City responds to call for safer walking and biking detours during construction

by Jessica Vargas on May 17, 2018

Policy changes in the works for safer walking and biking detours during construction

With all the construction underway in Denver, every person who regularly walks and bikes in the city has been faced with a sidewalk or bike lane closure along their path. Since there is rarely any signage ahead of time to warn people walking and biking that their routes are about to disappear, pedestrians and cyclists are often forced to turn around and take another route out of their way or continue into the road to get around the detour. The Mayor’s Pedestrians Advisory Committee (MPAC) recently identified the need for better construction detour policies as one of their top priorities, and Denver Public Works is responding by updating these policies to better accommodate people walking and biking.

“People walking are moving at slow speeds and using their own energy,” said John Hayden, the current chair of MPAC. “They will instinctively seek the shortest, most direct route to their destination. We see this again and again in social paths cut across lawns and parks where planners thought people should walk in long winding paths. That’s just not realistic.”

In a letter to Michael Koslow, the senior engineer overseeing the policy update, MPAC’s primary recommendation was that when closure of the existing walkway and/or bikeway is necessary, construction companies should be required to provide a safe and direct access route for people walking or biking rather than an extended detour.

“In planning safe routes around construction sites, it’s essential that pedestrians be given first priority for the most direct route,” Hayden explained. “They are the most vulnerable user and, as time has shown, they will use the most direct route whether the City wants them to or not. It’s best to just make the most direct route the safest route whenever possible. That should be the starting point for the construction detour policy.”

Here are the other key recommendations from their letter:

1. Pedestrian passage in the form of jersey barriers or shed roof walkways should be required as the default when construction activity requires the closure of a sidewalk. Detours should be the exception that require additional consideration.

2. Detours that entail crossing streets should be avoided in pedestrian priority areas, on arterial streets, in locations where the construction closure occurs mid-block, and in locations where construction occurs on both sides of an open street forcing pedestrians to walk a block or more out of their way for a detour.

3. Factors such as speed limit and auto traffic volume should be considered in determining if an applicant be allowed to provide a detour rather than direct safe passage ways.

4. Closures for long periods of time should require direct safe passage ways.

5. All detours must be ADA compliant.

6. Closures should occur for the shortest amount of time and only when absolutely necessary.

7. When a detour requiring pedestrians to cross a street is deemed appropriate, then signage alerting drivers to the presence of pedestrians crossing the street and reduction of the speed limit to no more than 25 mph should be required.

Image: Seattle Policy on Sidewalk Closure as Last Resort (SDOT)

“The Vision Zero Action Plan does identify this effort and a deadline of 2019; I recognize the importance of changing this policy to help improve the quality of life for Denver drivers, pedestrians, transit riders, and bicyclists,” says Koslow. He confirmed that the City has selected a consultant to assist them with the process over the next year, including conducting outreach to the contractor community to keep them informed of the policy changes and gather their input. As the City works on implementing the Vision Zero Action Plan, policy changes like this would go a long way in making walking and biking in Denver safer and easier.

Image: Example of potential requirements for providing safe pedestrian access around construction sites. 

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