As a real estate organization that places great value on transit, pedestrian and bike accessibility, Urban Land Conservancy (ULC) is especially proud to highlight the work of this month’s partner spotlight: WalkDenver.
According to Streetsblog Denver – a national news outlet regularly publishing content focused on safer streets and increased walkability – Denver has experienced 61 traffic fatalities in 2019. This includes 17 pedestrians, 13 motorcyclists and 2 bicyclists in Denver alone. On a statewide level, 412 traffic fatalities have occurred in Colorado to date according to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT). As both the city and state grapple with a growing population and increased automobile traffic, advocates are calling for safer streets that support healthy, active transportation modes.
Founded in 2011, WalkDenver is a nonprofit organization dedicated to reclaiming Denver’s streets for people so walking, biking, and transit become safe and convenient ways to get around. Through policy advocacy, community partnerships and “pop-up” demonstrations of safe street designs, WalkDenver is changing the way Denverites navigate their city. With a focus on eight core values and a commitment to equitable community development, WalkDenver has successfully campaigned and advocated for numerous city-wide policy changes that have made a direct impact on Denver residents. These include: annual increases in funding for walking, biking, transit, and street safety projects, and the City’s adoption of a Vision Zero Action Plan to eliminate traffic deaths by 2030 as well as a pedestrian master plan.
Despite increased advocacy efforts, decreasing automobile reliance in Colorado remains an uphill battle. According to the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association, vehicle registrations hit an all-time high in 2018, with more than 211,000 new vehicles registered in one year. While car dependence continues to be a significant barrier when advocating for safer streets, WalkDenver has positioned the organization as a leader in the streets for people movement. The organization currently employs just three full-time staff members: Jill Locantore (Executive Director), Jessica Vargas (Program Coordinator) and Cindy Ambs (Neighborhood Organizer). In her role as the Executive Director, Locantore focuses on the implementation of WalkDenver’s strategic goals, which include education, research, and policy advocacy to increase walkability throughout the city.
“At its core, public policy is an expression of our community’s values,” Locantore explains. “Thanks to WalkDenver’s advocacy over the last eight years, Denver’s policies now clearly state that people walking are the top priority on all city streets.”
Locantore also serves as the vice-chair of the Denver Streets Partnership (DSP), a coalition of community-based organizations advocating for people-friendly streets. The Partnership’s mission is to “improve active transportation and transit infrastructure, accessibility and use to support healthy, inclusive, connected and sustainable communities.” The DSP coordinates advocacy and community engagement efforts in four main areas: transportation funding, citywide policies, Vision Zero, and the transformation of Denver’s major arterials into “complete streets.”
In 2018, WalkDenver launched the Vision Zero Community Program in partnership with Denver Public Works and the Denver Department of Public Health and Environment (DDPHE). The program was created in an effort to provide community members with the resources necessary to design temporary projects demonstrating safer streets in their neighborhoods. Seven community projects were selected in early 2019, and each received technical and financial support administered by WalkDenver. This was Urban Land Conservancy’s (ULC) first partnership with WalkDenver, as 303 ArtWay was selected as a finalist for the Vision Zero Community Program.
Projects ranged from traffic calming in Montbello to art installations at the Auraria Campus. In partnership with Radian (a nonprofit architecture and community focused design firm), 303 ArtWay hosted a tactical urbanism community festival in Northeast Park Hill on August 3, 2019. Through input from local residents and community-based organizations, 303 ArtWay identified the 35th and Holly intersection as an area that would significantly benefit from safer walking, biking and transit access. In an effort to increase walkability and bikeability throughout the Northeast Park Hill community, the event featured temporary widened sidewalks, bike lanes, sheltered bus stations and community activities.
In 2018, WalkDenver also received grant funding from The Colorado Health Foundation and Partners for Places to launch an initiative known as “Friends of Little Saigon” in partnership with the West Denver Renaissance Collaborative and the Vietnamese American Community of Colorado. WalkDenver hired Cindy Ambs as the project’s lead community organizer, with a goal of increasing community relations in the South Federal neighborhood. An area well known for high traffic volumes and unsafe pedestrian walkways, the initiative is focused on community beautification and increased pedestrian walkability along Federal boulevard between Alameda and Mississippi.
Following more than six months of community engagement, WalkDenver partnered with community members to host Denver’s first “night market” – an Asian tradition – at the Asia Center in June. Despite cold weather and rain, the night market was an incredible success, and WalkDenver was able to host a second event on September 13th. Over 4,000 individuals attended the “Mid-Autumn Festival” at the Far East Center, which included traditional Asian street food, music and live entertainment. To help sustain the success of the Little Saigon initiative, WalkDenver is working with property owners to establish a business improvement district (BID) along the South Federal corridor that would allow for improved pedestrian infrastructure, regular night markets and additional community improvements, funded through locally-generated property taxes.
“The community’s response to the Little Saigon initiative has been overwhelming – 97% of the people we surveyed said they would be more likely to visit the businesses along Federal Blvd if cultural events like the night market happened more often,” said Locantore. “These events also demonstrate how spaces on the corridor that are normally reserved for cars – such as surface parking lots – can be transformed into pedestrian plazas where the community comes together.”
In addition to the many programs, initiatives and policies led by WalkDenver, the nonprofit also provides technical assistance to groups like the Community Active Living Coalition (CALC). Led by DDPHE, CALC brings together community members seeking a more walkable, bikeable and transit accessible city for people of all ages and abilities. CALC works directly with neighborhood residents by collecting data, hosting regular events, and leading education and training sessions. Jessica Vargas, WalkDenver’s Program Coordinator, provides technical assistance and built environment expertise to the coalition.
As WalkDenver continues to expand their footprint throughout the City of Denver, the nonprofit’s positive impact on communities is irrefutable. Since their inception in 2011, WalkDenver’s advocacy has led to the implementation of city-wide policy measures, and the organization has proven itself as a true champion for the safety of all pedestrians. With a vision to ensure Denver’s streets are designed for the people and to foster health, happiness and opportunity for all, WalkDenver will continue to grow as a trusted resource in creating safe, accessible and more equitable communities. With our aligned missions, ULC looks forward to our continued partnership creating safe, accessible, equitable communities throughout Denver.