Pedestrian safety improvements are coming to West Colfax

The city broke ground on the project Thursday.
4 min. read
Groundbreaking on new pedestrian safety improvements at West Colfax Avenue and Winona Court. June 6, 2024.
Rebecca Tauber/Denverite

West Colfax is getting a slew of transportation safety improvements as part of a $15.5 million infrastructure project after years of community organizing.

The city broke ground on the project Thursday and is expected to finish in the summer of 2025.

The project will add medians and signal crosswalks for pedestrians at intersections along Colfax Avenue between Irving Street and Sheridan Boulevard. The medians will prevent left-hand turns at non-signal intersections, adding another level of pedestrian safety.

The corridor will also get sidewalk build-outs for RTD buses, making it easier for buses to pick up passengers more quickly.

West Colfax Avenue at Irving Street, July 12, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

The plan also includes greenery across the new medians along Colfax Avenue to combat heat islands and improve West Colfax’s tree canopy.

The greenery almost didn't happen after inflation raised the cost of the project. At first, the landscaping was cut, but a mix of city and bond funding brought it back.

“It's on Colfax where people from all different backgrounds come together to go to school or the library, to drink a toast at a dive bar, to eat tacos or barbecue, or to hop on the bus to get wherever they need to go that day,” said Jill Locantore, executive director of Denver Streets Partnership, a group that advocates for pedestrian mobility in the city. “Colfax carries the lifeblood of our community, and too often, Colfax has broken our hearts, because it is not designed to be safe for the people whose lives depend on it.”

The pedestrian improvements are a long time coming for West Colfax residents.

Nearly a decade ago, residents came together to imagine what a more pedestrian-friendly throughway might look like. 

“I've lived here for more than 30 years, this is the part of town that I've grown up in, that my parents and my grandparents raised their families in, and we can testify to the incredible impacts of traffic deaths along Colfax, along Federal,” said City Council President Jamie Torres, who represents the area. “That can only be improved because we build a different street, because we build a different environment, and that's exactly what's happening here.”

Torres specifically mentioned the benefit to kids who have to cross West Colfax Avenue to get to school, members of West Colfax’s Jewish community who cross to get to synagogue and pedestrians trying to reach the many local businesses that line Colfax Avenue.

West Colfax Avenue at Irving Street, July 12, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Initial upgrades began a few years ago, when the city altered traffic light timing and reduced speeds in an effort to make the corridor safer in 2020. Amy Ford, executive director of the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, said that those changes decreased fatalities by 71 percent and serious injuries by 50 percent along the corridor.

“What you've seen us do is change and evolve and continue to grow about how we think about a complete street, how we create safety and elements for everyone as they enjoy the street, as they enjoy the community that it binds together and the businesses that long run alongside it,” Ford said. 

Now, more improvements are coming to fruition thanks to funding from the voter-approved Elevate Denver Bond, which funds infrastructure projects across the city. Another portion of the funding is coming from the Colorado Department of Transportation.

“This all together is going to be a major win for the west side of the city, major improvement of safety, major improvement on accessibility and major permanent bus access and transit,” Mayor Mike Johnston said.

Making the notorious car corridor more pedestrian-friendly

City Council rezoned a number of properties on the east side of Colfax Avenue to promote pedestrian-facing businesses. That’s in anticipation of the Bus Rapid Transit project, which will bring big upgrades to RTD’s bus service on that side of Colfax Avenue.

But Locantore said there is still much more to be done to make Denver a safe city for pedestrians.

West Colfax Avenue at Irving Street, July 12, 2023.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

She hopes similar infrastructure upgrades will come to Denver’s other fast, busy and dangerous streets, including Federal Boulevard, Colorado Boulevard, Alameda Avenue and University Boulevard.

She said those streets in particular would benefit from upgrades, because they are streets that “feel like a highway,” with few crosswalks but a lot of local businesses frequented by pedestrians.

“This project is proof that if a community can imagine a street that prioritizes people over cars, the city can make that happen,” Locantore said. “I hope this project becomes inspiration for transformations of other streets throughout the city, and that we learn from this process so that we can streamline it and we don't have to wait 10 years for the next transformation to happen.”

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