The Art of Walkability

by Jill Locantore on April 24, 2015

Measuring the pedestrian environment in Lakewood’s 40 West Arts District

Colfax and HarlanThe intersection of Colfax and Harlan is daunting for pedestrians.  Google Image Capture from September, 2014.

By Jennifer Addair, WalkDenver Board Member

I recently participated in a data-gathering exercise using WalkDenver’s WalkScopefor the 40 West Arts District. Our mission was to survey the sidewalks and intersections in the area around West Colfax between Teller and Depew using this crowdsourcing data tool, as well as gather pedestrian counts at key points in the district.

The initial orientation and training for the project was the first time I had heard much about the 40 West Arts District, but I was immediately intrigued. To think that this area could become a pedestrian-friendly environment filled with public art, galleries, cafes and more, is a really inspiring vision of the groups working on the district.

We were each paired up with another volunteer for our data gathering efforts. I partnered up with Audrey, who is working on her Masters in Urban Planning and had worked on another WalkScope surveying project. We met up on a quiet Sunday morning for our survey of the sidewalks and intersections. Our assigned area included several blocks along Harlan Street and extended several blocks west of Harlan along Colfax. Our immediate impression: most of the sidewalks and intersections presented serious, and sometimes scary, challenges for a pedestrian. Some of our observations:

  • Harlan Street had a sidewalk on only one side of the street. Near Walker Branch Park, this was a fairly nice and wide sidewalk, but it became narrower as it approached and crossed Colfax heading south.
  • Crossing the seven lanes of traffic on Colfax was quite dangerous, even on a fairly quiet Sunday morning. With no stoplight or pedestrian signals at the Colfax-Harlan intersection, we got stuck midway across the street on a one-foot wide median that conveniently had a hump in the middle (presumably to help with drainage, but also good at launching you toward traffic).
  • Along Colfax, we experienced traffic whizzing by much faster than the speed limit; cracks and holes in the sidewalk; a very narrow, uneven, and ice-covered patch to get past a building; along with car lots, motels, and a wide variety of people. While there was at least one bench at an RTD stop, there was no shade or any other items that could be classified as a pedestrian amenity.
  • We could easily imagine how hot and unpleasant the walk along Colfax might be during rush hour on a July afternoon, but also how different it could be with some public art, benches, shade trees, calmed traffic, or even a bike lane.

The second part of our assignment was to conduct pedestrian counts in three different locations: on Harlan just north of Colfax, near the intersection of Harlan and 14th, and at the intersection of Colfax and Ingalls. Our first two spots barely had any pedestrian activity, so we were glad it was a pleasant sunny day and that Audrey and I found lots to talk about. Our last count along Colfax had a lot more activity, with dozens of pedestrians and bike riders passing in the hour we observed. We also saw several mid-block crossings and even one brave soul biking in the right-hand lane of Colfax rather than on the sidewalk.

WALKscope screenshotScreenshot from the interactive map at www.walkscope.org, showing the data points collected in the 40 West Arts District

At the wrap-up session, it was really interesting to hear about the experience of the other data gatherers and to look at the map with the dozens of different data points. Many of their observations were similar to ours, but there were some bright spots with nice sidewalks, safe crossings, and public art around the Lamar light rail station. I also found the summary statistics to be quite interesting:

  • Only 16% of intersections and 15% of sidewalk observations rated good or very good.
  • Only 27% of intersections had crosswalks in all directions.
  • 24% of intersections required crossing seven or more lanes of traffic.
  • 72% of sidewalks had safety issues, such as high-speed traffic, poor lighting, or other problems.
  • For the pedestrian counts, the median number of pedestrians counted was 13, with 67% of the counts having 14 or fewer pedestrians walk by in a 45-60+ minute time period.

40 West OverallRatingChart

40 West Pedestrian Count Chart

 

It will be very exciting to watch as the 40W arts district and the city of Lakewood continue work in this area, and potentially to assist in future data gathering efforts to measure how those efforts change the pedestrian landscape.

Learn more about the project and the 40 West Arts District from these resources:

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