Major changes not to mention major headaches are in the works at Union Station and along the light-rail corridors around the historic depot, where a new light-rail station is scheduled to debut right next to the Millennium Bridge on August 15. That station, which will replace the current one near Union Station, will connect with the Sixteenth Street Mall shuttle, which is being extended. And that development should bring a lot more foot traffic to the base of the iconic, mast-shaped bridge which is fine, as long as all that traffic doesn't start moving in unison.
While foot traffic per se isn't a problem for the Central Platte Valley Metropolitan District, which operates the bridge and pays for its repair, running and jumping are.
Last year, several exercise and fitness groups were regularly using the scenic bridge and the nearby parks for scheduled outings, but after a few residents complained that it was difficult to get across the bridge during those organized workouts, district officials looked into the complaints. In doing so, the organization a quasi-governmental body that acts like a homeowners' association for people living in the 23-acre Platte Valley community discovered another problem.
"The bridge is not a typical bridge; it's not a suspension bridge," says Amy Cara, president of the district. As a result, "a lot of vibration could create a structural problem, a serious one. That is what our engineers told us." The same is true for the granite steps leading to the bridge, she adds, which simply weren't designed for 200 people to be running up and down at the same time on a regular basis. And if that traffic causes the bridge to crack well, the $10 million structure "is an asset of the metropolitan district, not the city as whole," she explains. Therefore, "it would cost the people in the neighborhood money to fix it, not the city."
So the district board voted to ban exercise groups of any size from using the bridge, and posted signs to that effect earlier this year. "We have had everything from groups of five to groups of 200 or more," Cara continues. "As a quasi-governmental entity, we can set rules, but we can't discriminate between different groups, and we don't intend to. The easiest thing is just to say no to all of them." The district strictly enforces the policy with off-duty police officers who are already paid to patrol the Central Platte Valley area.
One of the exercise clubs, and the largest, that regularly used the bridge was the much-loved and occasionally controversial It Burns Joe Fitness, which is known for its high-intensity workouts running the stairs at Red Rocks. "It was a bummer. We brought a lot of business to those little shops down there," says club founder Joe Hendricks. "But we don't want to cause problems. We left when they asked us to."
Now the group starts its Wednesday workouts, which still attract a couple of hundred people, at the Clocktower on the 16th Street Mall. And on the weekends, It Burns Joe still goes to Red Rocks. In fact, the club was called Red Rocks Fitness until the city asked Hendricks to change the name in order to avoid a trademark-infringement problem, and also to turn off the loud music he was playing. So far, though, he's had no problems on the mall, which is overseen by the Downtown Denver Partnership. "Our workouts are three hours long, and we get all sorts of people watching us," Hendricks says. "It's really a crazy scene."