Downtown Bike/Ped Loop a Top Priority for Downtown Denver Partnership

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An early, unfinished concept map for the “Downtown Loop.” Image: DDP

The Downtown Denver Partnership, a business-oriented group that plays a major role in shaping the city’s urban center, announced its priorities for the upcoming year Wednesday morning. They included a “Downtown Loop” for people walking and biking, revamping the 16th Street Mall, and spurring walkable development in Arapahoe Square.

The Partnership envisions a walking and biking path connecting various downtown neighborhoods and cultural districts, loosely modeled on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. Currently in the nascent stages of planning, the loop would probably include 21st and Wynkoop streets — which are a little further along in terms of becoming good places to walk and bike.

CEO Tami Door said the Partnership will work with residents and business owners to develop the concept this year. “It is an attraction for visitors, it is a destination, it is a recreational space for our community, and it is a way to commute to your job,” Door said.

Door also focused on plans to transform the 16th Street Mall into a place where more people linger, mostly addressing concerns about the mall’s safety. She announced a soon-to-open “mobile command center,” where a new private security force will execute a “security action plan.” The Partnership will also advocate for even more police officers, Door said.

A heavy police presence is no substitute for creating a welcoming and inclusive place for people — which is ultimately the key to true safety in public space. City leaders think this is the short-term answer, though, to high-profile violence on the strip. Eventually the city will change the nature of the mall by implementing long-awaited recommendations from Gehl Studios, the same urban planning team that worked on the pedestrianization of New York’s Time Square.

“A significant part of the success of this undertaking will be making some physical changes to the mall and how it operates,” said Joe Vostrejs, the Partnership’s outgoing board chair.

Those recommendations will come soon, according to the Partnership. In the meantime, more and better lighting are on the way for the mall and its alleys.

Not far from the 16th Street Mall is Arapahoe Square, an area plagued by surface parking lots and sparse retail. The Partnership, which helped eliminate parking minimums in the neighborhood earlier this year, is looking to usher in walkable development. Door announced an interactive Arapahoe Square map that shows developers and city agencies who owns a parcel, for example, and what can be legally built there.

An open question, however, is whether the new housing and retail will be affordable for low-income residents. Door promised that the Partnership will work with the Hancock administration to adapt its strategy to the mayor’s affordable housing proposal “without negatively impacting development.” That proposal calls for developers to pay into a dedicated affordable housing fund. The amount they pay depends on the type and size of the development.

“We’ll be looking closely with city leadership to identify how the money will be spent, how it’s managed and tracked over time, and most importantly, how we can make an impact building the appropriate level of affordable housing stock in our community,” Door said.