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!
Gas prices have fallen below $3 per gallon in much of the US, and the explanation isn’t the simple seasonal differences that always make gas cheaper in autumn. The bigger reason: US oil shale deposits are turning the global oil market on its head.
Photo by Wil C. Fry on Flickr.
How did cheap gas happen?
In the simplest terms, supply is up and demand is down.
Travel drops between the summer travel season and the holidays, and cooler fall temperatures actually make gas cheaper to produce. That’s why gas prices always fall in autumn.
The bigger explanation seems to be that supply is also up, in a huge way. North American oil shale is hitting the market like never before, and it’s totally unbalancing the global oil market. Oil shale has become so cheap, and North American shale producers are making such a dent in traditional crude, that some prognosticators are proclaiming that “OPEC is over.”
It’s that serious a shift in the market.
Will this last?
Yes and no.
The annual fall price drop will end by Thanksgiving, just like it always does. Next summer, prices will rise just like they always do. Those dynamics haven’t changed at all.
Likewise, gasoline demand in China and the rest of the developing world will certainly continue to grow. Whether it outpaces or under-performs predictions matters less in the long term than the fact that it will keep rising. That hasn’t changed either.
But the supply issue has definitely changed. Oil shale is here to stay, at least for a while. Oil shale production might keep rising or it might stabilize, but either way OPEC crude is no longer the only game in town.
Of course, oil shale herf=”http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2013-10-10/u-dot-s-dot-shale-oil-boom-may-not-last-as-fracking-wells-lack-staying-power”>isn’t limitless. Eventually shale will hit peak production just like crude did. When that happens it will inevitably become more expensive as we use up the easy to refine reserves and have to fall back on more expensive sources. That’s a mathematical certainty. But it’s not going to happen tomorrow. In the meantime, oil shale isn’t very scarce.
So the bottom line is that demand will go back up in a matter of weeks, and the supply will probably stabilize, but at higher levels than before.
What does this mean?
Here’s what it doesn’t mean: There’s never going to be another 1990s bonanza of $1/gallon fill-ups. Gas will be cheaper than it was in 2013, but the 20th Century gravy train of truly cheap oil is over.
Oil shale costs more to extract and refine than crude oil. Prices have to be high simply to make refining oil shale worth the cost, which is why we’ve only recently started refining it at large scales. Shale wouldn’t be profitable if prices dropped to 1990s levels. In that sense, oil shale is sort of like HOT lanes on a congested highway, which only provide benefits if the main road remains congested.
So shale can only take gas prices down to a little below current levels. And eventually increased demand will inevitably overwhelm the new supply. How long that will take is anybody’s guess.
In the ultimate long term, oil shale doesn’t change most of the big questions surrounding sustainable energy. Prices are still going to rise, except for occasional blips. We still need better sustainable alternatives. Fossil fuels are still wreaking environmental catastrophe, and the fracking process that’s necessary to produce oil shale is particularly bad. It would be foolish in the extreme for our civilization to abandon the progress we’ve made on those fronts, and go back to the SUV culture of the 20th Century.
There will probably be lasting effects on OPEC economies. The geopolitical situation could become more interesting.
It’s been a long, long time coming, but the $500 million Denver Union Station Transit Center is COMPLETE and will open for transit operations tomorrow! This is undoubtedly a game changer for downtown Denver and represents the realization of nearly three decades of planning efforts, if not more. Ryan D. covered the grand opening ceremonies in two posts (parts one and two) yesterday on DenverInfill.
The Denver Union Station Transit Center (any ideas for a nickname?) consists of three major transit components: light rail (open in 2011), bus (open now), and commuter rail (coming in 2016). Let’s take a look at each of those components and how they fit into one of the most expensive infrastructure investments since Denver International Airport.
RTD has produced (and agreed to share) this great image that gives a general overview as to how the three components fit together and where the different modes provide service to.
The locations and facilities labeled in orange on the image above are now complete and will be open for the general public on Sunday, May 11, 2014. The Chestnut, Wewatta, and Union Station Pavilions provide the three main entrances to the underground bus station, complete with stairs, escalators, and elevators. The Platform 2 and Platform 4 Pavilions provide access from the Commuter Rail platform with stair and elevator access to the underground bus concourse (no escalators).
The light rail facility was relocated in 2011 and served as the first major component completed at Union Station as part of this massive project. This new station replaced the previous light rail platform which was located just south of Wewatta Street (right about where the Wewatta Pavilion is today). The 16th Street MallRide was also extended 2-3 blocks to serve the new light rail station at the same time.
The underground bus station (which again….nickname?) is a sight to behold. A behemoth at 140 feet wide and 980 feet long, this 22-bay bus station has more than twice the capacity of Market Street’s 10 bays. The pedestrian concourse isn’t anything to sneeze at, coming in at 44 feet wide and 780 feet long. Every bus that services Market Street Station today will service Union Station, in addition to the free MetroRide. Buses from Greyhound as well as other private bus companies are a possibility in the future (no definitive plans as of yet). CDOT announced this week that its new inter-regional bus system—which will connect Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, and Glenwood Springs (and points in between) with downtown Denver—will serve the underground bus station. This new service starts sometime next year!
DenverUrbanism and DenverInfill have tackled the bus station through several previous posts, so I won’t bombard you with pictures here, but let’s take a look at some before-and-after pictures of the bus facility. Better yet, head on down and take a look for yourself. Honestly, I was wary when I heard about the yellow tile (can anyone say outdated and tacky?) but I think it turned out great. Combined with the seven skylights, it really helps brighten the facility up and makes it seem even larger (if that was possible).
The final and the most visible and stunning piece of transit infrastructure at Union Station has to be the commuter rail platform. Denver is known for lots of things (300 sunny days each year, active lifestyles, marijuana, etc.) but stunning and modern architecture tends to not make most people’s lists. This canopy will serve as an iconic welcome to those who arrive in downtown Denver by transit, whether it be the coming commuter rail lines, bus, or light rail.
Union Station is big. It’s expensive. It’s important. It serves as the hub of the $6+ billion, decade-long infrastructure investment that is FasTracks. It will serve as the heart of transit throughout metro Denver. It will change how tens of thousands of people access downtown Denver on a daily basis. Get down there and take a look. Wander around. We all paid for it, and after decades of planning and years of construction, we can finally cash in on this investment.
Every time it snows, vast sections of city streets remain covered by snow long after plows and moving cars have cleared the travel lanes. These leftover spaces are called “sneckdowns,” and they show where sidewalks or medians could replace roads without much loss to car drivers.
Photo by Anne G on flickr.
The term sneckdown is a portmanteau of “snow” and “neckdown,” the latter being another term for sidewalk curb extensions. So it literally means a sidewalk extension created by snow.
Denver’s 15th Street bike lane is the latest in a growing trend around the world to paint bike lanes in bright colors. These bright markings make cycling safer, by reminding car drivers to watch out for cyclists when driving across bike lanes. That’s a great benefit, and it works, but there’s a second benefit, that’s as big a deal for non-cyclists as it is to cyclists.
Green paint on Seattle’s Broadway cycletrack.
The broader benefit to green-painted bike lanes is simple: They send the clearest-possible message that roads are not only for cars.
Despite a century of sharing roads, and despite the fact that people walked, biked, and rode trolleys in streets long before most people owned cars, there’s a strong entitlement mentality among some drivers that roads are only for cars. A 5 second google search turns up plenty of examples.
Green-painted bike lanes accomplish what a white stripe next to the parking lane cannot. They proclaim loudly and clearly that streets are not merely sewers for traffic, through which to funnel as many cars as possible to the detriment of all else, but rather they’re fully multimodal public spaces. Colored bike lanes send the message that drivers are welcome to use roads just like everyone else, but must not expect to have roads completely to themselves.
These painted lanes are public relations features as much as they are safety features, and that matters.