Is Stapleton living up to its potential?
Study links auto-oriented roads with less walking and biking
Syracuse Street: Is this the sort of street you imagine in a New Urbanist Development?
By Jenny Neimann, WalkDenver Policy Committee Member
Has Stapleton lived up to its potential? This major urban infill project was designed as a New Urbanist community, which prioritizes walkable neighborhoods, mixed-use development, and a compact, livable street network. CU Denver Professor Wes Marshall, who lives in Stapleton, was motivated by the high-speed travel he sees on Stapleton’s roads every day to study whether the community has actually lived up to this ideal. Marshall frames it simply: New Urbanist neighborhoods shouldn’t be divided by “streets you don’t want to walk across.”
Marshall examined Stapleton’s street design, traffic, and travel behaviors and found examples where New Urbanist ideals conflicted with the conventional traffic engineering standards of the City and County of Denver. Compromises were made, and the result was a neighborhood with wider roads designed for higher speeds and a less-walkable community that in some ways functions more like a traditional, auto-oriented suburb.
One example of this is Beeler Street, a collector street with housing on one side and open space on the other. The street is 38 feet wide due to on-street parking on both sides. Because homes in Stapleton have one or two off-street parking spaces, these on-street parking spaces are rarely occupied: a road with one lane in each direction ends up feeling instead like a four-lane road built for high speeds. Not surprisingly, drivers take the visual cue of a wide-open street and drive much more quickly than they would on a street crowded with parked cars on both sides - imagine residential streets in Capital Hill or Washington Park.
The character of Stapleton’s transportation network affects the daily travel choices of residents. Even though Stapleton has outstanding sidewalk quality, multiple mixed-use paths, and great access to parks and open space, Marshall found that walking and biking rates are lower than in Denver’s older neighborhoods: 92% of trips by Stapleton residents are taken by car, versus 66 to 77% in traditional Denver neighborhoods such as Highlands, Cherry Creek, and East Colfax. Marshall wasn’t able to attribute these differences to commute distances, demographics, or parking availability.
Luckily, Stapleton is still being built: “Now is the time to change this,” and create a better environment in Stapleton’s developing areas, says Marshall. He recommends looking back to the goals of Stapleton’s Green Book, built off of New Urbanism principles, to inspire the next phase of development in Stapleton. “Transportation is key to getting new urbanism right.” Marshall also advocates for tactical urbanism - experimentation with small-scale interventions that test out “road diets” or walkability projects on a short-term basis and that don’t take a huge budget.
Residents in Stapleton have already tried their own interventions: A Beeler Street resident parked a trailer and an SUV on the street to narrow the roadway, aiming to slow traffic speeds. He also hung a banner announcing: “Drive like your kids live here” to try to raise awareness and slow down cars. But permanent change will take partnerships between the City and residents: it would great to see the City looking into ways it can work with residents to implement temporary measures that test how safety can be improved. The same interventions can be used throughout Denver: transportation design is a key component of walkable, livable communities – whether it is a New Urbanist community or not.
Welcome to Denver, Streetsblog!
WalkDenver is thrilled to welcome Streetsblog to the Mile High City. The Streetsblog network was founded in New York City in 2006 and has since expanded to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago, where it is widely recognized for intelligent reporting and commentary that makes the case for safe, efficient, equitable streets. Streetsblog Denver's inaugural article, published this past Monday, called on the City and County of Denver to "Get Serious About Street Safety and Adopt Vision Zero."
One of Streetsblog Denver’s goals is to ensure that our streets are safe enough for everyone to walk or bike without getting killed in traffic. Toward this end, they will be tracking and updating traffic fatality cases to better illuminate the sources of danger and how to prevent deaths in the future.
We look forward to partnering with David Sachs, Streetsblog Denver’s editor and main reporter, to advocate for more walkable and bikable streets, better public transportation serving Denver’s urban neighborhoods, and to help Denver continue to grow and prosper with an exceptional transportation system designed for people, not just cars.