Last Sunday, a section of Buckley Road in Aurora buckled due to the extreme heat we’ve been experiencing lately, according to a report by 9News. Here’s a photo of the damage, courtesy of 9News:
Of course, this is a major public safety issue. Drivers could lose control of their vehicles if they sped over the broken concrete unaware, potentially injuring themselves and others and causing damage to vehicles and property. So, the street was immediately blocked off and street crews were quickly dispatched to fix the situation. By Monday afternoon, road repairs had been completed and the street was reopened. While this particular incident happened to be in Aurora, it could have just as easily occurred on a Denver street, and Denver Public Works would have responded similarly if it had.
And then there are sidewalks—you know, the streets equivalent for pedestrians. If a Denver sidewalk has crumbling concrete or buckled joints that pose a serious trip hazard to pedestrians, does the city of Denver fix the situation as quickly as they would if a street had suffered similar damage? Have Denver Public Works crews rushed into my neighborhood to fix this sidewalk segment down the block from me?
Of course they have not. In Denver, private property owners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalk adjacent to their property, even though the sidewalk is located within the city-owned public right-of-way. Damaged sidewalk segments like the one pictured above can be found ten thousand times over throughout the city, yet there is virtually no enforcement of the city’s sidewalk maintenance policies. According to Streetsblog Denver, the city cited only 16 property owners in 2015 for failing to fix the sidewalks in front of their property.
The solution is not better enforcement of the current policy. The current policy itself is absurd. Can you imagine if the city took the same policy approach and required property owners to fix the potholes in the streets in front of their homes? What we need in Denver is for the city to treat sidewalks as critical transportation infrastructure that’s on equal standing with streets, with the city taking responsibility for the construction and maintenance of our public sidewalk network.
Denver’s River North district generally consists of three major areas: the area west of the South Platte River, the area between the river and the Union Pacific/RTD railroad tracks, and the area east of the railroad tracks. Much like how the 35th and 38th Street pedestrian bridges help connect the middle and eastern parts of RiNo together, the proposed RiNo Pedestrian Bridge over the river will help connect the middle and western parts of RiNo. The RiNo Pedestrian Bridge will be built at the foot of 35th Street, as can be seen in this diagram on the planned River North Park:
These photographs show the proposed approximate location of the bridge’s eastern end at Arkins Court and 35th Street:
The city recently started preliminary (30%) design for the RiNo Pedestrian Bridge after receiving public input over the past year or so through several public meetings and web surveys. The design work is being paid for by the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative and the city’s Office of Economic Development and should be finished by the end of the summer. Having a preliminary design will then allow for cost estimates to be made and for fundraising to begin to help pay for the bridge’s construction. Completion of the 100% design is targeted for 1st Quarter 2017, while fundraising will continue throughout the year. Ideally, sufficient money will be raised by the end of 2017 to allow for bridge construction to begin in 2018.
Based on cost, constructability, and public input, a suspension bridge is the type of bridge chosen for this project. Designing and building the RiNo Pedestrian Bridge is a public/private/non-profit partnership, with the City representing the public sector, Zeppelin Development and potentially other RiNo property owners and businesses representing the private sector, and Bridges to Prosperity representing the non-profit sector. The image below, courtesy of Bridges to Prosperity, is an example of a suspension-type pedestrian bridge they helped construct in Nicaragua. While the RiNo bridge will be shorter and not necessarily the same design as this example, it illustrates the basic bridge type proposed for River North.
The RiNo Pedestrian Bridge will not only help connect the different parts of RiNo to each other, but it also will provide an important bicycle and pedestrian connection for the Globeville neighborhood. Located west of the river and north of the Burlington Northern rail yards, getting from Globeville to River North by bicycle currently isn’t easy, as Washington Street/38th Street are rather automobile-heavy, bike-unfriendly roadways. In the future, bicyclists will be able to head south from Washington Street while still on the west side of the river and cross over using the RiNo Pedestrian Bridge, providing direct access to the new River North Park and the 38th and Blake Station via the proposed 35th Street Woonerf (the topic of our next post in this series!) and the under-construction 35th Street Pedestrian Bridge.
Additionally, the Denver Public Library, a strong advocate for the new RiNo Pedestrian Bridge, is planning to have a special facility in the proposed River North Park, so the new bridge will provide nice access to their new facility for Globeville residents.
The RiNo Pedestrian Bridge will be an important new link in Denver’s expanding infrastructure designed for people, not just cars.
Improving Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure (sidewalks, crosswalks, lighting, etc.) is critical as more and more people rely upon walking as part of their daily routine. Making those pedestrian improvements in an efficient and prioritized way requires data. However, Denver doesn’t collect data on sidewalk conditions because the City doesn’t maintain or repair sidewalks. Denver property owners do. In other words, there is no equitable, citywide, proactive program for sidewalk maintenance and repair in Denver.
Our friends at WalkDenver have been working hard for several years to change that situation.
WalkDenver is launching a two-week-long WALKscope Data Challenge to collect sidewalk and crosswalk condition data across the city from May 31 – June 14. We need your help! You may even win $1,000 for your neighborhood in the process! All of the details are available on the WALKscope Data Challenge web page.
WALKscope is an easy-to-use tool you use on your smartphone to collect and submit sidewalk and crosswalk data. Admit it: you walk around staring at your smartphone anyway, so why not do something helpful for your community while you’re at it?
The River North Promenade is essentially a redesign of Arkins Court between 29th and 38th Street into a pedestrian-oriented promenade. The promenade has been divided into three zones, each representing a different conceptual design. Here’s a Google Earth aerial showing the current condition and the project’s extent:
This map shows the same area as above with the project’s three character zones. All of the exhibits below are courtesy of the City of Denver and landscape design consultants Wenk Associates, and are conceptual in nature. They are not final designs.
A description of each zone:
Let’s explore each of these zones.
The Urban Residential zone extends from 29th Street to approximately 32nd Street. The “Urban Residential” name relates to the adjacency of several proposed multi-family housing projects, such as the Industry Apartments. In this section, Arkins Court would continue to provide access for motor vehicles, but with a rebuilt street offering one travel lane in each direction, on-street parking, and a pedestrian promenade ranging from 20-30 feet in width.
Key features of this zone may include a River Overlook and a Linear Park:
In the middle is the Park/Open Space character zone from 32nd Street to 35th Street. This zone’s main design influence is the proposed River North Park (visit that post for renderings). A feature here may include a Boxcar Garden:
To the east is the Mixed-Use/Entertainment character zone from 35th to 38th Street, where adjacent residential, office, and restaurant land uses would help activate this stretch of the promenade. One idea for this zone is to integrate a café into the promenade design:
The city and the local property owners recently identified funding to begin the preliminary (30%) design for the promenade. No funds have been secured yet for the construction of the promenade, but finding a way to pay for the project is a priority for RiNo stakeholders and the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative. Some sections of the promenade may be built in conjunction with adjacent new private-sector developments.
Here is what Arkins Court looks like today:
Next in our RiNo Infrastructure series: the RiNo Pedestrian Bridge over the South Platte River.
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:
I’m sure many of us who have lived, visited, and gone through the I-25 / Colorado Boulevard corridor know that a new pedestrian bridge was under construction between Colorado Boulevard and Evans Avenue for many months. Unfortunately, it slipped through the cracks and we never covered the bridge from start to finish.
When I was out taking photographs of the new Colorado Center phase going up, I had to visit the bridge because it is a huge win for these neighborhoods. Pedestrian access across the highway in this area is very dismal, and overpasses are not the most pedestrian friendly piece of infrastructure. This is why we have these pedestrian bridges, much like the Highland Bridge; connecting the Highland neighborhood with the Central Platte Valley and beyond.
Let’s start off with what you’re actually crossing when using this bridge. The Evans Avenue overpass is just to the south with the Colorado Boulevard overpass at a decent distance to the north. As you can imagine, it’s not very easy for the immediate neighborhoods across the highway, such as Virginia Village, to get to the Colorado Boulevard Light-rail Station despite being so close.
Queue a shiny, new pedestrian bridge! Reminiscent of the Highland Bridge, this new bridge over I-25 has a similar arched design with cable supports.
On the Colorado Center side, ramps, for pedestrians and bicycles, lead up to the bridge. On the Virginia Village neighborhood side, there is both a long ramp and stair access.
One of the neatest elements I saw on this bridge were these little metal plaques that have walking quotes engraved on them. They are all over the center portion of the bridge. Next time you are in the area, make sure to walk the bridge and check out all of these plaques.
Pedestrian bridges are a great way for connecting two neighborhoods over existing infrastructure, such as I-25. What a great win for Denver!
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.
As you may recall, we kicked off a series highlighting the infrastructure improvements going on in Denver’s River North neighborhood. For part two, we are going to focus on another pedestrian bridge just three blocks up from the 35th Street Pedestrian Bridge. Over at the 38th and Blake commuter rail station, the pedestrian bridge on 38th is starting to wrap up, opening with the station in 51 days.
The staircases and elevator shafts are nearly complete with the exception of the handrails along the stairs. The bridge sits just outside the commuter rail station on the east side but will give commuters direct access from the station’s parking on the west. I’m sure this bridge will provide great views of the Denver skyline with the commuter and freight tracks below.
Here are two more photos showing the pedestrian bridge from the commuter rail station.
More RiNo infrastructure improvement posts to come! Stay tuned!
Today we are going to kick off a new series of posts focusing on the infrastructure improvements in Denver’s River North neighborhood (RiNo). As development and transit begins to make its way into a neighborhood dominated by industrial uses, improvements are necessary to the pedestrian environment.
There are a lot of challenges ahead for improving the infrastructure in River North and today, we are going to focus on the first one; how to move pedestrians across freight and commuter rail tracks. There are two pedestrian bridges going up along Blake Street: one on 35th Street and the other on 38th Street.
In this post, we are going to focus on the 35th Street pedestrian bridge. The foundations are up, and the main steel structure for the bridge now spans across the commuter rail and freight tracks.
On the west side of the bridge, the stairs and elevator shaft are still under construction. The 35th Street pedestrian bridge is prominently seen from the 38th and Blake commuter rail station.
As I was on the edge of the freight rail yards, I had to take a photo of the Union Station skyline with this freight train parked right in front of me!
Next up, we will be taking a look at the 38th Street pedestrian bridge. Stay tuned!