For many business owners and customers along Wheat Ridge’s 38th Avenue downtown corridor, “diet” has truly become a four-letter word.
A little more than a year has passed since the city instituted the Ridge at 38 “road diet” — a $615,000 lane-reduction project designed in part to increase bike and pedestrian traffic in an area that the city has identified for revitalization.
The retrofit road diet, which was completed in July of last year, focused on the “Main Street” area between Wadsworth and Sheridan boulevards, where the road was re-striped and reduced to two lanes, one going each direction.
But opinions run the gamut. Whether the conversation is about the road diet's impact on businesses or about other street changes, such as the implementation of back-in parking and the placement of flower planters, the project is one of the most polarizing topics in town.
“It’s just been a nightmare,” Wheat Ridge resident Linda Wilson said recently while getting her hair done at Aqua Salon. Wilson lives near the salon, which is at the corner of 38th Avenue and Teller Street.
“It’s darn near impossible to get through here because everyone is being narrowed down to the one lane. And then you got the stupid back-in parking, so that stops traffic. I can’t stand it,” she said.
Business owners Russ Redig, of A-1 Rental, and Mike Stites, of B&F Tire Company (who is also a city council member and mayoral candidate), are also among the critics of the road diet — and pretty much everything associated with it.
Both Stites and Redig, whose businesses are on 38th Avenue, say they have lost business because drivers avoid taking 38th Avenue, a common complaint among shop owners in the area.
“Why would someone think that a road diet is good for 38th Avenue businesses when you’re choking down the artery that’s feeding it?” Redig said. “I originally said it was a bad idea, and it’s still a bad idea.”
Although the most passionate responses come from those who dislike the road diet, the city’s “long-term vision for the revitalization of 38th Avenue” is not without supporters. They point to new businesses popping up in a part of town that is starting to become the trendy place to frequent.
“The area was so debilitated, with empty buildings and in this constant state of duress,” said City Councilwoman Joyce Jay, a supporter of the road diet and a mayoral candidate. “This has brought new life to the corridor.”
Britta Fisher, executive director of Wheat Ridge 2020, a city-backed nonprofit that’s been a key supporter of the road diet project, said it is important for people to remember the purpose of the road diet.
“The point was getting people to stop, shop and slow down,” Fisher said. “And there are actually people on the street walking and biking. That just wasn’t the case five years ago.”
The road diet is considered to be an 18-24-month pilot program, and the city plans to evaluate the plan to see what, if any, changes need to be made.
“We have more spaces this way, and parking in the back, which is nice,” said Mandy Fulton, owner of Teller Street Gallery and Studios. “I like the extra parking, but people do complain about it.”
Wes Morosco, of Wheat Ridge, was backing his car into a spot a couple of weeks ago to grab a bite to eat at Right Coast Pizza. He said he doesn’t have any problem with parking, but knows that as more and more businesses come to 38th Avenue, it will be more difficult to navigate.
I like the diet and the parking,” Morosco said. “But, mostly we’ve been lucky because we haven’t been that crowded. But when we get more crowded, it’s going to be a problem.”
Others say the parking situation has resulted in more accidents. Those who frequent the area say they’ve seen more fender benders as a result of cars having to stop traffic on 38th Avenue, and then back in to a spot. They also say that cars parked at angles often create blind spots for motorists turning on to 38th Avenue.
“You can’t see,” said Louis Balderama, a manager at Aqua Salon. “So I think it’s kind of dangerous.”
Stites said he is so fed up with the road diet that he keeps a poster of pictures from accidents that have occurred along 38th Avenue, especially those where vehicles struck large flower planters that some say create obstacles.
“I’m absolutely for the revitalization of 38th Avenue, but the road diet isn’t the answer,” Stites said. “The people who say this has been a good thing, I don’t know who they’re talking to.”
In June, the city put out a report stating that speeding has gone down in the area, but that traffic is also down. In the 38th Avenue stretch between Pierce and Wadsworth, the city reports, traffic is down more than 15 percent since the road diet was implemented.
Mayor Jerry DiTullio, another critic of the project, points out that traffic between the same streets on 32nd Avenue has increased by more than 12 percent during the same period. He said he believes that’s a case of motorists taking other streets to avoid 38th.
“You can’t tell me that the road diet has helped businesses,” DiTullio said. “It’s been an experiment that we didn’t need to do.”
DiTullio recently conducted his own survey, and said many respondents panned the road-diet implementation. He plans to present those results to the City Council at an upcoming meeting.
Backers of the road diet understand the criticism, but they’re banking on the long game paying off. They tend to agree with a city memo that the road diet is a work in progress that will “likely take up to 20 years to realize.”
In the meantime, whichever side of the road-diet fence residents are on, one thing is for sure:
“No matter what people are saying about it, they’re talking about it,” Fisher said.