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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Choose People Over Parking

by John Riecke

The news that the Cherry Creek mall will begin charging to park in their garages has been met with varying levels of disbelief, derision, statements of personal boycotts, and threats to drive thirteen miles away to Park Meadows. One of the largest concerns for business owners on Broadway when a new bike lane was installed was that they would lose customers because people would find it confusing or difficult to park nearby, and within six hours of the official opening several complained that business was affected. City council just passed a ban on new developments in zone districts previously allowed to develop without parking.

I think we forget that parking is tacked-on to places that aren’t designed to make it easy for people to be there. Take a look at the two Google Earth aerial images below (they are the same scale). One is Park Meadows, a very popular mall with ample parking. The other is Capitol Hill, a very popular neighborhood which is famous for its lack of easy parking.


Capitol Hill has almost as many stores (and not just fashion clothing), definitely as many restaurants, but also an incredible number of museums, schools and, most importantly, people. One is built for people and one is built for cars. It should be obvious which is the more dynamic, resilient, and productive place. Or to be crass, one has in-built customers and one has asphalt.

I put it to you, would you rather drive to Park Meadows or walk around Cap Hill? I’d point out that there are no hidden gems in Park Meadows. There is no variety of architecture. No one has ever happily recommended to me a restaurant in the mall, or told me about a bar to visit in the multi-acre parking lot. I’ll never stumble upon a cool bookstore in the mall and share the discovery with my friends. Why does the presence of free and easy parking engender such passion? People should have such passion for places, not parking lots. A parking lot is not a place, and the presence of free parking doesn’t denote ease of access, quality of service, or quality of life. Often it denotes the opposite.

The easiest customer is the one that lives nearby. The parking least damaging to the fabric of a place is the parking that’s not needed. Don’t fight for parking, fight for people.


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.

Exercising While Living in a City is Redundant

by John Riecke

You know what I don’t like? Exercising. I don’t like taking the time or making the effort. Blech. You know what I do like? Walking to the coffee shop on the weekend. Strolling to the fancy restaurant down the street on a date. Hoofing it to the grocery store and not fighting for a parking spot. A leisurely fifteen minute bike ride to work, sans-spandex. Sauntering downtown to meet friends for a drink and not worrying about how to get home. Even hiking the dog around the neighborhood, to the park, seeing the people and buildings and interacting with them along the way. And finally, I enjoy that I don’t have to exercise because my neighborhood is structured in a way that lets me avoid it.


I love the variety of things to do in my city and especially the fact that they’re all so close that I don’t have drive to them. I’m not choosing to walk for my health—it’s actually the best choice given the great variety that my neighborhood offers. Why would I choose traffic and parking when I could literally waltz to my destination if I choose? Getting from A to B shouldn’t be a battle or a chore; it should be an experience, an opportunity. Don’t people always say it’s the journey, not the destination? That shouldn’t apply only to vacations and vision quests, our city should be built to allow people to experience their journey every time they leave the house. Why do I always feel that when I’m driving somewhere the destination is the most important thing and the journey is an inconvenience? I never feel like that while walking to the taco place, or biking to the movie theater, or taking the bus to work. The chore is gone and the journey becomes part of the experience.

So then I have to ask you what kind of city you want. One that makes the trip as engaging as the destination or one that encourages you to get in and out as quickly as possible? I’ve found that one is better for my soul. City leaders are also beginning to remember that walkable neighborhoods with plenty of destinations are better for civic culture, not to mention the bottom lines of their budgets. Denver’s urban future is on the way and I’m looking forward to experiencing more parts of the city that have remembered how to build neighborhoods that allow people to live healthily instead of travel quickly.


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.

Transportation Variety Makes for a Vibrant City

by John Riecke

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.

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.


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.

RiNo Infrastructure Part 8: 35th Street Woonerf

In Part 8 of our RiNo Infrastructure series, we take a look at the improvements proposed for 35th Street, a key east-west connector for the River North neighborhood. Previous posts in this series include RTD’s 38th & Blake Station followed by Part 1: 35th Street Pedestrian BridgePart 2: 38th Street Pedestrian Bridge, Part 3: Brighton Boulevard Reconstruction, Part 4: River North Park, Part 5: Delgany Festival Street, Part 6: River North Promenade, and Part 7: RiNo Pedestrian Bridge.

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!

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

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


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.

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

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

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

RiNo Infrastructure Part 7: RiNo Pedestrian Bridge

Part 7 of our RiNo Infrastructure series focuses on the proposed RiNo Pedestrian Bridge over the South Platte River. Previous posts in this series include RTD’s 38th & Blake Station followed by Part 1: 35th Street Pedestrian BridgePart 2: 38th Street Pedestrian Bridge, Part 3: Brighton Boulevard Reconstruction, Part 4: River North Park, Part 5: Delgany Festival Street, and Part 6: River North Promenade.

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


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

2016-06-10_rino-ped-bridge1 2016-06-10_rino-ped-bridge2

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.

Join the WalkDenver Data Challenge May 31-June 14!

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

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

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


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?