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10 Things to know about the famous pavers on the 16th Street Mall

Posted: 5:35 PM, Jul 28, 2016
Updated: 2016-07-28 21:52:51-04
10 Things to know about 16th Street Mall tiles
10 Things to know about 16th Street Mall tiles
10 Things to know about 16th Street Mall tiles
10 Things to know about 16th Street Mall tiles
10 Things to know about 16th Street Mall tiles
10 Things to know about 16th Street Mall tiles
10 Things to know about 16th Street Mall tiles

Walking the 16th Street Mall, you are probably occupied with window shopping, ordering delicious food or dodging panhandlers, so you can be forgiven for not noticing the iconic granite squares beneath your feet.

Those colorful pavers have long been a source of artistic pride and fiscal strain (to the tune of $1 million a year), and now the Regional Transportation District is requesting public input on what to do with them next.

So we put together a list of 10 things you need to know about this historic mile-long stretch of granite tiles before you decide their fate.

Photo Credit: Shannon N. Schaefer

1. THE GRANITE TILES ARE SUPPOSED TO LOOK LIKE A NAVAHO RUG… OR A DIAMONDBACK RATTLE SNAKE. You can see it when you look from above.  The pattern of colored tiles (charcoal-gray, light-grey and red) drew inspiration from southwestern images: both Navaho rugs and the back of a rattlesnake.

Photo Source: http://www.peterrosenproductions.com/productions/impei/

2. THE ARCHITECTS ARE KIND OF A BIG DEAL. You know that infamous glass pyramid in front of the Louvre in Paris? The same guy who designed that, I.M. Pei, was part of the team that created the famous 16th Street Mall design.

Photo Credit: RTD

3. THE 16TH STREET MALL IS CONSIDERED “OF THE HIGHEST INTERNATIONAL QUALITY.” A 2008 Urban Land Institute panel deemed the Mall “public art of the highest international quality.” The panel explained that “lighting, landscaping and paving all form part of a single unit” and that any changes should be made with respect for the full design.

Photo Credit: RTD

4. THOSE PAVERS GET A LOT OF WEAR AND TEAR. The 16th Street Mall Shuttle Buses (stay out of their way!) carry almost 45,000 passengers per day on the granite tiles.

5. WHICH IS WHY IT COSTS $1.2 MILLION A YEAR TO MAINTAIN THEM. RTD is shelling out big bucks to clean about 400,000 pavers and replace them when they are broken, an estimated $1.2 million annually for less than a mile of roadway. Repairs happen roughly 75 days a year, according to RTD.

6. NOT THAT LONG AGO, THOUGH, THE CITY DECIDED TO KEEP THE PAVERS. In 2010, a Denver committee evaluating rehabilitation options recommended keeping the pavers. More recently, discussion has centered around removing the buses from traveling on the pavers. 

7. COLORADO WINTERS ARE HARD ON THE PAVERS. RTD says Colorado’s freeze-thaw cycle is making the tiles loose. Water can get between the joints into the surface. When it becomes ice and expands, it pushes up the granite. When it thaws, the granite sinks. That happens about 350 times each year.

Photo Credit: RTD

8. THE PAVERS ARE GETTING OLD. The Mall opened in 1982, to great fanfare. But RTD says the pavers had a shelf life of 30 years, and they’re now 34 years old.

Photo Credit: RTD

9. RTD IS LOOKING AT ALTERNATIVES, BUT HISTORIC PRESERVATIONISTS ARE VOICING CONCERNS.  RTD has come up with five options for the pavers, ranging from no action to full concrete replacement. Here is a link to all the options being considered.

10. YOU CAN GIVE YOUR TWO CENTS. What do you think should be done with the pavers? Give RTD your thoughts here: http://www.rtd-denver.com/16th.shtml

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