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#2: More Two-Way Downtown Streets

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discussed in #3, the fact that virtually all of Downtown Denver’s streets are one-way streets is reflective of the outdated mentality that the public right-of-way is all about moving the maximum number of cars from Point A to Point B in the shortest amount of time.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?

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33 Comments

  1. joeindt says:

    Some of the two-way street conversions that have been done around downtown really do go a long way to changing the character of the immediate area. It feels like a neighborhood, and thats the feel we should be encouraging. It would be also cool to add some "ped islands" that allow people to cross half way, the narrow kind anyway. The notion that downtown should be some extension of a suburbanites drive up palace is outmolded. And honestly, the massive one-ways were just a big empty gesture to say "hey, we've done everything we can for your mr driver". They really are not efficient and become easily jammed in critical mass stuff. A person can walk faster than a car in those situations.

  2. Scott Bennett says:

    Here here. I was just thinking of this tonight as I had to drive an extra 5 blocks to get to 15th and Blake, then missed a parking spot because it was across three lanes (the open spot is always on the opposite side to the lane you pick). I can think of a couple other spots where this change might get tricky (like where 17th St splits into 17th Ave and Broadway), but like you said, most of the named streets would be pretty straightforward. It's particularly egregious to have one way streets way up north of downtown into Five Points and RiNo. This would also be a much easier and cheaper change than widening sidewalks or bringing back the streetcars, and in this climate cheaper is better.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Ken,
    Sorry, but you can't have it both ways. If you eliminate some lanes you can't then turn around and make the street two way. It would be a mess! Either leave the streets ths same width but make them two way, or eliminate a lane but leave them one way.
    I know you are part of the "I hate cars crowd" but really, let's get real here. If it is too difficult to drive downtown then people from the burbs won't visit. Unfortunately, the majority of the 3 million metro Denver area residents live outside of downtown, but downtown still needs their money!
    Pre war the downtown area was thriving, and they had a terrible traffic problem even then. The resulting one way streets, "Barnes dance" diagonal cross walks, etc. helped smooth out the traffic flow.
    Going backwards according to you plan is just plain wrong.
    I think your real goal is to make the downtown area look more crowded. Let's focus on getting more residential units downtown to accomplish that goal, and leave the streets alone!

  4. SC48 says:

    Really, all we're talking about here is rush hour. If suburbanites want to come downtown after rush hour, they are not going to experience any serious disruption due to fewer traffic lanes or more one way streets. As for sporting events, Pepsi Center, Coors Field, etc are close enough to mass transit and the highways that most would not be affected by it. As for theater, most seem to park at the DPAC, which is right off speer, so I don't see how this would seriously impact the suburban theater crowd.

    But, as for work, that is a more serious issue. If employees cannot get to work conveniently, more offices may start to move to the tech center, and then all downtown will have done is shoot itself in the foot. I think removing lanes and more one-way streets is a great idea, but perhaps it's something that should wait until after Fastracks is built out (if that ever happens).

  5. Joe Burnham says:

    Similar to this, we have 13th, 14th, 17th, and 18th Avenues, heading in and out of downtown on one-way streets. This serves to breakdown a community feel in Capitol Hill and Uptown.

    Granted, people need to be able to get into and out of downtown, but I'm a fan of mass transit for this, be it the existing modes or adding a streetcar that initiates at a parking garage near National Jewish becomes the dominant means of transportation on Colfax from Colorado to Lincoln.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Interest of Full disclosure I live downtown and have heard some proposals over the years with some of ideas #2, #3 float around. Living downtown I rarely ever drive (with the exception of grocery stores etc). After reading #3 I opted to take a walk for a few blocks with that in mind. Here are some observations which I think make this a challenging issue (keep in mind some of these are exceptions and some of these are quite consistent in many blocks).

    - Larimer, Lawrence, Market, Blake between 15th and 18th provide no incentive to widen lanes, there are already buildings in place with no/minimal store fronts that would benefit from sidewalk widening of any significant proportion, is the sidewalk narrow in some spots yes, but hardly ever used and if it is on one side of the street the opposite side usually boasts a wide sidewalk.

    - The more major problem I see is orientation and location of existing Infrastructure. A significant amount of buildings downtown have underground parking. This comes in two forms, one is like the Tabor Center where it is "traffic orientation neutral", the other is like Writer Square where the direction of the entrance and exit are oriented with traffic. Shifting the direction of traffic or the entry/exit point will create major issues for such buildings, residents, tenants, visitors. Which creates an issue of cost, who will bear the cost of addressing these issues?

    Just my observations.

  7. dwilson says:

    I would argue that the one-way streets actually keep the incompetent drivers out of downtown altogether. How many times have y'all heard "I would like to go downtown, but I am just so confused by all the one-way streets".
    I am for the one-way streets, because without them, I fear the slippery slope of suburban style mega intersections where every direction and turn lane gets its 30 seconds. All it takes is enough complaints or an accident or two and an intersection then gets its own green arrow, then restrictive red arrow, and so on. At that point, the time spent sitting at intersections (see suburbia) would be so great we would miss the opportunity to get around a corner, and have to spend that time going around 4-5 blocks. Those are 4-5 blocks where you can always turn on a red.

  8. BruceQ says:

    I like it! I, of course, am a charter member of the "I hate cars crowd" (grin), but I think converting to two-way will bring more people in than drive people away. And converting a lane to pedestrian use would make it more fun to get out and walk when they do.

    The issue of the existing parking garages' orientation might be problematic, but then, having the extra lane (from #3) might go a long way towards lessening that problem too.

  9. Anonymous says:

    I have to agree with dwilson. I think removing one or two lanes and widening the sidewalks would do far more to enhance the pedestrian environment than turning the one-way streets into two-ways. To me one-way streets are part of what indicate an urban environment, and what allow the stoplights to avoid those dreaded "left turn only lanes" like you find in suburbia.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I agree with Anon at 12:32. I don't necessarily think this will improve anything. It seems more like a personal crusade to rid the world of the automobile. Ken, am I wrong about that?

  11. Eric says:

    agreed. if anything, i think it will add a more city-esque environment to downtown.

  12. Anonymous says:

    in defense of mr. ken…nobody is saying "all" one-way streets should be converted. there could be a MUCH healthier balance than what we see now.

    however, i'd say this could have been lumped together with #3….so that we have room for two more.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I know this relates to nothing of any of the topics in here, but I've heard a few people metion that Denver needs a signature building that will seperate Denver as just a city but unique and interesting city. I really hope one day they decide to build maybe one of the tallest buildings in Denver but I realize its got to look appropiate depending on where they might put this building.. Anyways..it's wishful thinking..I hope you don't mind me babbling about nothing that relatest to any of this street busienss and eliminating streets in denver… I just hope denver doesn't stop growing.. I love this city! It's growing on me more and more that I live here..

  14. Maximus says:

    I agree with turning only some streets into two ways. If we eliminate the third lane and are down to two lanes, making the road a two way might be feasible.

    For reference, I do live out in the burbs, but one ways don't bother me at all. I usually avoid driving downtown and take the train because its more relaxing and I don't enjoy dealing with parking.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Narrow the streets, make them two-way!

    I think it is important to remember Ken didn't say "let's get rid of ALL the one-way streets". I think it would do wonders for downtown to convert SOME of the one-ways to two-ways. Obviously some will (and should) continue to be one-ways. We can narrow some streets, convert some streets, keep some the same, but make an effort to improve the pedestrian experience and overall 'feel' of downtown.

    I will echo what I wrote for #3 – and say this will not necessarily scare suburbanites away from the city. There are other options if parking/traffic scares you. And as dwilson pointed out – many suburbanites hate one-ways!

    I think this would be a great step forward (not backwards, anon 12:32).

    I have often thought many of downtown's one-ways are one-way the wrong way. Seventeenth for example… It should be going towards Union Station! But that another issue! ;-)

    -Holygrail

  16. Dirk Gently says:

    Yeah, I think Ken's plan is slightly too radical. Let me give some examples as to why most of the current layout should remain:

    1. Currently with the one-way set up, it's actually damned fast and easy to go right through downtown if you have to get across the city–which serves not only as a good thing psychologically, but tempts people into attractions and businesses there who might not even know about them otherwise. I lived in several places over the years just east of downtown, but frequently had to commute to Boulder or other westerly locales and back. If you have to get to any part of Denver between Broadway and Quebec (or, at least Colorado), going through downtown (or at least NEAR downtown) is the best way to get there. Making downtown less commuter friendly may mean it's easier for people who live there, but it creates a huge "drive around" area for people who don't.

    2. As much as we need to push downtown into being more of a neighborhood, making it TOO MUCH of a neighborhood defeats the purpose. What you end up with instead is a gated community by proxy: nobody can conveniently enter downtown unless they already live there. Until Fastracks is not only completed but expanded, it becomes inaccessible to some extent (even for people who live in like Park Hill, say) due to the difficulty of getting into and out of Downtown. It's still the downtown of a major city, after all, which is neither Manhattan nor Mayberry. Although I wholeheartedly agree with the criticisms of the problems of all the wide one-ways, eliminating most of them seems to me to create the opposite sets of problems, some of which have already been listed.

    3. I think a good compromise would be to change a handful of the named streets into two-ways, then on (say) 17th & 18th, remove one lane to make a dedicated bus or bike lane. This reduces that swath of people zipping through the city, promotes mass transit, and paves the way for a future implementation of streetcars, since the space is already allocated.

  17. SUBURBANITEMAN! says:

    I just have one question for you city slickers: Why aren't the subways underground? Isn't that a public safety hazard?

  18. Ken says:

    I am intentionally striking a slightly more radical position than I normally would in these Top 10 posts to stimulate discussion and debate, which is exactly what is happening. I appreciate everyone's passion for these issues. THAT'S how we're going to get things changed.

  19. The Dirt says:

    Suburbaniteman – Subways are underground by the definition of the word. We just don't have any subways here because they're too damn expensive and we don't have the critical mass to support a subway/elevated transportation system. Plus there isn't really a point when you have plenty of ROW (right of way) space left by freight train corridors and highways.

  20. SPNowlan says:

    I don't know about everything, but I am very much in favor of double-sided street signs.

    I've walked various numberd streets (mostly 17th through 15th)to and from work for almost four years, and I still can't remember the street sequence because I so rarely see signs telling me what I'm crossing.

    What about having additional pedestrian-eye-level signs also?

  21. Anonymous says:

    Because it's a "Light Rail" not a subway… Not to mention, imagine the expense of digging under downtown just to put the trains down there. Wouldn't make sense.

  22. Anonymous says:

    Dirk Gently –
    I don't think we should be concerned about creating a "drive around area". Downtown is not meant to serve as a highway for commuters. This is why Speer, I-25, Broadway, etc. exist. I don't feel bad at all if people cutting across the sitting don't want to cut through the CBD.

    And you know – everyone insisting that this change will scare all the cars away, well then guess what?? There won't be traffic problems! And then they will all come back!

  23. Anonymous says:

    Anon 10:04 2/4/09,
    Brilliant, scare away all the customers of the hundreds of businesses in downtwown Denver.
    What marketing prowess!
    Did you used to work for Goldman Sachs or Lehman Brothers?
    Great solution, scare all the cars away so we won't have a traffic problem.
    Now tell that plan to all the restaurants, bars, hotels, retail outlets, and public facilities like DCPA.
    Folks, I love all of you dearly, as we all strive to make downtown a rich urban experience, but let's think this one through clearly. OK?

  24. Anonymous says:

    anon 10:46…

    I was being sarcastic. I actually happen to be on of the people that believe narrowing/converting to two-way streets would not scare anyone away and would HELP downtown.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I seem to remember a blog entry a while back about increasing pedestrian desirability and a link to a Downtown Denver Partnership study on the subject. One of the things the study talked about was a more comprehensive parking plan, one that allows people to park near the "entrances" (Speer, Park Ave, 20th) to downtown, and walk from there.

    I believe the study indicated that as much as 25% of cars are "parking space vultures." If the city made steps to discourage long term on street parking, and provided easier and cheaper options for garage parking on the perimeters of town, then people coming in from the suburbs wouldn't have to worry about downtown traffic. By the time they got that far into downtown, they'd be on their feet just like the residents.

  26. joeindt says:

    Downtown easily has the daytime population for a single cut and cover subway line along 16th st. The foot traffic's already there, what else could you want? 3 major transit hubs with a trolley bus that stops at every single block avg about 2 mph connecting them. Although it's better than nothing, the cute factor will wear thin once it becomes overwhelmed and unusable during rush hour once more of the fast track lines become activated. The time to travel end to end is probably greater than driving into downtown by car by most of metro denver, right now. Our transportation system downtown IS a joke. The subway line could be considered a buried light rail and/or street car lines that bypasses the laughable transportation priority we currently provide.

  27. A test blog says:

    A subway is the least of our needs.

    Cutting lanes would be huge. A rich pedestrian experience is an attraction. People will put up with a surprising amount of inconvenience when they are motivated to go somewhere or do something. Decreasing lanes will encourage more interesting uses of streetscape (both in terms of retail and attractions).

    For a model, I would encourage you to visit Portland Oregon.

  28. joeindt says:

    Cutting lanes doesn't imply retail will be added. People don't put up with inconvenience, that's why there is even a train system and wide streets in the first place.

  29. Mymilehi says:

    For those of you who are fearing a complete overload of the 16th Street mall ride line as downtown grows, let me remind you that there is a plan for a downtown circulator, as well as plans to shift retail to the surrounding blocks, away from the mall.

    10-15 years from now, we can expect to see a slight increase in pedestrian traffic, but the infastructure will be there to help support all of that and more. Downtown Denver is, at the very least, a century away from seeing Chicago style crowds. Don't get carried away! We have plenty of time:)

  30. Anonymous says:

    joeindt, I think SOME people don't put up with inconvience. Many people do. The idea is to create an atmosphere WORTH the inconvience.

    I believe there are many people who don't come downtown right now because they 1. don't need to, and 2. find many places downtown unappealing. If downtown were more pedestrian friendly (beyond the 16th street mall), had more retail, had a marketplace, and ALL of these things Ken is listing in his top 10 – I believe more people would come downtown to experience that. And if traffic ever did get bad (it is by no means bad right now), there are other options! So maybe with narrowing some of the streets, and converting some to two-way we will loose those people who like to drive their car around the CBD (for whatever reason), but we will gain those people who are looking for a different expierence out of their downtown. And I believe the latter will out number the former.

    I will bet if we asked on here what blocks are people's favorites that they would list such places as the 16th street mall, Larimer Square, various places in LoDo. These are all streets that are pedestrian friendly – and have narrow(er) roads, wider sidewalks, and often are two-way. Streets such as 19th, or Lawrence (in many places) would not be on those lists. This is because they are six lanes, narrow sidewalks, blank walls, etc.

    Am I wrong?

    -Holygrail

  31. BuildingPlace says:

    Two-way is better for the businesses along these major streets, but if two-way means less on-street parking you're better off keeping the one-way format with on-street parking on both sides.

    Something new that has worked in some situations is to use reverse angle parking, where the driver backs into a 30 to 45 degree angled space. The benefit is that the driver can see oncoming traffic when he or she is ready to leave (instead of backing out into traffic).

  32. Freddie says:

    No no no! You have to be kidding me. Two way streets mean fewer timed lights. It means more congested traffic. It means a MUCH less pedestrian-friendly environment. Have you ever been to a downtown that consists mostly of two way streets? It's terrible. You can't just briskly walk for blocks and get places quickly as a pedestrian. You really can't. You end up getting stopped at every intersection waiting for the signal to change. There are far fewer breaks in the traffic. There are more cars coming from more angles making turns and pulling out of parking spots – more danger outside of your peripheral vision. Pedestrian traffic gets completely bogged down by two-way streets.

    Downtown Denver is relatively pedestrian friendly compared to many big cities. There is an unwritten law enforced by the police that pedestrians always have the right of way downtown. They allow reasonable jaywalking. They pull over cars that drive aggressively around pedestrians and give them the ol' "pedestrians always have the right of way" lecture. And the streets are one-way, with the lights timed in a manor that forces vehicle-traffic to stay bunched together and slowly roll along at 15 – 20 mph. This means huge breaks in slow-moving traffic, coming from fewer directions – making it much safer and MUCH faster for pedestrians to get around. Change those one-ways, into two-ways and that all goes down the tubes; pedestrian traffic gets bogged down.

    Think about uptown/capital hill, where Colfax divides it. I'm sure you know what it's like to walk from say, 19th to 12th:

    18th: major street; tons of traffic; quick and easy to cross.

    17th: major street; tons of traffic; quick and easy to cross.

    Colfax: uh oh. Now were stuck. Huge barrier. I wonder how long we're going to have to stand here with the hot sun beating down on us before we finally get to cross.

    14th: major street; tons of traffic; quick and easy to….well…you get the picture.

    I'm really surprised Ken. From much of what you've written, I would think you have spent a lot of time in other downtowns. Perhpas you've spent too much time in other downtowns as a tourist leisurely wandering the streets as opposed to a local trying to whisk around during his daily routine.

  33. Building Place says:

    The trouble with one-way streets in downtown areas is the tendency to post higher speed limits and time the lights so they become urban expressways.

    http://www.buildingplace.net