Let’s save the 16th Street Mall

Let’s save the 16th Street Mall

Don’t look too intently at Denver’s famend 16th Road Mall. You’re prone to see uneven and worn pavers, growing older planters, vacant tree wells and unsafe bus lanes which have frightened pedestrians because the day the mall opened 35 years in the past.

RJ Sangosti, Denver Publish fileDenver and RTD have really useful eradicating the middle median on the 16th Road Mall and including extra bushes and extra space for pedestrians. A plan to remake the enduring downtown thoroughfare might start subsequent yr and price between $90 million and $130 million.That’s an unacceptable state of affairs for what has grow to be one of many state’s most visited vacationer locations, to not point out a mile-long, closely used transit hall surrounded by the town’s financial core.

Sure, it’s time to replace the mall.

Thankfully, the Metropolis and County of Denver has been diligent — and a little bit sluggish — in its method, spending years learning pedestrian visitors patterns and lingering instances, making an attempt various substrates and bonding supplies for the enduring granite pavers and soliciting intensive public remark.

From that course of has emerged a strong plan: reconfigure the mall so the buses run down two lanes in the course of roadway. Casting off the 16-foot middle median between Tremont and Arapahoe will imply extra usable room for pedestrians, sidewalk cafes, benches, bushes and planters. It is going to additionally permit designers to create pure buffers between the place the buses run and pedestrians stroll. No extra dodging sideview mirrors.

Sadly, the attractive, mature tree cover that has developed within the middle median will likely be reduce right down to make method for the bus routes. The honey locust bushes have been creating for 3 many years, and beginning over will likely be a tragic return to saplings, although fortunately extra of them.

However a transformative mission like this could play the lengthy recreation.

Initially constructed with the assistance of federal funds, the method ahead is a fancy one, requiring that Denver and the Regional Transportation District work collectively to adjust to the Nationwide Environmental Coverage Act. That course of can even embody the Downtown Denver Partnership, the Downtown Denver Enterprise Enchancment District, the Denver City Renewal Authority and the Federal Transit Administration.

Proper now, the teams are solely contemplating the reconfiguration of the bus lanes, sidewalks and median. The subsequent step will likely be far tougher as the town and RTD grapple with what to do with the historic granite pavers that the world-famous structure agency of I.M. Pei designed in 1982 as a sample of black, grey and purple squares.

From the very starting, the structural engineering of the pavers failed, and RTD gained a small settlement of a guaranty declare to fund repairs. At the moment RTD spends $1 million a yr repairing the granite pavers in its MallRide pathway, whereas the enterprise enchancment district — funded with a particular tax on downtown property house owners — pays $three.5 million a yr sustaining the sidewalks, bushes and different facilities on the mall.

Translation: the granite is a grotesque extravagance.

Everybody must be open to the opportunity of utilizing one other materials, particularly within the bus lanes, that retains the mall engaging and is according to the creative imaginative and prescient of Pei however can also be sensible and sustainable over the following three many years.

The estimated value of the plan — with out realizing particulars of supplies and ultimate design — is between $90 million and $130 million. Denver put aside about $13 million of its most up-to-date bond concern for the mission, RTD has one other $15 million in grants that may very well be out there, and there’s an expiring tax increment financing district (initially used to subsidize the Pavilions mall) that might contribute an estimated $70 million.

The time is now to maneuver on this mission whereas these funding streams are nonetheless out there.