Some 2.5 miles of Federal Boulevard has been under scrutiny by ULI experts and stakeholders to see how such an automobile-dominated commercial strip can be transformed into a healthy corridor with options for safe walking and cycling, along with access to healthy food and new economic opportunities.
Ten months of study culminated with a visit from nine ULI experts from January 19-21. Led by urban designer James Moore of Tampa, Florida, this group toured Federal Boulevard from I-70 in Denver, through Adams County to 72nd Street in Westminster. More than 12,000 people live in this corridor, but their access to jobs, exercise, healthy food, economic advancement, and transportation choices is limited, resulting in higher-than-average rates of obesity and related chronic disease. Retail and services in general are not available as 65 percent of corridor businesses are used-car lots and auto repair shops.
With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Colorado Health Foundation, and locally sponsored by Regis University, the ULI volunteer experts are building on progress being made in all three jurisdictions. Regis University, an anchor institution with history on Federal dating to 1877, has committed to creating a healthier urban environment for its students and neighborhood residents. Regis is particularly interested in creating a neighborhood health clinic, improving access and safety, and adding healthy food retail options on Federal.
Across the street, a team of developers is redeveloping the 17.5-acre Marycrest convent into Aria Denver, a mixed-income community that includes an urban farm and farmstand open to nearby residents “pay as you can.”
In 2016, RTD will open two FasTracks commuter rail stations at 60th and Federal and 72nd and Federal. Adams County, the Adams County Housing Authority, the City of Westminster, and private developers are supporting station-area developments to create walkable communities with access to these new transit station. In 2014, Adams County completed an extensive plan that recommended 20 improvements to Federal Boulevard.
The ULI study focused on Federal because of the potential these individual projects bring to improve the corridor and its adjacent neighborhoods. But the study group acknowledged major challenges to be overcome. About 60 percent of the study corridor lacks sidewalks, including connections to new to the new rail stations. Fear of displacement is real as Northwest Denver gentrifies. The corridor crosses several jurisdictions, making it more difficult to identify a “project champion” as well as a consistent source of public funding for infrastructure improvements. Federal is state highway meaning many improvements are in the hands of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) rather than local communities.
More than 50 stakeholders, including elected officials, developers, city planners, and representatives of Regis University attended a final ULI presentation with findings and recommendations. (The ULI panel also interviewed most of them in small groups.) Colorado’s own David Thorpe, VP of Shaw Construction, facilitated a robust dialogue between stakeholders and the ULI National Working Group.
The ULI experts created strategic recommendations including:
- Build a “Better Federal” coalition including such major stakeholders and influencers as Adams County, City and County of Denver, City of Westminster, Regis University, RTD, CDOT, water districts, private developers, housing authorities and nonprofits
- Work toward a formal agreement (such as an Inter-Governmental Agreement, or IGA) among these entities defining principles, goals and responsibilities
- Pursue grants to make connections to local trails, especially to Clear Creek Greenway
- Rezone as needed to encourage more housing, mixed-use and “urban form” (multi-story built close to street) buildings
- Pursue alternate transit to make Last Mile connections, such as a shuttle between Regis and Clear Creek Station
- Look for and cultivate more pilot projects such as Aria and its urban farms and streetscape improvements
- Assuming Federal Boulevard will always be at least four lanes to maintain capacity, but study other traffic-calming/flow techniques such as traffic circles
- Phase in improvements through creative, site-specific finance techniques, such as utility fees, local sales taxes, and state/national agency grants
- While refining the overall vision, commitment to incremental improvements that will mature over time.
To access the Powerpoint of this presentation, click here. ULI will issue a full report later this year comparing progress made on Federal to similar corridors in Boise, Los Angeles and Nashville.
“The workshop was a huge success and created a series of collaborations among community members, developers, residents, public officials and planners with ties to the Federal Boulevard Corridor,” said Amy Cara, chair of ULI Colorado, 2015-17. “ The Building Healthy Places and Healthy Corridors Initiative has brought awareness to issues that face congested and underperforming corridors around the country. Thank you to our Local Working Group and the National Working Group for lending their expertise to make recommendations and suggest next steps to improve this corridor.”