Champa Bridge and 13th Street Improvements Reinvigorate Pedestrian Activity, Safety in Downtown Denver

Challenge

The City and County of Denver was faced with a challenge in the heart of the City’s downtown: the need to remove an existing pedestrian bridge over Champa Street and 13th Street, make upgrades to 13th Street and provide critical repairs to the Denver Performing Arts Complex (DPAC) parking garage in order to reinvigorate pedestrian activity, access and safety throughout the area.

The project was put in motion because of concerns over pedestrian safety due to lack of lighting along Champa Street and 13th Street, as well as a desire to remove the aging pedestrian bridge over 13th Street which connected a parking garage to the DPAC. Most pedestrians accessed the DPAC via the bridge, which limited street use by pedestrians. Half of 13th Street is covered by the DPAC galleria above and was poorly lit which contributed to the safety concerns for pedestrians. The City and County of Denver’s goals were to create a safer, more inviting and walkable access point to the DPAC.

Surrounded by the DPAC, Colorado Convention Center and a number of other theaters, concert halls and businesses, this project was highly visible and took place in a tightly packed, bustling area – requiring strategic planning, design and construction management. As a whole, the project included removing a pedestrian bridge, changing the street from two-way to one-way to improve egress from the DPAC parking garage after events, architecture and planning, complex utilities coordination, stormwater management, adding loading zones, as well as stakeholder and public outreach, among other responsibilities.

The project was delivered using the construction manager/general contractor project delivery approach. The City and County of Denver undertook a mini-bid request for proposal selection process, seeking proposals from three firms on the City’s Public Works On-Call Contract – ultimately selecting SEH to lead this project.

Solution

SEH’s efforts on the project included new lighting along the 13th Street corridor including under the portion covered by the Garner Galleria Theatre; new traffic circulation improvements; improved drainage; streetscape improvements; the removal of an existing pedestrian bridge; and modifications to the exterior of the Colorado Convention Center, Boettcher Concert Hall and the DPAC parking garage – requiring extensive stakeholder coordination, education and engagement.

Now complete, this project provides a walkable, inviting space along 13th Street that serves as the main pedestrian pathway from the Colorado Convention Center and the Regional Transportation District Light Rail Station to the DPAC. The SEH team also helped improve accessibility for delivery and loading trucks serving the theater and other connected venues.

Removing the pedestrian bridge
The removal of the pedestrian bridge was one of the project's biggest obstacles because it connected from the Colorado Convention Center parking garage to the Garner Galleria Theatre above 13th Street. Specifically, there was need to retrofit the Colorado Convention Center parking garage for the removal of the doors on the second level that accessed the pedestrian bridge. Repairs also needed to be made to the Boettcher Concert Hall at the DPAC and Garner Galleria Theatre due to the impacts that occurred from the removal of the pedestrian bridge that connected both of these structures.

Simultaneously, the SEH team was tasked with maintaining traffic flow during bridge removal and construction.  

Of note, the team came up with a plan that had the bridge removed in a single weekend without harming the existing parking garage and DPAC entrances, and without disrupting traffic. The video above further explores the bridge removal and strategy behind it.

Street redesign, lighting
13th Street was originally a two-way street with tunnel access underneath the main parking garage connecting to the DPAC. During the conceptual design phase, the SEH team elected to change 13th Street to a one-way street. One reason for this was to control and optimize the loading operations. Another reason was to control how the DPAC parking garage emptied out following large events.

Transitioning to a two-lane, one-way street enabled all traffic to travel in one direction which resulted in improved efficiency emptying the DPAC parking garage after events. This was a primary goal of the performing arts complexes, which came to fruition as a result of the strategic planning and design by the project team.

The SEH team narrowed the roadway to two lanes in order to create a parking lane for loading and unloading operations. Narrowing the roadway also created more sidewalk space which, in turn, led to more room for benches, landscaping and ultimately safer walking for pedestrians.

Pedestrian plaza
Prior to the pedestrian bridge being removed, 13th Street was filled with bridge columns as well as an elevator. It was an undefined area, dark and often used by individuals facing homelessness. Once the bridge was removed, the City and County’s goal was to make this space a gathering area.

The project team used thicker concrete for the sidewalks and plaza area to accommodate delivery vehicles accessing the adjacent theaters. The team also used removable bollards along the sidewalk and plaza area, which ensure safety when needed but can also be removed should the City and County wish to close the street in order to bring in food trucks during events and the like. Seating was also integrated to further activate pedestrian activity.

The space has become a functional, transition and gathering space for people as they venture to and from the theater areas.

Pedestrian access
Once the bridge was removed, optimizing pedestrian access to and from the theater area was another challenge and goal. In order to provide access for pedestrians who are traveling at street level, the SEH project team created an opening into a connecting stairwell to create space for a new egress that pedestrians could access the theaters through.

From here, the team aligned the lighting to help direct/guide pedestrians into the new opening area and ultimately to the theater area. The team implemented decorative lighting and signage through the interior of the stairwell to serve as a beacon for pedestrians accessing the theater areas.

Utility challenges
One unique challenge for this project was the lack of as-built drawings from past work on the surrounding theaters, two streets and connecting downtown Denver area. The SEH team needed to carefully locate surrounding above- and below-ground utilities.

SEH’s use of various technologies helped capture much of the needed data to come up with as-builts. However, in some instances project team members needed to, in effect, strategically “poke holes” in various walls to examine what was behind them and figure out where to place supporting utilities underground. The team managed to locate all utilities without disruption to the infrastructure, schedule or budget.

Project Name
Champa Bridge and 13th Street Improvements

Location
City of Denver

Client
City and County of Denver

Features

  • Removed pedestrian bridge
  • One-way road configuration creating efficient parking garage egress
  • Street lighting providing safer pedestrian environment
  • Pedestrian plaza including benches and landscaping
  • Improved pedestrian railing on Garner Galleria Theatre
  • Color changing lights under Garner Galleria Theatre
  • Dedicated parking and loading areas on 13th Street
  • Removable bollards allowing 13th Street to be converted to a festival area
  • Improved drainage under 13th Street and theater areas
  • Trash and dumpster screening improving pedestrian experience

Services

  • Project management
  • Architecture
  • Civil engineering
  • Structural engineering
  • Traffic engineering
  • Wastewater engineering
  • Water resources engineering
  • Survey
  • Utilities coordination

Related Video: 11 Amazing Project Design Solutions