The Case for a Car-Free Public Plaza on Wynkoop Street By Union Station

Here’s a quick video about the potential to turn Wynkoop Street in front of Union Station into a great public space. It’s by Chris Jones, a self-described “urbanist making videos about urbanism.”

Jones envisions transforming Wynkoop Street between 16th and 18th into “Wynkoop Square” by making those blocks car-free. If that seems like a radical idea, he says, just test it out first with inexpensive, temporary materials. “I would be willing to bet that within minutes of cones going up, pedestrians would completely take over the street,” Jones says.

That’s exactly what happened when New York pedestrianized Broadway at Times Square and Herald Square. The initial “plazas” weren’t much more than some lawn chairs and orange construction barrels to keep cars out, though nicer surfacing and street furniture were quickly added. Some serious thought also went into programming events on the plazas. After monitoring the effect of the new street design for several months, the city decided to move ahead with a permanent construction project.

Before NYC made permanent plazas in Times Square, it set off space for pedestrians with construction barrels and put out hundreds of lawn chairs. Photo: Aaron Naparstek

Wynkoop already has many of the hallmarks of a great plaza, Jones says. It’s the right size — big enough to host public events but small enough to see your friends from anywhere in the square. The buildings are tall enough to create a sense of enclosure, but short enough to let sunlight in. Shops, restaurants, and outdoor seating along the street and at the existing Wynkoop Plaza set the stage for street life and activity.

The only thing holding Wynkoop Street back is the car traffic clogging the street, blocking the bike lanes, and mucking up a place where most people’s mode of choice is walking. (Three more RTD rail lines opening this year will dramatically increase foot traffic around Union Station.)

A people-friendly redesign of Wynkoop is on the city’s radar, but it currently appears to be years away. Community Planning and Development has floated the idea of turning it into a woonerf, a street where motor vehicles are allowed but pedestrians clearly take precedence.

Screen-Shot-2015-12-09-at-10.20.11-AM
A rendering of what the area around Union Station might look like as a woonerf. Image: Aecom

Wynkoop was never meant to be the kiss-and-ride it has become — planners originally envisioned Wewatta Street, behind the station, in that role.

Why not test the car-free idea with low-cost materials this summer? Wynkoop Plaza could become an iconic public space for Denver.

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