Denver Needs More Street Demos Like the One Planned for West Colfax

An example of a parklet, one of several temporary installations advocates will install on West Colfax Avenue next month. Image: West Colfax Business Improvement District. Image: Streetsblog LA
A rendering of a parklet, one of several temporary installations advocates will install on West Colfax Avenue next month. Image: Image: Streetsblog LA

Complete streets advocates are taking ownership of West Colfax by transforming part of it from a four-way car-centric raceway into a haven for pedestrians and people on bikes. It’ll be just a one-day demonstration — organizers describe it as a “lab” — but the idea is to spark a permanent redesign on the street by showing residents, city planners, and local businesses why livable streets are a must.

Dubbed “Reimagine West Colfax,” the demo will primarily span West Colfax between Utica and Tennyson streets on August 16. Using temporary materials, organizers will reallocate parts of the street to create bulb-outs, crosswalks, medians, wider sidewalks, bike boxes, and parklets (see image above) — miniature parks that usually supplant a parking space. Here’s a look at how the block would be set up (click to enlarge):

Image: West Colfax BID
Image: PlaceMatters

South of Colfax, on Tennyson and on 14th, the demo will include either buffered or protected bike lanes and traffic circles:

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 10.59.39 AM
Image: PlaceMatters

“I think it’s really important to build this test experience and build awareness of what it would be like if Colfax really was more pedestrian friendly,” said WalkDenver Executive Director Gosia Kung. “How would it affect businesses? How would it affect residents? Would it be a street that people would be more likely to interact with as opposed to just drive on?”

West Colfax is an intimidating street to cross, let alone walk or bike on. The West Colfax Business Improvement District hosted a meeting last month that produced a telling map:

Screen Shot 2015-07-08 at 10.49.34 AM
West Colfax Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard, the two main streets in the neighborhood, are two of the scariest to walk. Image: West Colfax BID

The above map is hardly surprising given the terrible state of sidewalks in the area:

Image: WalkScope
Image: WalkScope

And the neighborhood’s lack of crosswalks:

Image: WalkScope
Image: WalkScope

The Department of Public Works and the Colorado Department of Transportation are supporting the effort with technical advice, as are several design firms. But the project is supported mainly by crowdfunding (you can donate here). Compare that situation to Boulder, where the city government has institutionalized “living labs” as part of its transportation planning process.

Temporary installments like the ones planned for West Colfax are a great way to help people envision permanent changes and build momentum for street redesigns. Demonstrations demystify walking and biking infrastructure for residents and business owners used to the city’s car culture. Seeing demos become the norm instead of the exception in Denver will show — not just tell — what the city’s streets are capable of being.