by Amy Allen
To say that the day of the
automobile is gone would certainly be a bit premature.
IN THEORY, DENVER'S MAIN STREETS WILL NO LONGER CATER EXCLUSIVELY TO AUTOMOBILES under guidelines of the Living Streets Initiative. A new way of thinking about transportation planning, Living Streets brings eight city agencies together to create transportation corridors that move people in the most efficient possible manner, while providing a comprehensive and safely accessible environment for pedestrians and cyclists, cars and mass transit, and businesses and their clientele alike.
Although much lip service
is paid to our commitment to alternative transit, Denver’s bike paths, bus
routes and light rail system are still too frequently an exercise in “you can’t
get there from here” for many Denverites, not to mention that many individuals
simply don’t make the effort to utilize available alternatives.
A new land use and
transportation planning philosophy is taking hold among city planners that not
only might ease getting from Point A to Point B in the future, but could also
transform the travel corridors that ferry Denverites to and fro, making them
more user-friendly and easier on the eye as well. More streetside storefronts
and fewer streetside parking lots. Crosswalks designed with the safety of
pedestrians in mind. Lane usage based on moving people
– efficiently and conveniently.
For the past decade or so,
“Complete Streets” has been the term du jour for traffic planning. This philosophy takes into account all
modes of transportation, not just automobiles, when considering roadway construction.
“They ought to be for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist,
walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper,” says the National Complete
While it is a quantum leap from days gone by when
the measurement of an arterial street’s capacity, or usage, was stated in
“vehicle trips per day,” Complete Streets has not gone far enough to integrate
travel lanes into the communities through which they pass.
Gideon Berger is a senior city
planner with the Department of Community Planning and Development (CPD). He is
also co-project manager of Denver’s Living Streets Initiative, that takes the
concept of Complete Streets and merges it with land-use planning in a more
holistic approach to community development.
Exemplifying that holistic
style, the Living Streets team brings together eight city agencies: CPD; the
Dept. of Public Works (DPW); the Dept. of Environmental Health; Denver Parks
& Recreation; the Office of Economic Development; Greenprint Denver; the
Office of Budget & Management; and the Dept. of Human Rights &
“Complete Streets is about
road building,” said Berger, “but Living Streets is about city building. We
believe there’s more to be considered than simply multi-modal transportation.
How do these corridors perform in creating jobs for residents? Are they
walkable? Are they contributing to the public health or are they a negative
influence? Are they inviting to consumers, either on foot or bicycle or by car?
Do they facilitate development or do they impede its progress?”
The new initiative’s
explains, “By supporting multi-modal access, Living Streets provide a more
sustainable transportation balance than just relying on private autos. By
integrating the street with the adjacent built environment, Living Streets add
value to communities.”
Chrissy Fanganello is director of Policy and
Planning for DPW, and Berger’s partner as co-project manager of Living Streets.
She explains that Living Streets is not a list of specific projects but rather
a new philosophy. “It’s a new perspective about how the city goes about doing
its business,” she said. “We used to be concerned with, how many cars can I get
through an intersection? Now it’s, how many people can I move in the most
Denver Public Works
completed a Strategic Transportation Plan in October 2008 that divided the city
into 14 different “travel sheds.” Fanganello explained that “the next step is
to put policies in place that will guide (transit/roadway) projects across the
city.” Recognizing that the current economic doldrums has put the brakes on
major development, she warned that, “If we don’t plan for it now, when
development does return, we won’t be ready.”
The current draft
of Denver’s new zoning code lends a hand in creating more functional travel
corridors, said Fanganello. “Several of the new Main Street and multi-use
districts will help support a more user-friendly pedestrian environment.” CPD’s
Steve Gordon concurs, “The new code is form-based, and by its nature interacts
better with the street system.”
Another effort expected to
dovetail with the Living Streets focus is the Multi-modal Access and
Connectivity Plan (MACP) that is just getting under way. The MACP will function
as a master plan guiding the development of a more effective off-street and
on-street bicycle and pedestrian network. The project will focus on
connectivity, and access to key destinations, including parks and open spaces,
recreation centers, schools, neighborhoods, commercial and employment
districts, and transit centers.
While the Living Streets
philosophy talks about removing some lanes previously devoted to auto traffic,
Fanganello assures that there is no intention nor license to clear-cut
capacity. “This is not a one-size-fits-all program. We will look at how each
project fits with the broader system. Most of our major roadways are also state
highways. It might make sense in some cases to use a general travel lane for
mass transit, but you’re probably not going rob a high- volume corridor of
travel lanes to create a sidewalk.”
A recent series of public
meetings was designed “to introduce residents to the choices that need to be
made when designing travel corridors,” said Berger. “We’re trying to fix
operational and safety issues, and create a sense of place. Do you want wider
sidewalks or a landscaped median to make crossing an intersection more safe?
Businesses usually want on-street parking, but do pedestrians want wider
“Do you need three traffic
lanes in each direction, or would things move more smoothly with two traffic
lanes and one dedicated bus lane? In Washington, D.C., the middle lane of
Connecticut Ave. changes direction to add capacity during rush hours.
Similarly, Rock Creek Pkwy. reverses all the lanes.”
In addition to D.C.,
Berger points to Seattle and New York City as aggressively pursuing the Living
Streets concepts. “In D.C. the energy was aimed more at economic development.
In New York they focused on public spaces and bicycles. They’ve added some 200
miles of bike lanes in recent years. Seattle has a tax devoted to bicycle and
pedestrian improvements.” Closer to home, the City of Boulder has facilitated
the use of mass transit by paying RTD a subsidy to enable bus routes to run
While some transportation
improvements may require grabbing adjacent land to widen the roadway, the
Living Streets philosophy is to “stay within the existing footprint,” said
Fanganello. While the reconstruction of portions of S. Broadway (from Antique
Row into Englewood) and Federal Blvd. (Alameda Ave. to 5th Ave.) have required
widening the right-of-way, in the future such projects will be the exception
rather than the rule.
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