There are many things that make Denver a great city — and Colfax Avenue is definitely one of them. Running through Aurora, Denver, Lakewood and Golden, this 26-mile-long continuous strip carries a rich history of Colorado's people and transit. Non-profit organization WalkDenver wants to highlight this thoroughfare while also trying to work out new ways to make the automobile-heavy route more friendly and safe for pedestrians. So tonight WalkDenver will host the I Walk Colfax Gala at the Sie FilmCenter, a fundraiser and awareness-building evening centered on turning Colfax into a premier pedestrian walkway. In advance of the benefit, Westword spoke with Jill Locantore of WalkDenver about what it means to make a street walkable.
Making Colfax more walkable means making it safer for pedestrians, cars, bicycles and transit to coexist:
Working with existing roadways but improving the safety and efficacy of them is what will ultimately make Colfax a place pedestrians want to be, according to Locantore. "Enhanced pedestrian crossings including bulb-outs (curb extensions) that help shorten the crossing distance, median islands that help provide a safe refuge in the middle of the road, art, expanded sidewalks, greenery — these are all different elements that could make Colfax feel like a really great place to be on foot," she says.
Walkability means working hand-in-hand with those transit systems already in place:
Because Colfax is a main roadway that connects so many cities in the metro area, its 15 bus line is one of the most heavily used routes in operation in Colorado. But what happens when riders get off the bus? How do they stay safe and mobile? "Pedestrians are faced with challenges when they get off the bus, because the half of walkability is having good, safe, comfortable infrastructure for people," says Locantore. "That means implementing things like nice wide sidewalks that are ADA accessible for people with mobility impairments, but it also means safe crossings so they can get from one side of the street to the other."
Making Colfax walkable connects communities across the city:
Colfax was made famous as the premiere route for automobiles to enter the metro area, but it has gone on to become a roadway for everyone. "Colfax has a great place in Denver's imagination and our history and our culture," says Locantore. "Over time it has evolved — now it is one of the major transit corridors. It cuts through so many different types of neighborhoods — it connects the east side of town to the west side of town to downtown. It touches people from all walks of life. We feel like if we can make Colfax a premiere pedestrian corridor, that's a huge win for the city and a model that could be applied to some of our other major arterials, like Federal Boulevard or Colorado Boulevard."
Making Denver more walkable helps the city grow in a healthy way:
When pedestrians feel safe to walk along busy streets, they walk more — and this can mean less driving and more exercise. "Our vision is to make Denver the most walkable city in the country," says Locantore. "We believe that in doing so, we will make Denver residents healthier and happier and the city will be more prosperous — we work toward that vision by advocating for policies and practices and ultimately investments by the City and County of Denver that will make the city more walkable."
Being a walkable part of the city means having destinations that people want to walk to:
As Denver grows, so does its need for walkable destinations. "We're seeing more and more of that with all of the infill and redevelopment that is happening in Denver," Locantore says. "People have destinations to walk to. Colfax Avenue is a great example — there's more and more restaurants and shops and movie theaters and places that people want to get to on Colfax and they want to be able to walk there because they either live close by or they are using transit."
In the end, it's the city's job to implement many changes to Colfax — but pedestrian advocacy will help Denver get there:
The City of Denver is in charge of these road improvements, but that doesn't mean people's voices can't drive the change. "Ultimately, it is the city's responsibility because they own the public right-of-way, so they're responsible for managing it in a way that accommodates the needs of the community," says Locantore. "We're looking for them to change their policies for how roadways should look and feel: prioritizing people vs. bicycles vs. transit vs. cars and investing money in a way that reflects those priorities. It's about making sure that people are the most important element on Colfax."
The I Walk Colfax gala will roll out at 6 p.m. tonight at the Sie FilmCenter, 2510 East Colfax Avenue, and celebrate the longest main street in America with drinks, appetizers and a chance for people to learn more about creating safer ways for pedestrians and traffic to coexist. Short films about Colfax submitted by the community will be shown, and winners will be awarded prizes for the best clips. Through WalkDenver’s advocacy, Locantore says, the people of Denver can have a direct impact on the creation of wider sidewalks, protected crosswalks and more accessible avenues that make pedestrians a priority. Tickets are $50; to purchase them or get more information, go to WalkDenver's website.
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