Widening Streets Near the Broadway and I-25 Transit Station Makes No Sense

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A portion of South Broadway will have nine traffic lanes and space for street parking when the Broadway reconstruction is complete. Would you want to walk across this street? Image: City and County of Denver

At the same time that Denver seeks to become more walkable and transit-friendly, the city is pursuing road-widening projects that work directly against those goals. Sometimes the city even tries to do both things in the same place, and that’s what happening on South Broadway right now.

In 2008, Denver adopted a Strategic Transportation Plan beginning with this assurance from then-Mayor John Hickenlooper:

You asked for solutions that reduce our dependence on cars and our need to continue to widen our roadways, solutions that incorporate rapid transit, bicycles and walking as daily travel options. The Strategic Transportation Plan delivers these options for every part of our community.

That same year, the city began planning the South Broadway road widening. Now that project is on the verge of implementation.

In Baker and West Wash Park, the City Council recently secured the rights-of-way to widen South Broadway near I-25, as well as surrounding streets, with moving lanes and turning lanes for motor vehicle traffic. The project also includes wider sidewalks and a shared-use path for pedestrians and people on bikes.

But any benefit for walking and biking will be outweighed by all the road expansions:

  • Mississippi Avenue from Sherman to Acoma will go from five lanes to six.
  • Broadway from Mississippi to Arizona will go from five lanes to seven.
  • Parts of Broadway from Mississippi to Tennessee will go from six lanes to nine.

Why is this project going to add so much asphalt?

“That’s a fair question,” said Council Member Chris Nevitt. The lane expansions fall in his district. “Our goal has been to reconstruct that whole set of intersections in a way that works more efficiently and more safely for pedestrians and bicycles as well as cars,” he said. “Have we struck the right balance? I don’t know.”

This is a common way to think about streets — assuming that more space for every type of transportation will make everyone happy by “striking the right balance.” But that’s not how streets work in practice. By widening Broadway and Mississippi, crossing on foot becomes more difficult, dangerous, and intimidating. Car speeds accelerate, creating a more hostile environment for walking and biking.

“Walkability isn’t just about moving pedestrians along the street, it’s also getting them safely across the street,” said WalkDenver Policy Director Jill Lacontore. “Widening the road works against pedestrian safety… It also directly contradicts Denver’s Strategic Transportation Plan, which calls for maximizing the efficiency of existing roadway capacity by accommodating multiple travel modes, rather than catering to cars through road widening.”

Making the South Broadway road widenings even more illogical is that they surround the RTD station at I-25 and Broadway — a transit hub that’s supposed to anchor a whole walkable neighborhood. But will people want to take the train if they have to routinely cross nine lanes of traffic? Instead of “balance,” the city is on track to make streets worse for pedestrians and cyclists.

The justification for all this road widening is to ease “peak hour congestion which is expected to worsen,” according to the city’s needs analysis prepared seven years ago for the Colorado Department of Transportation. It’s a familiar refrain in Denver, which has made the mistake of planning for traffic instead of walkability before.

As CU-Denver civil engineer Wesley Marshall recently cautioned in a piece in the Journal of Urbanism, street design in Stapleton undermines the neighborhood’s urbanist intentions. Stapleton is supposed to be a model of walkable development, but with wide streets and poor connectivity for pedestrians, it falls short. Marshall explained to CityLab that vehicle speeds in Stapleton are now significantly “higher-than-desired” thanks to overly-wide streets.

The I-25 and Broadway bus and rail station is one of Denver’s most important transit hubs short of Union Station. It’s already one of the city’s busiest, and is slated to anchor a more walkable, bikeable neighborhood meant to expand bus and light rail use. The city is making it harder to achieve those goals by designing the streets near the station for traffic instead of people.

  • mckillio

    This is crazy. At least narrow the lanes to 10 feet and give more room for bikes.

  • TOPOS

    Shockingly outdated, as if Denver’s traffic engineers are operating out of a bunker somewhere with 1960’s textbooks. It is appalling to see any amount of $ going to a solely auto-focused street improvement project like this these days. Who knows, maybe it is a secret plan to keep property values from elevating by making the urban environment less people-friendly.

    • Walter Crunch

      There are a dedicated bunch of engineers that need to retire. This is clearly their last hurrah and middle finger to the current administration. They are essentially daring Hancock to stop the plan.

  • garbanzito

    the original plan for this work was produced by the South Broadway NEPA Consensus Committee from 2005-2007, which involved federal, state, city, neighborhood and private stakeholders

    many of the community members at the table called out the pitfalls of super-wide roads that you describe; in the resulting South Broadway Environmental Assessment, one key point of compromise was that while the plan provides for eight through lanes, it would be built initially with six through lanes with the outer lane in each direction reserved for parking and bulb-outs; converting these to through lanes could only happen if certain traffic conditions occurred (a “trigger”) and the communities were re-involved

    some of us hoped that by the time this trigger occurred there would be fresh thinking on the need for massive vehicle throughput; your post, as well as apparent shifts in the thinking of the city planners, gives me hope that our strategy might succeed

  • JD

    I’m all for pedestrian development, but come on guys. Car’s are not going to go away and putting them in a traffic jam isn’t going to fix the problem either. Giving vehicles certain routes (Stanta Fe, Broadway, and I-25) keeps vehicles from cutting through neighborhoods and less popular streets. It’s much easier to manage cars on 3 roads in this area than to just spread the load to all over the neighborhood. No one is selling their car and biking to Target or the movie theater because of traffic – they’re still going to drive, they’ll just sit in their cars longer.

    • dufflepud

      I think you’d be surprised. At the margin, people really do start making decisions like that, especially as traffic gets worse. My wife and I moved downtown with two cars, but now share only one because the move made it possible to bike to work–and we walk/bike everywhere else once we’re home. The second car just sat around costing us money. I can’t imagine a house nice enough or big enough to make me want to go back to sitting in traffic every day.

      • JD

        This is great for a daily commute, as I bike to work most days of the year. Problem is, me and a million other people have to drive through here while running errands, taking the dog to the vet, getting a load of groceries from Cost Co. No bus/train/carpool/bike is going to be able to meet those needs. This isn’t an intersection at 15th and California, it’s far enough away from town that it requires people to get around via car, especially since Alameda and Mississippi are the only two crossings of the river/rail road. And adding a lane to Broadway would be great to get cars in and out. Now, developments along Broadway should be vehicle discouraged (i.e. gates rubber plant area or Broadway marketplace). But if you remove the access to these areas, they’ll never be developed.

        • dufflepud

          Hmm… that’s a very good point. And your last line raises the real question: *should* that area be developed? For a variety of reasons that can be condensed into saying “You should visit StrongTowns.org” I think it’s possible the answer is, “No.” To the extent that choosing against widening Broadway hurts development, it hurts auto-oriented development. And the more I think about it, the closer I come to concluding I’m okay with that. If living in Englewood means enduring traffic, then maybe it makes Five Points more attractive. Point being, our infrastructure dollars aren’t unlimited, and in the same way those dollars have made it easier to get around by car for the last half century, I’d prefer to orient them more toward pedestrians and cyclists now.

          • JD

            I take it you don’t own a house or land in Englewood. I don’t think it’s for you or the city to decide who’s land should be valuable and who’s shouldn’t. Lucky I live near downtown, and even though that’s great for me, I don’t think we should kill the home values in Highlands Ranch because we cut off their access to downtown.

          • Walter Crunch

            That is the best strawman I have read all day. I think the poor wittle home owners in Highlands ranch (moochers actually since they refuse to incorporate) will be just fine if they can’t have 16 lanes into Denver.

        • surly trucker

          JD, you should get a Burley trailer for your bike (I got mine off craigslist for $35). Now I can do all my grocery shopping (even CostCo!) without having to drive. It’s rad! 🙂

        • Walter Crunch

          You don’t need 8 lanes to run errands.

      • TonesOfLife

        Dido, same thing with my wife and I. Had 2 cars, now only have one. It made me realize how much money people waste ON and IN their cars too then pay 100$ a month at the gym since they sat for 2 hours longer than required… Its kind of comical really, but its an unfortunate burden our city planers have put us in and it appears to be continuing with this poorly designed project.

    • rorojo

      The idea of this post isn’t about getting rid of cars. It is about being consistent with priorities. Is this a going to be a area where all the cars should go through as it has traditionally been as you suggest? Or should it be a new community that through smart planning of transit options (including things like car sharing for the weekend trip to Target), infrastructure, and development that prioritizes?

      I can not think of an example where a city tries to do both in the same spot and it works out well for either. But I have high standards maybe others would be fine with it.

    • TonesOfLife

      A lot of people are doing exactly that. Are you not paying attention? Yes people will still drive and waste their lives away, but don’t force me to waste mine.

    • Walter Crunch

      Eh no. 📣. You simply induce more people into the traffic stream. People think “hey, I won’t bus or train it, I can just zip up Broadway! A surface highway!.

      Forever.

      Denver continues to encourage cars and then cries about traffic.

  • delnorteknight

    Why should a neighborhood already ruined by the I-25 on-ramp mentality of transpo engineers be further burdened so single occupant vehicles can get on the highway in two minutes less time?

    South Broadway success is marching south and once it passes Mississippi, we will have allowed, through simple organic urbanism, the reinstatement of the miracle mile.

    Instead of two more lanes, how about a continuous bike lane and a trolley line that connects downtown Denver with downtown Englewood?

    • sdguy1963

      The C and D lines both go to downtown Englewood.

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  • neroden

    Seven lanes? Eight lanes? Are you people in Denver insane?

    One moving lane each way. Maybe a turn lane in each direction. Maybe parking lanes. Anything more is wasted and you oughtta be putting in rail instead.

    • Devin Quince

      Issue is our transit provider is corrupt and cannot deliver on anything and there are no accountability measures.

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  • Walter Crunch

    Just remember that…the city of Denver is crying poverty and unable to a)build sidwalks and b) build the requisite number of real bike lanes (that paint is sooo expensive). But yet, “Urban freeway here we come!”.

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