Bold action is being taken to shape the future of Denver’s iconic 16th Street Mall. Since its completion in 1982, the area has served as the central thoroughfare of Downtown Denver.

The vision for creating a pedestrian corridor began in 1971 when Downtown Denver Inc., now known as the Downtown Denver Partnership, first proposed closing nine blocks of the Mall to traffic and allowing only buses on the street. After proposing several variations in the 1970s, Downtown Denver Inc. partnered with the Regional Transportation District (RTD) to provide bus transit on the Mall, and in 1977, renowned architecture firm I.M. Pei & Partners was hired to provide the design.

(SideFact: Rich von Luhrte, of SideCar PR client RNL, now part of Stantec, actually served as the project manager on the original master plan for the 16th Street Mall, and later helped to develop and execute the final design as Chief Architect and Urban Designer for RTD.)

Today, thousands of visitors and workers use the bustling 1.2-mile-long corridor, and on weekdays up to 45,000 people ride RTD’s Free Mall Ride.

The Mall is an iconic fixture in Denver, and has experienced its fare share of issues over the years. From maintenance to crime to reactivating retail, there’s no shortage of opinions on what needs to be done to improve the Mall. Various efforts have been undertaken over the last decade to that end, and they continue.

Last year, RTD elected to revisit the idea of replacing the granite pavers along the Mall with concrete. As part of that process, the City and County of Denver, RTD and the Downtown Denver Partnership are conducting an environmental study. Since the original development of the Mall was completed with federal funding, the study is mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act. CH2M is leading the study, along with RNL.

The study will address the social and environmental impacts of re-development plans with the goal of guiding the future design of the pedestrian and retail corridor. For example, the transit lanes are currently lined with black and grey granite pavers. While these are an important part of I.M. Pei’s original design, RTD says they cost about $1 million annually to repair and are causing safety problems. RTD has proposed five possible transit way alternatives that include continuing to use granite pavers, switching out the pavers for concrete or creating a hybrid mix of the two materials.

The design of the transit lanes and sidewalks is also being evaluated. While it is unlikely the RTD Free Mall Ride shuttles will be moved off of the Mall, options include reconfiguring the transit lanes to better serve pedestrians.

In order to make the space friendlier to pedestrians, potential solutions include removing the island between the transit lanes to expand the sidewalks on either side of the street or moving the transit lanes to one side of the street.

Encouraging people to linger on the Mall longer is a key goal of potential renovations. Maintaining Downtown Denver’s strong identity depends on developing a space where people want to spend time, rather than simply passing through.

As one of Denver’s crown jewels, creating an activated and welcoming space is vital to the Mall’s continued success, and we’re inspired by the number of community members coming together to find worthwhile solutions.

The study is expected to be completed in late 2017.

(Image Credit: The Cultural Landscape Foundation)