The 16th Street Pedestrian Mall
Denver's 16th Street Mall was designed in the late 1970's by Henry Cobb, who worked at the time for I.M. Pei and Partners, along with Laurie Olin, then with Hanna Olin. The Transit way/Mall was prepared for the Regional Transportation District (RTD) in November 1977. This document laid the groundwork for the Mall's design concept and elements, its functional requirements and its transfer facilities.
The 16th Street Mall officially opened on October 4, 1982 and spanned from Market Street to Broadway. A grand celebratory parade attracted over 200,000 visitors to the corridor. The original 16th Street Mall closed the street to all vehicular traffic with the exception of the free Mall shuttles. The project’s costs totaled $76.1 million, 80% of which came from federal funds, and included the capital costs related to the Mall shuttles and terminals.
The Mall’s two prominent architectural features are its granite paver system and the post lanterns. During construction, three different colors of granite pavers were laid in varying patterns to distinguish the sidewalks from the transit ways from the pedestrian medians. Over 283,000 square feet of granite pavers came from Colorado, Massachusetts and Minnesota in colors of red, light gray and slate and were installed to mimic the skin of a Western Diamondback rattlesnake. I.M. Pei and Partners recommended the pavers citing their beauty, durability, low maintenance costs and non-slip nature as its positive qualities. Granite also seemed appropriate given Colorado’s semi-arid climate.
Despite good intentions, the pavers have not performed as well as anticipated. Design flaws and problems with the pavers’ installation have led to performance problems that require continual and costly maintenance, especially in the Mall’s transitways. The RTD filed suit against the design team for the error; in turn, I.M. Pei and Partners began paying the RTD an annual settlement to offset the exorbitant ongoing maintenance costs.
The Mall featured a 22-foot central median between Arapahoe Street and Tremont place as the primary pedestrian zone, with 10-foot transitways on either side. The medians included double rows of honey locust trees and custom-designed post lanterns to provide adequate shading during daylight hours and lighting during evening time. The lanterns’ phased lighting cycles provided twinkle-lighting during twilight and down-lighting at dark to better illuminate the pedestrian walkways. The outdoor lighting design allowed retailers to feature their window displays and building characteristics through storefront-projecting light. Sidewalks with 19-foot widths allowed for easy window shopping and separated the transit ways from the Mall’s storefronts.
At both ends of the Mall, an asymmetrical design pattern created widenedsidewalkson the north side and anarrower, 6-foot wide pedestrian median. The asymmetrical pattern helped to preserve the sight lines to the State Capitol building in Civic Center at the east end of the Mall and to the D & F Tower located at 16th and Arapahoe Streets. Additionally, the asymmetry in these areas allowed for expanded sidewalks, which were 35-feet wide, permitting greater pedestrian flow near the RTD’s transit facilities. The post lanterns remained in the pedestrian medians, creating design continuity from end to end. The widened sidewalks hosted a staggered planting of red oaks in these areas.
The Mall’s original construction did not include the completion of the RTD’s Mall transit stations. However, Market Street Station opened on the west side of the Mall in 1983. One year later, Civic Center Station became operational and anchored the east end of the Mall.