Tonight, Denver Public Works crews begin work to transform Federal Boulevard between Fifth Avenue and Holden Place from a pedestrian nightmare into a safer, prettier and more accessible strip.
The project has been 10 years in the making, and will include new curbs and gutters, a landscaped and treelined median, upgraded crossing signals and revamped sidewalks. Work is expected to finish in 2020.
“People are crazy over there.”
That’s according to Ray Arguellos, who lives a block away and generally avoids driving or walking on Federal if he doesn’t have to. He said he’s glad that the city is investing in his neighborhood, and hopes it might increase his property value.
The new median is perhaps the biggest fix for safety concerns.
The current, painted turning lane forces drivers to swerve out of traffic and keep their eyes on oncoming cars, not pedestrians, said Karen Good, a transportation project manager for the city.
“That’s a pretty big concern from a pedestrian perspective,” she said.
The incoming median will instead provide directed lanes that funnel drivers into turning areas for each cross street, and it will provide a safe place for pedestrians to leapfrog across.
Charles Sims, a construction worker currently on a site along Federal, had just run across all five lanes when he stopped to talk to this reporter. He said he could envision the street’s future.
“You can run into this median and save your life,” he said, which would be a nice change from sprinting through traffic and thinking to himself, “Hurry the fuck up!”
The new median will also be landscaped.
“That makes a difference in terms of the character and how people drive down the corridor,” Good said. A buffer of trees doesn’t just look nice, it will provide a visual buffer that may influence drivers’ psychology and slow them down, kind of like how cars slow down when they enter tunnels.
The crosswalks will also be repainted — and in color (brownish-red, according to a city spokesperson) — and a few of the revamped signals along the way will give people crossing the street some lead time before traffic is allowed to move.
“Pedestrians will have a head start there, which is really, really exciting,” Good said.
Residents say it’s a long time coming.
“It’s about time,” said Jesse Losano, who was waiting for the bus near Eighth Avenue with his walker. He’s lived along Federal for decades and said it’s looked pretty much the same all that time.
Even though city officials have been advocating for upgrades here for years, Good said there was one major reason they were never able to get things moving: “It’s called money.”
Denver applied for federal TIGER grants and was rejected twice.
“Then CDOT announced their Responsible Acceleration of Maintenance and Partnerships program,” she said, and finally, they got the money. “Is it unfortunate that it’s taking this long? Absolutely. Is it unusual? No.”
A side note: the project did not require an environmental impact statement because it was deemed not to have any significant effects on local residents or ecosystems. That fact was presented in what’s called a Finding Of No Significant Impact statement, known as a FONSI.
Now that things are on their way, Good is looking forward to seeing the neighborhood improve.
She says local businesses might see increased traffic once it’s easier to walk to them, and locals without cars might have an easier time getting to the grocery store to buy fresh food. She expects that the mobility improvements and a refined look to Federal, especially with the trees, will go a long way to make this stretch of Denver’s west side a little more cohesive as a community.
“It’s just a matter of trying to support the existing businesses and existing community, and trying to improve their quality of living,” she said.