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!
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.
Sign up today to help us build the momentum of the Denver Deserves Sidewalks campaign.
Imagine if you were responsible for filling the potholes in the street in front of your house. Not only would this policy place a significant financial burden on your household, but your ability to drive around safely would depend on other homeowners filling the potholes in front of their houses too. As ridiculous as this policy sounds, it is Denver’s current approach to sidewalk construction and maintenance. As a result, many Denver neighborhoods have missing, substandard, or deteriorated sidewalks, which makes it very difficult to get around safely on foot!
WalkDenver’s Denver Deserves Sidewalks campaign calls upon the City and County of Denver to assume responsibility for building and repairing sidewalks, and to establish a dedicated funding source for this purpose. To date, more than 2,200 individuals have signed the petition (online and hard copy), and nearly 30 organizations have provided letters of support. City Council has responded by establishing a Sidewalk Working Group, chaired by Councilman Kashmann, which will meet for the first time on January 27, 2016.
Now we need YOUR help to keep the momentum of Denver Deserves Sidewalks going and clearly demonstrate to City Council that residents want the City to provide this most basic infrastructure. The Sidewalk Champion Toolkit outlines several different ways you can help us get the word out and gather more petition signatures and support letters.
Your actions will not only help your neighborhood and your city become a more beautiful, walkable, and equitable place, but will also earn you great WalkDenver rewards!
Sign up to become a Champion and get a WalkDenver sticker!
Take one action from the Toolkit and get a WalkDenver tote bag!
Take three actions from the Toolkit and get a WalkDenver t-shirt!
Wynkoop in LoDo and 21st Street in Arapahoe Square are very different urban streets. Wynkoop is resplendent with Victorian-era brick warehouses, strong urban form, an attractively streetscaped public realm, and civic icons like Denver Union Station. 21st Street? Surface parking lots and a largely incoherent urban form are the street’s defining characteristics. However, Wynkoop and 21st Street actually have an important attribute in common: neither are through-streets that provide vehicular connectivity beyond their extents, as both streets are capped at both ends by landmarks. Wynkoop terminates at Cherry Creek on one end and at Ballpark Plaza on the other. Similarly, 21st Street stops at Coors Field on one end and at Benedict Fountain Park at the other. This situation makes Wynkoop and 21st Street excellent candidates to be transformed into high quality bike/ped streets while still providing modest vehicular access.
Diagram courtesy City and County of Denver.
Last night I and about 100 others attended a public meeting held by Denver Community Planning and Development and their planning consultant AECOM to review preliminary plans for such a transformation. Some of the big ideas include a two-block park within the 21st Street right-of-way near Larimer, converting Wynkoop in front of Union Station into essentially an extension of Wynkoop Plaza, creating a signature bike trail along both streets that could form the start of a bigger downtown loop, and reconfiguring the Broadway/21st Street intersection to provide a major mid-block bike/ped crossing of Broadway.
For more information, check out the city’s webpage on the project, and definitely check out David’s excellent overview at Streetsblog Denver.
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.