Damaged Road? Fix It Immediately! Damaged Sidewalk? Forget It!

Last Sunday, a section of Buckley Road in Aurora buckled due to the extreme heat we’ve been experiencing lately, according to a report by 9News. Here’s a photo of the damage, courtesy of 9News:

2016-06-21_road-damage-aurora

Of course, this is a major public safety issue. Drivers could lose control of their vehicles if they sped over the broken concrete unaware, potentially injuring themselves and others and causing damage to vehicles and property. So, the street was immediately blocked off and street crews were quickly dispatched to fix the situation. By Monday afternoon, road repairs had been completed and the street was reopened. While this particular incident happened to be in Aurora, it could have just as easily occurred on a Denver street, and Denver Public Works would have responded similarly if it had.

And then there are sidewalks—you know, the streets equivalent for pedestrians. If a Denver sidewalk has crumbling concrete or buckled joints that pose a serious trip hazard to pedestrians, does the city of Denver fix the situation as quickly as they would if a street had suffered similar damage? Have Denver Public Works crews rushed into my neighborhood to fix this sidewalk segment down the block from me?

2016-06-21_sidewalk-damage-denver

Of course they have not. In Denver, private property owners are responsible for maintaining the sidewalk adjacent to their property, even though the sidewalk is located within the city-owned public right-of-way. Damaged sidewalk segments like the one pictured above can be found ten thousand times over throughout the city, yet there is virtually no enforcement of the city’s sidewalk maintenance policies. According to Streetsblog Denver, the city cited only 16 property owners in 2015 for failing to fix the sidewalks in front of their property.

The solution is not better enforcement of the current policy. The current policy itself is absurd. Can you imagine if the city took the same policy approach and required property owners to fix the potholes in the streets in front of their homes? What we need in Denver is for the city to treat sidewalks as critical transportation infrastructure that’s on equal standing with streets, with the city taking responsibility for the construction and maintenance of our public sidewalk network.

Fortunately, there is strong interest in doing just that, thanks to groups like WalkDenver. The city recently launched the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee and District 6 City Councilman Paul Kashmann is leading the Council’s new Sidewalks Working Group to “determine policies and funding mechanisms that will improve our pedestrian infrastructure while making paying for sidewalks less burdensome than our current system….” Even the Denver Post agrees that the status quo is unacceptable.

In my opinion, a citywide sidewalk fee that would generate dedicated revenue for the city to take over the construction and maintenance of all public sidewalks is the most comprehensive and equitable solution. But regardless of whether you support a sidewalk fee or a different approach, if you believe the city’s current policies abdicating responsibility for Denver’s sidewalks are unacceptable, please contact Mayor Michael Hancock and Councilman Kashmann and let them know that. You should also plan to participate in DenverMoves: Pedestrian and Trails, part of the city’s new Denveright planning initiative.

Walking is the default mode of human transportation. You’d think Denver would make having an outstanding pedestrian network its default transportation priority.

By | 2016-12-28T15:52:59+00:00 June 21, 2016|Categories: Advocacy, Infrastructure, Pedestrians|Tags: , |8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Anthon June 21, 2016 at 4:41 pm

    Cherry Creek Trail north of Iliff has a fun ramp that’s been there at least a week – about an 18″ inverted V where the sidewalk buckled. Not so fun if you’re in a wheelchair or any other sort of mobility impacting disability or riding a bike at night.

  2. Today’s Headlines | Streetsblog Denver June 22, 2016 at 8:04 am

    […] What If Public Works Neglected Roads Like It Neglects Sidewalks? (DenverUrbanism) […]

  3. Nathanael June 22, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    I assume you’ve gotten expert advice from Denver’s own suburbs, most of which have switched to funding sidewalk maintanance through the property tax bill — just like the roads. You can also ask the City of Ithaca, NY — we changed over last year.

  4. Andrew June 29, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    On a side note, I live in Five Points and have sandstone sidewalks that need some repair work. I have contacted a couple of contractors, but they recommend replacing the damaged sections with red concrete. are there any contractors who will fix the sidewalk with original materials?

    • Nathanael July 10, 2016 at 3:40 pm

      There are many types of sandstone; most are not durable, though some are. I’d advise going directly to stone dealers and buying the sandstone blocks, and then hiring a contractor to install them. They’ll be much more willing to do that. But it may be tricky to find the *right* sandstone.

  5. Mark Richardson July 17, 2016 at 7:38 pm

    About 18 months ago I pointed out to Walk Denver and several other planners that Cleveland forces property owners to maintain their sidewalks. If you fail to maintain your sidewalk one day a city crew will show up and fix it but then they will charge the property owner for it too. There is a fair amount of information on this subject off this City of Cleveland page:

    http://www.city.cleveland.oh.us/CityofCleveland/Home/Government/CityAgencies/PublicService/EngineeringConstruction/BureauOfSidewalks

  6. Mark Richardson July 17, 2016 at 7:56 pm

    I just looked-up Chicago’s sidewalk maintenance plan, and there the City tries to pave sidewalks once every 20 years or so. They also have a 50/50 program like the one in Cleveland where the City will share the cost of replacing problem sidewalks with property owners. This year’s Chicago 50/50 program has already seen its available funds depleted.

    Chicago Department of Streets, Alleys, and Sidewalks
    http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/street.html

    Chicago Shared Cost Sidewalk Program
    http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/street/svcs/shared_cost_sidewalkprogram.html

    This piece is interesting, as I have found that ADA-compliant ramps are a bit on the lacking side in some Denver neighborhoods, such as the area northeast of downtown. Chicago has an ADA ramp program where the City pays to install them.

    I don’t know if the issue is fixed yet, but in the fall of 2014 the intersection of Larimer and 30th Street had ADA ramps on two of the corners but across either street from both of them, the opposite side of either street did not have ADA ramps, forcing the handicapped to climb the curb in all crossing directions. This is a real problem considering that the ADA passed so many years ago, and other cities are doing much more to attain compliance.

    http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/provdrs/street/svcs/ada_sidewalk_rampprogram.html

  7. Kairi Gainsborough July 28, 2016 at 5:55 pm

    I had no idea that sidewalk maintenance is not taken care of by the city, but instead by the property owner. In my neighborhood, I actually had to get a bike, because the sidewalks and curbs were too rough for my skateboard. I should do my part, and have the crumbling curb in front of my house repaired.

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