Antiquated to Elevated: Over the River and Through the Roads, To Sun Valley We Go

This is part three of the Streetsblog Denver series covering the Elevate Denver General Obligation bond. Every Tuesday, we’ll be looking at and dissecting different biking, walking, and transit upgrades across the city. We’ll explore the planning aspects behind key projects in addition to considering how these changes will affect the lives of people in the communities where they are located. Read part one and part two

As bike ridership in Denver continues to skyrocket with demand only growing during the COVID-19 era, a significant portion of the Elevate Denver bond is set to fund high comfort bikeways across the city, as identified in the Denver Moves Bike Plan. One of the key east-west connection projects focuses on 13th Avenue from Lincoln Street to the Platte River Trail through Golden Triangle, La Alma Lincoln Park all the way to Sun Valley. As of August of this year, the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure had completed these upgrades from Lincoln to Speer, but the western portion of this street transformation has yet to be fully built out. The reconfiguring of this street is going to involve the construction of one-way bike lanes protected by rubber curb strips and bollards on each side of the street as well as filling in missing segments of sidewalks.

On Monday, October 26, Denver City Council did a readthrough of the upcoming projects which are to be funded through the fourth issuance of the Elevate Denver GO Bond. In supporting projects through bonds, the City of Denver is required to spend all of this money over the package’s 10-year lifespan. Rather than spending all $937 million at one time, City Council divides the projects into different waves of funding, which they vote on periodically. The 13th Ave. upgrade is the most expensive project in this upcoming issuance—clocking in at just over $15 million—and it’s particularly important, with $1 million going to specifically upgrading the 13th Ave. bike lanes. While this may seem like just another bike lane, it could finally help people, who happen to live in some of Denver’s most impoverished neighborhoods, safely make their way into Central Denver. 

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13th Ave under I-25

The 13th Avenue upgrade is crucial because it is the only through street that does not use an overpass or underpass to cross the Light Rail, the Main Line railroad tracks, I-25, or the South Platte River, stretching from Golden Triangle through to Sun Valley. The next closest places where people walking and using bikes can cross safely are miles away at either Alameda Boulevard or 15th Street. Currently, there are two shoulder bike lanes on 13th, but they offer little protection or comfort for people using this street when not in a vehicle. Furthermore, for people walking, there are still several sections of the road where the sidewalk ends abruptly, most dangerously where the road narrows to go under I-25 and at both sets of train tracks. From the Main Line railroad to I-25 the “sidewalks” on each side of the road are merely rain gutters that divide large parking lots from the road.

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Sidewalk ending at the Main Line railroad tracks

Just this past weekend, DOTI finished painting lane stripes to mark the bike lanes all the way to the South Platte River. The next step will include adding the bollards and curb strips to this stretch. However, due to the deteriorating nature of the asphalt, the road requires some repaving before the vertical protections can be installed. A representative from DOTI says that this portion will not be installed until next year at earliest; however, when it finally reaches completion, they are certain that “…the protected bikeways will offer people a more low-stress ride.” 

This connection between Sun Valley, La Alma Lincoln Park, and Golden Triangle on 13th has been a long time coming and has support from area residents. Requests to make this narrow arterial a safer route for people biking and walking were identified in the 2010 La Alma Lincoln Park Neighborhood Plan as well as the Federal Decatur Station Plan. On top of that, this new bikeway will connect with the Lakewood Gulch Trail and the Platte River Trail, making this route an integral piece of the Denver region’s bike network. 

The lack of safe and accessible crossings over infrastructure barriers like highways and train tracks has left the Sun Valley neighborhood uniquely cut off from the rest of central Denver. Despite new linkages through the opening of the Light Rail’s W Line in 2013, it is still a challenge to get from Sun Valley to highly-trafficked areas like Civic Center and the Central Business District. On average, more Sun Valley residents live below the poverty line than any other neighborhood in Denver, and a new connection for people walking and biking could be a life-changing improvement for thousands of people who currently lack safe ways to reach their places of work, healthcare facilities, or many of Denver’s cultural institutions.

This multi-modal investment is coming at a particularly pivotal moment in the history of Sun Valley. Thanks to a $30 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, this area is slated to develop at least 750 units of affordable housing. As the population and density goes up in this area, there will be even more people in the area, none of whom should have to play chicken with cars under I-25 or worry about crossing multiple sets of train tracks during the two-mile trip to Central Denver. 

So when will we finally get to see the rest of 13th Avenue—the part not in downtown Denver; the part that actually gives people safe access to jobs, healthcare, schools, and leisure—get this desperately-needed infrastructure improvement? Though the existing upgrade in Golden Triangle is a good start, it is hardly a “bikeway” if it only goes on for seven blocks. From the start of the 13th Avenue upgrades, the city has made it clear that this is an important change to residents on the west side of the Platte who have been asking for a safer connection to Central Denver for decades. Why is it, then, that the residents of Sun Valley and La Alma-Lincoln Park have yet to see their bike infrastructure plans move forward? What we have now isn’t a true bikeway, it’s just more bike lanes downtown. By no means is starting to prioritize bikes and people a bad thing, but if the city really truly plans to use this bond package to create equitable mobility infrastructure, it is imperative that they prioritize the completion of this project. Sun Valley and La Alma Lincoln park have been unfairly cut off from the rest of the City for too long already. 

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the Elevate Denver GO Bond package is $937 billion (when it should have said $937 million).

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