DPW’s Big Idea for Denver’s Next Great Walkable Neighborhood: Widen Roads

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The Department of Public Works will build huge, fast roads on and around South Broadway and I-25, while simultaneously planning transit-oriented development around the RTD station there. Photo: DPW

Denver’s ABC affiliate, 7News, has a very cleverly titled column called “Driving You Crazy” (it’s mostly about what makes drivers crazy — get it?). Sometimes traffic reporter Jayson Luber wanders into transit territory — like when he empathized with a reader who can’t stand “gabby females” on the No. 15 bus. But mostly Luber hands a megaphone to motorists enraged over people driving slowly or complaining about traffic congestion.

Most recently, Jason from Littleton asked Luber about a stretch of South Broadway near I-25. He wanted to know when the city is going to fix it, because it’s “the worst stretch of Broadway.”

“The good news,” Luber writes back, “is that the City of Denver has a plan to fix it with construction starting by the end of the year.”

But what’s about to happen on South Broadway is not good news. The project was developed seven years ago and aims to widen streets near the Broadway and I-25 RTD station. Here’s what it will do:

  • 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.

Engineers decided to widen the streets with no regard for the Broadway station area plan, which calls for exactly the type of street design the city should be pursuing near a transit hub — bike lanes, road diets, better infrastructure for walking, and no new parking. But for some reason, the station plan remains a completely separate endeavor, affecting different streets than the South Broadway project.

And now that funding and right of way is finally available for the road widenings, the antiquated plan is moving forward. Just because.

At a recent community meeting where planners presented the station area plan, a Denver Public Works representative said the city will secure bids from contractors for the Broadway road widening next month, and could break ground on the project late this year or early in 2016. Residents were outraged.

In a letter to city councilors, Baker resident Luchia Brown asked that DPW put a hold on the project. “I would ask that you request Public Works delay the call for bids and let’s revisit this with an eye toward the Broadway Station Area Plan,” she wrote. “We can do better than what’s on the table… much better.”

Officials claim the Broadway and I-25 area will be the next Union Station, anchoring transit-oriented development. But how much will people walk, bike, and take transit when they have to cross nine-lane streets?

The idea that the road widening has to happen because the project has been on the books for so long is ludicrous. Even when it was conceived seven years ago, it went against the city’s stated goals. As Streetsblog Denver reported in May, the city adopted it the same year it adopted its Strategic Transportation Plan, which assures “solutions that reduce our dependence on cars and our need to continue to widen our roadways.”

Brown is right: DPW cannot widen roads that cater to drivers leaving the city while simultaneously claiming to build a people-oriented environment for residents.