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.

  • mckillio

    I’d like to see curb extensions and speed tables for pedestrians to cross. I also don’t like the idea of having opposite direction bike lanes being adjacent if it’s not necessary.

    • Walter Crunch

      Why not. Cycle tracks work just fine. Look both ways and you will be fine.

      • mckillio

        I ride faster than most people and would have to slow down and speed back up to be able pass people due to the opposite direction lane, at which point I’d just prefer to ride in the vehicle lane.

        • Walter Crunch

          So are you saying because you might not want to use them they should should be scrapped all together?

          If the lanes aren’t at least a total of 10 feet wide as multi use regional paths are, they will be unusable.

  • cvxxx

    I like what I saw done in Nanning, China. There was a pedestrian clover leaf over a congested intersection. The main road had divided pedestrian,slow (bicycle, moped) and fast lanes with curb and plant separation. Downtown had anti-jaywalking fences down the middle.

  • Walter Crunch

    The current design is an afterthought. Cars park in the bike lanes daily with police turning a blind eye. There is a stop sign adjacent to the bike lane which is only needed for cars. Bikes don’t need stop signs if the lane is adjacent to the curb all the way through. The crosswalk intersects with both the car lanes and the bikes lanes in a weird way. The whole intersection is a great candidate for a dutch style interchange where people, bikes and cars can move through with ease. There needs to be a kiss and drop area and a cell phone parking lot as well. The area needs to be patrolled so that asshole cars don’t entitle themselves as is common.

    There needs to be ample bike parking on several parts of the plaza (there are not)/and there need to be signs posted stating Peds have the right of way. Asshole cyclists aside, all people powered uses can share the plaza. No need to get exclusionary.

    Let’s hope Denver gets this right. Judging by some actions, I give them 3 chances out of 5.

    Also…a meeting at 530 is dumb. 630 is better.

  • Walter Crunch

    With respect to the cycle track, they work despite the naysaying. Cars run both ways….why is that weird?

    However, the cycle track has to be 6 foot lanes both ways…none of this 4 foot crap. If cars get a 12 to 14 foot should bikes.