Photo credit: Westwood Unidos
Article by friend of WalkDenver, Madeline Keating
Located in southwest Denver, the culturally-rich Westwood neighborhood is not exactly a pedestrian haven. Sidewalks tend to be missing or deteriorated, drivers tend to drive above the already high posted speed limits on major roads such as Federal, Morrison, Alameda, Kentucky and Sheridan, intersections are unsafe due to a lack of pedestrian signals and marked crossings. There are few community gathering places and parks, and the commercial corridors are dominated by auto-oriented and light industrial uses. In fact, according to the Safe Routes to School Walk Audit Report released by WalkDenver earlier this year for the portion of Westwood surrounding Munroe Elementary, “87% of sidewalks and 89% of intersections were rated three or less on a five-point quality scale…213 of 309 total one-block segment are less than three feet wide “rollover curbs”…and only 51% of intersections were reported to have curb ramps.”
Image source: Munroe Elementary Safe Routes to School Walk Audit Report
Despite the pedestrian environment downfalls, the community has been primarily built up by first and second generation Mexican-Americans who have established and celebrated a vibrant community. The neighborhood is ripe for investment in sidewalks and other pedestrian amenities, and a connected urban grid that does not result in displacement of Westwood’s current residents.
Enter the recently adopted Westwood Neighborhood Plan [PDF]. Following an 18-month planning process and unanimous approval by the Planning Board on June 15th, City Council finally adopted the Westwood Neighborhood Plan on July 18th. While the implementation process will be long, the Westwood Neighborhood is well on its way to filling in some of the missing neighborhood pieces. The plan does a good job of addressing the voids in walkability and bikeability and points toward a future of improved pedestrian amenities, connections, and access.
Like many Denver neighborhood plans, the Westwood plan is organized into guiding vision elements and transformative projects. The vision elements are Connected, Celebrated, and Resilient and each element addresses improved health in the community. Thankfully, for those of us who like to explore Denver’s neighborhoods on foot, the “Connected Westwood” section basically translates to “Pedestrian and Bike-Friendly, Open Space Abundant, and Safer Roads Westwood.”
The first recommendation of the plan is to “Create a Walk-able Westwood.” This will be achieved by improving and providing basic pedestrian needs, such as better sidewalks with added amenity zones, intersection improvements such as decorative pedestrian crosswalks, traffic calming improvements, and pedestrian scale lighting. The recommendation specifically mentions the importance of prioritizing safe routes to school.
Image source: Westwood Neighborhood Plan
Other connected recommendations reference safe and convenient transit options, a more complete bike network, improved and better-utilized green spaces and enhanced multi-modal connectivity on key streets such as Morrison Road, Kentucky and Alameda Avenues, and Federal Boulevard.
These recommendations will help connect Westwood, and work towards some of the recommendations that WalkDenver suggested in the Munroe Elementary Safe Routes to School Walk Audit Report, including:
- Transform Knox Court and Virginia Avenue into priority pedestrian corridors for the neighborhood
- Enhance pedestrian crossing treatments at intersections surrounding the school
- Limit traffic flow on Knox Court during school hours
- Redesign the intersection of Morrison Road, Alameda Avenue and Knox Court
- Study additional pedestrian improvements on Alameda Avenue and Federal Boulevard
- Use low-cost interim design strategies.
To build on the momentum and excitement of the newly adopted plan, the City and its partners must identify specific funding opportunities for each recommendation. Improving sidewalks, in particular, will require a change in how the City currently funds sidewalk construction and repair. Denver is lucky to have this pedestrian friendly guiding vision plan for Westwood, and along with the Safe Routes to School Report, Westwood will likely be safer, more connected, and multi-modal as Denver continues to grow.