America is not a great country for strolling. Yes, there are a few good cities, but by and large you can’t just show up to any big U.S. city and expect to find great pedestrian infrastructure the way you can in Europe.
Which is why Denver’s 16th Street Mall surprised me when I first visited last year, and then again earlier this month.
The Mall runs for just over a mile through the heart of downtown. Cars still cross at certain points, and free shuttle buses move people up and down the street, but otherwise it’s entirely pedestrianized.
I was surprised to learn that the mall actually dates to 1982, when Denver was looking to solve congestion problems and revitalize its downtown. The designers used different lighting and paving materials to indicate zones for walking, sitting, and the shuttles.
Looking at the area, it’s obvious that it works. And that’s kind of amazing; many other American cities have tried to create pedestrian malls but for a variety of reasons failed.
When I visited this month, the Mall was filled with business people, teenagers, couples on dates, cyclists, gutter punks, and even a few protesters. It was a delightfully diverse group. The city also set up pianos every block or so for the public to play.
Walking is inevitably a major part of travel. Ideally, a place is so great that walking even becomes an end unto itself. In great strolling cities like Paris and Venice, for example, walking is the best way to explore. Denver and most American cities aren’t there yet, but the 16th Street Mall is a great example of a place where walking is a simple and enriching pleasure. If you’re in town, don’t miss it.
— Jim Dalrymple II