Local decision-makers take a walk with community members along Federal Boulevard in northwest Denver

by Jessica Vargas on September 20, 2018

It was a very sunny, very hot Thursday afternoon when 55 people converged on a northwest Denver strip mall sandwiched between the Regis University campus and North Federal Boulevard. Members of the Regis University Community Council had invited local leaders from Denver and Adams counties to join them on a walk along Federal. The goal: for these decision-makers to experience firsthand what conditions are like for those who travel the corridor on foot. 

The Regis University Community Council is a group of residents, businesses owners, local government, school- and church-affiliated members, and Regis staff and faculty who are working to strengthen the bond between the university and the community. Following the release of our “It’s Time to Fix Federal Boulevard” report, the Community Council reached out to WalkDenver to learn more about Vision Zero on Federal Boulevard – and how they could advocate for safety improvements on their section of this dangerous street.

“Both the highway and Federal act as border vacuums that isolate Chaffee Park and Regis from their neighbors,” says Chaffee Park resident and RNO president Jason Hornyak. “It is much easier and far safer for us to drive the three blocks to Rocky Mountain Lake Park – drive three blocks just so we can park and take a walk? When I do feel brave enough to travel there on foot, I usually pick up my dog up and carry her because of how unsafe I feel letting her walk. And if I feel that way about my dog, I can only imagine how people would feel walking through here with a stroller, or in a wheelchair.”

A bus stop just south of 54th Ave is located along a narrow sidewalk between a parking lot and fast-moving traffic on Federal. No bench or shelter is present to make the wait in the 95-degree heat more comfortable.

Inspired by the walk on Peoria Street in Montbello this past spring, the Community Council decided to organize a resident-led walk to highlight the traffic safety issues facing people who walk, bike, and access transit along Federal. The group sent out invites to representatives from a number of city, county, and regional agencies who operate along this section of Federal that straddles the border between Denver and Adams Counties. They then planned out a 1.5-mile walking route between 54th Avenue and I-70 with stops at various points along the way to give residents the opportunity to share some of their most pressing concerns. 

In attendance on the day to listen to what community members had to share were a number of elected officials, including Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, Adams County Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio, Denver District 1 Councilman Rafael Espinoza, Denver At-Large Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, and Chris Lowell, aide to Denver At-Large Councilwoman Robin Kniech. The walk also included decision-makers from Denver Public Works, Denver Community Planning and Development, Denver Department of Public Health and Environment, CDOT, RTD, DPD District 1, Regis University, and Adams County. 

Walkers pass by a fresh memorial for a recent traffic fatality, underscoring the need to address the dangerous conditions on Federal. Image credit: Chris Jones/Pickled Entropy

After a blessing from Father Kevin Burke of Regis University, Berkeley resident Lindsey Rosendahl invited attendees to imagine what a safer, more connected Federal Boulevard could look like in northwest Denver. “Wouldn’t it be great if North Federal Blvd was a welcoming gateway between Denver and Adams Counties? Wouldn’t it be great if Federal was a meeting hub for neighbors and counties and not a dividing line? Wouldn’t it be great if the people invited here today, right here, right now, made a connection, started a conversation about how to make North Federal Blvd a better place? A safer place? Wouldn’t it be great if North Federal Blvd was a success story about the collaboration over county lines on a state highway?”

Attendees then heard from MIG consultants working on the master planning process for Regis, including a vision for transforming the strip mall where the walk started – which is owned by the university – into a more people-friendly space. As the walk continued and the issues made clear, the most impactful moments came from the residents themselves. Gisela Boderke shared her experience of being hit by a driver turning left onto Federal while she was crossing with her dogs in the crosswalk. Lucas Merrigan pointed out the difficulties of navigating the intersection of Federal and 50th Ave. Jason Hornyak detailed the lack of connectivity between neighborhoods caused by poor street design. 

Even with a lack of safe options, there are many people who still need to travel along Federal without a car. Image credit: Chris Jones/Pickled Entropy

After nearly two hours in the sun, the walk ended with a call to action from the Community Council. “We encourage you to continue this conversation with each other, maybe schedule a meeting or two with a department that you could work with to solve any of the problems that you’ve just witnessed, and to please let us know how we can help. We’re not experts in planning and infrastructure, but we are experts in this experience. Today’s walk was just an introduction – the next steps are up to you,” said Hornyak. 

With a great turnout and positive response from the attendees, the Community Council knows their work is not yet over. They are now ready to showcase some of their own ideas for how to make Federal safer for the most vulnerable users of the street. Thanks to a grant from the AARP Community Challenge program, WalkDenver is working with the Council to organize a pop-up traffic calming demonstration at Federal and 50th Ave on Saturday, October 6. The demonstration will include tactical urbanism elements such as temporary curb extensions, bike lane protection, a temporary median, and better bus stops. If you’d like to learn more about this project and how you can volunteer, visit the event’s Facebook page or the volunteer sign-up page.

Representatives from the Regis community also joined with other neighborhoods and business districts along the Federal Boulevard corridor to submit a letter to Mayor Hancock earlier this year requesting a commitment of $5 million for safety improvements on Federal in the City’s 2019 budget. The draft budget released last week, however, includes no new funding for Federal. Visit the WalkDenver Action Center to send a message to the Mayor and City Council and let them know: the 2019 Budget still needs work! 

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