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Archive of posts filed under the Urban Design category.

Volunteers Needed: Downtown Denver Mall Experience Study

Would you like to help conduct research relating to how people experience Denver’s 16th Street Mall?

This summer, the Downtown Denver Partnership and the City of Denver are conducting a comprehensive Mall Experience Study to better understand how people use the Mall and to identify ways to make the Mall a more welcoming, vibrant place.

Please click on the image below to view/download a PDF that contains all of the information you need to know about the research study and how to volunteer.


This is a great opportunity for people who love urban environments and want to participate in making Downtown Denver better!

Fastracks Progress: Overhead Catenary System at Denver Union Station

Since I was a kid, overhead wires have always made my infrastructure senses tingle. This all makes sense because I grew up very close to these wonderful pylons running right down East Jewell Avenue in Aurora.


Source: Google Street View

Some, like myself, don’t mind seeing overhead wires, whereas others aren’t so fond of the visual clutter. But, enough about your friendly DenverUrbanism contributor’s personal childhood and opinions. Denver’s new visual infrastructure comes right to Downtown’s backyard: Union Station.  Let’s take a look at what’s going on under the commuter rail canopy!

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Installation of the overhead catenary system under the canopy has commenced, adding the last piece to making this beautiful station fully operational.

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Can you imagine how great this view will look with the new commuter rail trains running through it next year?


The real exciting visual, however, is just north of the canopy. These large, overhead catenary wires mean serious business and will serve three commuter rail lines pulling into Union Station!

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This post might seem silly and filled with my likings towards overhead wire systems but remember, without these systems in place, our commuter rail system would cease to exist.


Explore Denver Inside Out at Doors Open Denver 2015!

The 11th annual Doors Open Denver will take place Saturday, April 25 and Sunday, April 26, when buildings throughout Denver will open their doors to the public for exclusive and rare viewing opportunities, exposing the inside of Denver’s unique urban fabric. Doors Open Denver is presented by the Denver Architectural Foundation and draws tens of thousands of attendees each year.

I’ve always been a big fan of Doors Open Denver, but I’m even more excited about the event now because I’m helping to organize it! I’m a new member of the Denver Architectural Foundation Board of Directors and I’m serving on the Doors Open Denver planning committee. My interest in working on Doors Open Denver is to help propel what is already the Mile High City’s premier urban exploration event into an even bigger and better opportunity for people to experience our beautiful city and learn about many of its interesting buildings and sites.


Free participating sites include the Historic Sugar Building, the Dry Ice Factory, RedLine, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance, the Denver Art Museum, The Lobby-­Paris Hotel Building, The Source, Converge Denver and TAXI, among dozens of others. Several of the sites will offer free interactive activities and exhibits. For example, the Denver Fire Department Station #3 will provide firefighter gear demonstrations, fire safety education and giveaway items, and the Byers-Evans House Museum will host The Family Dog: Denver, an exhibition of rock posters from The Family Dog (1967‐1968).

Doors Open Denver also offers ticketed Insider Tours, providing engaging opportunities to view areas of buildings not frequently open to the public. This year’s tours include a look at the Mansions of Capitol Hill, the DaVita building, the D&F Tower, and the Counter-terrorism Education Learning Lab (CELL), along with many others. Tickets will range in cost from $5 to $25, and registration will open to the public on April 6. Proceeds benefit Doors Open Denver, a nonprofit organization.

To help celebrate and promote Doors Open Denver 2015, DenverUrbanism will be featuring brief profiles of over 50 of the free participating sites—one per day for the next 50-plus days—until Doors Open Denver weekend in April! To help with this monumental effort is our Doors Open Denver star intern Maggie Lyons, whose first site profile (featuring Denver Union Station, our Doors Open Denver 2015 headquarters) will appear here tomorrow.

Could Brighton Boulevard Become a Pedestrian Paradise?

By Jill Locantore, WalkDenver Policy and Program Director

WalkDenver is excited to participate in a working group that is advising the City of Denver on the design of Brighton Boulevard from 29th Street to 44th Street. Last April, the City released a plan [pdf] outlining a bold vision for transforming Brighton Boulevard into an engaging, connected, multimodal gateway. In November, City Council approved a 2015 budget that allocates $26 million for improvements along the corridor, which currently serves more as a “back door” into downtown. This funding will go a long way toward making the City’s vision a reality, and presents a unique opportunity to create a true multimodal street that sets a precedent for similar projects in the future. Redesigning Brighton Boulevard won’t be easy, however, and the proverbial devil is in the details.

Today, Brighton Boulevard is a harrowing place for pedestrians and bicyclists, which is to say, people. Most of the corridor has no sidewalks, no curb and gutter, no bicycle facilities, no streetscaping, and no tree canopy. The intrepid person who attempts to walk or bike to one of the enticing new developments or adaptive reuse projects along the Boulevard, such as The Source or Industry, is likely to encounter dirt and gravel, standing water (if it’s rained recently), cars parked willy-nilly on the shoulder of the roadway, and traffic flowing freely in and out of adjacent properties, without any clear driveways. On the bright side (pun intended), this almost complete lack of infrastructure means the Boulevard, in some sense, is a blank canvas on which the City can paint a new vision. Will the City seize this opportunity and transform Brighton into a true pedestrian paradise?


Existing Brighton Boulevard streetscape. Photo credit: City & County of Denver

The City’s plan clearly states the redesigned roadway must accommodate all modes of travel—walking, biking, transit, and driving—as well as a tree lawn and “amenity zone” with public art and other streetscaping that creates “a consistent character and attractive gateway to downtown.” The challenge is fitting all of these elements within the available right-of-way, particularly when the City envisions that Brighton will remain “an important vehicular connector” and, therefore, must continue to have four, 11-foot-wide lanes. So, the working group is rolling up its sleeves and digging into the trade-offs associated with restricting left turns versus providing protected turn lanes, on-street bike lanes versus raised cycle tracks, continuous versus intermittent on-street parking, etc.


Potential Brighton Boulevard streetscape. Photo credit: City & County of Denver

Here are a few of the issues that WalkDenver is particularly interested in:

  • Safely separating pedestrian and bicycle facilities, to minimize potential conflict
  • Ensuring a robust tree canopy and quality landscaping (rather than planting trees that are doomed to die due to inadequate access to water, air, or room to grow)
  • Innovative storm water collection facilities that capture moisture, support vegetation and create a “pedestrian-friendly micro-climate”
  • Enhancing safety and convenience for pedestrians crossing Brighton Boulevard, including minimizing the distance people must walk across the street and between safe crossings
  • Minimizing the impact of driveways (property access points) on continuity of sidewalks and pedestrian safety
  • Providing pedestrian-oriented wayfinding, particularly to the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks at 35th, the bridge over the Platte River at 31st, and the access point to the Platte River Trail at 29th
  • Street design that allows for outdoor cafes and a pedestrian-friendly streetscape
In addition to seeking guidance from the working group, the City will be hosting public meetings in the coming months to present and gather feedback on design concepts. Stay tuned for more information!


The Disappearing Carriage Lot

In a formerly quiet west-side neighborhood, there is a building boom underway. In the area bounded by 20th Avenue, Federal Boulevard, Colfax and Sloans Lake Park approximately 10 single-family homes have recently been scraped, not to make room for “McMansions”, but rather to make room for new 2-3 story, multi-unit townhome projects. Thanks to recent zoning changes, relatively large lot sizes and low land values (compared to the Highlands neighborhoods further north) and shifting demographic trends (i.e. young professionals who no longer desire the “house with a big yard” that their parents had), this neighborhood is suddenly undergoing a major architectural make-over. While there are certainly numerous pros and cons to this type of redevelopment, one aspect that I find somewhat unfortunate is the loss of a very unique land development pattern in Denver. While most neighborhoods in Denver were built with rectangular blocks, this area of town has square blocks with a “carriage lot” in the middle.

Back in 1872 when the Potter Highlands (a thirty-six-block residential district bounded by Federal Boulevard, West 38th Avenue, Zuni Street and West 32nd Avenue) was platted it was laid out in square blocks rather than the rectangular ones that predominate the Denver street grid. According to Historic Denver Inc., “this arrangement allowed for houses to face all adjacent streets and to contain a carriage lot (or carriage turnaround) in the center of the block. Many blocks still have communal garages; others have incorporated the central lot into the adjoining properties. About thirteen of Potter-Highlands’ thirty-six blocks still have a distinct central lot.” This distinct block pattern was extended a few blocks north and east of the Potter Highlands and is only replicated in a handful of areas of Denver: Parts of Jefferson Park, Sunnyside, a 15-block portion of South Park Hill and this portion of the Sloans Lake and West Colfax Neighborhoods. The following aerial photo shows clearly shows the relationship between the carriage lot blocks and the standard Denver blocks platted later.


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Over time many of these carriage lots have been purchased by adjacent landowners and incorporated into larger yards, paved over for church or school parking lots, or in some cases developed into single-family properties in the middle of the block. Many still remain, however, in various states of use: some are simply open gravel lots, some have become more naturalized over the years with trees and grasses, one that I found still contained an old stone garage (that I imagine once contained horses and buggies). In a few cases, however, they’ve been turned into more informal public space. The photo below shows one that has been turned into a community garden.

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Unfortunately with the new zoning allowing for greater densities in the Sloans Lake/West Colfax section of this square grid, developers have their eyes on these parcels. One has recently been purchased by the adjacent land owner for potential redevelopment and another one that was divided between two land owners long ago is now being built and paved over to make way for the Park Place XII townhomes, a 3-story, 12-unit project that will dominate the center of the block as shown below. In the last few weeks, the unit to the south has also been scraped, likely to meet a similar fate. 


While were gaining density, and increasing land values in the area, I’m afraid we’re also losing an interesting fragment of Denver history, and an opportunity to create more public open space within the community (something that a good number of people in the neighborhood are calling for in light of the new development boom). Since these lots are publicly owned, they could easily be developed into community gardens, dog parks, pocket playgrounds, and communal places of refuge. If we, as a city, invested in a few of these parcels instead of selling them off to the highest bidder, we might not only preserve a piece of Denver history but create places for this new generation living “without yards” to run their dogs, meet their “blockmates,” grow some vegetables or simply relax and enjoy nature away from the din of the street. With two-three story houses on all sides, many of these carriage lots feel like little enclosed courtyards, and could be wonderfully comfortable and enjoyable open spaces: a pleasant surprise to those who find them and/or seek them out. Until then, I encourage you to seek out and explore this relatively unknown piece of Denver’s urban fabric. Check them out before they disappear.