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.
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.
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.
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!
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.