Denver Is Missing Sidewalks on More Than a Quarter of Its Streets

A fence separates a well-maintained public space for golfers from a poorly maintained public space for pedestrians on West 52nd Avenue. Photo: David Sachs
A fence separates a well-maintained public space for golfers from a poorly maintained public space for pedestrians on West 52nd Avenue. Photo: David Sachs

We know that Denver lacks sidewalks to an embarrassing degree for a modern American city, but until recently we didn’t have a grasp on how bad the problem is. It turns out the Mile High City is missing 520 miles of sidewalks, according to estimates from the Denveright planning process.

That means 27 percent of Denver’s streets are paved for cars but lack infrastructure for the most basic form of transportation — walking. (Twenty-three percent of streets have no sidewalks at all, while 4 percent have a sidewalk on one side.)

City planners looked at data from street maintenance crews, the Denver Regional Council of Governments, and aerial photographs to assess the extent of the sidewalk shortage.

Image: City and County of Denver
Arterial streets like Federal Boulevard are the most hostile to people on foot, and are most likely to be missing sidewalks. Image: City and County of Denver

It’s important to note: This doesn’t mean 73 percent of sidewalks are in good condition. About 1,250 miles of Denver’s sidewalks are either 3-feet-wide “Hollywood”-style walkways with sloping curbs angled into the street, or in poor shape — crumbling or jutting up several inches.

Sidewalks are not an extravagance. They’re fundamental to getting people places safely. Drivers killed 13 people who were walking on streets with incomplete or missing sidewalks between 2012 and 2015, according to an analysis of crash data by WalkDenver, the city’s pedestrian advocacy organization.

The Hancock administration is developing a pedestrian and trails master plan, but it’s Denver City Council that has made the most progress on fixing the city’s patchwork sidewalk network — with lots of nudging from WalkDenver. Council members are debating how to create an annual funding stream to build and repair sidewalks. Right now the responsibility falls on property owners, but many cannot afford it, and Denver Public Works doesn’t enforce the ordinance.

Hancock okayed $2.5 million in next year’s budget to build sidewalks on city-owned property like golf courses. But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $475 million that city planners estimate they need, and the $600 million WalkDenver believes is required to fill in missing sidewalks and bring sub-par ones up to snuff.

The Council is meeting today — we’ll have an update soon on whether Denver will prioritize the lives of people walking.

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