The Sorry State of Denver’s Pedestrian Network

On Colfax, where signalized intersections are few and far between, people cross where it's convenient for them. Photo: David Sachs
On Colfax, where signalized intersections are few and far between, people cross where it's convenient for them. Photo: David Sachs

A new report from the city’s Denveright planning initiative affirms just how hard it is to get around Denver on foot or in a wheelchair.

The data bears out what many people experience every day: When you walk on Denver streets, you have to deal with missing or inadequate sidewalks and wide, dangerous streets where official crossings are scattered too far apart.

About 40 percent of Denver’s street network lacks good sidewalks, according to the report, “Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails Existing Conditions.” Walking infrastructure is worse in low-income neighborhoods, and it’s barely any better around important destinations like transit stations, parks, and schools.

It’s a bad sign when you have to walk two football fields to reach a walk signal

When police and local media blame people crossing mid-block for getting struck, here’s a big part of the story they don’t tell: The average distance between traffic signals where people can cross with a walk sign is 1,211 feet.

On Denver’s major “arterial” streets like Federal Boulevard, Colfax Avenue, and Colorado Boulevard, the average is 1,133 feet.

That means that in much of the city, you might have to walk as far as two football fields to reach a crossing with a signal. No wonder people choose to cross mid-block.

Sidewalks are worse in poorer neighborhoods

Citywide, 40 percent of the street network either has sidewalks that are too narrow or missing entirely. In low-income areas, sidewalk conditions are even worse — 47 percent of the street network isn’t up to snuff.

This inequality is not news. It’s the inevitable result of a system that forces private citizens to pay for public sidewalks.

The wealthier you are, the more likely your ability to walk or use a wheelchair in a safe environment. Image: City and County of Denver
Image: City and County of Denver

Important destinations aren’t pedestrian-friendly

Residents see transit, schools, grocery stores, and parks as the most important destinations, according to Denveright surveys. In a city that values walkability, special attention would go toward creating cohesive pedestrian infrastructure around these places. But right now, the condition of sidewalks near these locations is barely any better than the city as a whole.

Image: City and County of Denver
The most important destinations have slightly better pedestrian infrastructure than the city as a whole, but still aren’t up to snuff. Image: City and County of Denver

Walking is the foundation of any city’s transportation system, but for a long time Denver hasn’t paid enough attention to the pedestrian experience. The Hancock administration has a chance to finally correct the neglect of the pedestrian network with revenue from the bond measure coming up this November. Fixing these well-documented problems, not a short-sighted one-shot dose of funding for road maintenance, should be the priority.

  • mckillio

    I spent a lot of time walking and biking through mostly the city core this past weekend (CBD, Ball Park, LoDo, Arapahoe Square, CapHill, and GOlden Triangle and while the sidewalks are complete some sections are just terrible to have to walk through on a hot sunny day. No trees, where trees should be is concrete or asphalt making it even hotter.

    But I was also driving through some poorer areas of the city before the weekend and the number of missing and laughable sidewalks (basically glorified curbs) on top of even more missing trees and no room between the sidewalk and street. And for those that have to walk these routes every day, is incredibly sad to me and a complete failure on the part of the city.

    Everyone should have the right to walk on complete, separated, and landscaped sidewalks/right of way. The city needs to get this done asap,starting with the denser and poorer areas.

    • TakeFive

      It’s interesting that for decades I’ve scarcely given sidewalks much consideration. I’ve always preferred walking a neighborhood’s more forgiving asphalt roads. Ofc sidewalks make more sense in the city center and closer in neighborhoods where you more typically find them. I’ve certainly seen plenty of walkers in city parks, less so on sidewalks but sidewalks are nice. If the City and its residents want nice sidewalks everywhere then it should be done. It would certainly be an improvement.

  • TakeFive

    Fixing these well-documented problems, not a short-sighted one-shot dose of funding for road maintenance, should be the priority.

    Hmm, seems like Maintenance 101 would be if you don’t maintain the infrastructure then the costs will go up exponentially and then Denver’s City Budget will become even more strained to attend to mobility aspirations. Be careful what you wish for perhaps?

    By chance and curiosity I happen to venture to that pdf over the weekend but I’ll admit with my attention span it was hardly worth the time. -:)

  • Bernard Finucane

    The fact that rich Americans use their political power to deprive the poor of adequate infrastructure is a scandal.

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