Say goodbye to the center median on the 16th Street Mall. Say hello to more trees and more space for pedestrians on the sidewalks along the iconic downtown transitway.
That’s the recommendation from the city of Denver and the Regional Transportation District, released Wednesday morning, as urban planners ramp up a multiyear effort to overhaul one of the city’s most heavily used and highly visited thoroughfares.
The redesign plan for the original stretch of the 35-year-old mall, which runs from Broadway northwest to Market Street, could break ground next year and wrap up in 2022. The cost: anywhere from $90 million to $130 million.
“To so many people, 16th Street is Denver’s main street,” said Andrea Burns, spokeswoman for Denver’s community planning and development department. “So it’s really important we get this right.”
Image courtesy of the City and County of Denver and the Regional Transportation District
The city has been considering three options for a mall redesign and held public meetings this past fall to gather feedback on those ideas. Burns said getting rid of the median between Tremont Place and Arapahoe Street and keeping the free mall shuttles side by side in the center of 16th Street in that stretch would be an important step toward improving pedestrian safety.
“What we’ve heard is that the pedestrian spaces are constrained,” Burns said. “And what we’ve seen is that the median is underused. It doesn’t feel safe in the median, it doesn’t feel welcoming because you are surrounded by buses on both sides.”
The recommended plan would place trees and lamp posts between the sidewalks and the mall shuttles, providing a “physical and visual buffer” between people and buses, Burns said. It would also open up more space for outdoor seating opportunities at restaurants along the mall.
Some older trees would have to be removed from the mall in order to complete the redesign but Burns said new ones would be brought in, increasing the total number of trees from around 150 today to more than 200 at completion. She also said the tree replacement strategy would include different kinds of trees instead of just one type of tree that dominates the mall’s landscape today.
While the changes to the mall would be significant, especially along the middle segment where the median would be removed, planners decided to retain the “rattlesnake” pattern of black, gray and red-hued granite pavers on the mall — a hallmark of I.M. Pei’s design from 1982 — in the plan released Wednesday.
“It’s very important to us and the historic (preservation) community to keep that pattern,” Burns said.
It’s too early to tell whether some of the pavers in place now would be refurbished and reinstalled or whether new stone would have to be brought in, she said.
Changes would also be made to the mall’s “compromised sub-layer,” giving the city a chance to upgrade underground utilities, like drainage, electric and fiberoptic lines for the first time in more than three decades.
Construction, which is bound to be disruptive in a corridor that sees more than 40,000 shuttle riders a day, will likely happen in phases to keep impacts to a minimum, Burns said. Funding still needs to be identified for the overhaul, though at least $13 million should be available from the $937 million bond that Denver voters passed in November. Burns said federal funding and money from tax increment financing will also go toward paying for the project.
Because federal dollars were used for the original building of the mall 35 years ago, any modifications must undergo a National Environmental Policy Act review and a cultural resources evaluation. That process is expected to wrap up this summer.
The city will hold two open houses on March 8 to solicit public feedback on the plan.