East Colfax BID Takes Initiative on Designing a Better Street

Crosswalks on East Colfax are few and far between, so people often have to walk to local businesses without one. Photo: David Sachs

As demand for complete streets outpaces funding and political will from city agencies, residents are taking street design into their own hands. The relatively young Colfax Mayfair Business Improvement District is Denver’s latest example.

Colfax Avenue has long functioned primarily as a thoroughfare for motorists, to the detriment of business owners and people walking and biking. Basic infrastructure like crosswalks are conspicuously missing, causing injuries and death, and splitting neighborhoods in two.

The Mayfair BID recently hired an urban design firm to survey residents and re-envision the one-mile stretch on East Colfax Avenue from Eudora Street to Locust Street. The goal is to lay the groundwork for risk-averse departments like Public Works, Community Planning and Development, and the Colorado Department of Transportation (Colfax is technically a state highway).

Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 1.17.45 PM
A conceptual rendering of a pedestrian island at Colfax and Fairfax. Image: Design Workshop

“We’re advocating collectively with the city, and we’d love to see some improvements over time, in a phased manner,” said Hilarie Portell, the BID’s executive director, at a neighborhood gathering Friday. “The city’s got a lot of competing demands. Nothing will happen overnight — we know that — but surely we can do our best.”

According to police statistics, 33 pedestrians have been hit by cars along Colfax Avenue in the last year. In a survey of 550 people for the Mayfair BID’s project, the top two safety concerns were crossing the street and drivers not yielding to pedestrians, which accounted for more than half of the responses.

“It’s just not a pleasant street to walk on,” said Angela Brohman, who lives in the project’s area and has a young daughter. Brohman said she has to walk several blocks out of her way if she wants to cross Colfax safely. “We have played Frogger before, but I hate to play Frogger with a 4-year-old.”

Walking half a mile to get to a grocery store 50 feet away goes against human nature — and basic urban design principles. Inevitably people cross the hectic street and get caught in the middle, sometimes with a thin median, but often in the “suicide lane,” a center turning lane for drivers.

The designs are conceptual, but here are some of the things the BID hopes to incorporate into this section of Colfax:

  • Two new pedestrian crossings, one at Holly Street and one at Fairfax Street
  • Wider medians with better accommodations for pedestrians and trees to visually narrow the street for motorists
  • Painted crosswalks and new sidewalks
  • Bulb-outs to signal a neighborhood street and calm traffic
  • Bike lanes on Krameria Street from 14th to Colfax
Screen Shot 2015-08-10 at 1.26.15 PM
Planted bulb-outs at Colfax and Jasmine are another possibility. Image: Design Workshop

The final outcome will depend on neighbors, the BID’s modest budget, and whether city agencies will prioritize the project, according to Jaime Fogle, an associate with Design Workshop, the firm hired by the BID.

“We want to find those things that don’t cost a lot of money that could be funded through the city agency, either through their capital improvement program or some other mechanism, but it’s really about just getting on their list first.”