Will Denveright’s Pedestrian Plan Just Go Through the Same Old Motions?

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

In a truly walkable city, the pedestrian network is ubiquitous. Every street is safe for walking and works well for pedestrians and wheelchair users. That way everyone can access any place in the city.

That’s the core question that City Hall and the Denveright Pedestrians and Trails task force should be addressing — how to make the whole city safe and accessible for pedestrians. In order to do this, the city will have to make some bold decisions, like redesigning wide streets to have narrower car lanes, or retiming traffic signals to give more time to crossing pedestrians, not through-traffic.

When Mayor Michael Hancock launched the Denverite process, he told people to “dream big.” But so far the city — including Hancock himself — doesn’t seem to be interested in ambitious pedestrian safety measures.

So far, the task force has made progress on work like prioritizing pedestrian needs. At a meeting today, for instance, consultants revealed the result of a survey that showed Denverites value safety, connectivity, access to transit, and “destination access” most in a pedestrian network. Not exactly revelations.

The task force is also analyzing the current network with WALKscope data and aerial photography and is developing a “pedestrian demand index” to gauge where better walking infrastructure is needed most. These steps are necessary but not sufficient to deliver the pedestrian network the city needs, so we’ll see how the plan progresses.

City Councilman Paul Kashmann hit on a key question at the meeting today, asking whether the city really has the guts to do what’s right for walking.

“Are we, policy-wise, going to actually move past designing the city for automobiles into a more widespread mobility pathway?” he said. “I understand the engineering needs, but as long as we say, ‘Well we can’t do that because we need a turn lane there,’ I think we’re just going to dead-end on everything we’re trying to do.”

Kashmann could have called out Hancock more aggressively. The Hancock administration still puts cars at the top of the hierarchy. City Hall is more worried about getting sued than taking responsibility for safe, complete sidewalks, for example. And Hancock’s Public Works department recently blew off pedestrian concerns in order to widen Federal Boulevard and cram more cars through.

Those are the type of decisions that have to change in order to make Denver walkable. And they have yet to be challenged by the Denveright process.

The city has gone through the motions of improving walkability before. A 2004 pedestrian master plan delivered on some walking infrastructure. It also recommended a sidewalk fee, which the City Council never moved forward on.

Recently, Kashmann has led the push for a comprehensive sidewalk fund, but the Hancock administration isn’t on board. If Hancock wants the task force to think big, Kashmann should do just that. He is in the best position to create pressure for serious change.

As an elected official and task force member, Kashmann has some sway to convince his colleagues and the mayor that Denver’s meek approach to pedestrian infrastructure won’t deliver on the latest grand plan for a walkable city. Asking questions is good, but sometimes you have to make demands.