Will Hancock Follow Through on Upgrades to the Speer-Leetsdale Corridor?

Image: Denver Public Works
Image: DPW

There’s new evidence that Denver Public Works is slowly breaking down the bulwark of car-first planning, but that won’t guarantee better transit, walking, and biking anytime soon along Speer Boulevard and Leetsdale Drive.

The department’s planners and consultants are working on a new transportation scheme for the Speer-Leetsdale corridor, branded “Go Speer-Leetsdale,” that puts transit, walking, and biking first. In the process, more and better options to travel sans car should alleviate traffic caused by personal vehicles.

The good news? People who work and live in the area not only agree with the changes, they applaud them. A “stakeholders group” has been working with transportation planners since May to push good ideas forward and cross bad ideas off the list — like making segments of Leetsdale, 1st Avenue, Alameda Avenue, and Steele Street one-way. Planners and residents have also nixed widening Leetsdale and Speer Boulevard by one lane in each direction, as well as widening Alameda, even though the city’s 2008 Strategic Transportation Plan calls for the latter. Hallelujah!

go-speer-leetsdale-study-corridor-map
The study covers Speer Boulevard and Leetsdale Drive between about Broadway and Mississippi Avenue, as well as intersecting streets. Image: DPW

Here’s what the corridor needs, and what’s being considered.

Transit

Right now 13 unreliable bus lines slog through the streets in the corridor, averaging speeds between 10 and 17 mph on a 40 mph street because they mix with general traffic, according to the study. Buses can take 40 minutes to traverse the six-mile corridor in the evening and 30 minutes in the morning. Planners are considering the following fixes to make transit a community asset instead of checkbox:

  • Converting one general traffic lane in each direction into transit-only lanes.
  • Converting traffic lanes into “managed bus lanes,” meaning the buses might share the lanes with toll-paying drivers, high-occupancy vehicles, or drivers with hybrid and fully electric cars.
  • Contraflow (aka reversible) bus lanes on segments with the worst delays. These bus-only lanes would operate inbound during the morning rush and outbound in the evening, adding capacity in one direction by temporarily taking a lane from the other.

    NYC_Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
    An example of a contraflow bus lane. Image: NACTO
  • Transit signal priority and/or “queue jumps” at intersections that stop general traffic and allow buses to keep moving.
  • More frequent buses and/or new bus routes — perhaps neighborhood circulators or smaller shuttles that operate between “activity centers.”
  • 16 improved/new bus stops.

Walking and Biking

Between 2012 and 2014, drivers in the study area collided with people walking 22 times and people biking 25 times, according to the study. Walking and biking routes are often disconnected, too. To make the area safer and more convenient for people, planners are considering the following:

  • Fix 29 “substandard” intersections, “protecting and increasing comfort” for wheelchair users, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Fixes could include rapidly flashing beacons and high-intensity activated crosswalk (HAWK) signals that alert drivers to yield to pedestrians.

    hawk_phoenix
    A HAWK signal in Phoenix. Image: NACTO
  • A raised bike lane along Leetsdale that’s level with, but distinct from, the sidewalk.
  • Widening the Cherry Creek Trail along 1st Avenue between Downing and University (adjacent to the street) where people biking and walking currently have to struggle for space alongside speeding traffic.
  • A bike-ped bridge connecting Alameda on either side of Cherry Creek Drive.
  • Redesign 1st Avenue between University and Steele to include bike-ped routes to the Cherry Creek Shopping District.

The sobering news? These changes are only conceptual. Planners are charged with making sure they’re technically feasible — they are — but that doesn’t mean the Hancock administration will fund and implement them. They could be several years away.

Funding would likely come from the city’s annual capital improvement budget or a municipal bond, if the city decided to go after one down the road, said Jane Boand, a senior planner with Public Works, at last week’s stakeholder meeting.

“So what we’re trying to do with this study is identify the parts and pieces that would make a good entire project to move forward as a package for funding,” she said. “We do have money, it’s just how is it prioritized… if we’re demonstrating some pretty strong mobility needs for this corridor, I’m pretty positive that something is gonna move forward.”

  • TakeFive

    If $’s were not an obstacle, this would be my favorite corridor for running light rail all the way out to I-225 and would go under ground west of University Blvd through Cherry Creek.

    I have in mind a $15 billion (leveraged) transit package as part of a $30 billion transportation package project that would have very good odds of meeting with voter approval.

    • Roads_Wide_Open

      If $$ was not considered, yes. Very doubtful on that size of package though. ROW is the largest issue in this corridor to have rail, but would do wonders.

    • ANM

      I do really like this idea, if money were not a consideration. However, since CCN is so built up already, I’d prefer making a huge investment like that into something like a third rail along one of the rail corridors to create express lines and promote TOD at key rail stations.

      • TakeFive

        Nothing wrong with the thought but honestly we already have plenty of that. It will be a few decades before metro Denver has the density to make a third rail worthwhile.

        What’s needed at this time is more of an urban corridor route even if costly which it will be. In some cases BRT might be adequate but not as good as rail.

  • JerryG

    It strikes me that the city planners are much more in tune with what the citizenry of Denver wants but that the problem with getting any changes made to the way streets are designed seems to lie with getting the public works department to agree to those changes.

    • TakeFive

      Nah, the problem isn’t really with Public Works being agreeable. The problem is more with the process. For example:

      Ask a person if he wouldn’t like ‘A’
      “Oh yeah, that would be really nice.”
      Ask that same person if they would mind spending (equivalent of) half their grocery money to make it happen…
      “Wait… what. I’m struggling to get by as it is.”

      • JerryG

        While I agree that there are some people that would like change but balk at the cost (to them) of those changes, what I am referring to is LOS. Any changes to a corridor that results in a decrease in the LOS, it will be very difficult to get public works to buy in. Until such time that the LOS metric is changed from the number of vehicles moved to the number of people moved through a corridor, then streets will continue to be designed for single occupancy vehicles only.

  • yaakovwatkins

    You people seem to be determined to discriminate against the handicapped who can’t get to bus stops. You are only concerned with main thoroughfares and not the side streets where people actually live. The nearest bus stop is 1/2 mile from my house. So if I have to get into the car anyway and the Leetsdale Cherry Creek corridor is going to be clogged, I might as well shop in Aurora.

    I don’t know who did the study that said that local residents nixed widening Leetsdale, but I never heard of it. It was probably one of those advisory groups which cherry pick their membership or one of them that meet on Saturday afternoon only.

    The average person commutes 14 miles each way to work. The notion that people will walk or bike 14 miles to work is ludicrous.

    • TakeFive

      very fairly stated

      • BHG

        Which part:
        1. The blind assertion that the corridor will be “clogged”? (Despite the purpose of the study to improve all transportation modes).
        2. The assumption that only walking and biking will be prioritized? (They’re not).
        3. The accusation that this study is discriminatory because it looks at a “main thoroughfare” instead of “side streets”?

        • TakeFive

          Please show me the last study, flawed or not that fixed anything? That said I am impressed with such background thinking exercises that Denver does. But at some point the rubber will meet the road.

          I’m unaware when buses/bikes/pedestrians have lessened congestion as opposed to making it worse? That’s not to say they aren’t good ideas; it’s all in the execution.

    • David Sachs

      There are more improvements, including additional ones (other than the crossings mentioned in the article) that are meant to improve connections to bus stops for people in wheelchairs. They are not listed in the article. From the plan:

      “ADA Bus Stop Improvements: Add ADA infrastructure including pads (clear, level landing areas 5’x 8’) and ramps, where required, and/or repair sidewalk connections/slopes, to stops that limit accessibility.”

      You can see more specifics in these planning documents: https://www.denvergov.org/content/dam/denvergov/Portals/705/documents/projects/speer-leetsdale-stakeholder-meeting2-september2016.pdf

      • yaakovwatkins

        Let me say this in simple language so that even a liberal can understand.

        If someone lives 1/4 mile from Leetsdale and wants to go to 450 Steele street and is not capable of biking or walking the quarter of a mile but they are capable of walking 200 feet, they can’t take the bus because the bus doesn’t pick them up within 200 feet of their home nor does it bring them within 200 feet of their destination. They can’t use access-a-ride because they are not disabled. Their only solution is taxi or personal vehicle. This plan is determined to keep these people stuck in their homes.

        If they use a wheelchair, they are equally hosed during the winter because even if the sidewalks are shoveled, they can’t cross the streets because the streets aren’t plowed. (Assuming of course that they can wheel themselves 1/4 of a mile.)

        • BHG

          So…anything less than a bus stop less than 200 ft from anyone who might have mobility problems is discriminatory?

          • yaakovwatkins

            I’m saying that the proposal will not address the problems properly. I’m also saying that it will make matters worse by reserving lanes for mostly empty buses.

        • Gophergun

          Irrelevant partisan bashing aside, how do you think these problems should be addressed? It seems like you’re committed to driving no matter what.

    • Sanperson

      I don’t understand your comment, Yaakov. Are you saying we can’t have a bus line because some people cannot walk to it? I have no intention of discriminating against the handicapped–on the contrary, I would like to make getting around easier for them. But it seems like a non-answer to say everyone should stay in cars because some people need them. If what you say is true, then how is it possible for any city to become denser?

      • yaakovwatkins

        We don’t have a functional bus system because the stops are too far apart. Therefore:
        1: designing a transit system that assumes that we have a functional system is dumb.

        2: People will stay in cars and we need a system to handle the cars.

        3. Until we have a functional system, we should not make car transportation impossible because if we do, people will go elsewhere and we won’t have money to fix our system.

        • Sanperson

          Just to provide another perspective on spacing of bus stops: I used to live in Chicago where the bus stops are extremely close together, often with two stops on opposite sides of an intersection. In my opinion, this slowed bus speeds considerably. Often we had bus speeds that were only 1-2 mph faster than walking. Although any changes to the transit system should take into account the needs of disabled people who are less mobile (and other types of people such as injured, pregnant, sick, elderly, etc.), I am not sure putting many bus stops close together is the best way to do it.

          In my opinion, people who can’t walk 1/4 mile are the ones who should be using cars. But these are a small fraction of the people who currently use cars. Everyone doesn’t need to live in gridlocked, polluted traffic hell just because some people need cars.

          “People will go elsewhere” Where are they going to go? Denver is one of the fastest growing cities in America!

          • yaakovwatkins

            People travel to shop and see friends typically. 1/4 mile of carrying bags of stuff is too much. Since many of our streets have no sidewalks or tiny sidewalks, you are saying that people should walk in the street. Sidewalks are part of the transporation system.

            The Denver metropolitan area is growing. Denver isn’t. I live near Aurora which is a lot easier to drive in. Why shop in Denver and drive myself crazy when I have Aurora.

          • Ben Schumacher

            If Denver isn’t growing, why would they build so much housing downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods? Those new buildings aren’t empty. In fact, Denver county grew faster than any other county in Colorado last year. http://www.denverpost.com/2016/03/24/denver-grows-by-another-18582-people-as-citys-boom-accelerates/

            It seems like you’re arguing to be able to live in Aurora, but drive in to Denver, while the people who live in Denver want to be able to control their own destiny.

          • yaakovwatkins

            Actually the opposite. The planned changes will make it impossible for me to get from my home to Cherry Creek and shop and bring my stuff home. So I will live in Denver and shop in Aurora..

  • iBikeCommute

    The city has already tried and failed several times to take country club land to widen the bike path along first avenue. It appears they are still pursuing this option rather than working with the ROW they already control (narrowing travel lanes could likely provide the needed width and cut down on speeding.)

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