Mayor Hancock wants to spend money fixing sidewalks. Let’s do it right!

by Jessica Vargas on September 15, 2017

$4.5 million for sidewalk repairs could address a major need – if spent wisely

This week, Mayor Hancock released his proposed budget for 2018, which includes $31.5 million to implement his Mobility Action Plan, on top of the $70-75 million the City typically spends on transportation projects each year. Over the next few weeks, WalkDenver and our friends at the Denver Streets Partnership will be analyzing how well the Mayor’s proposed spending package supports his stated goals of reducing the percent of people who drive alone to work to 50% and eliminating traffic fatalities by the year 2030. Today we’re highlighting one item that immediately caught our eye: a new $4.5 million sidewalk repair program. This funding could help address a major unmet need for many Denver neighborhoods – if it’s spent wisely.

Current city policy places the responsibility for building and repairing sidewalks on adjacent private property owners, even though sidewalks are part of the public right-of-way just like streets. Lax enforcement of this policy means that many neighborhoods throughout Denver have substandard or deteriorated sidewalks, or no sidewalks at all. When the policy is enforced, sidewalk repairs can cost homeowners thousands of dollars. WalkDenver’s Denver Deserves Sidewalks campaign therefore calls upon the City to assume responsibility for building and repairing sidewalks, and to establish a dedicated funding source for this purpose.

Thanks to WalkDenver’s advocacy, the City is making real progress in identifying funding for sidewalks – the GO Bond that Denver residents will be voting on in November includes $47.7 million for new sidewalk construction, and the proposed $4.5 million for sidewalk repairs in the 2018 budget will hopefully be the first year of an ongoing annual program. To get the most bang for it’s buck, now is an excellent time for the City to make some much-needed changes to its sidewalk policies that will govern how this funding is spent, particularly for sidewalk repairs.

Kansas City offers a good example that Denver could look to when it comes to sidewalk policy. Earlier this year, Kansas City voters approved a bond measure that allocates $150 million for sidewalks (which makes Denver’s proposed sidewalk funding level pale in comparison). Concurrent with this funding commitment, the Kansas City Council made some significant policy changes. First, the city is switching from a complaint-driven system of doing “spot repairs” (similar to Denver) to a more proactive approach that includes developing a priority list of sidewalks based on proximity to schools, transit stops, grocery stores, etc., and inspecting these sidewalks to identify and implement needed repairs. The goal is to make it through two citywide cycles of inspecting, repairing and replacing sidewalks over the 20 years of the infrastructure bonds program. Even when responding to complaints, the city will inspect the entire block, not just the property that was the subject of the complaint, and address all needed repairs in one fell swoop.

Even more importantly, Kansas City removed the responsibility for adjacent property owners to pay for sidewalk repairs – 100% of the cost will be covered by bond funding (what happens after the bond funding is fully spent remains to be seen). In this way, the city not only avoids the administrative costs of a complicated cost-sharing system that must be negotiated one property at a time, it is also treats sidewalks like the basic transportation infrastructure that they are. Like streets, sidewalks only function as a network, not a patchwork. It just makes sense to use public dollars to build out a comprehensive, connected system of sidewalks that everyone, not just adjacent property owners, can use and benefit from.

As a Kansas City Public Works representative told a local news outlet, “We know the public felt the burden of having to pay for their own sidewalk improvements, and we’re happy to be able to flip that around and really, systematically make this a more walkable city.” We hope that Denver can do the same.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: