Since November 2012, downtown Denver’s 14th Street corridor has a fresh and inviting "green" face. The 12 city blocks between Colfax and Market streets have transformed into a pedestrian-oriented, sustainable "living street" that links major cultural and civic institutions like the Denver Performing Arts Complex, the Colorado Convention Center, the University of Colorado Campus, and historic Larimer Square.
Funded by the Better Denver Bond program and the 14th Street General Improvement District (GID), the $14 million redevelopment illustrates the City of Denver’s commitment to multimodal accessibility and environmentally sensitive urban design.
Before upgrades were made, 14th Street was a developing but mismatched corridor of large and small hotels, businesses, and surface parking lots with few trees and dim lighting. Though there were attractions to walk to, it was not an attractive place to walk through, especially at night. The new 14th Street, by contrast, looks and feels like a vibrant neighborhood with several destinations, offering a distinct and memorable experience. The consistent finishes tie together street furniture and wayfinding kiosks mark every street corner, creating a dynamic and welcoming atmosphere. At about 30 feet tall, the kiosks themselves are something to see; they are illuminated at night and provide images and information about nearby attractions.
One of the three original travel lanes was removed to allow for widened sidewalks and the addition of a bicycle lane that connects Cherry Creek trail with Civic Center Park while still maintaining parking on both sides of the street. This change allows motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists to be treated as equally entitled users of the space.
Keeping the street scene lively and pedestrian-friendly was achieved through the creation of tree-sheltered spaces for foot traffic. A new "flex-lane" for a portion of the corridor allows for on-street parking during off-peak hours when people are dining at sidewalk cafes, while helping to move traffic through the area during rush hour. Bulb-outs at most corners create protected, comfortable spaces for pedestrians by decreasing the crossing distance and allowing them to easily look out past parked cars into the street before crossing – and reduces the speed at which turning vehicles move past them around the corner.
Two tiers of investment
The 14th Street Project is succeeding largely because it so closely involved local business owners, allowing them to opt for varying levels of economic engagement. Given the difficult financial climate of 2009, the year the project was launched, some property owners were not convinced that the timing was right for a major investment aimed at improving the streetscape. Surface parking lot owners were especially reluctant to support the high level of proposed street enhancements since they were not anticipating any near-term redevelopment of their properties. To help address this issue, the city worked with Parsons Brinckerhoff and the rest of the planning team to develop a flexible two-stage model that accommodates two levels of investment – standard and premium.
Through the "premium" area of the corridor there are the signature gateway monuments, enhanced wayfinding signage, landscaping, banner poles, and kiosks. In this area, adjacent property owners pay a higher assessment to cover maintenance. Properties in the "standard" area have signature gateway monuments to maintain continuity along the corridor but only basic sidewalk improvements, signage, and lighting, thus paying a lower assessment. The standard area properties are, however, obligated to bring their properties up to premium level when they or future property owners develop the site. Since the property owners are not paying for the premium improvements through the GID, they will be required to finance and install the additional streetscape enhancements themselves.
Between February and June 2009, eight two-hour workshops were conducted with local business owners, city representatives, and other stakeholders. To help demonstrate the economic value and environmental benefits of the proposed design, an animated, virtual 3D model was created to show the project under various scenarios. This public involvement tool greatly contributed to City Council’s endorsement and the successful November 2009 vote in favor of the creation of the special district.
Livability beyond the curb
The 14th Street corridor is the first street in Colorado to be certified by Greenroads, a roadway performance metric developed by the University of Washington. The design for 14th Street includes planters that are large enough to accommodate trees while allowing ample sidewalk space for outdoor cafes. Planting trees ensures plenty of shade along the street. Porous pavers that collect storm runoff and enhance the air and water filtration of the tree roots provide a support system for healthy urban trees.
As with the U.S. Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, Greenroads requires that preference be given to recycled and regional materials as well as infrastructure energy efficiency. Specifications were provided to the contractor to ensure that consideration was given to water use, local materials, recycled materials, and life-cycle cost. These decisions, in addition to decisions made at the planning level about enhancing mobility and improving the economic opportunities on the corridor, were tracked and reported back to Greenroads for its review and certification.
The result is a streetscape that invites visitors to stroll and linger. By linking cultural, civic, municipal, historic, and commercial facilities, the 14th Street Project has met the triple bottom line of sustainability, improving downtown Denver socially, economically, and environmentally.
The redevelopment has won accolades from city officials, business and property owners, and the AEC industry. The 14th Street Project was awarded the Downtown Denver Partnership’s 2010 Presidents’ Award, the 2012 Large Community Project of the Year from the Colorado chapter of the American Public Works Association, as well as the 2012 Colorado Big Project of the Year Award by the Women’s Transportation Seminar. But the most important measure of success, of course, comes from the citizens of Denver, who have been embracing their new downtown, making 14th Street come alive during and after working hours.
Karen Good, AICP, is development and planning supervisor with Denver Public Works, Policy and Planning Division. Jamie Price is area manager for Colorado and Wyoming and Jason Longsdorf is planning manager in the Denver office of Parsons Brinckerhoff. The firm served as the planning and design consultant on the 14th Street Project.