By Matthew Van Deventer
“Pedestrian friendly” is not a phrase typically used to describe West Colfax Avenue. However, the West Colfax Business Improvement District (BID) is tackling that challenge and making changes to their stretch of Colfax that will improve the lives of walkers and cyclists and benefit business.
Dan Shah is the executive director of the West Colfax BID and the guiding force of Re-Imagining West Colfax, the BID’s project to transform the corridor with new development, art, bus shelters, and pedestrian accessibility.
“Historically, transportation engineers have been reluctant to do anything besides accommodate the automobile,” explains Shah. “There has been a shift in the way [Denver] thinks, and it’s an evolution, but you can definitely see evidence of it around town.”
Changes on the corridor, which is roughly bordered by Sheridan Blvd. and Zuni St., are in the beginning phases of surveying and planning. Shah recognizes the difficulties in making changes to major roadways. There are many factors to take into account; for example, adding a bike lane may be great for cyclists, but it may require taking away a left turn lane and causing more traffic.
“There are sort of cascading repercussions of everything you do and that needs to be vetted with everybody,” says Shah.
In the summer and fall of 2014, the West Colfax BID teamed up with WalkDenver, PlaceMatters, and a planning methods class from the University of Colorado Denver to audit the pedestrian environment of the historic avenue, specifically between Sheridan and Federal Blvds. The results were not positive.
The study looked at 1,532 data points that were collected between Sheridan Blvd. to the west, Zuni St. to the east, 19th Ave. to the north, and 10th Ave. to the south. Students and trained neighborhood volunteers used an app on their phones to make note of conditions pertaining to sidewalks and intersections within the study boundaries.
The average rating for both sidewalk and intersection quality was 2.7 (with 1.0 being the worst rating and 5.0 being the best rating). Sidewalks and intersections received a quality rating of three 75 percent of the time and two or less more than 40 percent of the time, according to the study.
The study also found that 61 percent of sidewalks have no buffer between the street and only 24 percent of intersections have a crosswalk. Unsafe driving behavior, such as speeding or not obeying traffic signs, is another major issue in in the corridor, along with unsafe crossing distances at intersections. At points, Colfax opens up to five lanes, making crossing time consuming and dangerous.
This month, Shah and the BID will be engaging with businesses and residents to present the study and get their input on what kind of changes they would like to see. A party slated for August will showcase potential improvements. One example is installing temporary bulb-outs or sidewalk extensions at intersections that that make crossing the street quicker and safer. Shah hopes to entertain the idea of a protected bike lane and more crosswalks as well.
“We want to make sure what we are proposing and what we demonstrate in the design in August, actually has the potential of going long-term,” said Shah.
From there, the BID will meet with city planners, the Colorado Department of Transportation, and designers to figure out what exactly they need and what steps they need to take to make it happen. ■