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Archive of posts filed under the Urban Design category.

The 105th Meridian at Denver Union Station

Back in 2010, I was on Google Earth one day wandering over the planet’s surface—a surefire way for many hours to slip by for geography geeks like me—and had the latitude/longitude grid turned on and noticed that the 105th Meridian West cuts directly through Denver Union Station. In fact, it pretty much runs right through the dead center of the station’s front facade. At that time, my fellow Union Station Advocates board members and I were focused on the preliminary designs for Wynkoop Plaza and so I suggested that we should advocate for a public art project that embeds a line marking the path of the meridian across the plaza. Everyone thought it was a cool concept, but it was too early in the plaza design process and we didn’t get much traction on it, so we let the idea go for the time being.

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The 105th Meridian West cuts across Wynkoop Plaza and Denver Union Station.

Fast forward to spring 2014 and Wynkoop Plaza was nearing its July opening and work was well underway on the plaza’s granite pavers and other features. I reintroduced the idea of the 105th Meridian project to my Union Station Advocates colleagues and this time everything fell into place. After some negotiating with the Union Station project team, the concept was approved. Union Station Advocates kicked in most of the funds for the project, with the Denver Union Station Project Authority (DUSPA) covering the balance. Key to the project’s speedy approval was my friend and fellow Union Station Advocates board member Dana Crawford. If you want to get something done, your odds of success are greatly improved if Dana is part of the effort! Bill Mosher from DUSPA and our Union Station Advocates chair Anne Hayes were also very instrumental in making the 105th Meridian project happen.

Over one weekend in October 2014, workers embedded a 1-inch-wide stainless steel strip into the granite pavers. My crazy idea from 2010 had become a reality!

The 105th Meridian West at Denver Union Station is marked by a 1-inch-wide stainless steel strip embedded in Wynkoop Plaza’s granite pavers.

The next issue to work on was the interpretive sign. Virtually no one would know what the line in the plaza represents unless we had some type of sign or marker explaining the situation. After several months of contemplating where the sign should go, what it should look like, how big it should be, etc., we finally settled on a sign to be mounted inside the south entry lobby of the historic station a few steps from where the line crosses in the plaza. I then did a bunch of research, learning more about meridians and time zones than I ever thought I’d know, and wrote the text and developed the graphics for the interpretive sign. My friends and fellow blog contributors Ryan Dravitz and Derek Berardi helped out. Ryan provided the photo and Derek did the graphic design and layout for the sign. Dana Crawford and her team that manage the historic station paid for the interpretive sign and its installation.

The sign was installed in late November.

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Grant Adams (left) and Xavian Lahey (right) from Nine dot Arts help JDP from JDP Art (center) install the 105th Meridian sign inside Denver Union Station.



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Almost finished…



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Done!

The 105th Meridian West may not be as famous as the Prime Meridian at Greenwich or the Four Corners when it comes to imaginary lines you can visit, but it is a fun curiosity and interesting part of Union Station’s history. I hope next time you’re at Denver Union Station you’ll check it out! Here’s a PDF of the interpretive sign if you aren’t able to make it to Union Station to see it in person. The sign includes a full list of people and firms who helped make the project possible. Thank you to all who had a part in the process!

Happy New Year, Denver!


The Future Transformation of Wynkoop and 21st Streets

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.

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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.


Please Help Me Support Denver’s Architectural Heritage on Colorado Gives Day!

Dear friends,

I serve on the board of the Denver Architectural Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to inspiring people to explore our dynamic city, experience the importance of design to our quality of life, and envision an exceptional future for Denver.

The DAF is very important to me and I am asking you for your support on Colorado Gives Day, December 8, 2015. Each contribution to the Denver Architectural Foundation—no matter the amount—is critical in reaching our $10,000 fundraising goal to help us reach thousands of people from all walks of life through public education and events, cultural programming, and school partnerships.

Why support the DAF? Some of our programs include the Cleworth Architectural Legacy Project, which gives hundreds of Denver Public Schools children a chance to learn about architectural design from a volunteer team of architects and engineers, and our Hard Hat Tours, which offer up-close contact with Denver’s changing urban landscape and the architects behind many of Denver’s new buildings.

However, our biggest annual program and what I personally work hard to help organize is Doors Open Denver—the only public event that celebrates the richness and history of Denver’s built environment! During this two-day event each spring, we host tens of thousands of community members at over 50 locations throughout Denver, bringing together people from all walks of life to discover and explore the Mile High City’s urban environment. From historic landmarks to new infill developments and everything in between, we open the doors to our city to share with the public the purpose and value of the physical city that surrounds us. Doors Open Denver 2016 will be held April 23 and 24.

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Over the past few years I have personally given over 100 DenverInfill walking tours for the general public because I believe passionately in sharing the story of how Denver’s urban landscape came to be and what is planned for its future. Similarly, Doors Open Denver allows tens of thousands of people and to learn about Denver’s architectural heritage and the importance of planning and design during this time of great growth and change in our city.

Also, Box City will once again be a part of Doors Open Denver!! If you are unfamiliar with Box City, check out my blog post from 2007.

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If you appreciate events like Doors Open Denver and Box City and encouraging people to learn more about Denver’s past, present, and future, then please make a donation to the DAF on Colorado Gives Day. To further encourage you to make a donation, I will match all donations made through my personal fundraising page to the Denver Architectural Foundation up to $1,000!

To schedule your tax-deductible donation to the Denver Architectural Foundation on Colorado Gives Day, December 8, please visit my personal fundraising page: www.coloradogives.org/dafken

Thank you for your support!


Rethinking the Broadway-Lincoln Corridor

by Jenny Niemann

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.

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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.

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.

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.

If you missed the meeting, you can still learn about the project and provide feedback through a website the city created for the project. Go here to learn more about the project’s background and goals, see the information presented at the workshop, and provide feedback. Submit comments about the design alternatives by November 30, 2015.

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Jenny Niemann is a WalkDenver Policy Committee member and a MURP/MPH graduate student at the University of Colorado Denver


Union Station’s Newest Public Space: Tail Tracks Plaza

The last of the new public spaces at Denver Union Station is nearing completion. Known as Tail Tracks Plaza, this new public space fills the gap between the newly completed Triangle Building (recently profiled at DenverInfill in Part 1 and Part 2) and the EPA Region 8 headquarters building. The gap is the old Wewatta Street right-of-way where Wewatta used to run between Delgany and Wynkoop streets before Union Station was built in 1881.

Here’s a Google Earth image from October 2014 with Tail Tracks Plaza’s location outlined in yellow:

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Why is it called Tail Tracks Plaza? Because until the recent transit infrastructure construction, the historic railroad tracks behind the station building merged into a “tail” that crossed 16th and 15th streets and terminated at Cherry Creek. Here’s a Google Earth image from December 2002 showing the tail tracks crossing 16th Street and merging into a singe track that crossed 15th Street. In this image we also see the Gates building under construction and the old Postal Annex building before its demolition.

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The tail tracks were removed in May 2010.

Tail Tracks Plaza is not yet open to the public, but will be soon. As part of my Triangle Building tour, we checked out the plaza where workers were putting in the finishing touches. Here’s a view from roughly the middle of the plaza looking towards 16th Street. The bold stripe of colored pavers commemorate the historic tail tracks:

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The side of the Triangle Building facing the plaza contains a canopy-covered patio space for restaurant outdoor seating. In the past few days since I took this photo, the canopy structure has been painted a dark grey color to match the Triangle Building’s ground-floor granite and steel elements:

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Near the 15th Street end of the plaza are some big swings for kids and adults to enjoy. The swings can fit two people and are destined to become a favorite photo-taking spot for tourists and locals. The swings are supported by railroad tracks that have been curved and welded together for structural strength; a mechanism at the top prevents the swing from swinging so far as to bump into the neighboring swing but still allows a good three to four foot swing motion in both directions.

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Tail Tracks Plaza was designed by Design Workshop. During my tour, a couple of my Design Workshop friends stopped by to check out the swing installation:

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The other major feature of Tail Tracks Plaza that hasn’t been installed yet is the Bike Station at Denver Union Station. For details about the bike station and the services it will offer, check out our blog post from December 2014. It’s being developed by a non-profit group that has been raising funds over the past year or so. Installation of the light station structure, which will sit on top of the plaza’s stone pavers, should begin within the next few months and be open by the time warmer weather returns in 2016.

The bike station will sit near the 16th Street end of the plaza against the short retaining wall on the right in the image below:

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There are the latest renderings, courtesy of East West Partners:

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We will visit Tail Tracks Plaza again in the spring after the Bike Station is open. The plaza itself should be open for public enjoyment later this month.