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Do Stapleton neighborhood's wide streets make traffic more dangerous?

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A new study of the Stapleton neighborhood, Denver's nationally acclaimed infill project, concludes that key traffic engineering decisions have encouraged high-speed driving rather than traffic "calming," made residential areas less safe and generally worked against efforts to develop the area as a showcase of New Urbanism -- a design ethos that emphasizes walkability, bike and transit use, and community-oriented development.

"If we have streets in a New Urbanist neighborhood where it's possible for drivers to go fifty, sixty or seventy miles per hour, then we've done something wrong," concludes study author Wesley Marshall, an assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado Denver.

Marshall's study, published this spring in the Journal of Urbanism: International Research on Placemaking and Urban Sustainability, looks at how well the transformation of the former airport into a community of more than 14,000 residents has delivered on certain New Urbanism goals, including compact, walkable and safe streets. (A brief abstract of the study is available online.) While Stapleton has been celebrated among urban planners as one of the largest and most successful infill projects of its kind, offering ample open space and bike trails, Marshall contends that a "conventional traffic engineering mindset" has compromised the design and promoted heavier and higher speed auto use.

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Wesley Marshall.
Part of Stapleton's problem, in Marshall's view, is a lack of overall connectivity: "While a handful of streets connect Stapleton to the surrounding neighborhoods to the east and south, there are very few streets connecting one end of Stapleton to the other." The major traffic flow is directed to two arterials -- Martin Luther King Boulevard for east-west traffic, Central Park Boulevard for north-south -- that run through the heart of the development, rather than on its periphery, as is the case with some New Urban designs.

The generous width of the streets is another concern. MLK and CPB were built with future demand in mind, but their seeming emptiness at present encourages higher speeds; about one-fifth or the motorists on either parkway at any given time are exceeding the speed limit, sometimes achieving highway speeds. The problem with leadfooted test pilots is even worse on feeder streets such as Beeler, which fronts against blocks of open space popular with families and cyclists; measurements taken there indicate that more than 63 percent of the drivers are speeding, "with some vehicles surpassing fifty mph."

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New Urbanism proponents like to push the advantages of narrow streets, which tend to slow down traffic. In many places, Stapleton's designers opted instead for parking lanes, figuring that a row of parked cars would slow down traffic just as well. But those spaces are under-utilized, Marshall notes, because so many residences have garages or off-street parking -- leading once again to higher speeds and more crashes.

Even more intriguing, Marshall found that supposedly transit-oriented infill developments such as Stapleton and Lowry are lagging behind older, established neighborhoods -- Cherry Creek, Highlands and East Colfax, specifically -- in terms of the number of residents choosing to walk, bike or use public transit rather than drive. Marshall suggests several possible reasons for Stapleton's reliance on cars, including the tendency to concentrate commercial and retail services into certain "zones" in the new developments, while they're more spread out and accessible in older areas.

He may be onto something there; residents on Stapleton's east side have been increasingly vocal about the how the proposed Eastbridge Town Center, which was supposed to be a small-scale community retail center, has morphed into another King Soopers with a giant parking lot, similar to the shopping center anchoring the west side of Stapleton at Quebec. Neighbors fear the regional store will draw more traffic into the neighborhood even as they compel those who wanted something different at Eastbridge to drive further to find more options.

Marshall observes that the problems at Stapleton aren't unfixable, but "the difficulty is that such changes are difficult to implement, both politically and economically, after a community has already been built." He reports that one Beeler Street resident has already acted to narrow the street and slow traffic by parking vehicles on either side, a few feet from the curb, and displaying a sign that reads: "Drive like your kids live here."

More from our Media archive circa June 2010: "Stapleton neighborhood fighting sloth, obesity epidemic, says NPR."


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17 comments
Aj Jensen
Aj Jensen

PS there are actually a lot of people that walk and bike throughout the Stapleton neighborhoods. Clearly this study completely ignored the Stapleton Townsquare on 29th.

Aj Jensen
Aj Jensen

They could always put a curb on the bike lanes to help narrow Central Park. And as for MLK in Stapleton… It has no bike lane and no sidewalks down either side. They could easily take out a lane and put in a bike lane or at least extend the bike trails. As for the King soopers… Stapleton will not survive without another grocery store. Technically the only grocery store in the area is the old Parkhill King soopers and it is jam packed every single day. I'm talking can't get a cart, can't find what you need because the shelves are empty, and it's not from a lack of effort on the part of the store. That grocery store used to support Parkhill just fine, but now add those 14,000 new residents… Who all need groceries… it's insane. Like it or not, we're getting the new King soopers.

Darren Lyman
Darren Lyman

Lol. Highways are wider... Are they safer?

Erin Hess
Erin Hess

No, but the moms in mini vans do. (As a mom in Stapleton NOT in a mini van, it is ok for me to say this ;). )

Dustin Rule
Dustin Rule

Who cares. What a completely ridiculous, non news worthy article.

Mark Bromley
Mark Bromley

The purpose of roads is for the Commercial vehicles. Truth is they aren't meant for every chucky with a car. Wide streets are the safest for US drivers. Go overseas to Japan, China, Korea, Middle East ect. Then you soon realize the hazards of narrow streets.

B-rad K. Evans
B-rad K. Evans

My all time favorite quote about Fort Collins: "Wide Streets. Narrow Minds." Maybe same goes for Stapleton?

FedUpDriver
FedUpDriver

Oh jeez, not this **** again ... Of course traffic is going to be higher speed on major arterial roads.  Speed limits are already too slow on MLK and CPB and the city loves putting their motorcycle cops and photo radar scamera vans there.  A few calls to complain about the heavy handed enforcement practices and the "revenue zone" to the city just results in city employees telling me they know better than me.  Want to know why I don't take transit to work?  I can drive there in 25 minutes.  It would take over and hour and a half one way to take RTD.

Also, if I recall, the speed limit on Beeler is a pokey 25.  No surprise most people speed.  A road like this could have had curves added since it butts up against open space which would have helped, but we have another arrow straight street.  Furthermore I take issue with anyone driving 70 MPH.  The only way you could drive that fast on MLK or CPB is if you blew through the red lights.  Chances are you'll hit a red light before you get a chance to go that fast. 

You know what would fix a lot of these issues?  Get rid of half of the stoplights in Stapleton and put in roundabouts.  They work quite well in Lowry and are far more safer than any standard signalized intersection.  And for f***'s sake people, hang up the damned phone and drive your car.  And put your make-up before you leave the house, not on 23rd between CPB and York!

mckillio
mckillio

What about the Wal-mart, isn't a grocery too?  Not that that KS isn't crazy.  

mckillio
mckillio

People that want to be able to walk and bike safely?

mckillio
mckillio

There's a big difference between narrow streets and narrower streets, which this article is claiming to implement the latter.  

mckillio
mckillio

@FedUpDriver Everything you stated basically is dealing with vehicles when the point of the article is about making things safer and easier for cyclists and pedestrians.  

FedUpDriver
FedUpDriver

As a pedestrian I have never felt in danger in Stapleton.  And I've walked/ran a LOT.  The trick is to actually look both ways and cross only when it's safe.  As a driver I've seen more than one moron just walk right out into a car.  You might have right-of-way but physics trumps your dumb a$$ walking in front of a moving car. The driver isn't the only person responsible for the pedestrian.  The pedestrian also plays a roll.

As far as bikes go, maybe once they actually obey the traffic rules, stop at stop signs, and not cut across blind spots in the streets without so much as looking or using a hand signal then we can talk.

emte
emte

@FedUpDriver

I would also love to see more roundabouts in that neighborhood. They are a fantastic tool for keeping vehicle speeds down while still moving a large volume of traffic. 

emte
emte

@FedUpDriver

What about all the drivers that don't obey the traffic rules? You seem to be perfectly ok with people breaking the speed limit in a car, but you're all full of righteous indignation when it comes to someone on a bike.


The point of the study is that the roads have been built in such a way that they encourage high speed driving, when those speeds were not what was originally wanted for the neighborhood. 

You seem to agree with that premise, that the design of the road accommodates a much higher speed than the posted speed limit.

The question really is then, do we want to raise the speed limits to match the high speeds the roads are built for, or change the design of the road to lower traffic speeds to what they were intended to be?


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