What Went Down on the 16th Street Mall Before the Sun Came Up

Rising crime and violence on the 16th Street Mall earlier this year prompted new safety plans for the area from both public agencies, by way of a Denver Police Department plan to triple patrols, and the private sector, as seen in the hiring of unarmed security guards who came on board earlier this month under the auspices of the Downtown Denver Partnership and the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District.

How's it working so far? A press event offered the perfect opportunity to find out.

Beginning at 6 a.m., RTD had scheduled media opportunities to preview a new mall shuttle of the sort that will be rolling onto 16th over the next few weeks. So shortly after 5 a.m., I set out on foot from Westword's offices, at 969 Broadway, to Wewatta Pavilion at Union Station, located near the intersection of 17th and Wewatta Street — a route that allowed me to walk the entire span of the 16th Street Mall while it was still dark.

And to what I presume will be the delight of the police and business interests alike, the experience wasn't terrifying in the slightest.

True, there were a few members of the homeless community sleeping onthe mall, including this person curled up in a doorway....

...and a man snoozing in a chair located in the middle section of the mall.

But there were also city crew members watering plants, employees power-washing sidewalks, several joggers, a skateboarder and a number of early shift workers already arriving for the day — all going about their business without apparent problem.

There were no lines (or messes) outside the mall's new public restroom, either....

...and while I didn't see any Denver police officers during my initial trek, I did eyeball at least one private security guard on the beat. He was moving steadily, with no fights to break up or troubles to squelch.

The scene was livelier at 17th and Wewatta, where news crews had gathered to preview the new mall shuttles.

Before long, a sample shuttle pulled into place....

...and TV journos from all four major stations began to congregate.

Given the number of outlets on hand, some coordination was necessary. A couple of affiliates were scheduled to go live at around 6:01 a.m., while another needed to do so at 6:05 a.m. and the fourth shortly thereafter — and there was only so much bus to go around. As such, camera operators from rival stations quickly worked out the logistics among themselves so everyone could get what they needed.

Granted, the results looked pretty similar, as seen in this shot captured by one station....

...and the approach taken by another....

...and the information they shared didn't exactly qualify as highly varied.

Among the factoids dispensed: The 36 new shuttles being deployed are all-electric and can operate for an entire day on a single charge — and they're replacing a fleet that's been on the job for sixteen years and most recently has been handling 45,000 passengers per day and nearly 1.4 million per annum.

Still, the 7News correspondent managed to trump his colleagues by adding (as a joke, I'm pretty sure) that the buses are "shiny, very shiny" and have "big doors."

The interior of the buses also got some camera time from this angle...

...and this one... well as in tweets captured by multi-tasking news pros like this one:

The flurry of activity generated by the four live shots was followed by stasis: The bus didn't go anywhere, and the reporters and camera operators settled in for a wait of about half an hour, at which point they would be quizzing RTD personnel, presumably about the stuff they'd already mentioned.

With that in mind, I headed back down the mall as the sky brightened.

A few sleepers were still bundled up, including this one near the Tattered Cover....

...but the majority of other folks were up and about. I witnessed no examples of aggressive panhandling; one man greeted me with "Good morning," while another asked what time it was — and threw in a "sir," to boot.

Along the way, I spotted my first Denver police cruiser and encountered another private security guard. When I asked the notably friendly guard how things had gone last night, the word he chose was "smooth." There had been no major incidents, and the individuals he'd encountered had been cooperative. "It's getting better every night," he said.

The guard had just "cleared sectors three and four," he told me, and was moving to additional zones to do likewise. Before he split, I asked if I could take his photo. He wasn't sure if that was allowed, he admitted, so he suggested that I snap a shot as he walked away — and that's what I did.

The day had dawned by then, and there was every indication that it would be absolutely glorious.

Undoubtedly, all parties concerned are hoping nothing screws that up — and for one morning, nothing did.

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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

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