Blind Spot on Brighton Blvd: Sidewalks Too Narrow While Cars Feast on 4 Lanes, Parking

In several places along the corridor, the sidewalk is so narrow that Chris’s wheelchair barely fits. Photo: Jamie Perkins
In several places along the corridor, the sidewalk is so narrow that Chris’s wheelchair barely fits. Photo: Jamie Perkins
This column is part of Streetsblog Denver’s Summer Reader Takeover, where we give you a platform to talk urban transportation. The author’s views don’t necessarily reflect those of Streetsblog Denver.

The facts on the new Brighton Boulevard are promising for its transformation from a street for cars to a street for people. When construction is complete, Brighton will have 2.6 miles of brand new sidewalks, a separated cycleway for people on bikes, and new traffic signals and medians to make crossing the street safer for people walking.

In reality though, it’s clear after walking the new corridor that the City and County of Denver made serious trade-offs in pedestrian transit so Brighton could have four lanes of car traffic and parking.

I asked my friend Chris Hinds, who uses a wheelchair, to join me for a tour of the corridor so we could put the new pedestrian infrastructure to the test. Some sidewalks were so narrow that we couldn’t travel side by side and have a conversation. Others didn’t allow enough room for people to pass. Some sidewalks were so cramped, Chris’s wheelchair barely fit. And several sections did not seem to comply with the sidewalk widths mandated in the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Narrow sidewalks are not only a problem for people walking and rolling down Brighton. The corridor’s new sidewalks and raised bikeway are usually configured one of two ways: Either the sidewalk and bikeway abut each other, or are physically separated by landscaped trenches.

As Chris and I traveled, people walking in the opposite direction chose to exit the sidewalk entirely to get out of our way. Since there was not enough room for people to comfortably pass on the sidewalk, they naturally stepped into the bikeway to avoid other pedestrians. Where people were walking in the bike lane, we witnessed bicyclists leaving to ride in the street, defeating the purpose of the dedicated bikeway entirely.

In one of the most restricted sections for pedestrians and people riding bikes, the sidewalk and bikeway are separated by about two feet in height and temporary fencing. One of the people we encountered traveling in the opposite direction chose to walk down below on the bikeway rather than navigate the sidewalk with her companion.

The Hancock administration, business owners, and advocates are celebrating Brighton Boulevard as a triumph of complete streets, and in many ways they are right. This is a huge win for complete streets, with dedicated space for people walking, biking, and waiting for transit. However, it is clear that the walkability aspect of Brighton was sacrificed to keep Brighton a place for cars above all. People who walk and bike should not have to fight for space on such a wide street.

The city is not living up to its promise to make the Brighton Boulevard area “a safer, more walkable, and engaged community.” Instead the redesign guarantees conflicts between people walking and biking and fails to give people the space to truly engage with one another.

Jamie Perkins lives in Capitol Hill.

  • TakeFive

    I can’t speak to why parking had to be included but Brighton Blvd is a significant arterial road so the four lanes are understandable. For most of its life Brighton Blvd has likely had more truck traffic than cars. Obviously the area has changed and other than many new buildings giving a nod to its industrial roots I’ll assume many don’t even know what it once looked like.

    • mckillio

      Assuming I’m remembering correctly, the really frustrating part about all of this is that the lanes are a foot or so wider than they should/need to be. So there’s really no excuse for these pedestrian and cycling shortcomings. They at least could have made one inside NB and one inside SB lane narrower to better accommodate the sidewalk and path.

      • TakeFive

        Fair point; I see where the lanes are 12′ wide. Something I just learned:

        For years, Brighton Boulevard has been a shortcut or back door into downtown Denver, but current redevelopment efforts will turn this corridor into the main
        gateway to the Mile High City.

        Indeed, it was a ‘sleepy’ shortcut that few knew about. Back in the early-mid 2000’s I used to park down there for Rockies games usually after having a picnic lunch at Commons Park.

        But now they’re projecting this to be a ‘main gateway’? That means plenty of traffic if so; that and turning lanes I’ll assume is why they went with 12′ lanes.

        • MT

          There’s no reason to use 12 foot lanes here. That’s a standard for interstate highways. It’s for traffic going 65+ mph.
          12 foot lanes don’t increase vehicle capacity, only speed. All that’s going to do is encourage people to drive faster.

          • TakeFive

            So you assume the City wants to promote speed as opposed to accommodating turn lanes and 18-wheelers etc? Do you know anybody with DPW that can confirm that?

          • MT

            I’m sure their intent is not to promote speeding, but that will be the effect. They also must be aware of that effect, but not willing to make any changes to the design to do anything about it.

            I’m sure they thought 12 feet was necessary to accommodate large trucks. It’s not. They can use 11 or 10 foot lanes just as easily, especially when they are given 2 full lanes each direction. All they have to do is drive a little more slowly and carefully, which is a good thing.

          • TakeFive

            I’ll go along with that if Mark Richardson would agree. I’m skeptical that drivers of commercial vehicles would agree with you and have very good reasons… but I wouldn’t be the one to speak for them.

          • MT

            There are plenty of 10 and 11 foot lanes existing in Denver currently. Trucks use them just fine.

  • John Riecke

    God-fucking-damnit. This is horseshit. Our brand-ass new pedestrian street has two-foot fuckin’ sidewalks? We should just have a permanent ciclovia on this damn street. Ignore the city and shut it down.

    • TakeFive

      LOL, you been tippin’ a few? Heh, so long as I can learn something. Actually, it’s CicLAvia and for anyone else as ignorant as I ‘was,’ Wikipedia provided the answer.

      CicLAvia is an Open Streets event held in Los Angeles where streets are closed to motor vehicles and open for the public to walk, bike, and skate through the open streets. Each CicLAvia event is planned by the nonprofit organisation CicLAvia. The event takes place on periodic Sundays, and is open for a predetermined set of hours. This started out as a once-a-year occurrence but later expanded to four times a year.

      • Sally Tomato

        It’s actually ciclovia. LA calls theirs cicLAvia just like Louisville, KY calls theirs cycLOUvia. It’s just a play on the word ciclovia.

        • TakeFive

          Ahh… Thank you. Obviously I had never heard of it and when I searched the initially misspelled version….

  • JZ71

    “Barely fits” is not entirely accurate. Those brown pads, with ADA-required raised, truncated domes, are a part of the sidewalk, making the minimum width 4′. And the other strip of concrete is the new, dedicated bike lane, which is a huge improvement over no bike lane and no sidewalk . . . it’s never “good enough”, is it?!

    • Jamie Perkins

      Other pictures from our stroll. And yes, not being able to walk beside somebody who uses a wheelchair is not good enough. Not meeting the federally mandated standard is also definitely not good enough.

      • JZ71

        Unless I’m mistaken and things have changed, there is no requirement for people to be able to walk side-by-side on a public sidewalk. Is it nicer/better if they can? Absolutely! But it’s not a requirement, at least in the ADAAG:

        (1) At least one accessible route within the boundary of the site shall be provided from public transportation stops, accessible parking, and accessible passenger loading zones, and public streets or sidewalks to the accessible building entrance they serve. The accessible route shall, to the maximum extent feasible, coincide with the route for the general public.

        (2) At least one accessible route shall connect accessible buildings, facilities, elements, and spaces that are on the same site.

        4.3.3 Width. The minimum clear width of an accessible route shall be 36 in (915 mm) except at doors (see 4.13.5 and 4.13.6). If a person in a wheelchair must make a turn around an obstruction, the minimum clear width of the accessible route shall be as shown in Fig. 7(a) and (b).

        4.3.4 Passing Space. If an accessible route has less than 60 in (1525 mm) clear width, then passing spaces at least 60 in by 60 in (1525 mm by 1525 mm) shall be located at reasonable intervals not to exceed 200 ft (61 m). A T-intersection of two corridors or walks is an acceptable passing place.

        • MT

          There’s no requirement that a street be 4, 12 foot wide lanes either.

          • JZ71

            No there isn’t, but every design starts with a set of assumptions, a program. The designer is charged with meeting those requirements, staying with the project’s budget. There’s a difference between a project failing to meet defined standards and what you think the program should’ve been. And since this was a public project with a public process for defining the program, it’s pretty obvious that a) compromises were made and b) not everyone is going to be happy. However, bottom line, it is better than what was there before, it’s an improvement, and, for pedestrians, a big improvement.

          • MT

            And when compromises were made, cars won and pedestrians lost.
            Same old shit.

          • TakeFive

            I never had any problems walking along there when there were NO sidewalks. Looks to me like thing have been vastly improved.

          • MT

            Did you even read the article? It’s pretty clear about what the failures of this are and how they affect people using the street.

            Is it better than the gravel that was there before? Sure.
            Is it anywhere near as good as it should be? No.
            Does it create a lot of conflict between pedestrians, cyclists, and cars because it failed to provide adequate space for pedestrians and cyclists? Yes.
            Is that going to lead to dangerous situations? Yes.
            Was there any reason to skimp on the pedestrian and bicycle space when the entire street was being rebuilt? No.

          • TakeFive

            I don’t have a dog in this but I’m not inclined to let you speak for the commercial truck industry and their drivers. Are there any other arterial roads with freeway access that meet you personal ‘standards’ ?

          • MT

            I don’t need to speak for the commercial truck industry. I can speak from experience as a traffic engineer. I can speak from data and geometry. I’m sure some truckers would complain if the lanes were a foot or two narrower, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. It means they’d have to drive a little slower, and be a little more cautious, which would make the street safer for everyone.

            It’s not my personal standards.
            The city of Denver says it has adopted the design guides from NACTO, but they consistently ignore them. 12 foot lanes are not recommended, even for routes used by trucks.

          • MT


            The sidewalks here are far below accepted standards. Not my personal opinion, industry standards backed up by data.

          • TakeFive

            Oftentimes what makes common sense works much better in real life than what is theoretically possible. This is not just an ordinary urban street; it’s a significant arterial road with nearby freeway access. They also need to accommodate lanes for turning. Having lanes of different sizes in this setting is silly. Trucks won’t just be passing through as there’s a lot of commercial in that area that need be serviced. Arguing over an extra foot on this specific road is also silly.

          • MT

            It’s not silly at all. There are streets of varying lane sizes all over town. You can find 10, 11, 12, 13 foot lanes on Federal alone. One or two less feet per lane wouldn’t make any difference to truck traffic, and would give much needed space back to the bike and pedestrian areas.

            It’s not theory, it’s real world experience. There are plenty of places that get by just fine with streets that are narrower than an Interstate highway.

            There’s nothing extraordinary about this street. Plenty of streets have truck traffic, plenty of streets have access to freeways, plenty of streets have commercial uses. None of that precludes designing a street to be safe for people on foot and on bikes. None of that requires freeway sized lanes. None of that requires giant turn radii at corners.

            Keep coming up with excuses if you want. There is no excuse for using highway standards in an urban area.

          • TakeFive

            11′ lanes would be fine by me; can’t speak to why they used 12′

          • MT

            12 feet is standard and makes sense for high speed freeways. Old (some not so old) engineering manuals start with 12 as the “ideal” or baseline lane width. Many years of traffic engineering were spent applying freeway standards to urban streets, difficult to get people to change their ways.
            With all the hype about this rebuild being multi-modal and having a great cycle path, I can’t fathom why they would still do this. Especially with how little room it left for bike/ped space.

          • JZ71

            Brighton Blvd has historically been a street heavily used by trucks. Designing for large trucks was likely the bigger priority than designing for high speeds. Trucks were once limited in width to 8′ and 40′ in length; they’re now legally allowed to have 8½’ wide bodies, so, with their mirrors, semi trucks are now close to 10′ wide and 60′ long, and 12′ lanes give them enough room to maneuver, safely, side by side.

          • MT

            Gives them room to maneuver without having to slow down, you mean.

            11 or even 10 foot lanes would be just fine. There are trucks, but there aren’t THAT many. They aren’t always side by side all the way down the street. Driving a bit slower if there did happen to be a couple next to each other would not cause any problems. They do it all over town on other streets with narrower lanes.

            The point is, people following your line of thinking, think trucks can’t possibly operate with anything narrower than a 12 foot lane, resulting in a street that’s so wide it will encourage all other drivers to exceed the speed limit on a regular basis, and leave far too little room for sidewalks and bike paths.

            In trying to accommodate trucks, they made a street that’s dangerous for everyone. Not an acceptable design. Vision Zero my ass.

          • JZ71

            Brighton Blvd has historically been a street heavily used by trucks. Designing for large trucks was likely the bigger priority than designing for high speeds.

        • ChrisForDenver

          1- Per Denver’s Pedestrians and Trails report: “The City has current standards for sidewalks consisting of required sidewalk and buffer width that vary by street classification. Only about 5% of the City’s total sidewalk network are meeting the required standards.” (page 8). There’s then a chart, and the minimum width at any location on this chart is 5′.

          2- Same report, next page: “The minimum continuous sidewalk width based on Americans with Disabilities Act design guidance is four feet.” Then there’s a chart, and 40% of the sidewalks in Denver are either “deficient width” or “missing”.

          3- The report also shows that sidewalks are even more deficient in low income areas and areas of health concern.

          Denver isn’t meeting its own expectations on sidewalks.

          ADA minimums are for sidewalks in cities that couldn’t care less about anything other than cars. As an example of ADA’s evolution in thought: ADA’s proposed guidelines, or PROWAG, expand sidewalk minimum widths to 4′ exclusive of curb and obstructions.

          With the City’s public commitment to VisionZero and multi-modal transit, one would expect the City to construct sidewalks with widths greater than ADA minimums. New sidewalks in areas expected to have vibrant pedestrian activation would also design beyond ADA minimums.

    • There is no requirement for the truncated domes between the sidewalk and bike path, try again

      • JZ71

        Never said that there was/is, just said that they do not reduce the required width . . . your turn . . .

        • “with ADA-required raised, truncated domes, are a part of the sidewalk”

          Try rolling your wheelchair on them, as positioned. They have eliminated sidewalk space because some engineer couldnt understand the law

          • TakeFive

            Have you brought this up with DPW?