A new event series kicking off this weekend will close off two major Denver streets to cars and allow locals to traverse the city in a way they likely haven’t ever done before.
¡Viva! Streets, as it’s called, hosts its first installment on Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., during which time 3.5 miles of Broadway and Welton Street will be open exclusively to bikers, scooters and pedestrians. The event returns on June 4, July 9 and August 6.
Organizers at Downtown Denver Partnership said the goal is to bring people together to enjoy a festive atmosphere and to get a little exercise while also increasing foot traffic to businesses along the route. But because Denver still largely maintains a car culture, some business owners worry the event could have the opposite effect.
“This may not be an event that brings more people to businesses, that’s the concern right now,” said Luke Johnson, president of the Broadway Merchants Association, which advocates for businesses on its namesake street between 6th Avenue and Interstate 25. Johnson also owns a pet store in that area.
According to Andrew Iltis, vice president of planning and community impact for Downtown Denver Partnership, ¡Viva! Streets was inspired by similar events across Latin America called ciclovías, meaning “cycleways.” The first was founded in 1974 in Bogotá, Columbia, where main streets still close every Sunday to provide a communal hangout space for cyclists.
Downtown Denver Partnership previously tested the concept on a smaller scale with 150 of its members before hosting a larger bike-to-work day event, Iltis said.
Then, last year, Iltis and his team attended a ciclovía in Mexico City alongside families and residents enjoying the city center by bike, rollerblades and foot. Lines formed outside some local businesses while others hosted yoga and fitness classes, said Ellen Forthofer, DDP’s manager of urban planning. Music along the route added to the vibrant scene.
“It’s almost as if a 5K walk meets farmers market in some ways,” Forthofer said.
That’s the energy she and Iltis hope to bring to downtown Denver. In addition to closing off the streets, a mini version of the Taste of Colorado festival will be set up at Civic Center park with food trucks, artisan vendors and live music. There will also be “activity hubs” along the route with attractions such as games for kids, a bike rodeo and sustainability activations. Both Lime and Lyft will be offering discount codes to folks who want to take a scooter through the route.
Iltis said organizers intentionally chose Welton Street and Broadway because they are wide enough to support multidirectional traffic and because they connect many neighborhoods.
“From our past experience doing this in Denver, the ability to transform a street into a place that’s really comfortable to sit, jog, walk is almost more transformational if you do it in a really dense commercial area,” he said.
He expects ten of thousands of locals will attend ¡Viva! Streets and hopes they’ll support local businesses after several tumultuous years.
For now, Johnson remains unconvinced and feels like he’s not being heard. Many of the business and property owners his organization represents told him they only found out about ¡Viva! Streets through the media and wish they had been consulted before their main thoroughfare was closed.
Sunday mornings are busy for certain businesses, Johnson said, and some have considered closing for fear they won’t generate enough money to cover their expenses while the event is going on.
“If this is a success, then I think we’re on board with trying to figure out how to make it better in the coming years,” Johnson said. “That’s kind of the unknown here. We don’t know what’s going to happen and wish we had been part of the planning process a long time ago.”
If you go
¡Viva! Streets takes place Sunday, May 14 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is free to attend.
Street closures run from the intersection of Welton and Downing streets to the intersection of Welton and Broadway and extend to the intersection of Broadway and Alameda Avenue. There are several crossing points for cars along the route.
Organizers encourage anyone driving downtown for the festivities to avoid parking on neighborhood streets. Instead, they suggest parking in garages near the city’s core or public lots near the south end of the route, near Broadway and Alameda. For more information, including a map, visit vivastreetsdenver.com.
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