RTD considering plan to tear up 16th Street Mall

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DENVER -- A face-lift is in the works for Denver’s 16th Street Mall and it extends far beyond plans to improve security.

RTD is considering several proposals to completely tear up the granite street that runs through the mall and replace it with concrete. The 400,000 red, white and black granite pavers that make up the pedestrian mall are in need of repair.

“When water freezes or thaws, it loosens the granite,” RTD spokeswoman Tina Jaquez said. "When our buses roll over it, they pop a little and that makes it hard for the buses to travel on them."

Most of the granite pavers were installed when the mall was built in 1982. RTD said it spends about $1 million a year maintaining and replacing them. An average of 45,000 people board RTD’s buses through the mall every day.

That’s why RTD recently commissioned a study to explore possible alternatives. They include a proposal to tear up the granite and replace it with gray concrete or two-colored concrete.

RTD is also considering a hybrid proposal where some of the granite would stay while part of it would be replaced with concrete.

“We want this to be efficient and if we have to take buses off the road to fix the roadway, it slows down our service,” Jaquez said.

But some historians argue the granite pavers should stay. Annie Levinsky, executive director of Historic Denver, argues the granite paver design is a work of art inspired by Southwestern imagery. From the air, the street resembles a Navajo rug and a diamondback rattlesnake.

“It was designed by I.M. Pei, who’s famous for designing the pyramid outside the Louvre,” Levinsky said. “It’s a unified design. It’s been described as a Swiss watch and if you take away one piece, you’ve eroded the other pieces as well.”

That means a simple solution to cut costs might prove much more complex.

RTD is holding two public meetings Thursday to solicit input from residents. They will be held from noon to 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at RTD’s offices (1600 Blake St.).