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.
The trusty steed.
This particular morning I had taken the other trusty steed to work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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!
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
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!
Now that the A-Line to Denver International Airport is up and running, the number of people passing through Denver Union Station has increased. This is making the corner of 17th and Wynkoop—the historic station’s downtown-facing portal and popular tourist photo-taking spot—busier than ever, with bikes, cars, taxis, pedicabs, tour buses, delivery trucks and pedestrians seemingly navigating the intersection at the same time. This slow but continuous dance of people and their transport machines gives the corner an urban energy that reflects the vitality of the Union Station district and Downtown Denver. However, the standard crosswalks, bike lanes, and other design and regulatory elements in place at the intersection were too minimal, confusing, ineffective and/or biased in favor of the automobile.
In fall 2015, my fellow Union Station Advocates board members and I decided to push for pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements to the 17th and Wynkoop intersection in anticipation of the A-Line launch and the other FasTracks lines opening later this year. We held a public meeting and spread the word about the issue, as described in my post from last October, 17th and Wynkoop: Downtown’s Most Important Pedestrian Intersection? Fortunately, Denver Public Works shared our views on this and put a rapid-response team in place to plan, design, and implement a package of high-visibility, lower-cost improvements for the intersection in just a couple of months! Public Works was very responsive and great to work with—particularly planner Riley LaMie who led the planning effort—and, just in time for the A-Line opening, 17th and Wynkoop has been upgraded to a much more pedestrian/bike-friendly intersection. Here are a few before-and-after shots:
17th and Wynkoop south corner:
Bike lane Wynkoop Plaza side looking southwest:
Bike lane Wynkoop Plaza side looking northeast:
The new crosswalks are certainly more visible, and the painted bulb-outs with bollards significantly shorten the pedestrian crossing distance. The new painted bulb-outs also prevent cars wanting to make a right turn from illegally using the parking lane as a right-turn lane by squeezing between the sidewalk/curb ramp and cars stopped in the through lane. The project also included new parking-lane signs that clearly designate passenger loading zones along the Wynkoop Plaza side of the street:
Despite these new signs and street markings, motorists still find ways to do dumb things, like stopping right in the middle of the bike lane to let passengers out…
…or stopping half in the bike lane, half in the traffic lane, for the valet parking…
…or driving on the bike lane between traffic and the parked cars:
Brighton Boulevard was named, as you probably guessed, for its destination: the community of Brighton located in Adams County approximately 20 miles northeast of Downtown Denver. South of 46th Avenue/Interstate 70, Brighton Boulevard follows the alignment of Wewatta Street on the downtown grid. North of the highway, Brighton Boulevard heads north through the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood before veering northeast and running along the east side of the South Platte River into Commerce City. Then it gets weird. At 69th Avenue, Brighton Boulevard becomes a service road along the west side of Vasquez Boulevard and eventually dead-ends at O’Brian Canal near 80th Avenue. However, back at 72nd Avenue, the service road along the east side of Vasquez picks up the name Brighton Road, which continues another 12 miles into Brighton and ends at Bromley Lane. So, between 72nd and 80th Avenues, there’s both a Brighton Boulevard and a Brighton Road running parallel to each other.
Near 80th Avenue in Adams County, Brighton Boulevard (left) dead-ends at O’Brian Canal while Brighton Road (right) continues on to Brighton. Source: Google Maps
Before we get to the reconstruction of Brighton Boulevard, let’s look at the street’s history!
The stretch of Brighton Boulevard in today’s RiNo was platted as part of different subdivisions from the mid-1870s through the early 1890s. The first segment of Brighton Boulevard, located between 38th and 44th Streets, was laid out as part of St. Vincent’s Addition of 1874 and was appropriately named St. Vincent Street. Developed by Catholic Bishop Joseph Machebeuf, the St. Vincent’s Addition reserved eight blocks of land between 39th and 41st Streets for a hospital to be known as St. Vincent’s Home. The hospital building’s foundation was completed but the project never made it any further and was abandoned.
St. Vincent’s Addition of 1874 plat map. Source: City and County of Denver
In 1881, the next section of Brighton Boulevard, roughly between 34th and 38th Streets, was platted as part of the Ironton subdivision of January 1881 and the Ironton First Addition of June 1881. The “Ironton” name was appropriate, for throughout the two Ironton subdivisions (and St. Vincent’s Addition too), several smelters and foundries were developed. Business such as Rocky Mountain Ore Production Works, Denver Rolling Mill, Colorado Iron Works (where The Source is today), Denver Ore Sampling Works, and the Grant Smelter Works dominated the area during the 1880s. By 1882, St. Vincent Street had been renamed Wewatta Street.
Portion of Rollandet’s Map of the City of Denver, September 1885 showing Wewatta Street (now Brighton Boulevard) and industrial uses in the St. Vincent’s and Ironton subdivisions. Source: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection.
In the 1880s, the area was still largely undeveloped except for the industrial uses noted above, which were mostly found southwest of 34th and northeast of 41st. However, single-family homes on 25-foot lots were starting to sprout up in the area by the late 1880s. Robinson’s Atlas of 1887 shows several small houses scattered mostly along Wewatta and Delgany. Wood houses are color-coded as yellow and brick houses are pink. Just for fun, I’ve cropped a current Google Earth aerial image to the same extent as the Robinson map:
Portion of 1887 Robinson Atlas showing small homes along Wewatta and Delgany with comparison to a 2015 aerial photo of the same extent. Sources: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection; Google Earth.
Many of the houses along Delgany Street between 36th and 38th Streets are still around and used as residences. Several others in the area have been converted to commercial uses.
Small homes from the late 1800s remain along the 3600 block of Delgany. Source: Google Street View.
During the 1800s and early 1900s, the area was fairly isolated by the Union Pacific railroad tracks, with the primary connection into the neighborhood via 38th Street. Connections to the rest of the city improved, however, in the early 1920s with the completion of the controversial Broadway Extension project that pushed Broadway north from its then-terminus at Welton Street and across the diagonal downtown street grid to Blake Street, where a new viaduct took Broadway over the railroad tracks and curved northeast to connect to Wewatta Street. This image of a document from the late 1910s promoting the Broadway Extension shows the proposed path of Broadway.
Promotional material for the Broadway Extension project, late 1910s. Source: Denver Public Library, Western History Collection.
With the completion of the Broadway Extension project, Wewatta Street was renamed Brighton Boulevard by the Denver City Council in 1924.
The mix of industrial and residential uses in the area continued into the 1930s. Here is an aerial from 1933 showing the Brighton Boulevard corridor. Note the mix of single-family homes and gritty industrial/railroad uses. This is a big image—click, zoom, and scroll!
1933 aerial photograph showing a mix of industrial and residential uses along the Brighton Boulevard corridor. Source: City and County of Denver.
Into the post-WWII era, the residential uses were mostly overtaken by light industrial, commercial, and automobile-related uses. This 1992 aerial photo, cropped to the same extent as the 1933 aerial above, shows the loss of much of the 19th century housing in the area.
1992 aerial photo of the Brighton Boulevard corridor showing increased industrial and commercial uses and fewer residential uses compared to earlier in the century. Source: City and County of Denver.
Given the gritty, industrial nature of the Brighton Boulevard corridor and its relative isolation from the rest of the city, the area received virtually no infrastructure improvements from the city over many decades. Denver was content to allow Brighton Boulevard and its adjacent blocks to suffer with poor lighting and storm water drainage and a complete absence of sidewalks, curb, and gutter. This is the streetscape that still exists along Brighton Boulevard today:
The lack of standard urban infrastructure elements like curbs, gutters, and sidewalks have defined the Brighton Boulevard streetscape. Source: Google Street View.
That condition is about to change dramatically, and soon! With hundreds of millions of dollars of new development reshaping the River North area, the city is moving forward in 2016 with a complete reconstruction of the corridor’s infrastructure, paid for by $25 million in city funds (part of the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative) and several million dollars from local property owners who voted to raise their taxes through a Business Improvement District and a General Improvement District to fund important upgrades to the project.
The new Brighton Boulevard will include a completely rebuilt street in concrete; new curb, gutter, and storm water drainage; new traffic signals, crosswalks, and intersection designs; wide sidewalks and vertically separated cycle tracks in both directions; buried utilities and new street and pedestrian lighting; and landscaping, wayfinding signage, and public art.
The best way to get a sense for what the new Brighton Boulevard will be like is to watch the following video, courtesy of the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative and RNL Design, who produced the video.
Construction should begin later this year and be complete in 2017.
In Part 4 of our RiNo Infrastructure series, we will take a look at the plans for the new River North Park.
The City and County of Denver announced it will officially release next week a Vision Zero Plan, the initiative that’s been adopted by communities around the world that embraces a “zero loss of life” approach to road safety and design. Yesterday, Vision Zero advocates gathered at the City and County Building for a “Valentine’s Day Love-In for Vision Zero” to support the plan and celebrate the city’s announcement.
Vision Zero supporters at the Denver City and County Building, February 12, 2016. Photo credit: WalkDenver
Congratulations to everyone for advancing this important effort and thank you to Denver for making Vision Zero official city policy! Roadway designs that provide safe accommodations for bicycles and pedestrians, as well as vehicles, are critical to a healthy and equitable city. No one should have to die trying to move about their city.
At last week’s Denver Moves Broadway public workshop, the City presented a range of options for transforming the Broadway/Lincoln corridor into a safer, more livable place, while improving mobility for all modes. This corridor has been the focus of many City plans. Most recently, the Golden Triangle Neighborhood Plan envisioned Broadway as a “Grand Boulevard.” This workshop sought feedback on alternatives for implementing that neighborhood vision through a redesign of the travel lanes on both roads and placemaking throughout the corridor.
One of three proposed design alternatives presented by the City. Image courtesy of Denver Public Works.
The City offered three different roadway design alternatives that would provide a protected bike facility on the corridor by removing a lane of traffic on either Broadway or Lincoln. Based on current traffic counts and speeds, City planners assert that Broadway could handle losing a travel lane without much increase in congestion. Providing more space for bikes creates the sort of multi-modal environment that is good for pedestrians, too: removing a lane of traffic and narrowing travel lanes will slow down travel speeds and reduce the distance pedestrians must go to cross the street.
Detail of proposed placemaking elements. Image courtesy of Denver Public Works.
The most interesting part of the workshop was the presentation of placemaking concepts for every block of the corridor. Despite the great mix of shops, restaurants and bars along the corridor, the speeding cars and huge space devoted to them don’t contribute to a welcoming place to walk. Proposed placemaking strategies would provide many more amenities for pedestrians and anyone who wants to enjoy the corridor. Enhancements included curb extensions, or bulb-outs, to reduce crossing distances, parklets, landscaping, enhanced crosswalks, and traffic calming. Pedestrians were clearly the focus here: planners envision pedestrian gathering spaces, activation of surface parking lots fronting the road, and a pedestrian-oriented alley.
Example of a curb extensions that shortens crossing distance. Image courtesy of Denver Public Works.
I was encouraged to see the workshop recorded videos of residents talking about their experiences in the corridor, and what they hoped to see in the future. The videos will be compiled to communicate the community’s goals for the corridor. We can hope that residents’ videos will end up providing additional support for making Broadway and Lincoln streets that work for everyone.
This past Sunday, November 2, Denver Public Works completed the conversion of 18th Street between Wynkoop and Blake Street in Lower Downtown to a two-way street.
The conversion of these two blocks from one-way to two-way traffic is an important step in helping make Lower Downtown into an even more pedestrian-friendly district. One-way streets exist primarily as a way of maximizing the movement of vehicles through an area, but they also force people to have to drive farther to get where they are going and they also encourage people to drive at faster speeds. One-way streets certainly have their place in the city, but speeding vehicles pose a threat to pedestrians and bicyclists; consequently, one-way streets are not desired in pedestrian-focused areas like around Denver Union Station. As evidence, simply compare your experience as a pedestrian along slower-speed, two-way Wynkoop Street versus the faster-speed, one-way Blake Street.
The 2000 Lower Downtown Neighborhood Plan identified 18th Street between Wynkoop and Blake as one of several one-way streets in LoDo to be converted to two-way. Others included Wazee Street between 15th and 20th, converted a few years ago, which has greatly improved Wazee as a pedestrian-friendly street.
Here are a few photo (courtesy Ryan Dravitz) of the newly-converted 18th Street on Sunday afternoon shortly after the conversion work was complete:
View from Wynkoop looking southeast toward Downtown:
View from Blake looking northwest toward the Union Station area:
View from Wynkoop Plaza of the 18th and Wynkoop intersection:
Overview of the two-blocks of 18th Street between Wynkoop and Blake with the integrated bicycle lane and MetroRide station.
Space provided for pedestrians, bicycles, cars, and transit—a nice multi-modal street!