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Broadway Effort Would Do Well to Look at Denver Mall

By Eric Richardson
Published: Thursday, July 03, 2008, at 09:25PM
16th Street Mall Eric Richardson [Flickr]

Looking south on Denver's 16th Street Mall, with its free bus running north and south.

Three years ago I pitched Denver's 16th Street Mall as a model for Broadway. Built in the 1980s, the mall took sixteen blocks of derelict downtown and turned it into a walkable destination. The street was closed off and turned into tree-lined pedestrian space, with a free bus as the only traffic.

Yesterday I was back in Denver and again walked along the mall with Broadway in mind. After three years some of my opinions on the implementation have changed, but the 16th Street Mall continues to provide some excellent advice for Broadway revitalization.

In the last three years we've seen talk that Metro was continuing to look at Broadway as a transit mall, the launch of the Bringing Back Broadway campaign and brought a national streetcar workshop to the Orpheum. There's a lot of energy around Broadway ideas.

The 16th Street Mall provides a great case study for looking at how Broadway functions. I think it's worth pointing out a few things to emulate, and a few to avoid.

EMULATE: Removing traffic from 16th street creates an environment that's ideal for sidewalk dining. While restaurants are a target for Broadway's revitalization, it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to sit and dine on a Broadway that features its current bus traffic. Metro's transit mall concept removes auto traffic, but leaves overly loud buses. Dining that looks out onto a pedestrian way with a streetcar running up and down it would be a great draw.

EMULATE: Simple transit up and down the corridor works wonders. Denver runs hybrid buses with low floors and multiple boarding doors for easy on-off access. The streetcar would serve that same function, and it would be important to consider how a fare-free zone on Broadway might encourage ridership and multiple trips.

AVOID: The 16th Street Mall can feel manufactured. Broadway has more historic structures, including the theatres. The diversity of structures creates a better base to build off of. Current business owners should be encouraged to be a part of the new Broadway, one in which the street houses a diverse range of uses.

AVOID: Be friendly to non-auto uses. The 16th Street Mall bans bicycles, rollerblades and skateboards. Broadway, with its wider right of way, should create a street design that encompasses these uses and helps push the concept of a car-free Downtown.

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