Here Are Some Better Ideas For Quebec Street Than DPW’s Widening Plan

Quebec - Typical
Here is one possible layout for the 64 feet of public right of way DPW has to work with on some stretches of Quebec Street. Street section made with Streetmix

The Department of Public Works wants to widen several blocks of Quebec Street between 13th and 26th. DPW says adding more lanes is the answer because it will move more cars. But if we want to have safe streets for people to walk and bike, DPW’s four-lane design for Quebec is not the way to go.

According to DPW, the project’s purpose is “to increase north-south person trip capacity on Quebec… in a manner that enhances the overall transportation system’s ability to improve multi-modal access/safety, mobility, and connectivity.”

Well, how about the design above? It includes a protected bike lane for safe multi-modal access that expands “person-trip capacity” and a center turn pocket to smooth the flow of car traffic.

DPW’s conceptual plan looks nothing like that. Instead, here is the agency’s idea of “multi-modal access/safety”:

Screen Shot 2015-06-17 at 2.15.35 PM
Image: DPW

DPW plans to build sidewalks as part of the project, which currently are either woefully thin or nonexistent along the corridor. The plan is to make those walkways five feet wide, add a three foot buffer at sidewalk level, and… that’s it. That is the extent of the non-motorized access in DPW’s plan.

More can be done for all transportation modes. Check out the top image. Even with a center turn lane, there’s enough room for 7.5-foot sidewalks, bike lanes in each direction, and a bus shelter. A lot of that space comes from narrowing the car lanes to a much safer 10 feet, which should be the standard width on city streets. DPW’s plan includes 12-foot lanes — a width more suitable for freeways.

Since bus shelters only occupy space every few blocks, most of the street could have even wider sidewalks:

Street section made with Streetmix

At some intersections, a turn lane isn’t necessary and there’s even more room to work with. Where Quebec crosses 13th and 14th, both one-way streets, a center left turn lane serves no purpose on one side of the intersection. At other crossings, turning traffic may be so insignificant that the turn lanes aren’t needed. Here’s a look at what you could do in that case:

Quebec at One Way Intersections
Street section made with Streetmix

These are just ideas, not definitive answers. The point is, there’s more than one way to redesign a street. If DPW wants to increase “person trip capacity,” the options shouldn’t all revolve around cars, which are the least spatially efficient mode of transportation. Bikes have a much smaller footprint, and buses even smaller, if they are well-used. One simple way to make buses more appealing? Make streets where people feel safe and comfortable walking or biking to the bus stop.

DPW’s plan for Quebec simply doesn’t cut it. Other cities have caught on to the fact that to accommodate growth, they need to encourage more efficient forms of transportation than driving.

Here’s a look at a recent improvement in San Francisco, where Denver leaders happen to be right now, learning about urban streets:

Or, DPW could keep it local and just look to their design at 18th and Wazee:

Image: Google Maps
Image: Google Maps

These ideas are not groundbreaking — they are, increasingly, the new normal. But there’s still a glaring void between what city leaders say they want to do, and how city policy plays out on Denver’s streets.

It’s still relatively early on in Quebec’s redesign, so go here to sign up for updates and affect the final outcome.

This story was changed to reflect the three feet buffers likely to be included in the final plan.

  • JerryG

    I am glad that this blog is here now because it brings a needed voice to the discussion on the transportation future of Denver. However, when you make statements that don’t include all the facts, then you only hurt your credibility. For example, the sidewalks have been proposed as 5ft sidewalks with a 3ft buffer. Whether or not the entire 8ft should be sidewalk is a good question. DPW is planning to install bike lanes on Syracuse, a street that parallels Quebec. As to whether bike lanes should be on the main street or a side street would be an interesting discussion; one that was already introduced on DenverUrbanism. There are supposedly other improvements for transit, but they are lacking in detail. I am with you on lane widths: 12ft is way too wide for a city street.

    • mckillio

      I agree with most of your sentiments but I don’t see a three foot buffer in the DPW proposal. According to their image, the sidewalk is right next to the street. If they made the lanes 10 or even 11 feet, this would be a reasonable option. A buffer with trees in it (instead of on the opposite as currently proposed) and narrower lanes would be much better, it would slow the cars down, better protect pedestrians, and keep the road cooler in the warm months.

      • JerryG

        My information was obtained from the DPW planning website for the Quebec alternative analysis. That page is here.

        However, if you just click on the ‘DPW’ link in the article (second paragraph), it brings up a PDF that states that all alternatives will include “8 ft sidewalks”. After reading through the posted material at the DPW website, what the “8 ft sidewalks” statement meant was it would be only at the bus stops whereas elsewhere it would be 5ft with a 3ft buffer. Whether that is a tree lawn or something else is unspecified. The diagrams are just illustrations and don’t represent actual designs. However, I agree that 10 or 11 ft lanes are all that are needed here.

  • ChrisG

    While I appreciate the dialogue, I have to agree with Jerry that facts and reality need to be considered. For instance:

    – The pedestrian and vehicular environment along this portion of Quebec, particularly between 14th and 26th is currently abysmal. The only way to remedy this is to acquire private property for increased right-of-way. It would be very difficult for the city to justify acquiring that land if the city didn’t try to improve both the vehicular and pedestrian environments. The alterntive ideas are great when considered in a vacuum, but there is a layer of reality that should accompany them.

    – Not all streets in Denver are – or should be – considered as bikeways. As Jerry said, Syracuse is the north-south identified bike corridor in this area. There is no reason to install two-directional bike lanes on Quebec.

    This forum is great for raising awareness, but I would caution that at times the opinions seem to criticize certain plans without considering the larger context. While pedestrian improvements are certainly necessary throughout the city, not all improvements can be 100 walkscore wins. The proposed changes to Quebec will result in an improvement to the pedestrian environment. Maybe not to the extent that we’d all like, but an improvement nonetheless.

    • mckillio

      I believe the city already own the land, at least that’s what the DPW proposal shows me. And the Streetsblog proposal would still improve traffic.

      While no, not all improvements can get 100 on walkscore, this one doesn’t do enough. See my above post for an alternate proposal.

      I don’t disagree with you on the bike lanes not being necessary but I will say that Quebec is the only way to get across I70 in this area.

      • JerryG

        Actually, your last statement is not quite true. Central Park Blvd is a designated bike route. Although, I think the “multi-use path” that is referred to is the sidewalk on the bridge.

        Besides, Quebec becomes a split road nightmare north of 29th Ave.

        • mckillio

          That depends on your definition of “area” , it’s about 1-2 miles between Quebec and Central Park Blvd depending on how you measure it. Round trip, you’re looking at a 2-4 mile detour, I wouldn’t call that in the area.

          Quebec is a nightmare, that’s the problem.

          • JerryG

            However, Central Park Blvd is only 0.5 miles from Syracuse, once you are within the Stapleton boundaries (north of 23rd). However, I will agree with your sentiment that there are not enough dedicated bike corridors north of Colfax in east Denver, especially ones that cross I-70.
            Quebec does need to be completely redesigned in that area.

          • Brent

            There is nothing north of I-70 between Quebec and Central Park Blvd. that needs bike access. An industrial/warehouse area to the west, I-270 to the north. If you want to go to Northfield, Central Park Blvd. is the better choice anyways. You’re asking us to accept on principle that every single spot and every single road needs bicycle access. It does not.

          • mckillio

            Take it easier there pal, I said no such thing.

  • steve smith

    So is Denver buying the whole parcel of the homes through that corridor? I mean the properties already butt up next to Quebec. Widening the street one lane each side and adding a sidewalk (no sidewalk currently) will literally have people walking out of their house right onto Quebec.

    • Mr H.

      No. The city alluded to the fact that if they had their druthers, they would have purchased all the houses on the east side of the street and made Quebec into a boulevard. But since they don’t have the funding for that plan (obviously), they’re going to simply purchase land from the owners that they need to widen the road (and add sidewalks). As it is currently, the road is wide enough for 3 lanes. Owners shouldn’t anticipate losing “too much” of their front yards to this plan – however, I’m certainly holding off on any landscape plans until after 2019 (planned construction year).

  • neroden

    Three-lane designs with bike lanes and wide sidewalks are good.