CDOT, City Tout Signal Tweaks on Federal Blvd as Denver Waits for a Real Redesign

More changes should be on the way. "We need to look at everything — everything we can do to make the roadway safer," said Colorado DOT Executive Director Michael Lewis.

CDOT Executive Director Michael Lewis speaks during a press conference Tuesday. Photo: David Sachs
CDOT Executive Director Michael Lewis speaks during a press conference Tuesday. Photo: David Sachs

With cars and trucks roaring by in the background, Denver transportation leaders stood at the corner of Federal Boulevard and Exposition Avenue on Tuesday to trumpet pedestrian-friendly traffic signal changes at 10 crossings along Federal, the city’s deadliest street. Colorado DOT and Denver Public Works say a study slated for completion in the spring will lead to physical changes on the speedy street.

At most crossings on Federal, pedestrian have to press a “beg button” to trigger a walk signal. Now at 10 crossings, people on foot automatically get a crossing phase every light cycle, and six of those also include more time to cross (a head start) and pedestrian countdown timers. Denver Public Works crews made the full slate of signal changes at Virginia, Exposition, Kentucky, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Colorado avenues.

At 10th Avenue, Holden Place, and Howard Place, there are automatic walk signals, and DPW will test tech that tracks “near misses” between drivers and people walking. Finally, crews installed a automatic pedestrian phase at the mid-block crossing at Sanderson Gulch Trail.

“I think there should be no sacred cows, and we need to look at everything — everything we can do to make the roadway safer,” said Colorado DOT Executive Director Michael Lewis. “If you’re driving on Federal Boulevard for 10 miles… if the average speed changed 5 miles an hour, it only means two additional minutes of travel time. Is it really that important if it is a contributor to saving lives?”

The signal changes are a positive step, but they’re also low-hanging fruit. They should be just the beginning of DPW and CDOT’s effort to make Federal Boulevard safer.

Federal is desperately in need of physical traffic-calming measures to reduce the prevalence of lethal traffic speeds. Curb extensions, wider sidewalks, narrower travel lanes, pedestrian islands at crossings, high-visibility crosswalks, left-turn restrictions — they all help.

In an interview, Lewis mentioned roundabouts at intersections and adding on-street parking lanes as potential traffic-calming measures. “I think that Federal Boulevard can have a different feel, and we are more than willing to partner with the city to figure out what that balance is,” he said.

Asked about planned intersection redesigns, a DPW spokesperson pointed to the widening of Federal Boulevard — a project mainly intended to move more cars — because it includes a median, which may or may not make people walking safer. Denver can expect to see a new pedestrian island at Kentucky Avenue too, she said, but it’s unclear when.

In the spring, CDOT is expected to conclude an engineering study of Federal Boulevard that will lead to physical design changes.

“Once that’s done I think it will help us kind of home in on where we’re seeing issues collectively, and then start looking at some opportunities to do some things differently,” said Denver Director of Transportation and Mobility Crissy Fanganello. “I think we probably both push each other in terms of what we can accomplish with existing funding sources… and what other more capital intensive improvements will we need to make as we move forward. So we haven’t decided anything. It’s sort of defining the problem and then we’ll start looking at some of the specific solutions and where we want to put them.”

And so we wait.