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16th Street Mall Concepts

As a follow-up to the public meeting of a couple weeks ago, the consultant team for the 16th Street Mall urban design plan is preparing to bring current concepts to the public in open houses next Wednesday and Thursday.  Three broad concepts are currently on the table.  These concepts have considered – among other things – the history of the Mall and its materials, the observed manner in which people use the Mall, and the value judgments of a number of constituents of the Mall – including retailers, downtown residents, accessibility advocates, police, RTD, and the BID.

The concepts outline three alternatives for the future of the Mall.  These range from little intervention to consideration of a broader downtown context.  It should be noted that the technical details and block-by-block plans have not been developed at this point – with the intent to gather public input before taking a preferred concept to detailed development.  The options include the following:

(please note, all images are courtesy ZGF Architects and in each case the north side of the street is to the left)

Option 1. 

 021610_Option1

This concept maintains the existing design of the Mall framework, maintaining the median space between the shuttle lanes through the central portion of the Mall.  Efforts would be made to organize furnishings and vendor operations to improve the overall use of the Mall, as well as to mitigate existing accessibility issues, but the design of the street would be largely unchanged.

Option 2.

021610_Option2

The intent of Option 2 is to enhance the use and social opportunities of the Mall through a reorganization of circulation and amenities.  In this concept, the central portion of the Mall would be reconfigured to the assymetric section currently found on both the east and west ends of the Mall – locating the west-bound shuttle lane within the current median (this would not impact the existing trees or lights, as the width of the median is adequate to accommodate the shuttles).

This option would allow restaurant patios on the north side of the street to expand nearly to the existing flow line of the street, while the existing west-bound lane would be used primarily for pedestrian movement.  In cases where restaurant patios are not found, vendor carts and other amenities would located in the north walkway – with pedestrian circulation shifting to the north (as illustrated in the secend Option 3 diagram below).  In addition, a third row of trees is suggested, providing additional shade to the Mall.

The design team has studied the effect of this concept on the paving pattern, and believes that the historic pattern can accommodate the scheme.

Option 3.

021610_Option3

Option 3 takes the previous option to a whole new level, suggesting the relocation of the west-bound shuttle to 15th Street.  The concept does all of the things that Option 2 does, while also allowing for the potential accommodation of bicycles on the Mall.  Further, it places a focus on 15th Street – a place that is almost forgotten when it comes to walkability and retail viability.

Additional information is available on the Downtown Denver Partnership’s website.

It’s an exciting time for the 16th Street Mall, and it’s our time as a community to have a say in its future.  So get on out to the open houses next week or attend future public meetings!  You can also become a friend of the Mall of Facebook and give input that way.  Whatever the medium, just make yourself heard!

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35 Comments

  1. E says:

    Option 4 – get rid of the buses (they are horrible) and add a cable/street car

  2. CN says:

    One problem with the street car idea (on the 16th Street Mall) is its electrification. Neither catenary nor third-rail options would be good here for aesthetic reasons (trees and safety aside).

  3. Shane says:

    Beyond any major overhaul like E suggests (which I think should be in any master plan), Option 2 works best for me – it seems that middle area of the 16th St. Mall is not utilized as much as it would be if the area were to be pushed to the side, as in option 2.

  4. B says:

    I vote for option 2! The median on the 16th street mall today is pretty useless. I would also favor a cable/street car like the central corridor.

  5. Chad says:

    I liked option 2 the most, until I remembered that they plan on redoing parts of 15th street – since they’re doing that, maybe having a bus going on that street would be a good idea to help get people over there?

  6. Anonymous says:

    I’d like to see a hybrid approach with the following changes:

    1. Replace the buses with a streetcar network.
    2. Move the eastbound streetcar line to 17th street, and the westbound line to 15th (or possibly even 14th/18th) so as to help revitalize a wider swath of the downtown area.

  7. Shane says:

    I agree that the 15th St. bus would help 15th St., but traveling in the opposite direction that the shuttle bus on 16th St travels would be much less convenient than it is currently. I could realistically see 16th st. mall businesses fail due to change. For example, if you work in The Republic Plaza, would you travel to Rock Bottom for lunch? With a shuttle, sure. Without one, unlikely.

    Also, isn’t a downtown “circular” supposed to be implemented some day that could potentially go down 15th St.?

  8. Charles says:

    The 15th Street idea is interesting, but as I noticed this weekend, there’s hardly anything on 15th Street that would be of interest to pedestrians. There are too many empty lots and not enough ground-floor retail. Denver would need to get a lot of developers committed to 15th Street if they ever wanted that plan to succeed.

  9. Matt says:

    I agree with E! Ditch the buses for a street car

    …can you say “80’s cow-town relics?”

  10. MarkB says:

    Option 3 is unworkable for the reasons cited by other posters: there’s nothing on it until you get to Arapahoe. Also, putting bicycles on the mall is a very bad idea, for reasons of safety. Bicycles make very little noise, and since a lot of people tend to be unaware of their surroundings on a street that is not a normal street with cars on it, it would lead to plenty of bicycle/pedestrian collisions. Currently bicycles are allowed on Sundays, but the rule allowing them was implemented at a time when the mall was a lot quieter on Sundays than it is now. Although I’ve ridden up and down the mall on plenty of Sundays, I would not be upset if the current no bicycling rule was extended to all seven days.

    Option 2 is probably the best choice. The original design of the mall called for symmetrical blocks for the retail core, which then ran from Arapahoe to Court (although they made the transition at Tremont), because merchants feared that having trees close to the storefronts would impair views of storefronts. The retail community is very different now, and the kinds of retailers/restaurants that currently line most of the mall would greatly benefit from the change. Stores and restaurants on the southwest side of the street would not benefit, but they would not be hurt, either. The center lane in the symmetrical blocks is not used as Cobb intended, probably because of societal changes. In the 1980s when the mall was new it was very common to see brown-baggers sitting on the benches. Not so much now, because there are more restaurants with more people eating in them.

  11. Matt Pizzuti says:

    I commented more extensively on this on another forum and I don’t want to repeat everything I said.

    But I will just say that I dislike option 3 for two reasons. First, having to go around the entire loop just to get back a block is more than inconvenient, and while it is easy for us to say that “fifteenth street is just a block away,” that’s not how it functions psychologically.

    Second, I cannot support cutting down trees that took 25 years to grow and define the 16th Street Mall as a shady, human-scaled place, even if new trees are planted. A third strip of trees would be fine, but I don’t want to loose greenery that’s already there.

    I like option 2. I’m definitely in favor of pushing the bus lanes together and expanding the heavily-used walkways. The middle walkway (currently) is rather useless because it is too small and surrounded by busses.

  12. Lisa says:

    Huh. Honestly I would like to kill the buses (push them to 15th and 17th) and make it fully ped. I love bikes but there’s a reason they’re not allowed on most ped malls, they move faster and differently than peds do. I could see a central median with trees and pushcarts and more permanent installations and peds on either side. Frankly, the buses are terrifying to have that close to people and made the median unusable.

    I really think if both E and W buses were pushed a block off people would still use them – easier to walk laterally over, hop on the circulator and walk over a block than walk over 4 blocks as a ped.

    I guess – Option 2? I’m not in love with any of them.

  13. ohwilleke says:

    I’ll pile on. A 15th Street Mall Shuttle (aka Option 3) is a bad idea because there is nothing but parking lot on much of 15th Street, which makes it a safety problem at night. A 15th Street mall shuttle would also disrupt rush hour XYZ stop city bus lines.

    Re: Electrification. This is a minor concern on the 16th Street mall because the average ridership is so high that the fuel efficiency per passenger mile on this route exceeds that of any other bus route in RTD, and alternative low emissions vehicles (hybrid/natural gas) can be and are used on this route. The ridership factor probably overwhelms any pollution or fuel efficiency gains relative even to electrified light rail.

    The omitted fact from Option 1 v. Option 2 is cost. Option 2 is much more expensive and disruptive, and change for changes sake isn’t necessarily a good idea when we have tight public sector budgets. Maybe Option 2 would have been better than Option 1 starting from scratch, but we aren’t starting from scratch. The alignment of the 16th Street mall bus lanes should not be anywhere near the top of the priority list for issues facing RTD, the City and County, or the downtown area. The status quo may not be optimal, but it isn’t seriously broken.

  14. landarch says:

    i have to agree here that moving the shuttle to 15th street might not be the best idea. the shuttle currently works great if you want to just hop down a few blocks, especially when it’s cold. considering that a large chunk of visitors to the mall are tourists, making them walk further might be a tough sell (even though i fully support people getting more exercise!).

    that being said, the idea of creating a dedicated bus lane and livening up 15th (and 17th) would be stellar! there are already so many bus routes that use those streets it just makes perfect sense. and with the upcoming revitalization of 14th street, 15th is quickly going to become the hole in the donut for downtown denver! a separate project maybe, but still worth pursuing.

  15. ZenKaos says:

    I would rather walk 7 blocks in the rain than ride the nasty mall shuttle. If the goal is to enhance the pedestrian experience, then I would go with option 2 to open up more ped space by finally utilizing the median to its full potential, keep the buses for people w/ mobility issues or who are traveling the lenght of the mall and don’t let bikes on the mall. Pick 14th/15th and 18th/19th as the trasit corridors w/ some combination of shuttles or street cars (with stops every 3-4 blocks) and bike lanes.

  16. Chad says:

    landarch, thanks for reminding me it is 14th and not 15th street that they are redoing.

    If the buses went both directions down 15th, I think it would be a little more appealing. Don’t forget that there are some interesting areas more northwest down 15th street… though maybe transit along the upgraded 14th street area may be a better idea. I don’t know if that would promote a lot of growth on 15th street, though.

  17. Patrick says:

    Option 2 but with bus lines changed into 2 loops:

    BLUE Loop:
    From Union Station Light Rail Station
    16th Street Mall
    Right on to Broadway
    Right on to Cheyenne Place
    Right on to Colfax Ave.
    Right on to 15th
    15th Street
    Right on to Wewatta
    Left on to 16th Street
    Back to Union Station Light Rail Station

    ORANGE Loop:
    From Union Station Light Rail
    16th Street Mall
    Right on to Blake St.
    Left on to 14th St.
    14th Street
    Across Colfax on to Bannock St.
    Left on to W. 14th Ave.
    Left on to Lincoln
    Left on to Colfax Ave.
    Right on to Cleveland Place
    Left on to 16th Street Mall
    16th Street Mall
    Until Union Station Light Rail Station

    Advantages:
    Does not change Option 2 at all.
    14th, 15th & 16th Streets all enjoy transit service.
    Civic Center included in one loop.
    Makes use of current one-way streets.

    Disadvantage:
    A few sharp left and/or right turns.
    May require more buses to keep interval waits brief.

  18. Marcos says:

    Seems to me in Option 3 the bus route would be in the opposite direction: westbound on the mall, eastbound on 15th. With the transportation center at Union Station, I’d come into town there in the am, get on the 15th St. bus to my work/play destination uptown. At lunch and after work, I’d ride westbound on the mall looking for food and cocktails to keep me from going home. Just sayin.

  19. Tyler says:

    I’m liking option 2, with perhaps changes to bus service to go onto 15th and/or 14th. But definitely want 2-way service on 16th.

    I’m strongly opposed to bikes on the mall. They already make life difficult enough for peds when they ride on the sidewalk on other streets.

    I’m also strongly opposed to one-way bus service on 16th and having to go to another street to catch it the “other” way. This is a huge psychological barrier.

    I don’t think 17th needs bus service–it’s a business street, not for retail. The ballpark area could sure use a bus connection, though.

    I also think a cable-car would be awesome on the mall, and Denver was silly to have gotten rid of them in the first place. But I strongly doubt they will come back due to costs. I do think it would be neat if we could come up with something that _looked_ more attractive than a bus, though.

  20. coloradogirl says:

    Option 2 makes sense in order to activate the median spaces more than they currently are, however, even though they say the busses will fit there, this option requires a retrofit of the subbase to accommodate the additional weight. In addition to the monetary cost, can the trees survive this new disturbance and compaction?

    I also agree with ohwilleke, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. It doesn’t function perfect all of the time, but it is one of the most popular destinations for visitors to denver, despite its shortcomings.

    And a final thought, have you ever driven on 15th during rush hour? It creeps along, adding shuttle busses to the existing busses and traffic would make it worse.

  21. BS says:

    I thought the Denver area plan was to start “celebrating the personality” of the historic cross streets like Welton, California, Wynkoop, Blake, and Larimer streets using 16th street as a spine (count out option C). I don’t think 16th is mentioned in the comprehensive bike plan, but bikes would be hazardous. Cross streets are the natural place for walkable growth and street cars. Cross streets will naturally fill in within a few blocks of the 16th street mall ride toward other destinations such as Coors field or the convention center. We could add more spectacles and change street patterns within 3 blocks of the mall to help the cross streets, but I don’t see the point in trying to find schemes to activate 15th, 18th, or 19th without a lot more density. 14th and 17th could participate due to the existing buildings, office workers, and tourists. 15, 18th & 19th are doomed to be transit corridors until we get a lot more density downtown or until traffic from cross streets fill them in. With light rail and population growth, the 16th street mall will be dangerously crowded, and people will start choosing to improve and walk down cross streets, at which point we can add circulators on transit corridor streets that don’t stop every block.

    Option B would help with safety, encourage street performers, and allow better mall kiosks as mall density increases. Widen the walkways, and please don’t forget about the bike plan. Keep both buses in both directions on 16th, or remove them from 16th street altogether. I am glad the buses are there because the mall is so big, but usually, I get within a block of where I’m going before a bus comes or only take the bus half way so C would not be much help.

  22. Patrick says:

    15th Street is definitely very underdeveloped right now. But since 16th Street is mostly developed (with some points still in need of redevelopment), and since 14th Street is already enjoying a huge building boom and an upcoming massive makeover, 15th Street will become increasingly the “doughnut hole” desperately in need for redevelopment. Creating a “BLUE Loop” (as I suggested above in my support for Option 2) will give 15th Street its own shuttle bus line which would encourage and speed redevelopment. Rush hour traffic on 15th Street is certainly a major concern. Perhaps a dedicated shuttle bus/RTD Bus/right-turn-only right lane all along 15th Street?

  23. Aaron says:

    A lot of the comments on Option 3 are related to transit. The 18th street circulator which goes down 18th and 19th is due to start when the West Corridor opens in 2013. So the commuters on 17th, 18th, and 19th, may not have to do any extra walking.

    So the extra block would only really impact mall users. If it leads to a revitalization of 15th street and more infill along that corridor starts to occur the mall users may actually like going down 15th. As it stands now it would be a boring ride and give a bad impression of Denver. So it’s definately risky.

  24. Shane says:

    I generally agree with Patrick – option 2 w/ using two other streets. Personally, I think 14th should be used E-bound, and 20th W-bound.

  25. Patrick says:

    (Still pushing my “BLUE Loop/ORANGE Loop” idea!) — As more and more commuters flow back and forth between downtown Denver and Union Station in the coming years, the 16th Mall bus (along with 17th/18th/19th street circulators) will be in ever increasing demand. Using a double-loop for 16th Street Mall (as I suggested in my original entry yesterday) allows for a doubling of commuter flow in both directions (eastward on 16th and 14th, westward on 16th and 15th). 15th Street would remain a major transit artery even as it would begin to redevelop. Westward traffic on 15th would accommodate the increasing number of tourists & conventioneers going to DIA by way of Union Station once the DIA light rail is in service. 14th Street as “Ambassador Row” would transport tourists & conventioneers eastward to the convention center and cultural center of Denver and then back again all along 16th Street Mall. Those staying in the hotels on 14th street could either take this loop all the way around back through the 16th Street Mall to Union Station, or they could walk one block to 15th for a more direct shuttle ride to Union Station.

  26. Patrick says:

    Tourists and conventioneers arriving from DIA at Union Station on the DIA Light Rail could then easily take the ORANGE Loop to the hotels and convention center on 14th St.

  27. Edward says:

    People use the shuttle. It is easy to understand and does not, as currently routed require any route information. It is something that works, which questions attempts to move it to different streets. It took almost thirty years for 16th St. to be the success it is today. 15th and 17th right now do not have the ammenities nor the deisred destinations that 16th has. That being said, the current median is silly- except for it keeps 16th from feeling like a street. Consider all the people who turn on to 16th in Lodo because nothing sets it apart from the grid. Also bikes and pedestrians have a hard time together. The segregation of the Cherry Creek Trails work well. Option B is probably best, but frankly I don’t see a gamechangin’ great idea in any of them.

  28. Mike Shoup says:

    I vote option #2. Then add cycle tracks to 15th and 17th streets. This isn’t just bike lanes. Cycle tracks would be completely segregated facilities from car traffic that could even have their own signaling.

    I agree, bicycles shouldn’t mix with ped mall traffic, but I still think it could be easier to get around by bicycle.

  29. Kelly says:

    I am not an urban planner by any means, however my impression of making someplace more pedestrian friendly means making it someplace pedestrians would want to be. This means no bikes, I am 100% in support of bikes in the urban core, just not on the pedestrian mall. Pedestrians want to be someplace that is visually pleasing as well, this means getting rid of the ugly buses and replacing them with street cars that will actually draw people in. I am not sure realigning the lanes is the best use of the money. Focus on cleaning it up, more planters, maybe a water feature, outdoor art.

  30. J A says:

    I think there is room for both a 16th shuttle for daily retail, lunch, dinner and eventually (5-10 years +/-) a circulating line along 15th/17th to deal with commuting(possibly joining up with a future Colfax rail or bus lane).

    As for 16th right now, take a lesson from the Writer Square redo… Don’t mess too much with what is already working. It may not be to everyone’s ideals, but overall it works pretty well. It may not be the quaintest or latest streamlined bus/rail but it is a transit core right through the heart of downtown that is insanely simple to use. Can you really ask for much more especially when we have much bigger transit fish to fry in this city than expensive redo’s of what is already there?

    That said, the city does need “depth” beyond 16th/17th. Once it gained momentum 14th is turning around pretty quickly. I’m guessing that Union Station is going to deflect some development along 15th for a few years. While it would take a decade or two, generating other transit and pedestrian paths through the city will likely help that.

    No Bikes on the mall. I ride myself, but it’s a bad idea for that segment. As others have said, possibly on 15th and 17th.

    Don’t lose any existing trees!!!

  31. Matt says:

    Something to keep in mind – RTD just spent a decent chuck of change on overhauling the 16th Street buses – I doubt they’ll let them go by the wayside that easily.

    I like the Mall Shuttle – It’s free, convenient, easy to understand (even for tourists) and is busy at any given point during the day. I’ve heard the buses are a maintenance nightmare, though, and those shifts have got to be the most boring route to drive for RTD Drivers.

  32. Patrick says:

    Option 2 (or even Option 1) with my above suggested “BLUE Loop/ORANGE Loop” does not make the 16th Street shuttle any more complicated for commuters/conventioneers/tourists on 16th Street itself — the mall shuttle would still be going back and forth on 16th Street just as it is doing right now. Even if someone mistakenly stayed on the shuttle leaving the 16th Street mall in either direction, they could easily exit within easy walking distance of a return shuttle. And if someone mistakenly took the ORANGE loop from Union Station instead of the BLUE loop, they could easily exit anywhere along 14th Street and be within 2 blocks of 16th Street.

  33. ZenKaos says:

    I was just at the corner of 16th and Tremont (where the mall transitions from the larger median to the narrower one they propose to emulate for the entire mall in option 2) and I gotta say I think I’ve changed my mind to option 1. The additional amount of sidewalk gained by shifting the alignment is like 5-6 feet. It just doesn’t seem worth the cost. Reconfigure the granite blocks, benches, trash can and other pedestrian impediments in the median to make it streamlined linear walkway. I hate to say this, but just tear out the grantie pavers in the bus lanes if maintenance and poor traction are the real issues, and poor some stained, patterned concrete to look like the rest of the mall. Spend the money saved on upgrading signage, plants, lighting, trash cans and other cool urban stuff. Then take the extra granite pavers and completely redo Writter’s Square in a way that isn’t horrible.

  34. 16th Street works well as it is. The only time I saw it “struggle”, and only in the terms of it being like in a huge city, was during the DNC, and even then it functioned moderately well. They should save their money and work on activating the cross streets, turn the parking lots to parks and plazas and clean up 15th street. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And frankly, I have no faith in Denver’s ability to spruce up already nice looking places. Writer’s Square, anyone? I realize that was a private investment, but it could be the start of a trend.

  35. ohwilleke says:

    If we are going to expand transit downtown, 15th Street is not the place to start. We have cultural options on 14th Street to connect. We have a disproportionate share of office space along 17th and 18th Streets.

    What 15th Street needs before it gets better transportation is more places that are worth going to.