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Re-imagine West Colfax!

 

 

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Caption: The Colfax Viaduct facilitated moving vehicles, and trolleys in its early days, from Downtown Denver to West Colfax. Many businesses were moved to make way for its construction. Photo from: colfaxavenue.com

Colfax Avenue turned 140 years old this year. Since its inception as a six block long road, it has swelled and expanded to over 26 miles across the Denver metro area and has become the longest continuous commercial street in the United States. At one point, Colfax was the place of mansions, trolleys, trees, and wealth, but with the introduction of interstate highways and disinvestment in the properties along Colfax, the spine of Denver fell from prominence. Colfax became less of a destination to live close to and more of a thoroughfare, widened to 60 feet, for moving vehicles East and West through the center of the city.

 

Today Denver is seeing a resurgence of population in the city and higher demand for urbanized, bikeable and walkable living. Colfax continues to transform, with new businesses adding to existing, and more residents wanting to be within close proximity to vibrancy. However, the physical layout of the road has not changed at the same pace as the communities that surround it. The incongruent change has created concerns for pedestrians and bikers.

 

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Biker uses the pedestrian space to navigate West Colfax. Photo credit: Anne Kuechenmeister

 

The West Colfax Business Improvement District from Sheridan to Federal Blvd is one area of Colfax leading the charge to find design solutions to make the road more compatible to walking, biking, and transit. Data collected by PlaceMatters, WalkDenver, the University of Colorado, and residents in the West Colfax area has helped pinpoint key pedestrian concerns. Bike route analysis has identified large service gaps, which create high stress biking environments. Stakeholder input has further refined priorities for area businesses, property owners, residents, employees, and visitors. The resulting partnership and efforts to identify design solutions for the area is called Re-imagine West Colfax.

 

 

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Temporary design demonstration showing parklets, or pop-up parks, more space for pedestrians and added greenery/ Photo Credit: Kansas City Better Block

The Gates Family Foundation has awarded grants to PlaceMatters and WalkDenver and have partnered with Groundwork Denver, the University of Colorado, Alta Planning + Design, and Radian to organize a series of activities and events this summer assisting the West Colfax Business Improvement District and its efforts to demonstrate what the next era of Colfax could be. The Re-imagine West Colfax design demonstration on August 16th will include several types of bike lanes that allow riders to test what it feels like to ride on each. It will include pedestrian bulb outs to decrease the crossing distance on Colfax. Participants can also experience enhanced crosswalks, median refuges, wider sidewalks and small pop-up parks along Colfax. All of these features will be paired with food trucks, music, art and beer!

 

 

Pop up bike lane

Pop-up bike lane lets riders test a safer and lower stress riding experience

The long term vision for this demonstration is to show the community and city how data collection, community participation and short term design demonstrations can lead to better long term improvements and planning in the community. The temporary design demonstration allows residents, business owners, government agencies and traffic engineers to see the designs in action prior to long-term implementation.

 

If you would like to see collaborative community planning in progress, and test out how bike and pedestrian environments can be improved, please join us on August 16th, 10 am to 4 pm, on West Colfax Avenue between Tennyson and Utica.

 

Support Re-imagine West Colfax by volunteering your time. Please join us at a community meeting at 4500 W Colfax Ave Denver, CO 80204 from 6pm to 8pm on July 28th or August 11th.

Support Re-imagine West Colfax with your donation, and see your pledge matched by the WCBID’s $3000 match grant! Donate Now!

For more information contact: Anne Kuechenmeister, anne@placematters.org

 

Re-Imagining West Colfax: Join Us on June 11th!

Calling all West Colfax community members, visitors, business owners, and advocates for biking and walking!

The West Colfax Business Improvement District, in conjunction with local partners, is hosting a resident engagement kick-off meeting on June 11th! Join us at Confluence Ministries from either 9 to 11am or 6 to 8pm to learn about the project and provide input on design preferences to improve walking and biking along West Colfax.

The feedback will be used to inform design decisions for a temporary installment of improvements for pedestrians and cyclists this summer in a tactical urbanism design demonstration.

 

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Parklets from PlaceMatters & Alta Planning + Design at this year’s NPSG Conference

Have you ever gone to a conference in a park? How about a park at a conference? This January, attendees at the 2015 New Partners for Smart Growth (NPSG) Conference in Baltimore, MD had a chance to do both.

PlaceMatters teamed up with Alta Planning + Design to design, build and host two parklets in the foyer of the conference venue. The parklets welcomed a steady stream of visitors throughout the conference, many of whom found it a perfect place to hang out, meet, and enjoy lunch.

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Above, left: Tech Fair presenters take a quick lunch break at the Reimagining Streets Parklet. Right: Conference-goers utilize seating in the Active Living Parklet for some work catch-up.

 

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What makes West Colfax so wicked for pedestrians? WALKscope data provides insight.

Famously dubbed “the longest, wickedest street in America,” Denver’s Colfax Avenue offers a myriad of diverse destinations ranging from bars and restaurants to elementary schools to major employment centers to steam baths. The public buses that traverse Colfax are among the most used in Denver’s entire transit system, with the highest boardings per hour and lowest subsidies per boarding. Outside of downtown, Colfax may be the busiest pedestrian corridor in the city.  And yet, as anyone who has spent time on the Avenue can attest, Colfax can be an unpleasant and sometimes even unsafe place to walk.  A new report from WalkDenver and partners highlights some of the factors that make Colfax, specifically West Colfax, so wicked for pedestrians.

Many intersections along West Colfax, such as this one at Vrain Street, have no crosswalk or traffic lights, requiring pedestrians to walk several blocks out of their way to cross the street safely. Photo source: WALKscope.org.

In the summer and fall of 2014, WalkDenver, PlaceMatters, the West Colfax Business Improvement District, and Ken Schroeppel’s Planning Methods class at the University of Colorado, Denver, College of Architecture and Planning partnered to audit the pedestrian environment along the West Colfax corridor. Trained neighborhood volunteers and planning students used the WALKscope mobile tool to collect data about sidewalks, intersections, and pedestrian counts throughout the area roughly bounded by Sheridan Boulevard to the west, Zuni Street to the east, 19th Avenue to the north, and 10th Avenue to the south.  A total of 1,532 data points were collected: 1,062 sidewalks, 425 intersections, and 45 pedestrian counts. Major findings of this assessment include the following:

  • The places where the most people walk, including Colfax Avenue and the areas adjacent to light rail stations, are the least pleasant and the least safe for pedestrians.
  • Unsafe traffic speeds are a major problem on Colfax.
  • Crossing distance is also a problem on Colfax. Pedestrians must cross 5 or more lanes to get across Colfax at pretty much every intersection.
  • Crosswalks are few and far between on Colfax, where they are needed most. In many cases, people have to walk several blocks out of their way to cross at an intersection with crosswalks.
  • The lack of buffers between sidewalks and the street degrades the pedestrian environment.  With few exceptions, the sidewalks along Colfax are all “attached,” meaning they are directly adjacent to the street with no buffer.

Click the infographic above for more details, or view the full report here. PlaceMatters and WalkDenver is continuing to work with the West Colfax BID and surrounding neighborhoods to identify potential interventions along the corridor that would improve the pedestrian environment, and we hope to demonstrate some of these design concepts with temporary installations.

This blog post was cross-posted with permission from WalkDenver. View its original posting here.

 

Digital Engagement: Challenges and Strategies for Local Governments

Digital technology is quickly integrating into our lives: recent data from the Pew Research Center show that 91% of American adults own a cell phone, among which 58% are smartphones. If you are still questioning the pervasiveness of digital technology, simply watch a 2-year-old toddler unlocking your smartphone or tablet and making it all the way to her favorite game (or your emails). Civic participation in comprehensive planning is no exception to this trend: an increasing number of municipalities and government agencies are using digital community engagement tools to reach broader audiences, make the process innovative and fun, and complement traditional in-person strategies.

At the forefront of this trend is the City of Salt Lake City, which already implemented a wide range of digital engagement tools, including websites, Open City Hall, blogs, SpeakOutSLC, social media, and Textizen. Like many cities using these types of tools, Salt Lake has faced some challenges. Because so many people can participate online, the amount of input can quickly become overwhelming and difficult to analyze. Further, the City wasn’t sure how to evaluate the effectiveness of the tools it was using, especially compared to other outreach methods. To address these challenges, Salt Lake City asked PlaceMatters to research and make recommendations on the following two questions:

  1. How to synthesize (compile and summarize) the input gathered through digital outreach methods into a format that is useful for local government planners and decision-makers?
  2. How to evaluate the effectiveness of digital outreach methods?

Our research involved three steps: first, we interviewed Salt Lake City’s engagement manager and conducted an online survey of approximately 20 selected City staff. Second, we carried out a thorough literature review of previous research on the topics. Finally, we interviewed academics and practitioners, both inside and outside the US, with expertise in public engagement generally and digital outreach in particular.

Based on this research, PlaceMatters made the following recommendations to the City, which any government agency interested in using digital outreach tools should consider:

  1. Confirm the key objectives the City hopes to achieve through the use of digital outreach tools. For example, we identified three objectives for Salt Lake City: “engage a diverse group of stakeholders,” “increase trust in government,” and “enhance citizen knowledge of policy issues.”
  2. Establish a systematic approach to evaluation with minimum standards to be incorporated into all public engagement efforts, and build these into individual and department work plans. Specific categories and methods of evaluation include ease of use, usage, efficiency, and effectiveness.
  3. Establish a central repository of public input. The idea is to store public input collected through diverse methods and across different projects in a centralized location, using a tool that is easy to use and search through.
  4. Dedicate staff and resources for public engagement.
  5. Share practices and evaluation results internally and externally. Building a culture of community engagement and evaluation both within the community and nationwide will lead to continuous improvement in engagement tools and techniques.

The full report is available for viewing or download below. Please contact Marine Siohan (marine@placematters.org) for any additional questions, feedback or comments.

Digital Outreach in Salt Lake City: Evaluating Effectiveness & Synthesizing Input

 

Winners of OPTG Innovation Awards Announced!

The OPTG is pleased to announce the winners of the inaugural Innovation Awards. Awards were presented in two categories. The Innovative Tool Award highlights a tool that has made a significant contribution to the open planning tools landscape. The second award for 2014 is the Exemplary Implementation Award, which recognizes a planning process or project that utilized planning tools in an innovative manner to create effective public engagement or improved analysis supporting the resolution of a significant challenge.

This year’s winners are:

Innovative Tool Award
Forest Planner | Ecotrust

Ecotrust’s Forest Planner brings free decision support tools to Oregon and Washington’s forest owners. Using Forest Planner, forest managers can map properties, prepare forest management scenarios, and evaluate the results based on key indicators of forest production and health. The innovative use of open-source software to bring improved analytics and scenario planning to forest land managers for free is a perfect example of the Open Planning Tool Group’s goals in action.

Key Innovations:

  • Connecting science to decision-making: Forest owners and managers can evaluate the effects of management strategies using a system developed in collaboration with Oregon State University Extension foresters.
  • Broadening Access: Previously, analytics of this type were available only through the use of expensive and complicated software. Forest Planner’s web-based interface makes complex data accessible to land owners and other decision-makers. Using open source software further opens up the access to this tool to new audiences.
  • Innovative Analysis: Forest Planner brings together years of forest and conservation modeling with tool development in the open source Madrona framework.

Forest Planner is scheduled for rollout on March 22nd at the Clackamas Tree School, an annual event of the Oregon State University Extension. Learn more about the tool at: http://forestplanner.ecotrust.org/

 

Exemplary Implementation Award
Massachusetts Priority Mapping Protocol | Metropolitan Area Planning Council

The Priority Mapping Protocol creates a framework for using civic engagement and data-driven technology to identify priority areas for housing and economic development in Massachusetts. It exemplifies the Open Planning Tool Group’s linked goals of advancing the use of open access and open source tools to improve planning decisions through engagement with the public, providing improved analytics and information to decision makers, and supporting the use of scenario planning practices in policy development.
Key Innovations:

  • Linking Data and Civic Engagement: In the two projects where it has been used, 80 public meetings allowed participants learn about the complex factors that shape their community, and more importantly to share information with and learn from each other.. The innovative use of geospatial tools like Community Viz allowed technical staff to gather public feedback that provides significantly more precise, and thus useful, guidance for future policy decisions.
  • Multi-Agency Collaboration: The Priority Mapping Protocol was implemented in collaboration with the State’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, the South East Regional Planning and Economic Development District (SRPEDD), and MAPC. Collaboration between MAPC and SRPEDD involved a considerable amount of learning across the two agencies and helped to build the capacity of SRPEDD to implement more advanced scenario planning tools in the future.
  • Availability and Scaling: The tools developed to support this protocol are available to any region in the State of Massachusetts and include a library of supporting data and guidance for the inclusion of locally sourced information.

In addition to recognition for their achievements, the award recipients will receive a cash prize of $500. Congratulations to both of the winners! We’ll be rolling out more info about each tool and process in the coming weeks.

Cross-posted on ScenarioPlanningTools.org

 

PlaceMatters and WalkDenver Partner on Pedestrian Data Collection Tool

We are pleased to announce that PlaceMatters is partnering with WalkDenver to develop an open-source, on-line data collection tool that will create an inventory of pedestrian facilities and conditions in Denver neighborhoods, as well as collect pedestrian data counts. The tool will allow community members to record neighborhood conditions via smart phones or tablets, upload and store this information in a shared online database, and create compelling maps and other visualizations that illustrate the need for improvements.  WalkDenver will use the tool to engage residents in assessing the walkability of their own neighborhoods and understanding how walkability relates to quality of life and health. The data collected will help identify and prioritize strategies for improving walkability and track changes over time.  The project is funded by a grant from Mile High Connects.

Smartphones and civic engagement

 

One of the concerns that often accompanies the usage of technology like smartphones for civic engagement is a fear that they only reach a small and sometimes over-represented portion of the population. Well, the good folks at Pew Research Center published a study last month that found we’ve made it past the 50% mark for smartphone ownership. In typical Pew fashion, there are some really interesting insights in the slicing and dicing of demographics in the report. For instance, only 9% of respondents reported not owning any cell phone (and yes they did include land line calls in the survey). Of course, cell phones are just one of many mechanisms for engaging stakeholders, and are probably best used as ways of augmenting conventional engagement approaches. While we’re still a good ways off from full adoption of smartphones, there’s good reason to be excited about mobile technology for crowdsourcing, outreach, and other purposes.

And in other news of smartphones and the people who use them, check out this map of smartphone usage by brand. Notice any breakdowns along other demographic features?

Civic hackathon inspires competition, collaboration around planning and sustainability apps in Denver region

This past weekend, July 27th to the 29th, PlaceMatters presented Colorado Code for Communites: A Civic Hack-a-Thon at the Uncubed Coworking space in Denver.  With the support of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities and a number of sponsors and partners, we had a successful event that brought open data, talented coders and designers, and plenty of food and refreshment to produce a strong set of ideas culminating in 2 winning applications to help advance sustainability and livability within the region.  If you don’t get through this whole blog post, please at least jump below for ways to get involved in this growing effort.

Participants watch final presentations at Colorado Code for Communities

Participants watch final presentations at Colorado Code for Communities

First, I would like to acknowledge all of the hard work of the nearly 30 participants and a number of partners and advocates that made this a truly inspiring community driven event.  In the end our panel of judges chose 2 applications that will receive additional support from PlaceMatters and it’s network of partners as well as mentorship from Galvanize (a local firm supporting investment in entrepreneurial activity through 3 pillars: venture, community and curriculum).  These applications were:

  • EndPoint – an app built to provide information about the characteristics of your neighborhood and help to support more sustainable choices.  In a weekend, the team produced an application using open data from the Denver region including crime data, transit stops, libraries, and demographics among other data.  They also managed to pull together a well documented API to serve that data back out to developers in the city.  The team included: Levi Beers, Clay McIllrath, Jon Hemstreet, Jiran Dowlati
  • RadRoutes – pitched by Justin Lewis and Jill Locantore of the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG), this application crowdsources ratings of the various bike facilities and provides additional mashups of crash data and bike theft data to help improve biking in the region.  It also provides great feedback to DRCOG to make planning decisions on future investments around safety and building a more complete bike network. The team included: Justin Lewis, Michael Lockwitz, Jeremy Thiesen, Mark Scheel, Mehdi Heris
The EndPoint team hacks away at their winning application

The EndPoint team hacks away at their winning application

It was a hard decision and we had a number of other apps including:

  • CityCycle – an application offering a clearinghouse of information to cyclists in the region on routes, bike racks, and BCycle (bike sharing) stations. The team included: Oza Klanjsek, Ian Harwick, Shilo Rohlman
  • MyFairElection – an application offering increased transparency on election day for polling locations.  You can find polling location data, the laws affecting voting in your state, check in and out of polling locations to report wait times, rate polling locations, and share that you voted with friends on your social networks. The team included: Karen Suhaka, Cole Chambers, David Miller, Philip Hickey, David Chapman, Curtis Floth
  • Parking Thief – parking data is notoriously hard to collect and keep up to date.  This app gamifies the data collection process and helps support better decisions around parking and aids in parking management.  For example, get more points if you park at a Park and Ride and take the light rail or bus in to downtown. The team included: Vui Nguyen, Andrew Corliss, George Peterson
  • Transit Trends – in the absence of real time information, this app allows transit users to report the arrival time of their bus or train and rate the experience.  The app could be used to alert users downstream of a late bus.  It can also be used to provide real time feedback to the transit agency on the quality of service and support future service decisions. The team included: Laura Leslie, David Viramontes, David Stile, Jim Lindauer

We have encouraged everyone to keep on hacking and stay engaged as this is just the beginning of building a robust civic hacking community devoted to building more sustainable and vibrant communities throughout the region.  You can check out more presentations and resources from the weekend on the wiki and read a round up of the weekend’s event from Tekhne (our media sponsor). Continue reading