Citizen Initiative Asks Property Owners to Fund Sidewalk Repairs

By Corbett Stevenson

A cross much of Denver, sidewalks are damaged or simply absent, leaving pedestrians to travel in the grass, across broken pavement, or in the street.

This November, voters will be asked to vote on Initiative 307 that aims to complete and repair Denver’s sidewalk system. The ballot measure, named “Denver Deserves Sidewalks,” was created by the Denver Streets Partnership, a coalition of community organizations dedicated to “people-friendly” streets.

Denver Streets Partnership’s executive director Jill Locantore has been working on the ordinance since before they began gathering signatures in July.

“The initiative would publicly fund the construction and repair of sidewalks citywide, allowing everyone to get around freely and safely,” Locantore said. “It is a departure from the current policy which places all of the responsibility for building and repairing sidewalks (on) adjacent property owners.”

A citizen-led initiative is looking to increase funding for its crumbling sidewalks by assessing property owners a fee. Photo by Eric Heinz

Instead of property owners shouldering the full cost of their adjacent sidewalks to be repaired and maintained, the ordinance proposes an annual fee based on the linear footage of sidewalks adjacent to the property.

If passed, the measure would require homeowners with corner lots to pay a larger fee than those with center lots, but Locantore explained that the larger fee is still less than what the current system asks of property owners.

“Forcing residents to shoulder the full cost of sidewalk construction and repair is a huge financial burden—it can often cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to cover the full cost,” Locantore said.

In an effort to ensure the annual sidewalk fee is not overly burdensome, Locantore explained that there is a 20% discount applied to low-income neighborhoods, and an option for homeowners to defer the fee until the point of sale on the home.

The ordinance would also mean the hiring of contractors and other professionals to repair the sidewalks would fall back to the city in the same way as other forms of public infrastructure. The current system, Locantore said, just isn’t cutting it.

With 40% of Denver streets having no sidewalks or sidewalks too narrow for wheelchair use, the current pace of construction and funding has the city on track to finish the sidewalk system in 400 years. The Denver Deserves Sidewalks initiative would change that projection to only nine years to complete the sidewalk network. “

We hear all the time from community members that the lack of sidewalks in their neighborhood is a major barrier to being able to walk safely … and low-income neighborhoods where people are most likely to depend on walking are least likely to have safe sidewalks,” Locantore said. “People walking in Denver are 30 times more likely to die in a traffic crash compared to people in cars and the lack of safe, usable sidewalks is a major contributor to that huge safety issue,” she said


1 Comment

  1. I support sidewalks and improving our city’s sidewalk infrastructure, but I’m coming to realize that Initiative 307 is not the right way to improve our sidewalks. Initiative 307 is an inefficient and inequitable way to fund this infrastructure that everyone uses.
    First off, I am struggling to see how your sidewalk in front of your house will now be maintained – I’ve read through the 307 language and can’t find any clear language on how sidewalks will now be repaired in a timely manner by the City. However, I know this, it should strongly disincentives anyone who was preparing or planning to do ANY repairs to their sidewalk right now to do so no longer. Why in the world would you spend a single dollar towards your sidewalk if you now are required to pay a sidewalk fee every year. You don’t fix any potholes in the street in front of your house, do you? Screw it, let the city do it now. And since the city is now going to be repairing my sidewalk, I am going to be demanding that they fix my sidewalk now!!! How about you, you should get yours fixed now too, right?!?! But how are they going to fix ALL of our sidewalks at the same time?? It will take years and years, and so sidewalks that can and should be fixed today will wait and wait until the City can get to it. Many folks don’t need to replace their entire sidewalk but instead need to repair/replace just a section or two. So again, rather than doing these smaller repairs now, will be put off for who knows how long.
    Secondly, the fees will be based on linear footage of your property and by the type of street you live on. So, folks on our corners will be paying 3 to 4 times more for this public infrastructure than their neighbors right next door. And if you live on the wrong street like I do (Zuni St is designated as Main Street Collector with a rate of $4.30 per lineal foot) you will be paying more than double what your neighbors one block over (say Alcott Street as a local street at $2.15 per lineal foot) will be paying for this public infrastructure. So based upon how many cars travel down your street will determine how much you must pay for sidewalk infrastructure fees. The concrete costs the same for these sidewalks but you’ll pay more for the cars? What?? How is that equitable amongst neighbors?
    Lastly, I believe that this new fee will now be my most expensive public tax – more of my money is going to be going to this specific entity than others such as our public schools (maybe not more but its got to be close), police and fire protection, addressing homelessness, etc. Again, I like sidewalks, but do I like them more than good schools, timely police and fire response, getting help for folks with mental and addiction issues? I don’t think I do.
    I want great sidewalks in our city as much as anyone. But this proposed system though well intended seems flawed, inequitable, and the wrong way to improve our public sidewalks. Let me fix my own sidewalk as is needed when its needed and let me fund other things through my taxes that I care about more.

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