Creating corridors of opportunity: Urban design for community and economic benefit

June 18, 2018 Matt Shawaker

Denver’s Brighton Boulevard is a perfect example of turning a traffic-only strip of asphalt into a great urban space

 

If you’re planning to visit downtown Denver this year—and millions do so annually—be sure to keep an eye out if you’re arriving by car or by bike. One of the center city’s most trafficked entry points has undergone a significant transformation that exemplifies our focus on incorporating community values to create unique urban spaces, while also providing a functional multi-modal transit corridor for all users.

Back in 2014, City planners set their sights on improvements to Denver’s northern neighborhoods, ultimately establishing the North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative to build a better, greener, and more connected North Denver.

 

One of the key features of the Brighton Boulevard project is a raised cycle track, the longest in Denver.

 

Core to the plan? A complete redesign and reconstruction of a two-mile stretch of Brighton Boulevard, which lacked pretty much everything you’d want to see along a street that often serves as a visitor’s first impression of the city in one of Denver’s fastest-growing neighborhoods.

The project was a perfect opportunity for our urban design team to showcase that when you design for people, everything else falls into place. The goal of the project was ambitious: to transform what was just a four-lane strip of asphalt with no drainage, sidewalks, or amenities into a cohesive, multi-modal corridor, that will become the hub of the River North Art District, Denver’s burgeoning arts, technology, and entertainment district. And to accomplish this within a constrained right-of-way that realistically cannot fit all the desired elements.

 

Establishing a corridor for all

Our Stantec team led a series of public meetings to present the challenges and opportunities and enable the community to express their priorities and balance various trade-offs. These conversations informed every aspect of the design, and helped establish guiding principles to address safety, differentiation between pedestrians and bicyclists, creation of a sustainable streetscape and unique neighborhood identity, and phased implementation.

 

The Brighton Boulevard project in North Denver features a multi-modal street, with dedicated bike paths, controlled turn lanes, and better pedestrian thoroughfares.

 

The resulting concept was designed with a short-term phase within the existing right-of-way that provides all modes of transportation and a pedestrian-scaled streetscape, as well as a long-term phase, anticipating future redevelopment and expansion. By developing in a phased approach, the design team was able to meet the City’s near-term goals for creating a beautiful streetscape, as well as the neighborhood’s long-term goals for redevelopment. In addition, the phased _q_tweetable:The cycle track is enhanced with a signaling system that promotes safer pedestrian and bike connections._q_approach enabled the project to proceed to implementation. This created certainty for the City that their goals could be met without needing to purchase land, and the Mayor dedicated the budget for final design and construction in 2016.

The RiNo Art District and development community were also important funders and stakeholders in the process, and a driving force behind ensuring the project became more than just a street but an experience unique to the neighborhood. However, at the outset of the design process, they had no way to fund the amenities and elements that would make the street uniquely theirs. Concurrent with developing the design concept, we worked with arts district and property owners to organize and establish the largest business improvement district (BID) in Denver, requiring the approval of residents and more than 1,000 property owners. The property owners that make up the BID agreed to tax themselves to construct and maintain many of the unique elements of the design.

Through the partnership of the BID and the City, we designed a cohesive streetscape whose identity aligns strongly with its role as an arts district. The design includes 300 custom color-changing LED smart lights on trees spanning 15 blocks. Thirty new wayfinding and identity signs also support various street usage and branding, as do 150 custom bench elements that contribute to the walkability of the street.

 

In addition to improving pedestrian, bicycle, and vehicle interactions, the new Brighton Boulevard in Denver adds 400 trees to the streetscape.

 

Embracing shared streets

The final design also implements the community’s strong desire to accommodate a multi-modal street, with dedicated bike paths, controlled turn lanes, and better pedestrian thoroughfares.

The innovative design approach yielded Denver’s second—and by far longest—raised cycle track that rises to six inches above the road. The cycle track is enhanced with a signaling system that promotes safer pedestrian and bike connections, including green boxes in the street for bikes to locate in front of cars for turns/crossings, and sensors that activate light signals when bikes are present. Continuous sidewalks also fill a much-needed walkability gap for residents, employees, and visitors, allowing them to engage with the neighborhood outside of their car.

To further address the long-term scope of the project, sustainability was a key factor. More than 400 trees will be installed to reduce the heat island effect, and 28,000 square feet of water quality treatment was installed through innovative Street Side Stormwater Planters, one of the first applications of low-impact design strategies in the city.

By engaging the entire community in the process, we completely re-envisioned a new Brighton Boulevard to accommodate cars, pedestrians, and cyclists. But, importantly, it also supports near- and long-term key economic development opportunities to create a truly unique expression of Mayor Michael Hancock’s “Corridor of Opportunity” in a rapidly changing urban neighborhood in one of the country’s fastest-growing cities.

And Phase 1 of the Brighton Boulevard Redevelopment project was completed in time for residents and the Stantec team to enjoy the unique cycle track as part of Bike to Work Day. I can’t wait to bike to work on June 27th.

About the Author

Matt Shawaker

Matt Shawaker's experience as both a design consultant and developer has given him a deep understanding of the interconnectedness of great landscape architecture and urban design. He applies that knowledge to the development process and in the evolution of great communities.

More Content by Matt Shawaker
Previous Article
From the Design Quarterly: Bridging cultures to create buildings for unique populations
From the Design Quarterly: Bridging cultures to create buildings for unique populations

Lessons in navigating cultural differences in the design process from the Arctic Circle to the Sahara

Next Article
The new “gas station” will be less about gas and more about green
The new “gas station” will be less about gas and more about green

The hybrid fueling station—a convergence of electric vehicles, green technology, and the oil and gas industry