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Driving You Crazy: The 5-way intersection of Umatilla St., W 29th Ave., 15th St. isn't a double-right turn

"I've had a few folks almost destroy the side of my car thinking it's a double turn onto 15th from 29th Ave."
Right turn cut off west 29th at 15th Street
Posted at 5:07 AM, Jun 18, 2024

DENVER — Joycelyn from Denver writes, “What’s driving you crazy? Hi Jayson! Could you please let folks know that the 5-way intersection of Boulder, Umatilla, West 29th and 15th is NOT a double right turn onto 15th St. I know it could be tricky, but there is clear signage telling you where to go. I've had a few folks almost destroy the driver side of my car thinking it a double turn onto 15th from 29th Ave.”

I think this is one of the most unique and interesting intersections in all of Denver. For your reference, this five-way intersection is in Denver’s Old Highland Historic District just northwest of Interstate 25 and Speer Boulevard. This Denver neighborhood traces its roots all the way back to the early days of the city, according to DenverInfill. The Highland United Neighbors Association has much more history about the Highlands posted on its website.

As for how to drive that section of roadway, going east on 29th Ave, you have a traffic signal at Umatilla Street. From there you have one of two options, depending on the lane you are in. The overhead signs and street markings are very clear about what to do. The right lane allows for a hard right turn to go south on the one-way section of Umatilla or allows for a gentler curve to the right to continue east as the road transitions into 15th St. All drivers heading for downtown go that way.

The left lane from eastbound 29th Ave. allows for a hard left to go north on Umatilla or drivers can take the more gentle curve to the left that allows traffic to go northwest on Boulder Street towards 16th St. The conflict point comes from drivers who end up in the left lane by mistake or on purpose and want to go down 15th St. Those drivers make that turn to the right, not to the left as they are supposed to, and that is what can lead to these close calls and crashes. Several times when I was watching the traffic flow, I saw drivers who didn’t want to wait in the queue in the backed-up right lane, pull up into the left lane to be first in line. They would punch the gas as soon as the light turned green to jump in front of the right-lane driver and zip down 15th St. What those drivers should do is make the left on Boulder Street, go up to 16th St., take a right on 16th to the dead end at Central Street and then make one more right to get back to 15th St.

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The concern for all law-abiding drivers here is there is very little space to make that merge when a driver uses the left lane and cuts over to go down 15th. The driver risks not only hitting the driver beside them making that same turn down 15th Str. but also risk hitting oncoming traffic on westbound 15th. I poured through Denver police crash data from the past five years at that intersection and found a total of 43 crashes. A handful were caused by not yielding the right of way. Several were caused by drivers going too fast on westbound 15th. Some even failed to complete the slight left turn and crashed into the building at 29th and Umatilla.

That building, as well as several others in the area, are owned by Marcia Mueller. She stopped by to see what I was doing when I was taking video of the traffic at the intersection. She told me the story of how in May of 2023, the southwest corner of that building was crushed by a speeding drunk driver after he failed to navigate the curve and took down a mature Maple tree and “hit the building at a velocity of force which caused the detectives on the scene to call the Denver’s Building Department to determine if there was structural damage.” Marcia told me that was the seventh accident where a driver hit her building or damaged her property as a result of high speed.

She told me she shared her concerns over the years with Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI), city engineers, fire and police officers. She said while the financial impact has been profound, ultimately, she desires to have safe, navigable streets, where traffic moves at a reasonably safe speed while allowing cyclists, walkers and people with disabilities to safely cross through the intersection.

Over the past couple of years, Marcia stepped up her efforts to improve safety by reiterating her concerns to her city council person as well as DOTI, recommending changes that could be made to make this intersection including installing a roundabout. Marcia passed along to me some correspondence she had with her city council member and representatives with DOTI from last summer. At that time, Marcia was told the city identified this intersection for improvements and work on those improvements were scheduled to start by the end of 2023. Those improvements never happened.

Then in May of this year, Marcia was told by someone else at DOTI that they are still working their way through the design process with a new timeline to complete that work by the end of 2024, with construction starting and ending in the summer of 2025.

I contacted DOTI and they confirmed to me that the design of the new and improved intersection is ongoing and is still set for completion by the end of this year and when complete, will be presented to the community. That design process includes preplanning, traffic counts, surveying and assessing crash data.

DOTI also confirmed to me they are planning to start construction on the improvements, once approved in the summer of 2025. I’m told the work will take approximately three to six months depending on the full scope of the final design at a cost of roughly $1 million for the entirety of the project including design and construction costs.

Marcia told me when I was chatting with her at the intersection, she heard the city might make the intersection a roundabout. DOTI, however, told me a roundabout is not being considered in the final design.

Until any improvements are completed by next summer, remember that when you are heading to downtown Denver from the Highlands along W 29th Ave., if you are in the left lane on eastbound 29th, go left or left, if you are in the right lane, go right or right. Simple as that.

The 5-way intersection at W 29th Ave. and 15th St. isn't a double-right turn

Denver7 Traffic Expert Jayson Luber says he has been covering Denver-metro traffic since Ben-Hur was driving a chariot. (We believe the actual number is over 25 years.) He's obsessed with letting viewers know what's happening on their drive and the best way to avoid the problems that spring up. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or listen to his award winning Driving You Crazy podcast on any podcast app including iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Podbean, or YouTube.