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Looking for Inspiration: The 16th Street Mall in Denver

By Eric Richardson
Published: Tuesday, July 05, 2005, at 04:22PM
Good Advice Eric Richardson [Flickr]

As I've mentioned, I was in Denver over the weekend for my cousin's wedding. Sunday afternoon we had a little time before we needed to be at the airport, so we decided to go check out the city's Downtown. Particularly interesting to me was the 16th Street Mall, a 16-block pedestrian mall oriented toward retail, restaurants, and nightlife. My mind immediately made the connection between this street in Denver and Broadway here in Downtown. What would Broadway look like as a pedestrian mall?

If anywhere Downtown could work as a pedestrian mall, I think Broadway's it. After the jump I'll explain why.

(And yes, I know the picture isn't exactly of the mall, but it is in the middle of the northern bus turnaround. And I just liked the sign.)

I think Broadway would be a perfect pedestrian mall thanks to the non-auto uses of the street today. When you look at the crowds on Broadway you see either people who have either driven Downtown and parked nearby (but largely not on Broadway) or people who have taken transit. I would think the percentage that do the latter is remarkably higher than in most other retail contexts. That's why it doesn't seem to me that the shops on Broadway would suffer if auto traffic was banned -- their customers don't tend to drive to the door anyway.

Any pedestrian mall longer than say the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica needs some sort of transit. In Denver the 16th Street Mall runs sixteen blocks. That's a long way, but the mall isn't hard to navigate. A free Mall shuttle bus runs up and down its length, using vehicles that look like the buses you'd find at an airport. They're low-floor buses with multiple boarding doors. Since there's no fare, there's no need for people to board through one door. The buses stop every block.

A similar setup could run up and down Broadway. I would think a Broadway pedestrian mall would be significantly shorter -- perhaps from 1st to 9th or so -- but it would still be nice to have a way to get from end to end. This could also be the perfect context in which to bring the much talked about trolley line to the old theatres and right next to the new residential population.

On the 16th Street Mall the sidewalks and transit lanes are surfaced with the same stone, but there is a little bit of a curb to deliniate the bus path. It gives the width a unified feel while leaving it clear where the buses run. The road is closed to all other traffic. I don't think that they had to widen the street to make it the way it is now; if I had to guess I'd put it at the width of four or five total lanes, plus normal sidewalks. When you make it just one lane of transit in either direction, though, you get nice wide sidewalks that leave plenty of room for cafe seating. Those dimensions are roughly the same as what Broadway is now.

A big problem for the old theatres right now is a lack of parking. Building a large garage in the middle of the Historic Core would seem to me to be a very bad idea, but connecting the theatres to a large garage via an easy (and preferably free) transit connection would fill the needs of theatregoers while at the same time preserving the character of the neighborhood. This connection could run to some new garage built on Broadway somewhere south of 9th, or it could even go to the existing mammoth garage sitting over on Grand.

The goal of this pedestrian mall would be to create a more pleasant shopping environment, and also to create space in which cafes and restaurants with sidewalk seating could open and service both the day and nighttime crowds (to be provided via theatre revitalization).

I think this could be a great thing for Downtown, and I see a lot of parallels in structure to the 16th St. Mall in Denver. That mall seems to be doing quite well for itself, and I would certainly think a Broadway mall would do the same.

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