Denver Engineers Finally Have Clear Rules to Make Safe Pedestrian Crossings

With crosswalk design standards, there should be fewer Denver intersections deemed so dangerous that pedestrians are banned from crossing. Photo: David Sachs

It’s hard for cities to create safe, walkable streets when engineers follow a playbook that prioritizes car speeds above all. During a redesign of Federal Boulevard, for example, Denver Public Works ignored pleas for safer pedestrian crossings because the agency viewed moving traffic as the primary “purpose and need” of the road.

Change the playbook, though, and changing the streets can get a lot easier.

That’s the thinking behind a new internal guide for Denver Public Works and Community Planning and Development engineers, which lays out standards for designing pedestrian crossings. Until now, city engineers haven’t had any official guidance on when crossings should receive paint, signs, curb extensions, or flashing lights known as pedestrian beacons.

The manual encourages engineers to try new treatments, according to DPW staff. “What we didn’t have before the pedestrian crossing guidelines is a hard and fast rule,” said Michael Koslow, a DPW traffic engineer, at a recent Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation meeting. “We had requests coming at us from City Council, from various different entities. What we’re trying to do is standardize that.”

The new guidelines should be a corrective to old-school design standards that have devastated city neighborhoods. A legacy of the 1960s, these standards led engineers to design city streets like highways, with 12-foot-wide lanes and wide turns — to the detriment of public safety.

New design standards for pedestrian crossings can help reverse that legacy, at least in part. Time will tell if city engineers take advantage of the guidelines to improve the visibility of crosswalks and install curb extensions that shorten crossing distances and compel drivers to take turns at safer speeds.

According to Streetsblog’s reading of the new standards, they say Denver’s urban highways are prime candidates for curb extensions — think Federal Boulevard, Colfax, and Broadway, to name a few.

The pedestrian crossing guidelines are a step toward making Denver streets safer, but the Hancock administration can’t stop there if it’s serious about ending traffic deaths. The design playbook for the whole street, not just the crossings, should prioritize people’s safety.