Why It Could Take 400 Years to Fix Denver's Sidewalk Problems

Three examples of problem sidewalks, as shared by the Denver Streets Partnership.
Three examples of problem sidewalks, as shared by the Denver Streets Partnership. Denver Streets Partnership
Pedestrians, who accounted for a sizable percentage of the more than fifty Denver traffic deaths in 2021 so far, face a slew of challenges when trying to get from place to place safely in the Mile High City — including a sidewalk system that is incredibly inadequate.

The Denver Streets Partnership is staging a series of tours beginning this afternoon, September 24, as part of a so-called "Sidewalk Palooza" event designed to highlight the issue. According to the organization, 47 percent of city streets in low-income neighborhoods have substandard or missing sidewalks — forcing many walkers into the streets, where the risks of a tragic accident increase. And while the City of Denver's Vision Zero, launched in 2017 as a five-year action plan with the goal of "eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries by making our roadways safer for everyone," acknowledges the sidewalk issues, so far officials aren't walking the talk. Denver had a 2020 goal of building twenty miles of sidewalk, but only six miles' worth was completed.

A lack of resources isn't helping, says DSP director Jill Locantore. She estimates that it would cost $1.1 billion to complete Denver's sidewalk network, "but the previous year's expenditure was around $2 to $3 million. At that level, it would take more than 400 years to finish. And who knows if the Earth is even going to exist in 400 years?"

To demonstrate that there are lousy, crumbling or nonexistent sidewalks citywide, Denver Streets Partnership hopes to schedule Sidewalk Palooza tours "in every single city council district," Locantore notes. The initial stroll will take place in District 8, and councilmember Christopher Herndon has been invited to attend. Councilmembers Chris Hinds, Amanda Sandoval, Jolon Clark and Paul Kashmann have already committed to take part in tours in their districts, and residents are helping to design the routes.

"We've had volunteers step up," Locantore adds. "They've identified the problems they want to highlight and the areas they want to cover. And they really do run the gamut."

In addition, guides "will point out destinations we can't get to because of the unsafe conditions," she says, "and some of them highlight very dangerous situations, including Sheridan Boulevard in District 1, where the sidewalks are so inadequate that it forces people to walk in the street — and that's a very busy street."

Because of such scenarios, the Sidewalk Palooza team is taking extra steps to keep participants in one piece. "We're going to give everybody yellow safety vests and optional routes," Locantore says. "If folks are feeling brave, they can experience what it's like to walk on Sheridan Boulevard, which people do every day. But we'll also give people alternate routes if they don't feel safe doing so."

People who live in areas without decent sidewalks often don't have a choice. "People have to get to bus stops that are often just like sticks in the mud. It's imperative that we have safe infrastructure for people to get to places like that," she concludes.

Tours are expected to continue through October, with additional dates announced in the coming weeks. Here's the current schedule:

Council District 8
Councilperson Christopher J. Herndon invited
Beginning at the intersection of 18th and Olive (Johnson and Wales University)
Friday, September 24 at 3 p.m.

Council District 10
Councilperson Chris Hinds attending
Beginning at intersection of 13th and Pennsylvania
Friday, September 24 at 6 p.m.
Also being hosted: Saturday, September 25 at 9 a.m. and Saturday, September 25 at 6 p.m.

Council District 1
Councilperson Amanda Sandoval attending
Beginning at Scheitler Recreation Center, 5031 W 46th Ave, Denver, CO 80212
Saturday, September 25 at 10 a.m.

Council District 7
Councilperson Jolon Clark attending
Beginning at Close Quarters, next to the Alameda Light Rail Station
Monday, September 27 at 11 a.m.

Council District 6
Councilperson Paul Kashmann attending
Beginning at intersection of Steele and Florida
Wednesday, September 29 at 8 a.m.
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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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