Rick Bragg plans to shut down the National Western Stock Show.
All it would take to prevent thousands of cowboys and cowgirls from moseying up to the January event, he says, is a gang of friends, co-workers and acquaintances willing to "stall" their vehicles in the middle of streets at three key entry points to the Stock Show complex along Washington Street, Brighton Boulevard and 46th Avenue. This diabolical plan would wreak havoc, according to his grand vision, and the chaos would be captured on local -- and national -- TV.
"I understand what it takes to get attention," says Bragg, an ex-con with a degree in criminal justice.
And getting attention is what Bragg says he and his neighbors need if they ever hope to get the city and Stock Show officials to actually spend the nearly $2 million dollars they have allocated to fix the traffic problems that disrupt the neighborhoods of Globeville, Elyria and Swansea every year.
Bragg lives at 4620 Sherman Street, around the corner from 46th Avenue and just down the road and across I-70 from the Stock Show complex. But during the show's annual two-week run -- this year, it's January 6 through 21 -- the city closes East 46th Avenue, which runs underneath I-70, between Humboldt and Washington streets and turns it into a pedestrian walkway. The closure is needed so that people can get from the Coliseum, where rodeo events are held, to the other side of the highway, where the rest of the facilities are located.
Although the police let Stock Show trucks and trailers drive along the closed street, they don't let area residents through, Bragg says. As a result, he and his neighbors have to take lengthy detours or travel on the highway, which is usually clogged with Stock Show traffic, just to get to their homes. A wrong turn can cost him hours, he says.
Denver City Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, whose district includes the Stock Show complex, says she's been working on the problem for about twenty years. "When 46th Ave. is closed, it creates a major inconvenience for the residents, because they have to drive on the raised highway or they have to drive completely around the neighborhood, which is totally out of the way," she says. "I sympathize with the impact they are burdened with."
Ortega wants the city to build a pedestrian walkway to shuttle Stock Show attendees between the Coliseum and the rest of the complex. In fact, it was Ortega who pushed for the inclusion of $970,000 for the construction of a walkway in a 1989 bond issue. The bond issue allotted $31 million for improvements and expansions at the annual show, including Expo Hall and Stadium Hall, which have long since been completed. The 1998 Neighborhood Bond Project added $300,000 to the bridge budget to compensate for inflation, and the city's budget for 2001 includes another $690,000.
Grand total: $1.96 million. Total time elapsed: eleven years. Pedestrian bridge: not yet built.
Patty Weiss, spokeswoman for Denver's public-works division, explains that work on the pedestrian walkway -- which is currently envisioned as a tunnel that would burrow beneath East 46th -- was put on hold while the city waited for the Colorado Department of Transportation to make a decision about widening I-70 at its juncture with I-25, a notorious area known as the Mousetrap. CDOT finally decided to move ahead on the project, so the city delayed the pedestrian underpass again. Because of its familiarity with the area, CDOT is now in charge of the underpass, which it says will be done in time for either the 2002 or 2003 show.
"It's just been unfortunate that it's all been tied to the I-70 work," says Ortega.
Although Paulette Hirsch, who has served as both president and vice-president of the Globeville Civic Association and now sits on the Neighborhood Bond Project Committee, doesn't condone Bragg's plan, she says the issue needs to be dealt with soon. "Rick's a little bit -- how should I say this? -- outspoken," she says. "But it's definitely a problem. The money's been in the bank, so to speak, for eleven years, so you can see how long it's been a problem.
"We live in the middle of the Mousetrap," she continues. "That's not my idea of how to get things done, but you could really shut down the whole city by doing something at strategic locations in this neighborhood."
National Western Stock Show marketing director Marvin Witt, who was recently informed of Bragg's plan, says he will leave the matter to the police.
"I think people need to, before they cry 'wolf,' come out and talk to myself and CDOT," says Witt. "If Mr. Bragg would have done his homework and called me, I sure would have explained to him how things work down here. I think you're dealing with a guy who's not real rational. He's just off in left field somewhere."
But Bragg's not afraid of going back to jail. Why should he be? He's already spent five of his 57 years in Colorado and Florida lockups doing time for robbery.
"I was a career criminal for thirty years," says Bragg, adding that "I've been through rehabilitation classes. That means I'm a 'behavior-modified rehabilitated deviant.'" Now Bragg, who earned a degree in criminal justice from Metropolitan State College of Denver in 1994, works as a courier and window-washer.
"You have to understand, I hope it doesn't come to that," Bragg says of his scheme. "Well, actually, I hope it does. It would be so much fun."
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But he admits that he's trying the less radical course of complaining to city officials, as well, and according to Andrew Hudson, press secretary for Mayor Wellington Webb, Denver is looking into it. Bragg's main suggestion is that special permits be issued to locals who need to drive through the blocked-off street.
The Stock Show's Witt says letting locals pass through the blockade is out of the question, though. "You can't even consider it because it would be so dangerous," he says. "On a peak day with three rodeo performances, at least 24,000 to 30,000 people will walk across the street."
Residents have plenty of alternate routes that in some cases may even be faster than taking 46th, he says. "It's not like taking a bridge out with no way to get to the other side of the river. There's lots of good roads," he says, adding that improvements on I-70, its off-ramps and Brighton Boulevard should allow traffic to flow more smoothly than ever.
He also says Bragg should be more worried about CDOT's plan to close 46th Avenue for a considerably longer amount of time when it wraps up construction around the Mousetrap. "Instead of just two weeks, they're going to live for six months where there won't be [access to] 46th," he says. "That's part of progress."