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Walking in Denver Part 4: How Unsafe Streets Play Out at One Intersection

by Jenny Niemann

This is the fourth in a series of posts that will review the basics of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure and new developments that may help you get around. In our first, second and third posts on this topic, we reviewed Denver’s sidewalk dilemma, the city’s primary pedestrian advocates, and factors contributing to Denver’s walkability. This week, we review the final element of walking in Denver: safety.

Denver has seen an uptick in pedestrian- and bicyclist-involved collisions in the past year—as of November 4th, 22 people have died on Denver’s streets. That’s about two deaths in the city per month, and we can all probably agree, it is 22 too many.

This fall, WalkDenver’s Policy Committee has been studying Denver’s five most dangerous intersections for pedestrians. At 13th Avenue and Broadway, one of these dangerous intersections, there were nine pedestrian-car collisions between January 2012 and December 2015.

What are we doing about this? Mayor Hancock committed the city to Vision Zero last winter. Vision Zero is an international movement that believes that all traffic deaths are preventable. Started in Sweden, the movement has spread to the US and asks cities to commit to a goal of zero deaths on our streets. A simple way to think about vision zero is: what is the acceptable number of your friends and family that die while traveling? Zero is the answer, so zero should be the goal we set for everyone.

Mayor Hancock’s commitment means the city’s goal is to eliminate all traffic deaths on Denver’s roads. While this effort will involve all modes, pedestrians face greater risks by mile than drivers. Interventions that improve sidewalks and slow down cars will need to be a big part of getting to zero traffic deaths.

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The vision zero coalition was formed  to support the City and County of Denver’s adoption of Vision Zero and the goal of zero traffic fatalities or serious injuries. The coalition’s lobbying recently led to an extra $500,000 in the 2017 budget for Vision Zero efforts to improve intersections outside of the city center. However, gaps remain between the city’s commitment and its budget priorities, as Streetsblog recently explored.

Public Data: As part of Denver’s Vision Zero efforts, it has published a public “crash dashboard” of traffic collisions. You can use this tool to look up how many collisions have happened in the past few years, at any intersection in the city.

Using this dashboard, we looked at 13th Avenue and Broadway. This intersection is a good illustration of why pedestrian environments are more complicated than you’d think, as discussed in our last article. On the surface, this intersection just south of the State Capitol, the Central Library, and downtown seems reasonably safe: wide, well-kept sidewalks allow the many pedestrians around to comfortably walk to many of the nearby destinations. To cross the intersection, pedestrians receive walk signals at every traffic signal cycle, allowing crossing on two sides of the intersection via wide crosswalks that are present at all four crossing areas. There’s a lot to walk to, nearby bus stops, and the wide sidewalks keep pedestrians reasonably well-separated from cars. It passes many of our walkability criteria.

Is this intersection truly dangerous? Yes, as evidenced by the high number of crashes. But this intersection is busy: many people are walking to the nearby Denver Art Museum, the Library, and to the bus stops on Broadway, which serve multiple frequent bus lines. There’s certainly a lot of car traffic on both 13th Avenue and Broadway. More pedestrian and car traffic at an intersection means that more collisions are likely: the more we drive, the more collisions (and deaths) there are. Yet this isn’t in the top-five busiest intersections in Denver, and it has far fewer car collisions than nearby intersections. What makes this intersection so unsafe for people who are walking?

Despite the wide sidewalks, this area is still dominated by cars. Broadway is five lanes wide where it hits 13th Avenue—not counting two parking lanes that make the road seem even wider, just north of the intersection. 13th Avenue has four lanes of traffic when it hits Broadway. That’s simply a huge area dedicated for automobiles.

Many pedestrian-car collisions happen when cars are making turns at intersections. At this intersection, pedestrians receive a walk signal when the light for parallel car traffic is green. This means that pedestrians are crossing the street while cars also have a green light to turn. The dashboard data tells us that six of nine of these pedestrian-car collisions occurred when the car was making a left turn, that is, turning from westbound 13th Avenue onto southbound Broadway.

On October 30th, Karina Pulec, a 28-year-old lawyer, was struck and killed at 13th and Broadway. The driver fled the scene, but turned himself in four days later. Pulec was crossing 13th Avenue when she was hit by the driver, who was turning left from 13th onto Broadway. We don’t yet know why Karina Pulec was killed, but as a Vision Zero city, we need to start highlighting each and every single death. Yes, drunk drivers, distracted drivers, and negligent drivers contribute to thousands of deaths each year. But the design of our streets also plays a part in protecting pedestrians from errant drivers and giving them a safer place to walk.


The Problem Isn’t Automobiles—It’s Subsidizing Automobile Dependency

A common refrain from people who don’t want to see change in the way we handle our transportation system is that “people have cars and they won’t get rid of them.” Or, “it’s impossible to live in Denver without a car.” Or my favorite, “you can’t force people to walk and bike in some socialist utopia, they want to drive!”

All these arguments boil down to missing the forest for the trees. I put it forward that we don’t need to do anything so drastic as making cars illegal in order to affect commute share, only that we need to stop subsidizing one particular transportation mode—driving.

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Driving and car ownership are subsidized in a multitude of ways, from expenditures in the general budget for street maintenance, to the zoning code that forces all housing to include car storage. We subsidize driving by designing our neighborhood streets to allow fast driving while discouraging walking and making bicycling dangerous. Our whole city has been configured to move cars at speed, store cars at every location, and generally make the lives of car owners easy and cheap.

I say that if we simply remove the many subsidies we provide to car drivers—that is, if the full cost of street damage done by cars was borne by drivers, if the necessary amount of parking was decided by the market instead of the city code, if neighborhood streets were designed to move people around their neighborhoods instead to move cars through them at high speed—then people would make rational decisions in response. They would live closer to work, walk and bike more to their needs, and neighborhoods would be developed with services that support nearby customers instead of giant parking lots and high speed arterials.

Increasing car-specific taxes to cover infrastructure maintenance holes currently plugged by general revenues would cause more people to re-examine their choices. Decreased opportunities to park would cause them to consider alternate travel modes more often. Lower speed limits or differently configured streets would cause them to look for conveniently placed services and jobs nearby instead of focusing their desires on huge driveways and tiny lawns.

Some people would inevitably choose, as is their right, to continue with their daily 15-mile commutes and drive to every necessity, but others would decide that maybe driving and searching for parking aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Maybe they’d look for neighborhoods that support their lives instead of their driving habits. The best part is, we don’t have to force anyone to do anything; we simply build a city that works for people instead of for cars and then watch as our citizens make rational decisions regarding their own needs within the newer, more efficient system.


Levitt Pavilion Denver to Promote Cultural Access and Urban Placemaking

by Camron Bridgford

On November 10, City and County of Denver officials—including Mayor Michael Hancock and District 7 Councilman Jolon Clark—alongside the board, staff and partners of Levitt Pavilion Denver, came together to celebrate the official groundbreaking of the new 7,500-person capacity amphitheater to be built in southwest Denver’s Ruby Hill Park. Scheduled to open on July 14, 2017, the outdoor music venue will host 50 free concerts a year, three times per week during the summer months.

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Levitt Pavilion Denver—part of a growing, nationwide network of free outdoor music venues begun by Los Angeles-based Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation—seeks to bring community together through creative placemaking that provides free access to music-oriented cultural opportunities. Foundation founders Mortimer and Mimi Levitt originally became committed to providing free outdoor music as a result of Mortimer’s experience growing up in a struggling immigrant family in Brooklyn, New York. While Mortimer would often go to Coney Island—where his father worked as a street vendor—he was unable to afford admission to either rides or concerts. Consequently, he would stand outside the gates of ticketed music events to hear the performances, which not only sparked his love for outdoor music, but also a belief in the importance of all people having access to music that strengthens community ties and broadens cultural experiences.

This story is significant when considering the chosen location for Levitt Pavilion Denver, which is not in the highly-desired pathway of new Denver development, but sandwiched between southwest Denver’s Ruby Hill and Athmar Park neighborhoods. These areas not only host significant Latino populations—nearly three-quarters of their residents—but are neighborhoods with poverty rates of 30 percent or more. Coupled with southwest Denver’s lack of high connectivity to public transportation, highlighted by minimal major bus routes and rail lines within reasonable walking distance, and lower-income and minority populations’ propensity to be more transit-dependent, Levitt Pavilion Denver brings culture and community through music to the doorsteps of many people who may otherwise struggle to access it.

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While Levitt Pavilion Denver will undoubtedly be attended by people of all backgrounds and incomes from across the metro area, this chosen location of an underutilized park in a lower-income, high-minority neighborhood also speaks volumes about Denver’s continued commitment to “culture for all.” This belief was recently affirmed by the significant 63 percent majority who voted for the extension of the Science and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) sales tax on November’s ballot, which dedicates a penny for every $10 to cultural and science-oriented non-profit organizations throughout the Denver metro area. Since the tax began in 1988, SCFD has raised more than $910 million for its cause, with $54 million alone distributed in 2015 to 270 organizations.

Levitt Pavilion Denver—which will feature national and international artists, as well as shows by local performers that help to proliferate Denver’s already robust music scene—has been a capital project in the works for more than four years. Originally slated to open in mid-2016, the $4.8 million price tag made fundraising a slow and difficult task that forced the grand opening to be pushed back to 2017. However, the necessary funds to bring the project to fruition were eventually obtained, including $2.8 million in bond monies from the City and County of Denver, $400,000 from the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation, and Levitt Pavilion Denver raising $1.6 million, including from local foundation contributions, such as the Boettcher Foundation, Bonfils-Stanton Foundation and the Gates Family Foundation. For ongoing operations, the amphitheater will also likely rely on additional, admissions-based shows and private event rentals to offset the cost of its free concerts.

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While Levitt Pavilion Denver was not an easy feat to come by, its success serves as a victory for activating the underutilized Ruby Hill Park, which is Denver’s third largest public park but one that lacks programming and connectivity to its local neighborhoods. Planning for its facelift dates back to at least 2009, when Denver Parks and Recreation developed a master plan for the park that included engaging nearby residents in the process, many whom requested an outdoor performance space as part of its community-oriented design. Now seven years later, the soon-to-be-realized amphitheater’s management by CEO Chris Zacher, who undoubtedly understands the importance of access to music and culture from serving in leadership roles for Denver’s City Park Jazz for nearly a decade, further helps to ensure a vision of weaving civic connection through culture.

It is especially during this time, when topics of division in our communities have been thrust into an uncomfortable and tense spotlight, that the groundbreaking of Levitt Pavilion Denver stands in firm defiance of endorsing a dismantled populace. Rather, its success, even against financial odds, promotes the inherent value in providing public space that becomes a “third place”—neither home nor work—where diverse communities in Denver can coalesce through the shared cultural experience that love for music brings.

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Camron Bridgford is a master’s candidate in urban and regional planning at the University of Colorado Denver, with a particular interest in the use and politics of public space as it relates to urban revitalization, culture and placemaking, and community development. She also works as a freelance writer to investigate urban-related issues and serves as a non-profit consultant.


Denver Urbanists Unite! MeetUp #21 Coming November 30, 2016

It’s time for Denver Urbanists MeetUp #21!

When: Wednesday, November 30, 2016 starting at 5:30 PM
Where: McLoughlin’s Restaurant and Bar (map)
Cost: Free!

Let’s get together and talk about Denver’s growth and development and all other things urban, like transit, attainable housing, bike/ped infrastructure, and more! Our Urbanists Meetup is also an excellent way to make friends and build relationships with fellow city-lovers.

Join us any time after 5:30 PM. This is what you’ll do when you arrive: 1. Put on a name tag, 2. Get your own food/drink, 3. Chat!

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You don’t have to register to attend, but by RSVPing on our Eventbrite page, you’ll get on our mailing list and receive email notification for future meetups.

See you on November 30!


Walking in Denver Part 3: Beyond the Sidewalk

by Jenny Niemann

This is the third in a series of posts that will review the basics of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure and new developments that may help you get around. In our first and second posts on this topic, we reviewed Denver’s sidewalk dilemma, the city’s primary pedestrian advocates, recent policy developments and how you can get involved. This week, we review what else affects how Denverites get around on foot.

This series began with sidewalks, the building blocks of the pedestrian environment. Yet your walking experience is made up of much more than the simple surface that your feet (or stroller, or wheelchair) use to walk down the block. There are a number of other forces at work in Denver that affect your walk to the park, and how often we all choose to walk instead of drive.

Jeff Speck, a national walkability expert, outlines “10 Steps of Walkability” including street trees, friendly and unique building faces, mixed uses, balanced parking, frequent transit, pedestrian protection through slower speeds and curbside parking, streets designed for bikes, and pedestrian spaces that are comfortably enclosed by good design and interesting buildings.

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You know good walkability when you see it. Walking down South Pearl Street, you’ll find a plethora of small shops and restaurants that make the walk interesting, outdoor seating gives life to the street, trees provide shade, and parallel parking separates traffic and the sidewalk. On the other hand, it’s easy to identify poor walkability when you see it, too: walking along Denver’s arterial streets like Alameda, Federal, or Colorado Boulevard, you’ll notice that nothing separates the sidewalk from high-speed traffic, few trees provide shade, and most often what borders the sidewalk is a parking lot. There’s little to attract—or distract—someone walking down the street, which is why so few people do.

Our everyday decisions about how to move around the city are affected by all of this: whether or not you walk or drive to the nearest corner store likely depends on how interesting, comfortable, and safe that walk is. So what is Denver doing to get walkability right, beyond the sidewalk? From the Community Planning and Development Department’s work on neighborhood plans and citizen groups lobbying for crosswalks, there are a lot of things going on.

Denveright: The City of Denver is currently working on a Denver Moves: Pedestrian & Trails plan as part of the Denveright planning process. The Pedestrians and Trails plan will establish community priorities that can help guide funding for sidewalks to the most important areas first—such as near transit or schools. The city’s first transit plan, Denver Moves: Transit, may also help improve walking to transit stops. See DenverUrbanism’s past coverage of the Denveright process here.

Changes on Colfax: Colfax Avenue is wicked, quirky, and full of attractions you might like to walk to. The problem is that it’s pretty car-dominated and hard to get across, unless you happen to be crossing at an intersection with a traffic light. Fortunately, the Mayor’s recent budget proposal, after strong advocacy by the Denver Vision Zero Coalition and the Colfax Collaborative, now includes $500,000 for design work on four enhanced pedestrian crossings on Colfax. This came after more than 1,800 people signed a petition for this funding. This will make it easier—and safer—for people to cross the street and make Colfax less of a barrier splitting up the many great neighborhoods along it.

Development bring redevelopment: As covered by DenverUrbanism last month, the Brighton Boulevard Corridor Redevelopment project includes new protected pedestrian crossings, landscaping, benches, and pedestrian-scale lighting, in addition to badly needed sidewalks along the corridor. All the development on the corridor will give you plenty of interesting places to walk to. The city’s project will make walking possible and safe.

Neighborhood plans: While less shiny than Brighton Boulevard, the City continues to prioritize pedestrian infrastructure in many of its recent neighborhood plans: Westwood’s new Neighborhood Plan recommends improvements to the pedestrian environment; the I-25 and Broadway Station Area Plan calls for the creation of shared streets, multi-modal bridges and pedestrian amenity zones. Many other neighborhood and station area plans prioritize pedestrian mobility within neighborhoods and improving pedestrian connections to transit.

Crossing guidelines: In the spring of 2016, Denver released new crossing guidelines: these standards dictate what treatments (crosswalks, pedestrian islands, curb extensions, etc.) should go in at the many places where pedestrians cross streets without the benefit of a traffic light or stop sign. Check out this document so you know what to expect for places where you might want to see a crosswalk.

Bonds: Finally, The City of  Denver will seek taxpayer approval for a 2017 general obligation (GO) bond to fund capital asset and infrastructure needs. What will get funded through this bond will be determined after a public process. The bond may present an opportunity to allocate further funding for sidewalks, but it is not a long-term funding source that would ensure sidewalks are properly maintained over the long term. Streetsblog Denver breaks down what we know here. Head to the upcoming community meetings to have a say in funding priorities.

Citizen and Business Groups: The West Colfax corridor has gotten public art, painted intersections, and wayfinding, due to the work of citizen volunteers and the West Colfax Business improvement District. The Drive Chill Park Hill campaign asks drivers to pledge to be compliant, cell-free, cautious, considerate, conscientious, and chill. Both of these groups, among many others, are working for neighborhoods that slow car traffic and are better—and safer—places to walk around.

Denver, its residents, and developers can make our city a better place to walk in every day, from new storefronts to snow-shoveling to slowing down traffic. Let us know in the comments what affects your walk. In my next post, we’ll talk about pedestrian safety.

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Jenny Niemann is a graduate student in the University of Colorado Denver’s dual-degree in urban planning and public health. Her graduate work involves alternative transportation and healthy food systems and how the benefits of these sustainable city services can be accessed by households of all incomes. A native of the suburbs of Washington, DC, Jenny enjoys exploring Colorado’s growing cities and mountains by bicycle.


Adaptive Reuse: Alchemy

Today, we are going to check out a neat adaptive reuse project, named Alchemy, taking place in the Baker neighborhood, mid-block between Bayaud and Ellsworth Avenues along Logan Street to be exact. What used to be a Red Owl Grocery Store, and then ‘The Kitchen Gallery & Showroom’, a 12,000 square foot building, built in 1941, is converting into a co-working space, similar to Galvanize.

In addition to the building conversion, a 46-unit apartment building will be built on the former parking lot next door. Here is a rendering showing both the apartment and office building.

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Below are two renderings of the co-working space. As you can see, there will be two levels. The first level will feature a common area, where desks and chairs can be used, a kitchen, and office storefronts that will face Logan Street.

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The second level will hold the private offices as you can see in the rendering below.

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Thanks to Jodi Kopke, and Chelsea Strickland, of Alchemy, DenverUrbanism was able to get an inside look. Judging by the renderings, it appears there is some finishing work still to be done to the ceiling.

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Here are two more photos of the interior space.

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Here we see what will be the kitchen and the storefront spaces that will face Logan Street.

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Exterior renovations are also currently underway. This is Alchemy from Logan Street. The store front offices will be the glass sections between the main entrance.

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The alley side of Alchemy shows the building with the original brick and windows. The second photo features the progress of what is going on next door: the 46-unit apartment building.

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Alchemy is a great adaptive reuse project with infill going in right next door. This is a great win for the neighborhood!


The High Impact of Minimum Parking

Regarding the recent and ongoing kerfuffle taking place in Uptown surrounding a new development being built with no parking, much has been said regarding the “impact” to the neighborhood. I find this to be an interesting view in that it implies that an important function of a neighborhood, the function to which the “impact” would cause so much distress, is parking. Is that the kind of neighborhood people want? One in which the primary and ongoing concern of residents is the “impact” of parking? Who wants to live in a neighborhood whose primary value is car storage?

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It’s interesting that we Americans, we Denverites, have chosen to define ourselves and our places by our cars rather than by our abodes. In as much as we think about our neighborhoods, they are often defined by how conveniently they store our cars. New residential developments in Denver, from single-family houses all the way up to luxury apartment towers, are usually viewed as acceptable as long as they have a place to store our cars. Or perhaps more importantly, a place to store our neighbors’ cars so that we can have the parking spot in front of our house. The provisioning of our cars has come to matter more than the form of our neighborhoods or the needs of our city, but I feel that as our cars have grown in importance, so have our neighborhoods been diminished.

The new development in Uptown proposes to include a restaurant, one which would be conveniently walkable and which would provide a service to the neighborhood; an amenity; cachet. One might even say it will have an “impact”. So why is parking considered to be more impactful than people? I choose to say people because of who will benefit: not cars, but people—most likely neighborhood peoplePeople will work there, it will provide jobs. People will eat there, it will provide food. People will meet there, it will provide a space for the community. People will drink, talk, flirt, and converse there, it will provide memories. What it won’t provideparking—is incidental, even trivial. That folks in Uptown are willing to give up the opportunity to positively impact the people in their neighborhood baffles me. That they’re willing to deny the opportunity for people to live above and enjoy this amenity seems… ungenerous. All of this opposition is in the name of protecting what residents view as “their” on-street parking.

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Is this where our priorities truly have shifted? Are we correct in allowing this focus on parking to continue to define our neighborhoods, our opportunities, our lives and those of our neighbors? I say it’s better to build a place where we can walk to our daily needs rather than sit impatiently at the wheel waiting for the light to change. I say it’s better to build a community that welcomes new neighbors in an attitude of comity and friendliness rather than fear that they might steal “our” parking spots. I say it’s better to build our way to prosperity rather than sit behind a wall of zoning and claim that “the pie can never be any largerthis is as much as there is and there can never be more”. That’s the kind of “impact” I want.


Walking in Denver Part 2: Sidewalk Movers and Shakers

by Jenny Niemann

This is the second in a series of posts that will review the basics of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure and new developments that may help you get around.

In our first post on this topic, we reviewed Denver’s sidewalk dilemma and how it affects Denver’s health and prosperity. Now let’s take a look at Denver’s primary pedestrian advocates.

Who is involved?
Denver has been discussing sidewalks with increasing frequency over the past year. There have been a number of policy developments that could have a big impact on Denver’s sidewalks. Here are some of the groups involved:

  • WalkDenver is Denver’s dedicated pedestrian advocacy organization, working to make Denver the most walkable city in the country through advocacy, data collection, community programs and tactical urbanism.
  • The Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee is a group appointed by the mayor to advise on pedestrian issues and upcoming plans.
  • The Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails task force will be a key voice in the Denveright planning process going forward.
  • The Denver City Council created a Sidewalk Working Group, chaired by Councilman Paul Kashman, last spring. They are looking to find a policy solution to Denver’s sidewalk problem, and started with this white paper.
  • Denver Public Works is the department ultimately responsible for transportation in Denver, including pedestrian mobility.
  • Streetsblog Denver is the Mile High City’s outspoken online voice for spotlighting the deficiencies in Denver’s pedestrian environment and promoting initiatives such as Vision Zero.

What’s happening now?
At the end of 2015, WalkDenver launched the Denver Deserves Sidewalks campaign, calling upon the City to assume responsibility for building and repairing sidewalks, and establish a dedicated funding source for this purpose. Nearly 3,000 people signed the Denver Deserves Sidewalks petition, and 34 organizations provided letters of support.

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This got the conversation started and led to the creation of the City Council’s Sidewalk Working Group. That group held meetings over the summer, and now is considering various policy options to find a solution to this problem. Potential solutions all start with active assessment of the sidewalk network, but private property owners retain legal responsibility for construction of sidewalks. The policies vary in the way they help property owners pay for sidewalk improvements.

There’s been some limited progress in the City’s budget: The Mayor’s 2017 budget includes $2.5 million for sidewalks adjacent to City-owned property. However, this doesn’t help out private property owners. Councilman Kashmann and the Mayor’s office are currently discussing a plan to help low-income homeowners pay for sidewalk repairs.

And incremental improvements are ongoing: The Department of Public Works is making progress on streets around Denver, like the new sidewalks that will be constructed along Hampden and Havana streets. See a list of upcoming pedestrian projects here.

There’s been good progress over the past year, and advocates like WalkDenver are hopeful that the City Council will find a solution soon. But for now, we’re stuck with the status quo: private property owners are still responsible for the sidewalks along their property. The City Council’s proposed policy solutions would help the city share in some of the cost of sidewalk repairs, but property owners would remain responsible even though sidewalks are part of the public right-of-way.

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The City is admittedly in a tough position: few have the appetite for new government spending, so it may seem easiest to let the responsibility remain with property owners. But the health and safety of Denver’s residents make it imperative we find a way to overcome this challenge. Denver’s residents pay taxes so that we can provide public goods like safe roads and bike lanes for all residents. Sidewalks should be no different.

Want to get involved?
Great! To learn more, you can use WalkDenver’s WALKScope tool to check out the conditions of sidewalks in your neighborhood, and add data yourself on any sidewalk in the city. This tool was created by WalkDenver and PlaceMatters to allow crowd-souring of pedestrian infrastructure data—allowing anyone to report information on the quality of Denver’s sidewalks, providing valuable information to both advocates and the City government, which does not keep such detailed records of sidewalk conditions.

You can also report poor sidewalk conditions to the City—once a year, one report per person. So pick the worst sidewalk infrastructure in your neighborhood and send in a report before the year is over. See Public Work’s guidelines for complaints here.

You can head to the Denveright site for more information and to give feedback on your vision for Denver’s pedestrian network; you can also provide input on the transit plan, too.

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To help the movement keep pushing forward, you could also become a WalkDenver supporter and make a contribution to support their ongoing Denver Deserves Sidewalks campaign.

And lastly: winter is coming. We’ve got to make sure the sidewalks we have are passable for people who choose—or must—get around on them. A friendly reminder to do your part and clear your sidewalk, and maybe your neighbor’s, too. Check out the city’s sidewalk shoveling requirements (and other resources) here.

There’s a lot more to walking than sidewalks. Next time, we’ll explore other components of Denver’s pedestrian infrastructure, and the many planning efforts that affect walkability. Stay tuned!

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Jenny Niemann is a graduate student in the University of Colorado Denver’s dual-degree in urban planning and public health. Her graduate work involves alternative transportation and healthy food systems and how the benefits of these sustainable city services can be accessed by households of all incomes. A native of the suburbs of Washington, DC, Jenny enjoys exploring Colorado’s growing cities and mountains by bicycle.


Denver’s Smart City Ambitions Leverage Technology to Increase Mobility

by Camron Bridgford

What exactly does it mean to be a Smart City?

The most exciting part for many urbanists, technology innovators, open data proponents, and transportation and social justice advocates may, in fact, be the lack of a clear answer. However, through recently announced support from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and Transportation for America, Denver may be in the driver’s seat to develop their own, unique definition.

The idea of a Smart City—which received significant attention through the highly-competitive Smart Cities Challenge grant offered by USDOT in 2015/2016—is to leverage rapidly evolving technology to meet increasingly complex transportation challenges in urban centers. For instance, according to Transportation for America, 85 percent of the country’s total population now lives in urban areas. While this illustrates the immense demand for urban living and a renewed investment in our cities’ centers, it also underlines mobility challenges that arise with denser populations, such as continued dependence on manual, single-occupancy vehicles, as well as growing transportation disparities for low-income and minority groups, many of whom are technologically disconnected.

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Overall, a Smart City looks to address these symbiotic challenges by seeking solutions that emphasize data collection and sharing to publicize successes and failures in transportation innovation; promote a willingness to take on risk and serve as a mobility incubator; leverage partnerships, both with cities and private industry, to fund projects and offer a maximize return on investment; and increase equity in problem-solving so that all people’s needs are captured, especially those who are transit-dependent.

The enthusiasm that the Smart Cities Challenge sparked, which garnered 77 applications from nearly all mid-to-large-sized cities in the U.S., demonstrated the urgency and opportunity cities feel in improving and maximizing their transportation systems for increasingly diverse populations. While Denver was one of seven finalists, the final award—an unprecedented $50 million—went to Columbus, Ohio.

However, October produced two new developments in the advancement of Smart Cities, both which recognized that 76 cities were left sitting on Smart City plans without the necessary assistance to propel them off the ground. As a result, USDOT announced an additional $65 million to cities for advanced technology in transportation, $6 million of which will be awarded to Denver to alleviate congestion through “connected vehicles.” This insinuates Denver’s desire to increase modes of transport—such as single-occupancy vehicles, buses, future automated vehicles, or car and ride shares—that are equipped with internet access and a wireless network. These advances would make possible communication between cars, public transit, and infrastructure like stop lights and nearby stores, all with the goal of providing an increased flow of information that increases the affordability, diversity and efficiency of mobility choices.

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Additionally, a public-private partnership between Transportation for America and Sidewalk Labs just announced assistance via a new Smart Cities collaborative, with Denver selected as one of 16 cities nationwide, alongside the likes of Austin, Boston, Seattle and Washington, D.C. This collaborative of cities, which will incorporate Denver’s primary goal of increasing “mobility freedom,” will work to implement smart city policies, share best practices and pilot new programs in three key areas: automated vehicles, shared mobility and the utilization of performance measures and data analytics.

In recent years, USDOT, municipalities, and other public and private sector partners have fast recognized the growing perfect storm of urban conditions and technological advances that could lead cities to develop innovative solutions to move people more efficiently, affordably and equitably. James Corless, director of Transportation for America, notes that current changes underway will represent the biggest shift in transportation and mobility since the advent of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.

However, as with most innovation, cities must either get ahead of the curve and decide what transportation will look like for their city, or they will be left to be shaped by the decisions that other players make. With a population increase of more than 18,000 in 2015, and an additional 1.1 million people projected to move into the metro area by 2040, Denver has significant stake in the game.

Denver’s proactive stance toward becoming a Smart City—and more importantly, deciding what that definition will uniquely mean for Denver—is a critical step toward increasing mobility for all residents. And while the perfection that technological advances seemingly provide cannot be everything—the magnetism of our urban environment is created just as much by the necessity of navigating a city’s imperfect, messy conditions—technology will play a crucial role in determining how to tackle some of our biggest urban issues, including those of mobility, access, affordability, and equity.

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Camron Bridgford is a master’s candidate in urban and regional planning at the University of Colorado Denver, with a particular interest in the use and politics of public space as it relates to urban revitalization, culture and placemaking, and community development. She also works as a freelance writer to investigate urban-related issues and serves as a non-profit consultant.