If Public Officials Walked Federal Boulevard Every Day, Denver Wouldn’t Have to Wait So Long for Safer Streets
Take a walk on Federal and you'll see and feel the results of decision-makers marginalizing people on foot.
Every time the Broncos play, says Sun Valley resident Darrell Washington, the broadcast includes an immaculate shot of Denver’s skyline from the viaduct on Federal Boulevard over Colfax Avenue. Meanwhile, out of view, right behind the camera, is a scene that Denverites who actually walk the streets know all too well: Cars and trucks zooming by on a street that’s claimed the lives of four people walking this year alone.
Washington was one of 16 people who scrambled across intersections and dodged cars last Thursday during a group walk on Federal. Walk2Connect, the worker-owned cooperative that advocates for pedestrian rights, led the walk to show people how Colorado DOT, Denver Public Works, and the Hancock administration have marginalized pedestrians.
“It says something about the state, city, county, public health — decision makers that influence these corridors,” says Jonathon Stalls, Walk2Connect’s founder. “When we’re walking these streets it is so important to literally feel in our body the reality about what this says about our public service, how they treat us, how they treat pedestrians. Because it is real, when you walk these streets.”
Too often, people who don’t know what it’s like to depend on walking and transit make decisions that affect people who do. Too often, as in the case of Federal Boulevard, those decisions create hellish conditions for Denver residents so drivers can go fast.
“You’re in danger”
We began the walk at the start of rush hour, at Colfax and Irving, across the street from a public library, a bunch of homes, and not far from two community centers for kids. We had 15 seconds to cross Colfax. It wasn’t enough time.
“We were halfway through and it was down to five seconds,” said Washington, a member of Sun Valley Local Neighborhood Council. “If it was a little kid or elder, they would’ve got hit. Kids like to stop and play around. We need to make sure they’re not playing chicken with their life.”
That was the most pedestrian-friendly intersection we’d see for the rest of the evening.
The group descended down Colfax toward a huge barrier — the city’s only cloverleaf intersection that’s not a freeway interchange. Overgrown trees and shrubs encroached onto the sidewalk, worsening visibility at a crossing where drivers zoomed past, fresh off the free-for-all on Federal. We passed a “Please Drive Safely” memorial for a Gherig Donald Kilburn killed in traffic.
There’s no sanctioned way to cross Federal here. We saw “desire trails” created by people who walked through the prickly shrubs because it was more direct. But the “correct” way is circuitous, through an underpass where the sidewalk is wide enough but there’s no separation from speeding traffic.
We stepped over downed traffic signs that blocked the walking route, and eventually meandered up to Federal, to the viaduct. Again, no separation from the autobahn next to us.
“With the cars going as fast as they are, if they don’t have control and they come up on that curb, you’re in danger,” said Steven Pride, who’s lived in the area for nearly 20 years. “And some of them don’t really look for pedestrians.”
We eventually clear the cloverleaf and head south on Federal. People of all ages and types — kids, people riding bikes on the sidewalk, construction workers heading home, moms with babies — were walking to and from RTD’s Decatur-Federal light rail and bus station, as well as the curbside bus stops nearby.
The sidewalks are thin in some places, broken in others, and always inches away from speeding traffic.
We stop at two sites where drivers have killed pedestrians this year: 14th and Federal, a block from Denver Human Services, and 7th and Federal, where a curb ramp indicates that people should cross the street into five lanes of traffic. (There’s no traffic signal, signs, or paint to make it even slightly safe to do so.)
Kisha Brickens, a Sun Valley resident with six children, is appalled. Her kids walk around here. “I don’t know why they haven’t done anything about it,” she says. “This has been like this for a long time. I know they say that they need to find where the money’s coming from, but why is it just now becoming an issue for them?”
It’ll get worse before it gets better
CDOT does have money to spend, but it’s not spending it well. The agency will shell out taxpayer funds to widen this portion of Federal, with DPW’s help, creating more space for cars and even longer crossings for people on foot. It’s a project out of the 1950s.
A CDOT employee, Kari Grant, joined the walk. She’s from the High Performance Transportation Enterprise, the wing of the agency in charge of “innovative financing” methods. CDOT is interested in the push to completely redo the cloverleaf, she said, an initiative called “Over the Colfax Clover” led by WalkDenver and the West Colfax Business Improvement District.
“We’re interested in this one, in the ‘Over the Clover,'” Grant said. “This is a little project for us, but there’s a chance we might be able to help in a bigger redevelopment scenario.”
“It’s very intense, it’s exhausting,” Grant said of walking Federal.
The Hancock administration and City Council members say they’re going to make streets safer and help families who have to dodge speeding cars on the way to the bus stop or the market. But they haven’t followed through with much urgency.
If they had to experience the city’s dignity-robbing, pedestrian-hostile streets firsthand on a regular basis — streets like Federal — Denver residents wouldn’t have to wait so long for safe walking conditions.