While our shelter-at-home experience in early 2020 was remarkable and difficult on many levels, I think it’s safe to say that we learned a lot about ourselves. (I, for example, discovered that I have a passion for overlanding gear!) We also learned new ways of doing things, some good, some bad. I’d say the explosion of online shopping (and cardboard box proliferation) was something I’d like to see retract a bit. However, there was one innovation I found absolutely transformative and I’d like to see it maintained: Shared and Open Streets.
Hats off to the City of Denver, which saw how much people were getting outside and walking or biking during their lockdown. We weren’t allowed to go to school or work, but we needed to get OUTSIDE! One of my employees lives near a side street that is busy with pedestrians in a normal year, but during lockdown, she said it was like living near a parade every single day. People walked by the hundreds!
We found, though, that if we had to share the roads with cars, it was nearly impossible to social distance (especially on Denver’s lousy sidewalks). So, the city instituted Shared and Open Roads – a stroke of genius!
Suddenly, all over town, barricades and signs popped up, alerting drivers that they had two options:
Shared streets: Roads where cars had to drive extremely slowly and give all rights-of-way to pedestrians and bikers, or
Open streets: Roads where cars were banned entirely, mostly in parks.
Thanks to these efforts, it was safe to walk down the street! And we could socially distance easily. Even more people got out of their homes to hit the streets. How many people took advantage of this new freedom? Glad you asked!
In April 2020, the Denver Streets Partnership released bicycle and pedestrian data demonstrating that some Shared Streets had seen pedestrian and bicycle use jump from 351 per day to 1,700. They also collected feedback from those using the new city amenities:
“I didn’t know how much I would enjoy this type of walkable city/neighborhood. Please, please, please – make it permanent.”
“The dramatic improvement this change has made to my life is immeasurable. My family and I can safely walk, bike and run in the park. We can ENJOY the park and have relief from stress.”
“The Shared and Open streets have brought me an incredible amount of peace and joy during the pandemic.”
So clearly, the changes were popular. But where do we stand more than a year later?
On August 7, The Denver Post reported that some of the streets were being reopened to normal traffic.
Since social distancing is no longer required, the shared streets program that was meant to give cooped up Denverites more outdoor space is no longer needed, DOTI spokeswoman Nancy Kuhn said. But city officials recognize the program was popular and are looking into making some shared streets a permanent fixture around town.
11th Avenue from Logan to Humboldt streets.
Stuart Street from W. 24th to W. 21st avenues.
Staying closed (for now):
Byron Place from Zenobia to Vrain streets is now a permanent neighborhood bikeway with devices in place to slow local traffic.
Bayaud Avenue from Sherman to Downing streets will keep paint and posts that were added to calm traffic and more upgrades are in the works for the stretch to become a permanent neighborhood bikeway.
30th Street from Welton to Larimer streets will also keep paint and posts to calm traffic and become a permanent bikeway.
Marion Parkway from Virginia Avenue to Downing Street/Bayaud Avenue will have protected bike lanes installed and DOTI will keep existing barricades there until then.
E. 16th Avenue from Pennsylvania Street to City Park Esplanade will keep barricades until a protected bike lane can be installed next year.