Redesign of 16th Street Mall will Improve Walkability
DENVER — Last week, the City and County of Denver and the Regional Transportation District (RTD) agreed on a design for reconstruction of the 16th Street Mall that would expand sidewalks for walking, café seating and other activities, and move transit lanes to the center or offset-center of each block. The goal of the redesign is to enhance the Mall experience for visitors as well as improve pedestrian safety and mobility on the city’s most transit-rich street.
The proposed design would update and modernize the 35-year-old Mall’s deteriorating infrastructure, while honoring its iconic look. It is a modified version of one of the options released in October 2017, refined this winter based on input from downtown workers, Mall businesses and the broader community.
The announcement is a milestone in a broad effort to rethink the 16th Street Mall — one of the city’s most vital connectors and important public spaces. This phase of Mall design is part of a federal process as outlined by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The NEPA effort is led by the city and RTD, in partnership with the Downtown Denver Partnership (DDP), the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District, the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) and the Federal Transit Administration.
“We’re keeping the best parts of the Mall, while revitalizing an amazing public space and public amenity,” said Brad Buchanan, executive director of Denver Community Planning and Development.
Reconstruction will ensure the continued mobility and reliability of the Free MallRide buses. More than 40,000 riders take the Free MallRide each day, making the 16th Street Mall the busiest transit street in the RTD system. By 2035, the number of daily riders will exceed 70,000. With the updated design, the northeast- and southwest-bound buses would operate in adjacent lanes in the center of the Mall, shifting to slightly off-center lanes in the historically asymmetrical blocks.
“As pedestrian traffic and ridership grow in this crucial corridor in the years ahead, our agency is pleased to be working thoughtfully with our partners in determining the best path forward,” said RTD CEO and General Manager Dave Genova. “We believe the public will appreciate the changes that have been proposed.”
The recommended alignment will improve safety for pedestrians by offering wider pedestrian zones, trees and historic lights as new visual and physical buffers between bus lanes and sidewalks, and fewer points where buses and pedestrians must cross paths.
The recommended design honors the iconic look of the Mall. It will retain the street’s patterned “carpet,” originally designed by landscape architect Laurie D. Olin of Hanna/Olin and architect Henry N. Cobb of I. M. Pei & Partners to evoke a Navajo blanket and the floor of the Pantheon. The recommended design includes more trees than exist on the Mall today, with a goal to expand the tree canopy in line with the 2017 Outdoor Downtown Plan for parks and public spaces.
“The 16th Street Mall is Denver’s Main Street, serving millions of people each year. We are proud to have worked with our Mall partners and stakeholders to develop a clear recommendation for its sustainable and successful future,” said Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership.
This spring, Mall partners will publish an environmental assessment on the proposed action and its benefits and impacts. If the project is approved, phased reconstruction would begin in 2019 or early 2020 and finish in 2022.