Talking the talk on city sidewalks
Sidewalks are a seldom appreciated luxury until you find yourself walking in the gutter on a snowy day.
In Denver, cold, wet feet are too common an occurrence, with an identified sidewalk “gap” spanning the equivalent of 250 miles (roughly the distance of Denver to Grand Junction).
And the issue runs much deeper than mere inconvenience. Proper sidewalks allow for safe passage of kids going to school, encourage the use of public transit and are critical to those with disabilities who cannot navigate our city without contiguous and undamaged pathways.
Sidewalks also unite communities in the true style of front porches.
The City of Denver’s 2017 budget allocates precious little for the critical infrastructure — $2.5 million toward what has been estimated as a $475 million need.
The city needs to substantially overhaul its approach to building and maintaining sidewalks, and we appreciate Mayor Michael Hancock’s measured approach to this massive issue. The Denver Post’s Jon Murray has chronicled the public discussion for the past year.
Now it’s getting time for action and Murray reported last month that Hancock has expressed a willingness to explore more substantial ideas. One of the city’s foremost proponents of walkability, Councilman Paul Kasmann, said Hancock could become “the first chief executive of Denver to address the full breadth of needs that must be met to make Denver a truly walkable city.”
We hope Hancock is up to the challenge.
One thing is certain, the current strategy is clearly not working. It is up to individual property owners to build and maintain the sidewalks on their property.
The city has failed in past decades to require developers to include sidewalks in their projects, and frequently permitted the budget-cutting use of dysfunctional quasi-sidewalks, known as “Hollywood-style,” that are attached to the road by a sloping gutter and too narrow to accommodate two pedestrians at a time.
There are a whole host of issues for the city as it tries to address the need. Some communities have big historic trees in the preferred right-of-way for a sidewalk, or historic flagstone sidewalks that are beautiful but slick and uneven.
Some communities lack the combined income needed to tackle projects of this nature, and it would be a shame if the solution failed to assist poorer neighborhoods.
That’s how we fear an incentive program would play out. The incentives might tip the scales to allow a middle-class neighborhood to mobilize, but it could leave poorer neighborhoods behind. The public right now can help identify sidewalk woes by using the city’s reporting tool: Walkscope.org.
A dedicated sidewalk fee or assessment on homeowners could fund more city investment in sidewalks, but the problem with fees is that they also disproportionately hurt lower-income homeowners.
Perhaps a combination of solutions, a citywide fee to fully fund sidewalks in the poorest per-capita areas that also provide subsidies to more wealthy communities hoping to do it themselves.
But while we don’t purport to know the right balance, we do know it is a serious impediment to the future of Denver, and one we are glad Hancock, Kassman and others are willing to tackle, even if it takes significant political will to suggest a fee, a tax or a massive public expenditure.
The City of Denver’s 2017 budget allocates just $2.5 million for sidewalk updates, despite an estimated $475 million need.