Federal Boulevard’s set for pedestrian fixes, but “hundreds of millions” needed for neighborhoods’ vision

“It’s going to take hundreds of millions of dollars to build out that complete vision.”
5 min. read
An illustration of Federal Boulevard changes proposed in a corridor plan. (City and County of Denver)

Aaron and Sunny walk Federal Boulevard with their toddler, May 10, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The city of Denver is almost ready to spend $2.9 million to make Federal Boulevard safer for pedestrians, possibly as soon as next year.

But business and safety advocates want it to happen faster, and they want to see a much bigger commitment to improvements on the notoriously dangerous road.

"It's going to take hundreds of millions of dollars to build out that complete vision," said Jill Locantore, executive director of Walk Denver. "And we need to start now."

The city is listening to long-running complaints.

Eleven people died in crashes on Federal Boulevard, including seven pedestrians, in 2017. Its fatality rate is 20 times higher than the average for Colorado's urban roadways, according to the city.

"My wife doesn't like me walking around here because of the traffic," said Ramon Bonilla, who was nonetheless walking Federal on Thursday.

Lately, there have been signs that city leaders are listening to complaints about the road. For example, they included the Federal pedestrian safety project as part of the new $937 million debt package.

However, those pedestrian improvements aren't getting built just yet: They weren't included in the initial set of bond-funded projects that officially got moving this month.

"We were heartbroken to hear that the Federal Boulevard pedestrian improvements project wasn't a part of the first bond (projects) list," Leslie Twarogowski, executive director of the Federal Boulevard Business Improvement District, said in a statement to Denverite.

Courtney Law, a spokesperson for the city's Department of Finance, said that city staff are working to get the Federal improvements ready as soon as possible. It's currently in a design phase that doesn't yet require the funding that was issued for other projects, she said.

"The absence of this project from the first issuance is not a reflection of neighborhood priorities but rather an opportunity for this project to continue stakeholder outreach and alignment to ready it for a future issuance, potentially in 2019," she wrote in an email.

But community groups said that Federal needs much bigger commitments, and fast.

"There's no firm promise yet. They could decide not to give us that money for another 9 years," Twarogowski said in an interview, referring to the lifecycle of the new debt.

So, her group has joined with Walk Denver and 17 others, including numerous neighborhood organizations, to make a big request: They want Mayor Michael Hancock and the Denver City Council to dedicate $5 million to improvements on the boulevard in the 2019 budget.

"It was built to be a highway for large numbers of personal vehicles at high speeds. And that's just a mismatch for what role that corridor is playing today," Locantore said. "Twenty-six percent of the city lives (near) Federal Boulevard, and it's their Main Street that they need to be walking and crossing every day."

The Colfax Avenue cloverleaf at Federal Boulevard, Feb. 6, 2018. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

In fact, Federal cuts through neighborhoods where people have little choice but to walk. People who live nearby often have low incomes and no vehicles, including many seniors and people with disabilities, according to the community coalition. It's home to many of the city's social services organizations.

The groups suggested that the city could spend $5 million on building medians and other features to slow traffic while adding islands and new crossings for pedestrians. Some of those ideas are laid out in a corridor plan published last year.

City officials haven't yet responded to the new request, Locantore said.

And, in the long term, it will take far more money even than $5 million to finish rebuilding Federal, Locantore said. A true transformation would require improved transit on the street, which is one of the busiest bus routes in Denver, she said.

And, as we're learning on Colfax Avenue, a true bus-rapid transit project can cost tens of millions of dollars.

An illustration of Federal Boulevard changes proposed in a corridor plan. (City and County of Denver)
Other Federal projects are already in motion.

Starting this summer, crews will rebuild sidewalks, install new lighting, repave the road, raise the medians and add a third northbound lane for automobiles along about a half-mile of the road. That will be from West 7th Avenue to West Holden Place, and it will take about a year to build.

The city also is working with Colorado Department of Transportation to change traffic signals, giving pedestrians more time to cross safely; and to create a new mid-road refuge for pedestrians at Federal and Kentucky Avenue.

Those projects are part of Hancock's larger Vision Zero effort, which aims to eliminate traffic deaths in the city.

And the attention's unlikely to go away. Next Wednesday, people will gather off Federal Boulevard to commemorate the people who have died in traffic crashes in Denver.

Pedestrians will meet at Rude Park while cyclists will meet at the Federico F. Peña Denver Health Center -- both off Federal Boulevard -- at 6:30 p.m. on May 16. The event's sponsors include Denver Public Health & Environment, a city agency.

Kevin J. Beaty contributed to this story.

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