by Geneva Hooten and Joel Noble, INC Transportation Committee Co-Chairs
How do we create attractive and inviting places that are functional for different users throughout the day and over the course of changing seasons? How can we transform one of Denver’s most famous streets – 16th Street – into a better place to serve Denver’s ever-changing needs?
Jason Whitlock, Principal City Planner, presented one of three connected studies aimed at activating Denver: The Mall Experience. Jason began by asking: what do we have to learn from other great places? Places like Covent Garden in London or Broadway in New York City. How does 16th Street perform in comparison?
We know that 16th Street is performing below its potential. On a weekday in the summer 28,000 pass through the Mall but only 1% spend time. As a 1.2-mile pedestrian and transit backbone of downtown, the 16th Street Mall needs to be a dynamic and attractive corridor.
To improve 16th Street, the city is undergoing an evidence-based planning approach coupled with a data driven analysis that aims to measure, test, refine, and repeat. The eight principles of the Mall Experience study aim to:
- Provide a series of experiences. The Mall, between Union Station and Civic Center, includes four typologies and a mix of block types and street cross sections. Understanding each of the four areas will help in crafting improvements that can change the Mall. As Jason explained, the 16th street mall is “one street with different street environments”
- Provide transportation choices, namely to accommodate people walking and biking in better ways. An evaluation of how the median is being used and accessed.
- Invite people to spend time through a safe and lively space and more activities. The Meet in the Streets events increased the “stickiness” or lingering time by people on the Mall by 48%, a great demonstration that providing interesting and fun ways to use the space will help incentive foot traffic to stay longer and spend their dollars and time on the Mall.
- Encourage lively edges, such as outdoor eating spaces, and inviting storefronts, through the activation of blank facades making 16th Street look and feel more inviting.
- Support a wider network of investment, promoting and building on what’s being done downtown already.
- Think beyond the boundaries of 16th Street. Through the attraction of residents to downtown, developing mixed-use sites, and programming adjacent underused sites that would draw people to 16th Street.
- Create strong and integrated network. This includes consideration of how people move by multiple modes to and from cross streets and parallel streets, not just 16th Street itself. In the coming few years, the number of people moving through downtown is expected to double, requiring serious consideration of how to achieve the goals of this plan while more efficiently moving a much larger number of people. If you’ve heard that Denver is studying moving or removing the 16th Street Mall shuttle, that’s people jumping to conclusions. What is true is that the current arrangement won’t scale up easily, and new or expanded options throughout downtown will be considered, in part by this project and in part by the companion update to the DMAP (Downtown Multimodal Access Plan) update, starting in 2016.
- Continue to evolve using an evidence-based decision making framework. Keep testing and learning how best to improve 16th Street.
In 2016, this study will continue to measure, test, refine and repeat, including an expansion of the Downtown Denver Partnership’s Meet in the Streets events, which may expand to more Sundays or even to whole weekends. We look forward to seeing how the process shapes this crucial downtown corridor.
Jason Whitlock, Principal City Planner in Denver’s Community Planning and Development, has hit the ground running. Not only is he engaged on a number of large city initiatives, he also presented to our INC Transportation Committee all within his first few months on the job!
The Denver region is spending billions of dollars to expand public transit throughout the metro area, yet the FasTracks program largely does not provide direct funding for “first and last mile connections” that help people get to and from transit stops and stations. First and last mile connections mean more than sidewalks; connections include all facilities and services that allow people to get from their front door to their final destination without needing a personal car. Think safe crossings, bike lanes, Car2Go, B-cycle, wayfinding signage, and a multitude of other pieces that form a transportation network. Through surveys and focus groups, WalkDenver and its partners explored the consequences of this lack of funding, as well as potential solutions in their report, “First and Last Mile: Funding Needs & Priorities For Connecting People to Transit.”
This study outlines the funding process for first and last mile connections in Denver, identifies best practices, and recommends policies, practices and funding mechanisms to address these connectivity challenges. Through regional stakeholder engagement, it is clear that the first/last mile connections are:
- Vital to the success of the region’s transportation system
- Underfunded and victim to the overall shortfall of funding for infrastructure.
The consequence of inadequate funding is that we won’t realize the potential of FasTracks. There will be lower ridership, stunted economic development, geographic disparities, and disproportionate impacts on low-income communities and communities of color. To address this, WalkDenver asked what first/last mile connection was most important for the Denver region.
So what was ranked first? The humble sidewalk. In Denver, property owners are responsible for sidewalk construction and maintenance, though this should be the city’s responsibility. To become more walkable and to address a crucial first/last mile connection problem across the city, Denver should assume responsibility for sidewalk construction and maintenance, and should establish a dedicated funding source for this purpose – a position that INC has supported since 2006, and recently reaffirmed in the INC Transportation Platform. WalkDenver is helping Denver Public Works and City Council by providing examples of the various ways other cities fund sidewalks.
Thank you to Jill Locantore for joining us again! With WalkDenver’s leadership, the city is finally talking about pedestrian infrastructure in a much more serious way than ever before.
City Council representatives see the transportation needs in their districts up-close, visiting with neighborhoods and hearing directly from their constituents. Since his election to City Council in May 2015, Councilman Paul Kashmann has undergone a crash course in urban transportation and came to share his findings.
Councilman Kashmann started with some thoughts about Denver’s “brand,” observing that we’re known nationally as a great place to live, but that fact is threatened by increasing difficulty in getting around our city. We’ve got a transportation system that had worked well for us when we were “not a small town, but not a big city – semi-urban rather than urban.” But things have been changing. Since Denver is a great place where so many people want to be, with a booming economy and relatively low unemployment, our transportation choices have to grow to meet our new reality. Denver has been “engineered, striped and signaled for a city that doesn’t exist anymore.”
When running for office, Kashmann called for a transportation summit, bringing together a comprehensive look at all modes of transportation, both current and potential, in order to develop a coordinated plan for transportation evolution. Now that he’s been in office for 105 days, he feels even more strongly about this focus. The top call category to his office from constituents is transportation. Whether it’s traffic volumes and increasing time needed to get around, high-speed vehicles cutting through neighborhoods, or safety topics, transportation topics are clearly a priority for his district and the city as a whole.
Throughout his talk, Councilman Kashmann demonstrated that he’s already seriously engaging on this topic. On a recent visit to Corey Elementary school at E. Florida and S. Steele St., he watched children and parents navigating a very unsafe environment, with the two east-west avenues leading directly to the school missing sidewalks on one or both sides of the street, and the north-south Steel St. missing sidewalks on one side. He called both pedestrian and bike infrastructure in Denver “woefully inadequate,” and agreed with the findings of WalkDenver’s study. He is calling on the city to plan pedestrian and bike infrastructure with an eye towards safe and easy routes usable by even the youngest citizens, a perspective he calls “kidways.”
On S. University Boulevard, he illustrated an unintended consequence of the need to keep traffic moving by limiting turns at certain intersections while at the same time the population in new apartment buildings along this significant arterial keeps increasing. In an example case, significant southbound traffic is diverting through the nearby low-scale local residential streets in order to loop several blocks access a large apartment building. While he acknowledges that all city roads are open to drivers, he feels examples like these show that local residential streets are unintentionally becoming more like arterials.
In preparing to help lead the transportation transformation our city needs, Councilman Kashmann has been reading about current best practices and future trends, and he sees that the level of personal car use most of us are accustomed to won’t scale up as the city grows, so we need more and better options. Looking further into the future, if trends like car-share continue, becoming autonomous vehicle on-demand services, we may want to start designing buildings with parking levels able to be converted to residential or commercial use.
Councilman Kashmann shared very complimentary reactions to the INC Transportation Platform, and in particular identified its call for more citizen involvement in transportation polices and plans and the platform’s insistence on traffic calming through street design (not just enforcement and signage) as items he strongly agreed with.
Starting in 2016, Denver is going to be in a historic planning mode, with Blueprint Denver update, the development of the citywide transit plan, the creation of the Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails implementation plan, and the update of Parks & Rec’s Game Plan all occurring simultaneously. Councilman Kashmann urges all neighborhoods to get involved in these topics, saying there’s never been a better time to have an influence on how you would like to see the city evolve.
Councilman Paul Kashmann represents Denver City Council District 6, is Vice-Chair of the Infrastructure and Culture Committee, and serves on the Safety and Well-being and the Government and Charter Review committees. He has lived in Denver since 1976, and has lived in the Virginia Village, Washington Park East, West Washington Park and Cory Merrill neighborhoods. He spoke engagingly, entertainingly without PowerPoint.