by Jenny Niemann
This is the third in a series of posts that will review the basics of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure and new developments that may help you get around. In our first and second posts on this topic, we reviewed Denver’s sidewalk dilemma, the city’s primary pedestrian advocates, recent policy developments and how you can get involved. This week, we review what else affects how Denverites get around on foot.
This series began with sidewalks, the building blocks of the pedestrian environment. Yet your walking experience is made up of much more than the simple surface that your feet (or stroller, or wheelchair) use to walk down the block. There are a number of other forces at work in Denver that affect your walk to the park, and how often we all choose to walk instead of drive.
Jeff Speck, a national walkability expert, outlines “10 Steps of Walkability” including street trees, friendly and unique building faces, mixed uses, balanced parking, frequent transit, pedestrian protection through slower speeds and curbside parking, streets designed for bikes, and pedestrian spaces that are comfortably enclosed by good design and interesting buildings.
You know good walkability when you see it. Walking down South Pearl Street, you’ll find a plethora of small shops and restaurants that make the walk interesting, outdoor seating gives life to the street, trees provide shade, and parallel parking separates traffic and the sidewalk. On the other hand, it’s easy to identify poor walkability when you see it, too: walking along Denver’s arterial streets like Alameda, Federal, or Colorado Boulevard, you’ll notice that nothing separates the sidewalk from high-speed traffic, few trees provide shade, and most often what borders the sidewalk is a parking lot. There’s little to attract—or distract—someone walking down the street, which is why so few people do.
Our everyday decisions about how to move around the city are affected by all of this: whether or not you walk or drive to the nearest corner store likely depends on how interesting, comfortable, and safe that walk is. So what is Denver doing to get walkability right, beyond the sidewalk? From the Community Planning and Development Department’s work on neighborhood plans and citizen groups lobbying for crosswalks, there are a lot of things going on.
Denveright: The City of Denver is currently working on a Denver Moves: Pedestrian & Trails plan as part of the Denveright planning process. The Pedestrians and Trails plan will establish community priorities that can help guide funding for sidewalks to the most important areas first—such as near transit or schools. The city’s first transit plan, Denver Moves: Transit, may also help improve walking to transit stops. See DenverUrbanism’s past coverage of the Denveright process here.
Changes on Colfax: Colfax Avenue is wicked, quirky, and full of attractions you might like to walk to. The problem is that it’s pretty car-dominated and hard to get across, unless you happen to be crossing at an intersection with a traffic light. Fortunately, the Mayor’s recent budget proposal, after strong advocacy by the Denver Vision Zero Coalition and the Colfax Collaborative, now includes $500,000 for design work on four enhanced pedestrian crossings on Colfax. This came after more than 1,800 people signed a petition for this funding. This will make it easier—and safer—for people to cross the street and make Colfax less of a barrier splitting up the many great neighborhoods along it.
Development bring redevelopment: As covered by DenverUrbanism last month, the Brighton Boulevard Corridor Redevelopment project includes new protected pedestrian crossings, landscaping, benches, and pedestrian-scale lighting, in addition to badly needed sidewalks along the corridor. All the development on the corridor will give you plenty of interesting places to walk to. The city’s project will make walking possible and safe.
Neighborhood plans: While less shiny than Brighton Boulevard, the City continues to prioritize pedestrian infrastructure in many of its recent neighborhood plans: Westwood’s new Neighborhood Plan recommends improvements to the pedestrian environment; the I-25 and Broadway Station Area Plan calls for the creation of shared streets, multi-modal bridges and pedestrian amenity zones. Many other neighborhood and station area plans prioritize pedestrian mobility within neighborhoods and improving pedestrian connections to transit.
Crossing guidelines: In the spring of 2016, Denver released new crossing guidelines: these standards dictate what treatments (crosswalks, pedestrian islands, curb extensions, etc.) should go in at the many places where pedestrians cross streets without the benefit of a traffic light or stop sign. Check out this document so you know what to expect for places where you might want to see a crosswalk.
Bonds: Finally, The City of Denver will seek taxpayer approval for a 2017 general obligation (GO) bond to fund capital asset and infrastructure needs. What will get funded through this bond will be determined after a public process. The bond may present an opportunity to allocate further funding for sidewalks, but it is not a long-term funding source that would ensure sidewalks are properly maintained over the long term. Streetsblog Denver breaks down what we know here. Head to the upcoming community meetings to have a say in funding priorities.
Citizen and Business Groups: The West Colfax corridor has gotten public art, painted intersections, and wayfinding, due to the work of citizen volunteers and the West Colfax Business improvement District. The Drive Chill Park Hill campaign asks drivers to pledge to be compliant, cell-free, cautious, considerate, conscientious, and chill. Both of these groups, among many others, are working for neighborhoods that slow car traffic and are better—and safer—places to walk around.
Denver, its residents, and developers can make our city a better place to walk in every day, from new storefronts to snow-shoveling to slowing down traffic. Let us know in the comments what affects your walk. In my next post, we’ll talk about pedestrian safety.
Jenny Niemann is a graduate student in the University of Colorado Denver’s dual-degree in urban planning and public health. Her graduate work involves alternative transportation and healthy food systems and how the benefits of these sustainable city services can be accessed by households of all incomes. A native of the suburbs of Washington, DC, Jenny enjoys exploring Colorado’s growing cities and mountains by bicycle.