How Denver’s “Most Important Pedestrian Intersection” Must Improve

The intersection of 17th and Wynkoop is about to get a lot busier than it already is, but safeguards for people walking haven’t kept up with pedestrian traffic. Photo: David Sachs

Since Union Station became the anchor for a vibrant downtown district, the area has quickly gained an identity as a place where people walk, but the surrounding streets aren’t ready for the huge influx of pedestrians expected once RTD’s massive FasTracks expansion opens next year.

City planners estimate as many as 100,000 people daily will stream through the Union Station transit district once four new rail lines and a bus rapid transit route get up and running. The swell of people will be especially pronounced at the intersection of 17th and Wynkoop, directly in front of Union Station and its pedestrian plaza.

“I’ve probably been to Union Station 50 times over the past year, and I’ve watched people take ownership of the 17th and Wynkoop intersection, and it’s been fantastic,” said Ken Schroeppel, an urban planning professor at CU Denver and a member of Union Station Advocates, an organization that aims to elevate citizen input on the changing area.

To Schroeppel, “taking ownership” means that the amount of people walking there has reached a critical mass, inspiring confidence in pedestrians as they cross the three-way intersection with stop signs. “But not all drivers and bicyclists go through that area with the idea that this is a heavily pedestrianized area, and that they need to remain cautious, and drive carefully and slowly,” Schroeppel said.

That needs to change, according to Union Station Advocates. The group sees 17th and Wynkoop as the most important pedestrian intersection in the city. As Schroeppel wrote on his blog, DenverUrbanism:

We need to make sure 17th and Wynkoop and all of the streets around Union Station are well-prepared to maximize ped/bike mobility and safety and appropriately manage cars, taxis, tour buses, valet services, and all other transport options.

Currently, 17th and Wynkoop has the standard crosswalks, signs and other public right-of-way design elements you might find at any regular downtown intersection — nothing that would indicate the importance or pedestrian focus to the corner… It is critical that we proactively plan for the happy onslaught of pedestrian traffic around the station.

Union Station Advocates has created a list of short-term, mid-term, and long-term changes [PDF] for the intersection, and is working with Denver Public Works and the public to pull them off. Before the A Line to Denver International Airport opens next April, here is some of the low-hanging fruit that advocates hope to pick:

  • Add stop signs to both sides of each street, as well as bright yellow “yield to pedestrian signs” with flashing lights.
  • Redo crosswalk striping and color the entire intersection.
  • Paint the curb red in front of Union Station’s plaza to indicate a tow-away zone and deter drivers from parking in the bike lane.
  • Re-stripe bike lanes with thicker buffer lines, and add green paint to indicate bikers only.

Looking farther ahead, advocates hope the area around Union Station will resemble a woonerf, a type of street that prioritizes pedestrians and makes motor vehicles less dominant.

“The area would essentially becomes an extension of the plaza,” Schroeppel said. “That would obviously be an expensive thing, but you have to envision something grand or else it will never happen.”

In the meantime, for the sake of people on bikes, Schroeppel hopes Wynkoop might go from this:

Drivers parking in bike lanes directly in front of Union Station is a constant problem. Image: Streetmix

To something like this:

Advocates hope a two-way bike lane on the other side of the street will do the trick. Image: Streetmix

To move these projects forward, Union Station Advocates will hold a public meeting next week with reps from DPW to talk about options for the improvements, especially the near-term ones. Here are the details: Wednesday, November 4, at 5:30 pm in the Mercantile Room at Wynkoop Brewing Company, 18th and Wynkoop.