16th Street Mall partners recommend Mall design that would expand sidewalks, improve pedestrian safety

If approved, this project would repair infrastructure and enhance the Mall experience for all users. Construction is likely to begin in 2020.

The City and County of Denver and the Regional Transportation District (RTD) are recommending a design for reconstruction of the 16th Street Mall that would expand sidewalks for walking, café seating and other activities, and move transit lanes to the center or offset-center of each block. These updates are designed to enhance the Mall experience for visitors while improving pedestrian safety and mobility on the city’s most transit-rich street.

The proposed design would update and modernize the Mall’s deteriorating infrastructure, while honoring its iconic look. It is a modified version of one of the options released in October 2017, refined this winter based on input from downtown workers, Mall businesses and the broader community.

Today’s announcement is a milestone in a broad effort to rethink the 16th Street Mall — one of the city’s most vital connectors and important public spaces. The 35-year-old Mall has aging infrastructure and rising maintenance costs, while seeing increasing numbers of transit users and pedestrians. This phase of Mall design is part of a federal process as outlined by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The NEPA effort is led by the city and RTD, in partnership with the Downtown Denver Partnership, the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District, the Denver Urban Renewal Authority (DURA) and the Federal Transit Administration.

The Design – Download hi-res image

The design aims to enhance the Mall as a welcoming and active public space by eliminating the under-used median to make room for safe and comfortable walking, café seating, occasional special events and more.

“We’re keeping the best parts of the Mall, while revitalizing an amazing public space and public amenity,” said Brad Buchanan, executive director of Denver Community Planning and Development.

Reconstruction will ensure the continued mobility and reliability of the Free MallRide buses. More than 40,000 riders take the Free MallRide each day, making the 16th Street Mall the busiest transit street in the RTD system. By 2035, the number of daily riders will exceed 70,000. With the updated design, the northeast- and southwest-bound buses would operate in adjacent lanes in the center of the Mall, shifting to slightly off-center lanes in the historically asymmetrical blocks.

“As pedestrian traffic and ridership grow in this crucial corridor in the years ahead, our agency is pleased to be working thoughtfully with our partners in determining the best path forward,” said RTD CEO and General Manager Dave Genova. “We believe the public will appreciate the changes that have been proposed.”

The recommended alignment will improve safety for pedestrians by offering wider pedestrian zones, trees and historic lights as new visual and physical buffers between bus lanes and sidewalks, and fewer points where buses and pedestrians must cross paths.

The recommended design honors the iconic look of the Mall. It will retain the street’s patterned “carpet,” originally designed by landscape architect Laurie D. Olin of Hanna/Olin and architect Henry N. Cobb of I. M. Pei & Partners to evoke a Navajo blanket and the floor of the Pantheon. The recommended design includes more trees than exist on the Mall today, with a goal to expand the tree canopy in line with the 2017 Outdoor Downtown Plan for parks and public spaces.

“The 16th Street Mall is Denver’s Main Street, serving millions of people each year. We are proud to have worked with our Mall partners and stakeholders to develop a clear recommendation for its sustainable and successful future,” said Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership.

Mall Reconstruction

Mall reconstruction will involve repairing and replacing the compromised sub-layer. It will therefore provide an opportunity to modernize and add to underground utilities (drainage, fiber, data, electric, etc.), which have been unreachable since 1982 when the street was constructed. This spring, Mall partners will publish an environmental assessment on the proposed action and its benefits and impacts. If the project is approved, phased reconstruction would begin in 2019 or early 2020 and finish in 2022.

Funding for the project will come from a variety of sources, including general obligation bond funds, tax increment financing, and Federal Transit Administration grant funding.

Public Input Opportunities

On March 8, 2018, the city and RTD will host open houses where the public can learn more, ask questions and give input on future refinement of the design. Identical open house events will be offered at the following times:

16th Street Mall Design Open Houses

March 8, 2018
Noon – 1 p.m. or 5 – 6 p.m.
RTD Board Room
1660 Blake Street, Denver

Note: The public will have an opportunity to provide input on additional amenities and design features, and learn about construction activities, at an additional public hearing tentatively planned for May 2018.

Learn more at denvergov.org/themallexperience.

About NEPA
Because the Mall was built in 1982 with federal funds, any potential modifications must undergo a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and a cultural resources evaluation pursuant to Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 (NHPA). NEPA requires that the project partners identify and consider social and environmental impacts when reviewing potential alternatives. This environmental process provides the opportunity to build on the unique history of the Mall, and its important role as a transit and pedestrian corridor and public space, in order to deliver a successful experience for the next 35 years and beyond. The NEPA process is expected to wrap up in summer 2018. Final design planning will continue after NEPA is complete, if the “No Build” option is not selected.

About the 16th Street Mall
Attracting tens of thousands of visitors, employees and others to metro Denver daily, the 16th Street Mall has been at the center of the downtown Denver experience for nearly 35 years. The Free MallRide service also provides a critically important transit connector for locals and visitors to the region, moving more than 40,000 people daily during the week along the Mall. The 16th Street Mall is a primary corridor and public space for downtown Denver’s 130,000 employees and 22,000 residents and is home to approximately 200 street-level retailers and restaurants, 1,250 residential units, and more than 1,400 hotel rooms. Building off this success, the City and County of Denver, the Regional Transportation District, the Downtown Denver Partnership, the Downtown Denver Business Improvement District, the Denver Urban Renewal Authority and the Federal Transit Administration are partnering to deliver the future of Denver’s 16th Street Mall.