New Denveright report finds Denver’s pedestrian network needs major improvements

by Jessica Vargas on May 26, 2017

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The Denveright team has released another existing conditions report – and it’s the one WalkDenver has been looking forward to reading the most. The Denver Moves: Pedestrian and Trails Existing Conditions Report takes an in-depth look at the state of the pedestrian and trail network in the City and County of Denver. While the report shares WalkDenver’s vision of a pedestrian network for Denver that is safe and comfortable for any user, the report’s findings show that our city has a long way to go in achieving that vision.

The Sidewalk Quality Assessment found that only 5% of the City’s total sidewalk network are meeting the required standards. Arterials are the street classification with the least amount of sidewalks meeting standards, with less than 2% meeting the required eight-foot sidewalk width and 12-foot buffer width. The current City standard for sidewalks on local and collector streets is a minimum width of five feet with an 8-foot buffer between the sidewalk and the road. Only 5% of local street sidewalks meet these basic criteria while only 8% of collector streets do. The trail picture is hardly better: only 7% of all trails meet the width standards outlined in the report that will become part of the final Pedestrian and Trails Plan.

It’s no wonder then that when the City looked at sidewalk data collected through WALKscope, an online tool developed by WalkDenver and PlaceMatters, they found that only 9% of surveyed sidewalks were given the highest rating of 5 for most comfortable. The entire report is well worth a read, going into more detail about various sidewalk and trail network issues, including signal and crossing spacing, walking access to destinations such as grocery stores, schools, and transit, and the gaps in access to the trail network.

One of the main reasons for the extreme lack of sidewalks that meet City standards is that under current City policy, sidewalk construction and maintenance is the responsibility of the adjacent property owner, not the City. As standards changed and properties developed at different points in time, a patchwork of different sidewalk types has evolved. From the buffered red sandstone sidewalks of Denver’s early days that have fallen into disrepair to the 2-foot rollover curbs that are difficult for even one person to walk on to streets with no sidewalks at all, Denver must find a way to bring our streets and sidewalks up to standard if it is serious about making a truly walkable city. That is why the Denver Streets Partnership, which WalkDenver is a member of, has called on the Mayor and City Council to invest $40 million a year into building and maintaining our walking and biking networks. This will bring Denver on par with other major US cities, and create the options people want to get around safely.

Tell the City to invest in sidewalks and bike lanes!

Lately, the City has begun paying more attention to sidewalks. In late 2015, WalkDenver launched the Denver Deserves Sidewalks campaign and collected almost 3,000 signatures that called on the City to assume responsibility for building and repairing sidewalks, and to establish a dedicated funding source for this purpose. In response to the campaign, the City established a sidewalks working group and allocated $2.5 million in the 2017 budget for the construction of sidewalks along City-owned parks. This was the first time in Denver’s history that public funds have been dedicated to sidewalks and is hopefully a down payment on continuing annual investments in the sidewalk network.

This past Tuesday, construction began on a sidewalk in City Park along 23rd Avenue from York to Colorado Boulevard. The new concrete sidewalk will replace a gravel walkway on a popular east-west route that is used to access bus stops along 23rd as well as the many amenities within the park, including the Denver Zoo, the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, and several recreational paths. New sidewalks are also planned for stretches of Albrook and E. 46th Avenue adjacent to Montbello Open Space, as well as sections of the perimeter around Sloan’s Lake Park, and Yosemite Street from Syracuse to the Highline Canal. WalkDenver cheers these positive steps the City is taking in assuming more responsibility for the safety and comfort of people walking. We also hope that this will lead to a significantly larger investment in ensuring public streets are designed for the protection of their most vulnerable users.

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