubator; leverage partnerships, both with cities and private industry, to fund projects and offer a maximize return on investment; and increase equity in problem-solving so that all people’s needs are captured, especially those who are transit-dependent.

The enthusiasm that the Smart Cities Challenge sparked, which garnered 77 applications from nearly all mid-to-large-sized cities in the U.S., demonstrated the urgency and opportunity cities feel in improving and maximizing their transportation systems for increasingly diverse populations. While Denver was one of seven finalists, the final award—an unprecedented $50 million—went to Columbus, Ohio.

However, October produced two new developments in the advancement of Smart Cities, both which recognized that 76 cities were left sitting on Smart City plans without the necessary assistance to propel them off the ground. As a result, USDOT announced an additional $65 million to cities for advanced technology in transportation, $6 million of which will be awarded to Denver to alleviate congestion through “connected vehicles.” This insinuates Denver’s desire to increase modes of transport—such as single-occupancy vehicles, buses, future automated vehicles, or car and ride shares—that are equipped with internet access and a wireless network. These advances would make possible communication between cars, public transit, and infrastructure like stop lights and nearby stores, all with the goal of providing an increased flow of information that increases the affordability, diversity and efficiency of mobility choices.

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Additionally, a public-private partnership between Transportation for America and Sidewalk Labs just announced assistance via a new Smart Cities collaborative, with Denver selected as one of 16 cities nationwide, alongside the likes of Austin, Boston, Seattle and Washington, D.C. This collaborative of cities, which will incorporate Denver’s primary goal of increasing “mobility freedom,” will work to implement smart city policies, share best practices and pilot new programs in three key areas: automated vehicles, shared mobility and the utilization of performance measures and data analytics.

In recent years, USDOT, municipalities, and other public and private sector partners have fast recognized the growing perfect storm of urban conditions and technological advances that could lead cities to develop innovative solutions to move people more efficiently, affordably and equitably. James Corless, director of Transportation for America, notes that current changes underway will represent the biggest shift in transportation and mobility since the advent of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.

However, as with most innovation, cities must either get ahead of the curve and decide what transportation will look like for their city, or they will be left to be shaped by the decisions that other players make. With a population increase of more than 18,000 in 2015, and an additional 1.1 million people projected to move into the metro area by 2040, Denver has significant stake in the game.

Denver’s proactive stance toward becoming a Smart City—and more importantly, deciding what that definition will uniquely mean for Denver—is a critical step toward increasing mobility for all residents. And while the perfection that technological advances seemingly provide cannot be everything—the magnetism of our urban environment is created just as much by the necessity of navigating a city’s imperfect, messy conditions—technology will play a crucial role in determining how to tackle some of our biggest urban issues, including those of mobility, access, affordability, and equity.

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Camron Bridgford is a master’s candidate in urban and regional planning at the University of Colorado Denver, with a particular interest in the use and politics of public space as it relates to urban revitalization, culture and placemaking, and community development. She also works as a freelance writer to investigate urban-related issues and serves as a non-profit consultant.


Walking in Denver Part 1: Whose Sidewalk Is It Anyway?

by Jenny Niemann

This is the first in a series of posts that will review the basics of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure and new developments that may help you get around.

Denver has got some great places to walk to, from the Zoo to your neighborhood park; every neighborhood has somewhere to go by foot. Yet what makes a walk around the block possible? There’s a lot that goes into pedestrian infrastructure, and a lot of talk about sidewalks lately. This first part will look at the most basic building block of the pedestrian experience: sidewalks. Denver has some challenges with its pedestrian infrastructure, as DenverUrbanism wrote earlier this year.

What’s the big deal?
Around 250 miles of Denver’s streets do not have sidewalks. In addition, crowdsourced-mapping through WalkDenver’s WALKScope shows that 35% of mapped sidewalks in Denver are in poor or very poor condition. This problem isn’t unique to Denver either: Colorado cities are missing an estimated total of 6,000 miles of sidewalks while 8,600 miles of sidewalks need to be repaired. Statewide, we’ll need an estimated $134 million every year for the next 25 years to fill this sidewalk gap, according to a study released this summer by CoPIRG and SWEEP.

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In Denver, problems stem from the fact that the city places responsibility for sidewalk construction and maintenance on adjacent private property owners. But requiring private property owners to pay for a public good hasn’t led to a great sidewalk network, because not all property owners know (or care) about this requirement and many may not have the disposable income to take care of it. The problem gets worse because the City of Denver does not commonly enforce sidewalk conditions and, as a result, many streets don’t have sidewalks or the sidewalks haven’t been repaired for decades.

Don’t think Denver sidewalks are that bad? Well, it often depends on where you live. According to WalkDenver, “low-income neighborhoods are the least likely to have sidewalks, accessible pedestrian ramps” and other pedestrian amenities. These neighborhoods also have walkers, and bear double the pedestrian fatality rates of wealthier communities. Simply put: residents in low-income neighborhoods, who rely on sidewalks the most, have the worst sidewalk conditions and face the greatest risk.

Why do sidewalks matter?
Safety: An incomplete sidewalk network has a number of dangerous effects. A lack of sidewalks can force pedestrians into the street or to make unsafe crossings, leading to collisions and sometimes pedestrian deaths. People who use wheelchairs, or have other mobility limitations, cannot traverse heavily damaged sidewalks. At a city council meeting last year, some of Denver’s wheelchair users told of being shut-into their homes, unable to participate in society, due to poor infrastructure.

Health: The most deadly impact of poor sidewalks may be a more slow-acting threat: a lack of good sidewalks can serve as a barrier to physical activity. According to the CDC, 57% of Denver metro adults are overweight or obese and 16% report getting no physical activity in the past month. Obesity and overweight status has negative effects on overall health, in addition to massive costs for all of us. Medical expenditures attributable to obesity exceed $1.6 billion annually—in Colorado alone.

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Happiness: On the brighter side, a recent Gallup-Healthways report found that cities that promote active living have happy and healthier residents overall. Denver’s well-being score ranked 13th among major U.S. metros. Sidewalks and safe places for people to walk (or run, or push a stroller) are a fundamental piece of the active living puzzle, opening up doors to walking as transportation, walking to transit, walking for exercise, and walking with friends.

Business: Sidewalks are good for business, too. Places with good walkability can command higher office and retail rents and can generate 80% higher retail sales, compared to places with fair walkability, according to the Brookings Institute.

Transit: Sidewalks are closely related to the success of our transit system. Mile High Connects, in a study on First and Last Mile Connections to transit, found that sidewalks were the most important piece of infrastructure connecting people to transit. The consistent underfunding and inadequacy of first and last mile connections has implications across Denver, such as reducing the use of our transit system and disadvantaging low-income and minority communities.

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Lastly: a lot of our population doesn’t drive, despite what traffic on I-25 might tell you. Some seniors don’t drive, along with all children under 16, some people with disabilities, recent immigrants, and people who cannot afford car ownership or shared vehicles. Many other people simply choose not to drive, and walk, bike, or take transit instead. When you’re not driving, you’re relying on sidewalks and other public infrastructure more.

Sidewalks matter for every resident in Denver. Those in wheelchairs or those without cars may rely on them everyday. But sidewalks benefit those who drive too, since a walkable environment supports other investments and public goods like local businesses, transit, and community health. Often, they’re so integral to Denver’s great places that you don’t notice them till they’re not there.

Our next article will look at new developments in sidewalk policy and the key players involved.

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Jenny Niemann is a graduate student in the University of Colorado Denver’s dual-degree in urban planning and public health. Her graduate work involves alternative transportation and healthy food systems and how the benefits of these sustainable city services can be accessed by households of all incomes. A native of the suburbs of Washington, DC, Jenny enjoys exploring Colorado’s growing cities and mountains by bicycle.


Groundbreaking on Brighton Boulevard Signals Fever Pitch for RiNo Development

by Camron Bridgford

The rapid transformation of Denver’s River North (RiNo) District from industrial thoroughfare to successfully modish commercial, residential and artistic district took another major step this past week with the groundbreaking of the Brighton Boulevard Corridor Redevelopment on October 13.

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Hosted by Mayor Michael Hancock, City Council President Albus Brooks—whose district includes RiNo—and the RiNo Art District, the redevelopment project will be completed in four phases and is touted by the City of Denver as another critical opportunity to revitalize Denver’s downtown neighborhoods in an increasingly competitive and vibrant urban environment.

Located along the northern strip of Denver that inelegantly connects downtown to the I-70 corridor, Brighton Boulevard and its history is nearly as old as Denver itself, with its first developments taking place in the mid-1870s. By post-World War II, the boulevard was primarily sprinkled with industrial, commercial and automobile businesses, which over time slid from a cohesive streetscape into an area wrought with growing inattention and vacancy.

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In more recent years, as nearby streets in RiNo—primarily Blake, Walnut, and Larimer between 25th and 34th streets—began to receive city-wide attention for their artistic, gritty vibe and potential as a collective haven for innovative businesses, restaurants and galleries, Brighton Boulevard began to develop in a similar yet distinct pattern, one that favored creative and eclectic mixed-use spaces such as The Source, Industry and nearby Taxi across the South Platte River.

However, despite the success of its several artisan markets and shared spaces, Brighton Boulevard still lacked many aesthetic, safety and transportation features necessary to make it more attractive for investment that could result in a proliferation of residential, commercial and business use. Such amenities include improved sidewalks, adequate street lighting, landscaping and infrastructure, such as bike lanes, that encourage multi-modal transit.

This will soon change with the now-launched redevelopment project, which will take place in four distinct phases, the first of which will address improvements from 29th to 40th streets, including the addition of six signalized intersections at 29th, 31st, 33rd, 35th, 38th and 44th streets; 80 on-street parking spaces; sidewalks on both sides of the boulevard; a continuous bike lane in both directions; pedestrian crosswalks; street lighting; and light fixtures, benches and native plant landscaping. Further, it should be noted that an affordable live/work and mixed use building for creatives is being developed at 41st Street and Brighton Boulevard so as to preserve the artistic character that originally made RiNo an attractive place for investment.

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Phase one of the project—which includes three distinct stages of construction to tackle the noted improvements—is anticipated to take 18 months to complete, with the final stages of landscaping wrapping by Spring 2018. Kiewit Infrastructure Company out of Omaha, Nebraska will serve as the builder.

The final three phases of the redevelopment—not yet slated with many hard dates, but which will address 40th-44th streets, 44th-47th streets, and 47th Street to Race Court—includes addressing the part of Brighton Boulevard that serves as an underpass underneath I-70 (in concurrence with the I-70 reconstruction), as well as the fourth and final phase coinciding with enhancements made via the National Western Center Master Plan. Construction for this final phase is expected to begin in 2019.

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Typically, the largest hurdle that public infrastructure investments of this size face is coming up with the financing to realize its intended vision. However, that river appears forged for Brighton Boulevard, with a committed $26 million investment from the City and County of Denver, including $2.5 million proposed in 2017 alone. The Brighton Boulevard Corridor Redevelopment will also benefit from an additional $3 million raised by the RiNo General Improvement District, which is responsible for financing the pedestrian-scale lighting, plantings and benches along the boulevard, in addition to maintenance costs once the project is completed.

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Overall, this contribution signals a significant financial bet for the city, with Brighton Boulevard being one of largest Capital Improvement Funds projects in the city’s 2017 proposed budget. Comparatively, other capital investments projected for 2017 include sidewalk gaps and safety repair budgeted at $2.5 million; bike infrastructure at $500,000; South Broadway multi-modal improvements at $470,000; and traffic signal infrastructure across Denver at $3.6 million. For further comparison, one of the highest-profile expenditures for 2017—increased funding for the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing—may include $5 million from the city’s reserves, but will primarily be funded by $10 million garnered from new tax and impact fees.

Overall, the city’s vision for Brighton Boulevard sees residents and visitors no longer needing to make do with an underdeveloped backdoor in and out of downtown, but rather having access to a mainstay gateway between the airport and the urban core that lends itself to increasingly vibrant residential and commercial uses. With the opening of the University of Colorado A Line earlier this year, including the 38th and Blake commuter rail station that lies adjacent to this project, we are eager to see if the intended return on investment occurs, and look forward to monitoring its progress.

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Camron Bridgford is a master’s candidate in urban and regional planning at the University of Colorado Denver, with a particular interest in the use and politics of public space as it relates to urban revitalization, culture and placemaking, and community development. She also works as a freelance writer to investigate urban-related issues and serves as a non-profit consultant.


Lipstick on a Pig: Painting the I-70 Viaduct

This weekend, urban artists took to the streets to paint a stretch of aging Denver infrastructure. With only a limited amount of life left, the I-70 viaduct now has a splash of color, adding beauty to a steel and concrete beast.

The stretch between Brighton Boulevard and York was closed on Saturday for this event. There were multiple booths with fall activities, and Q&A about the future of the highway. A stage sat in the center of the closed-off section with performances echoing throughout the area. I never took the time to explore around here but there was a beauty to it; a hulking old structure, with a gathering of people adding wonderful colors was a great sight to see.

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From colorful portraits to realistic three dimensional scenes, there was a lot to see. Kids, adults, amateurs and professionals were lined up painting their own canvas along the concrete walls and curbs.

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With the streets closed, echoing music, and cars driving overhead, this was a great experience; even with the potent smell of dog and cat food. Here are two ‘aerial’ perspectives of the art.

 

Art gives personality to any part of the city, even in the most unlikely places. As strange of a place as this is, this art really livens up this dark, drab corridor.

What’s next for the viaduct? Via CDOT: “The Central 70 project proposes to reconstruct a 10-mile stretch of I-70 East, add one new Express Lane in each direction, remove the aging 50-year old viaduct, lower the interstate between Brighton and Colorado boulevards, and place a four-acre cover over a portion of the lowered interstate.”


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.