On a warm September Saturday, a group of community members gathered at Scheitler Rec Center for North Denver’s first ever Sidewalk Palooza. One woman came because she had temporarily been using a walker after an injury and found trying to walk around the Sloan’s Lake neighborhood to be abysmal with all the broken and missing sections of sidewalk. Many came because their neighborhood, Inspiration Point, lacks even basic sidewalk connections to the rest of Denver. Everyone was there for one common reason, wanting better pedestrian connections in Denver. Organized by the Denver Streets Partnership (DSP), the walking tour event was intended to raise awareness and discuss solutions for Denver’s sidewalk network. According to DSP, 10% of Denver streets have missing sidewalks, and 30% have sidewalks that are too narrow to accommodate a person in a wheelchair or a parent walking with a stroller. The issue hits hardest for the 10% of Denverites that do not have cars in their household, and several parts of North Denver have 16-20% of residents without a car in their household according to Census data.
District 1 Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval, who represents North Denver, took part in the event and spoke about the challenges of our sidewalk system, especially that it relies on the individual property owner being responsible for maintaining their sidewalk. She noted that during a recent budget hearing, she asked the Interim Executive Director of the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI), Adam Phipps, how we can complete and repair our sidewalk network. Sandoval said to the group that “The program that Denver has is not perfect, it’s not sustainable, and it would take us forever to build out these sidewalks.” Sandoval explained that Phipps admitted that progress has been too slow on the sidewalk network repairs and build out, and that DOTI will be announcing a new strategy by November.
The walking tour route was chosen for the group that highlighted many of the typical Denver sidewalk problems, including disrepaired sidewalks, landscaping that blocked the sidewalks, missing sidewalks, as well as narrow sidewalks. The group walked along Sheridan Boulevard where bushes blocked the sidewalk and forced people to walk in the road. They also featured neighborhood speakers including Ryan Sullivan, owner of the Book Bar on Tennyson St. Sullivan noted that as a runner and a biker who delivers books to get exercise in the neighborhood, that getting to Inspiration Point from Denver is one of his least favorite intersections. “I try to avoid Sheridan Blvd. whenever I can, this entire stretch from Colfax all the way past Willis Case, the entire thing is hard to navigate. There is no good way as a pedestrian or a cyclist to get through there. There are overhanging trees and bushes, there are sidewalks that are less than two feet wide, and they are right up against traffic so you’re constantly looking over your shoulder trying to make sure you’re not going to get clipped by a car driving by. It is a hazard. It is definitely something that can be and should be addressed.”
Jerry Guida, President of the Inspiration Point Neighborhood Association also spoke. He mentioned that the Intersection of I-70 and Sheridan has designs from CDOT, but is not funded. He highlighted that “there are no sidewalks from 49th Ave to 52nd Ave. There are no sidewalks for 4 blocks. We’ve been dealing with this for, I don’t know how many years. The last we heard we were going to get sidewalks on the east side. This need is great throughout the city. We have a street down here, 52nd Ave, that has no curb, sidewalk, or gutter. We have enough visibility, enough people are upset that the city is going to have to act.”
Dave, an Inspiration Point parent with two kids attending Centennial Elementary said “that there are absolutely no safe ways for us to walk to school, for them to ride their bikes to school. Frankly, just leaving the neighborhood is frightening. We literally have no way to safely go walking about with our children outside the neighborhood because there are no sidewalks connecting us. There is nothing safe about leaving our neighborhood other than in a car.”
DOTI Director and Spokesperson Nancy Kuhn noted that the city has made improvements elsewhere on Sheridan Boulevard recently, adding missing sidewalks in nearby Sloan’s Lake Park on the western side of Sheridan from 17th Avenue to Byron Place. They are also looking at improving the stretch of sidewalk on Sheridan between West Colfax and 17th Avenue in conjunction with a developer that has indicated they are going to fix part of that stretch while building new homes there, and DOTI will work on filling the remaining gaps.
Regarding building the section of missing sidewalks on Sheridan between 49th Avenue and 52nd Ave, Kuhn explained some of the challenges with getting a sidewalk installed and DOTI’s plans. “On the west side, you have a large cement retaining wall. On the east side, you have a historic golf course and line of mature trees. So, we are starting to look at design options that consider and address the existing conditions and begin to develop a cost estimate for the project, and we would likely go to the community to discuss further before any decisions are made on next steps.”
The Denver Streets Partnership has said the city estimates it will cost $1.4 billion to completely build out and fix all of the sidewalks in Denver. The group asserts that while the Mayor’s proposed $4.8 million budget to fill in missing sidewalks in 2022 will help jumpstart the sidewalk build out, a larger and dedicated funding source is needed to help fund more timely sidewalk construction as well as repair.
Allen Cowgill was one of the organizers of the North Denver Sidewalk Palooza Event and serves as the Council District 1 Appointee on the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure Advisory Board.