Denver Street Changes and Putting Santa Fe on a "Full Road Diet"

Adding paint to turn lanes is a low-cost, traffic-calming strategy endorsed by Denver Streets Partnership.
Adding paint to turn lanes is a low-cost, traffic-calming strategy endorsed by Denver Streets Partnership.
The City of Denver just issued its 2020 report for Vision Zero, a five-year action plan launched in 2017 with the self-described goal of "eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries by making our roadways safer for everyone."

Fatalities are still a long way from zero; 57 people died in Denver traffic crashes in 2020. While that's an improvement over the seventy traffic deaths counted in 2019, a major factor was undoubtedly reduced vehicular volume that resulted from the temporary shutdowns and rise in remote work prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic — and no one hopes that will become an annual event.

In the wake of the latest Vision Zero report, we reached out to Jill Locantore, executive director of Denver Streets Partnership, which dubs itself "a coalition of community organizations advocating for people-friendly streets in Denver." Each year, the partnership issues a report card to grade the city's Vision Zero performance (here's a previous example); the group's next release is scheduled for May 19. In a preview, Locantore offers kudos for the city's efforts to increase safety on two of the city's most heavily traveled routes, East Colfax Avenue and Santa Fe Drive, which she says was put on a "full road diet."

According to Locantore, that term revolves around "the idea that the street is really overbuilt. It's got more lanes than are really necessary to move the volume of vehicular traffic, and that contributes to the danger of the road. The wider the road, the faster the cars go, so repurposing that space for people walking, biking and using transit supports the way people are getting around and makes the road safer for everybody."

The Vision Zero program aims to "encourage safe speeds through corridor-wide traffic calming on at least two corridors a year, and the one on East Colfax used low-cost interventions: paint and plastic bollards to redesign numerous intersections," she continues. "That reinforces lower speeds and makes pedestrian crossings safer."

A similar approach was taken to "Santa Fe in the arts district," Locantore points out. "They removed a lane, which calmed the speeds and created more space for people walking along the corridor."

Denver Streets Partnership would like to see more projects like these, and Locantore is encouraging the city to increase its target of two corridor improvements per annum, since "both of these projects demonstrate that you can do quicker, lower-cost projects that have a major impact on safety," she says. "Ultimately, we'd like to see those changes implemented in a more permanent manner, with concrete and changing the curbs, but we know that takes more resources and time. In the interest of saving more lives sooner, we'd love to see more of these low-cost projects implemented throughout the city."

Denver's Department of Transportation & Infrastructure is currently taking another step in this direction. Starting on May 5 and continuing for the next two weeks, DOTI is implementing enhancements on Lincoln Street from Ohio Avenue, by the Broadway station, to Fifth Avenue. The department says that its aim is to "make bus travel more efficient during peak travel times, calm traffic, and make it a safer street for all users, particularly pedestrians." Additionally, in what's characterized as a first in the city, DOTI is using paint and bollards "to make the transit-only lane protected at the intersection of 13th Avenue to separate buses from vehicles and reduce conflicts."

Here's the list of the Lincoln-related improvements:
• Bollards and paint to shorten crossing distances for people on foot and to slow vehicle turning movements
• Rubber curbing on Ellsworth Avenue and on Virginia Avenue at the Lincoln Street intersection to slow vehicle turning movements.
• Pulling back on-street parking on Lincoln at the intersections of Cedar, 1st and 4th Avenues to help make pedestrians easier to see at crosswalks.
• Refreshing crosswalk and stop bar markings, where needed, so they are more visible
While the changes are made, expect to see lane closures on Lincoln Street from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. With luck, the results will earn the city high marks in 2021.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts