getting to the South Platte River from Baker

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the South Platte River Greenway has miles of bicycle/pedestrian trails and connections to other trails; it is a major recreation and transportation asset to the Baker neighborhood, but have you ever tried to get to the Platte River Trail from Baker? if you have, you know your choices are awkward and limited

for a Denver neighborhood with one of the longest frontages on the South Platte River, the river is remarkably inaccessible; the two most direct connections for Baker residents are across the Alameda bridge and via 8th Ave.; a third option is via Mississippi Ave., but that is a big detour unless you are heading south on the trail; the Alameda bridge is the quickest for most Baker residents, but even getting to the bridge by bicycle is treacherous — via either the Alameda underpass or Kalamath St.; as a further obstacle, at the moment the I-25 portion of the bridge itself is under construction, but when it's finished in May that one segment of the route will be improved for bicyclists and pedestrians

so while other parts of Denver have developed dramatic river amenities, access from Baker to the river has changed little in a decade; how long will it take to improve this situation? … here are some proposals and where they stand:

the Bayaud bridge

by far the most frequently proposed connection has been on the books for years; the 2001 Denver Bicycle Master Plan recommended a bike/ped bridge crossing the river, essentially extending Bayaud Ave. west from Kalamath St. (p. 22); the Baker Neighborhood Plan, approved in 2003, echoed this recommendation (page 71); in 2007, the Record of decision for the Valley Highway Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), covering the reconstruction of I-25 from 6th Ave. to Broadway, included the bridge in its official "preferred alternative" (pp. 10, 27), and the Alameda Station Area Plan further endorsed the idea (p. 21), and gave the best view of a comprehensive network of bike/ped routes both north/south and across the river

the strongest endorsement of the Bayaud bike/ped bridge is in the Valley Highway EIS; this plan has several phases, with the bike/ped bridge included in Phase 4 along with grade-separating Santa Fe and Kalamath from the railroad:

a portion of a graphic from the Valley Highway EIS shows of some of the phases and the Bayaud bridge (click to enlarge)

a portion of Phase 1 is currently in progress (the Alameda bridge over I-25), and it looks like the rest of Phase 1 (I-25 & Santa Fe) and possibly Phase 2 (Alameda Bridge over the river) may be in the works — CDOT has published plans as if it is seeking a contractor for the work; beyond that is anyone's guess

each of these phases is complicated and expensive — Phase 3 entails complete reconstruction of I-25 between 6th & Santa Fe and moving the railroad a few yards east; even the bike/ped bridge will be surprisingly complex, as it must cross not only a railroad, an interstate highway and a river, but it's east end will be the same spot where Santa Fe and Kalamath are to be moved under the railroad; the EIS has already resolved some of the design problems, but projects this big are ultimately at the mercy of politics and the economy, so at a guess we will wait a decade or two before the Bayaud bike/ped bridge is built

south of Alameda

two proposals have put forth bridges across the Platte River between W. Alameda and w. Mississippi Aves.

for a while prospects looked good for a new bridge north of W. Mississippi Ave. connecting Vanderbilt Park East (an undeveloped city-owned triangle between S. Santa Fe and the railroad) to Vanderbilt Park; this automobile bridge would have had good bike/ped amenities, but it was shelved when Cherokee-Denver abandoned the redevelopment of the Gates Rubber Plant (a recent Washington Park Profile article reviews the dismal status that project)

the Alameda Station Area Plan supported not only the Bayaud bridge (see below), but also a bridge aligned with W. Virginia Ave. connecting to Athmar Park and the Platte River Trail; this bridge would also connect to a bike/ped bridge crossing the tracks at Alameda Light Rail Station; as you can see on the graphic below, the Alameda plan further endorsed a route to the north over the unused railroad bridge connecting residential Baker to Alameda Station without crossing pedestrian-unfriendly Alameda Ave.; there is no timetable for implementing this plan

this graphic from the Alameda Station Area Plan is annotated with the locations of new bicycle/pedestrian bridges the plan supports (click to enlarge)

Alameda between Cherokee and Santa Fe (the underpass)

what about improving the existing passage along Alameda? while Phases 1 and 2 of the Valley Highway EIS include major improvements to the sidewalks on the two Alameda bridges over I-25 and over the South Platte River, the aging and narrow Alameda underpass was declared out-of-scope for Valley Highway planning; yet it still has a place on several to-do lists — the Denver Bicycle Master Plan, the Baker Neighborhood Plan and the Alameda Station Area Plan all have called for improvements to the pedestrian experience here; in 2001 the city held community workshops on the subject of securing the retaining walls and improving the sidewalk and lighting; at one point the project was scheduled to start in 2007, but it is still awaiting a go ahead

traffic is heavy in this area, and not only the underpass, but the adjacent intersections are inhospitable; the Alameda Station area plan gives some attention to these problems, and Phase 4 of the Valley Highway EIS directly addresses the Santa Fe and Kalamath intersections

some have called for complete reconstruction of the underpass and the three railroad bridges (east to west they are unused, light rail, and heavy rail); starting from scratch would remove the width constraints that have squeezed the sidewalk, but powers that be have consistently warned that the costs and the politics of working with railroads make rebuilding the bridges unlikely; in a few decades, the idea of moving the heavy rail line out of central Denver may gain traction and reopen the question of the Alameda underpass