Denver City Council wants Mayor Michael Hancock to continue to keep streets that have been restricted to walkers and bikers during the city’s stay-at-home order staying that way until Labor Day, Sept. 7.
“These openings help people socially interact, exercise and otherwise remain connected to Denver and our neighbors,” the full 13-member body wrote in their letter to the mayor, dated May 14. “It also helps people physically distance themselves to halt COVID’s spread.”
The city’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure closed select streets, including segments of East 11th Avenue, Byron Place, Stuart Street and East 16th Avenue, to thru-traffic in April “due in part to large gatherings happening in our parks and the need to provide people more space for activities while maintaining physical distancing,” mayor’s office spokesperson Mike Strott told Colorado Politics in an email.
“This need for that space continues today and we are continuing to support that need through these street closures until further notice,” he wrote. “We will continue to monitor the streets and align any next steps as needed with the City’s COVID-19 recovery plans.”
But council members agree that “providing a specific date when these streets will remain open to people helps provide neighbors and businesses some certainty in these incredibly uncertain times.”
Members attempted to further justify their request by pointing to two recent surveys and an analysis conducted by Denver Streets Partnership, a coalition of community groups advocating to “reclaim Denver’s streets for people.”
The group found that nearly 90% of the more than 400 survey participants supported maintaining street closures in parks, and streets restricted to traffic post-pandemic. In a separate survey of more than 1,400 people, 80% of participants reported they were walking and biking as much or more than before the coronavirus outbreak.
The coalition's street analysis found that Denver’s 16th Avenue has seen a roughly 500% increase in pedestrian and cyclist activity since the city temporarily closed it to traffic.
Still, some critics have said that the need for personal vehicles is greater now more than ever, as mass transit ridership has plummeted, and that closing off streets would increase traffic congestion elsewhere, possibly creating more air pollution.
Nevertheless, the council told Hancock that members are interested in working with his office and the transportation department to “ensure we provide … feedback we’ve received from the constituents we serve,” the body wrote.
“In certain cases,” they added, “feedback we have received suggests there may be even better streets to utilize for physical distancing in our neighborhoods.”
Members also say they are interested in working with the city to increase awareness and compliance along closed streets, “that way drivers aren’t confused, and pedestrians and cyclists feel safe utilizing them.”