The Future of the 16th Street Mall Experience

The Future of the 16th Street Mall Experience

  • Megan Douglas
  • 12/21/15

A hot topic at Denver’s Inter Neighborhood Council (INC) meeting…What is the future of the 16th Street Mall, how tourisist and locals interact with the landmark, and what experiences will it bring to our city?

How do we create attractive and inviting places that are functional for different users throughout the day and over the course of changing seasons? How can we transform one of Denver’s most famous streets – 16th Street – into a better place to serve Denver’s ever-changing needs?

Jason Whitlock, Principal City Planner, presented one of three connected studies aimed at activating Denver: The Mall Experience. Jason began by asking: what do we have to learn from other great places? Places like Covent Garden in London or Broadway in New York City. How does 16th Street perform in comparison?

We know that 16th Street is performing below its potential. On a weekday in the summer 28,000 pass through the Mall but only 1% spend time. As a 1.2-mile pedestrian and transit backbone of downtown, the 16th Street Mall needs to be a dynamic and attractive corridor.

To improve 16th Street, the city is undergoing an evidence-based planning approach coupled with a data driven analysis that aims to measure, test, refine, and repeat. The eight principles of the Mall Experience study aim to:
1) Provide a series of experiences. The Mall, between Union Station and Civic Center, includes four typologies and a mix of block types and street cross sections. Understanding each of the four areas will help in crafting improvements that can change the Mall. As Jason explained, the 16th street mall is “one street with different street environments.”

2) Provide transportation choices, namely to accommodate people walking and biking in better ways.
3) Invite people to spend time through a safe and lively space and more activities. The Meet in the Streets events increased the “stickiness” or lingering time by people on the Mall by 48%, a great demonstration that providing interesting and fun ways to use the space will help incentivize foot traffic to stay longer and spend their dollars and time on the Mall.

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4) Encourage lively edges, such as outdoor eating spaces and inviting storefronts through the activation of blank facades making 16th Street look and feel more inviting.
5) Support a wider network of investment, promoting and building on what’s being done downtown already.
6) Think beyond the boundaries of 16th Street. Through the attraction of residents to downtown, developing mixed-use sites, and programming adjacent underused sites that would draw people to 16th Street.

7) Create strong and integrated network. This includes consideration of how people move by multiple modes to and from its connecting streets, not just 16th Street itself. In the coming few years, the number of people moving through downtown is expected to double, requiring serious consideration of how to achieve the goals of this plan while more efficiently moving a much larger number of people. If you’ve heard that Denver is studying moving or removing the 16th Street Mall shuttle, that’s people jumping to conclusions. What is true is that the current arrangement won’t scale up easily, and new or expanded options throughout downtown will be considered, in part by this project and in part by the companion update to DMAP (Downtown Multimodal Access Plan), starting in 2016.
8) Continue to evolve using an evidence-based decision making framework. Keep testing and learning how best to improve 16th Street.

In 2016, this study will continue to measure, test, refine and repeat, including an expansion of the Downtown Denver Partnership’s Meet in the Streets events, which may expand to more Sundays or even to whole weekends. We look forward to seeing how the process shapes this crucial downtown corridor.

Jason Whitlock, Principal City Planner in Denver’s Community Planning and Development, has hit the ground running. Not only is he engaged on a number of large city initiatives, he also presented to our INC Transportation Committee all within his first few months on the job!

What would you like your experience to be like as the 16th St Mall evolves?



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