How do you make Santa Fe Drive more pedestrian-friendly? It starts with some duct tape.
Denver’s planning department will unveil a mock-up design featuring more sidewalk space on Santa Fe Drive during next week’s First Friday Art Walk, when the street will be closed to cars and the city expects some 20,000 people.
Gaby Serrado, a Denver Public Works transportation project manager, said the design offers a peek at a potential new design for the major business and cultural corridor locals have been asking for.
Right now, the one-way street has three travel lanes with narrow sidewalks on each side. The new design would extend the curb and eliminate one of the car travel lanes.
“Our sidewalks are tiny,” said Andrea Barela, president of the board for the Santa Fe Business Improvement District. “We get a lot of visitors. For residents (too), it’s inadequate.”
Serrado said they’ve heard from families who’ve raised concerns about mobility with strollers, for example, which aren’t easy to navigate along the narrow sidewalks.
The pop-up will be at the corner of Santa Fe Drive and Ninth Avenue. The city will use supplies including duct tape, chalk spray paint, stencils, yard signs, pallets and artificial grass to mimic what a new design would look and feel like, as well as some elements of actual barriers.
Public Works spokesperson Heather Burke said the city is allocating $630,000 for the design and implementation of this demo project. Burke said public works will be piloting this project over the next two years to give the department time to figure out permanent solutions.
Barela said calls for street-level improvements have been coming for several years.
In fact, Barela said bringing such improvements was the “impetus for why the BID was created.” The BID began operations in 2015.
“This is not unique or new in terms of our advocacy,” Barela said.
Barela said Santa Fe Drive is one of Denver’s oldest streets, a former trail that — legend has it — connected to the famous Santa Fe Trail. Now, it sits above what Barela said are aged water lines and has intersections that are not ADA compliant.
At least $8 million for street improvement was requested under the 2017 Elevated Bond Program, but the bid was unsuccessful.
President of the Art District on Santa Fe Shaina Belton, who was elected in March, said August is their biggest event of the year. It’s the only first Friday when streets are closed to vehicles. She’s encouraged by the potential changes, but she’s being mindful of potential consequences as well.
“I think it’s a complicated thing,” Belton said. Beautifying the area could make it more accessible, but could result in increased property values that could make it hard for existing businesses and artists to stay in the district. She doesn’t want gentrification to come into play.
“The hope for a project like this is that it makes the neighborhood more accessible than it is,” Belton added.
Amanda Hardin, president of the La Alma-Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, said she hopes this pop-up ultimately leads to a redesign. She suspects opposition for that kind of redevelopment might come from drivers.
“We need to do what’s in the best interest of the people who live and work here, not the people that are trying to cut off the last mile of I-25,” Hardin said.
The pop-up will be missing a key element: Hardin pointed there won’t be a chance to see how this design would operate with cars limited to just two lanes, since they won’t be allowed on the roads next week.
The city will also be gathering feedback next week.
Serrado said she has a survey she’ll be asking people to fill out Aug. 2. She’ll have several volunteers helping gather feedback.
She’s hoping to get comments and thoughts from at least 200 people. There will be one wildcard, though.
“Hopefully, the weather cooperates,” Serrado said.