Much like the number of traffic lanes discussed in #3, the fact that virtually all of Downtown Denver’s streets are one-way streets is reflective of the outdated mentality that the public right-of-way is all about moving the maximum number of cars from Point A to Point B in the shortest amount of time.
Given that the 16th Street Mall is not accessible to cars, three blocks separate 15th and 18th as parallel northwest-bound streets, and three blocks separate 14th and 17th as parallel southeast-bound streets. Add in the fact that the named cross streets are also alternating one-way streets, and it is quite easy to find yourself in a situation where you may have to drive four or five blocks out of your way just to get around the corner. The superblocks created by the Colorado Convention Center and the Denver Performing Arts Complex, also bordered by one-way streets, further complicate the matter. I’m not necessarily proposing that every one-way street in Downtown be converted to two-way, but many of them could be, particularly the named streets.
Wynkoop, Wazee and Glenarm seem to function just fine as two-way streets, and I can easily envision Larimer, Lawrence, Arapahoe, Curtis, Champa, Welton, and Tremont converted to two-way streets as well. Stout and California would probably have to stay as one-ways given the presence of the light rail tracks, as well as Market and Blake given how they feed into Auraria Parkway. On the numbered streets, even just one lane in the opposite direction on 15th, 17th, 18th and 19th would be a big help in avoiding the multiple-block “loop around” due to the Mall. Finally, 14th Street would make a great two-way street. With the plan to rebuild 14th and streetscape it as Downtown’s pedestrian-friendly cultural corridor, slowing down traffic and providing two-way access along 14th would be a logical complement to the planned physical improvements.
Again, this is a situation where our Downtown infrastructure has been designed to accommodate the automobile to such a degree that street name signs don’t even appear on the “back” sides of traffic signal mast arms since, one would hope, no cars would ever be traveling the wrong way on one-way streets to see the back sides. The only problem, as you know, is that pedestrians are not restricted to walking only one way on the sidewalk. Nevertheless, here we are in 2009 and if you’re a pedestrian walking on the sidewalk in the opposite direction of traffic on a Downtown Denver one-way street, in order to know the name of the cross street you’re approaching, you still have to cross the street and then look back over your shoulder to see the street name sign. How silly is that?
It’s a well-known fact that cars travel more slowly on two-way streets; a benefit to pedestrians. And while there is a certain easiness and predictability about crossing a one-way street as a pedestrian, having to look both ways before venturing into the crosswalk on a two-way street is hardly a big deal. Cherry Creek North thrives as a pedestrian-oriented district, and all its streets are two-ways. The time has come for us to reclaim Downtown Denver’s streets and make the pedestrian the priority in Downtown. A slight inconvenience to drivers? Perhaps, but too bad. Cars rule just about everywhere else in our society, why can’t we identify a few special places where the pedestrian can rule?