Thousands of Denver cyclists got to traverse the city like cars do this year during events that shut down major streets to automobiles and turned them into bike-friendly pathways.
Inspired by ciclovía events in Latin America, the ¡Viva! Streets series aimed to get residents out to engage with the Mile High City in a new way, increase foot traffic to local businesses and infuse some activity into downtown on Sunday mornings.
By those metrics, Ellen Forthofer and Andrew Iltis of the Downtown Denver Partnership, which hosted the monthly series, consider ¡Viva! Streets to have been a success, even before the last event on Aug. 6.
In May, about 10,000 people took to the roadways for ¡Viva! Streets and, in July, that tally was up to about 14,000, said Forthofer. The Downtown Denver Partnership decided to cancel the June event midway through because of the weather forecast and did not collect attendance estimates, she added.
To get those numbers, the DDP used Placer.ai to track cell phone data and estimate how many people were in the vicinity of the event, which spanned three and a half miles from the River North Art District to South Broadway. Cell phones that stayed nearby for more than 7 minutes counted as a visit, Forthofer said.
“The rainier dates did see dips in attendance. Some people showed up in wetsuits with kayaks to poke fun at weird weather,” Forthofer said. “July 9 was the driest and warmest I’ve ever seen at ¡Viva! Streets event and numbers show that as well.”
Luke Johnson, who owns Luke & Company Pet Supply on South Broadway, sounded the alarm on behalf of the Broadway Merchants Association prior to the first event, raising concerns that closing streets might hurt – instead of help – local businesses. Johnson said foot traffic at his shop was up during ¡Viva! Streets Sundays, but the average purchase price per customer was down.
“In my opinion, we’re going to need 50% more foot traffic to get the same amount of sales or slightly more than a normal Sunday because nobody is buying a 40-pound bag of dog food and riding away with it on their bikes,” he said.
But, Johnson noted, he hasn’t heard much frustration from other members of the merchants association since the event series got underway.
Still, it’s unclear if ¡Viva! Streets will return next year. Iltis and Forthofer said there is interest from some residents and local businesses, but that there are “feasibility” issues to work out before the DDP can commit. One of those is funding. Each ¡Viva! Streets cost about $200,000 to put on, Iltis said.
Planners also have to consider how they might change the event, including possibly shifting locations within the city and the length of the route.
If ¡Viva! Streets returns, Johnson hopes organizers will establish transportation paths more clearly – “You’re riding and feeling you’re playing chicken constantly with other cyclists,” he said – and also invite local businesses to be a bigger part of the planning process.
“What we’re hearing from the community and there is interest and momentum, so why waste opportunity,” said Iltis. “In other countries, if you build up enough of a cadence they do become tradition. That’s a goal.”
The final event runs from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 6. It takes place along Broadway between Maple and 20th streets, and on Welton, between 20th and 28th streets.
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