Walking Around Construction Projects Shouldn’t Be So Dangerous and Demeaning

Denver Public Works is looking to change its rules for construction permits, and the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee is pushing the department to guarantee better conditions for pedestrians.

There's room on Blake Street for a temporary pedestrian walkway, but no policy to make it happen. Photo: Jill Locantore
There's room on Blake Street for a temporary pedestrian walkway, but no policy to make it happen. Photo: Jill Locantore

Navigating Denver’s streets on foot can be a maddening experience, especially when sidewalks are closed for months and sometimes years at a time to make room for construction. While other cities have policies in place to minimize the impact of construction on the pedestrian network, in Denver detours routinely force people on foot to zig-zag through city streets.

Now Denver Public Works is looking to change its rules for construction permits [PDF], and the Mayor’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee is pushing the department to guarantee better conditions for pedestrians.

The problem

There is no city rule that prevents contractors from blocking sidewalks without providing a temporary walkway. Instead, builders simply pay the city a fee for a permit to block the sidewalk. The cost for the permit varies by neighborhood and time of day.

While DPW says temporary walkways are “preferred,” the only incentive is a 10 percent discount on the permit fee. And that doesn’t even apply in the rapidly developing Central Business District or in Cherry Creek.

A temporary walkway in Oakland. Photo: David Sachs
A temporary walkway in Oakland. Photo: David Sachs

As a result, temporary walkways during construction projects are rarer in Denver than other cities. People on foot don’t get to take direct routes — they have to go out of their way and make extraneous crossings. Or they take their lives in their hands, walking on the street next to speeding cars.

“The general issue is that it’s unsafe for pedestrians in construction zones,” said Lynne Brown, an MPAC member. “No accommodation has been made to route them safely so that they have a more direct way to go, rather than going sometimes a block or two out of their way. If you’re trying to increase pedestrian traffic, then you don’t cut people off on these downtown streets.”

The solution

MPAC Chair John Hayden laid out the group’s recommendations for the new policy in a letter to the streets department [PDF]. It lists seven demands, including a requirement for builders to include a direct substitute pedestrian passageway — made with Jersey barriers or “shed roof walkways” — by default.

“If a detour is necessary, it shall be the responsibility of the applicant to prove why direct safe passage is not necessary,” Hayden states. “As we understand it, this would be a reversal of current policy that now states city staff must determine if a direct pedestrian passage is to be required rather than a detour.”

The letter includes diagrams showing how the city’s current policy obstructs pedestrian movement, and how the city should create continuous paths for people on foot, in wheelchairs, and on bikes.

Image: MPAC
Image: MPAC

DPW is working with a consultant on a draft of the new rules, DPW spokesperson Nancy Kuhn said, but the revision process “could take several months.”

  • Daniel

    I’d like to give kudos to the team that built the AC Hotel on 15th Street, all during construction they kept the bike lane open and the construction flagger did a great job of preventing delivery trucks from blocking it as much as possible (at least during rush hour when I would pass thru)

  • Tyler Johnson

    Is there a place to check these permits? Sometimes I see sidewalks closed long after work has been finished. If the developers were actually paying for the required permits, I think they would be more concerned about reducing the amount of time the sidewalks are closed. My guess is they’re doing it without permits.

    • EMB

      You can see the current list of street occupancy permits for the central business district here. (Scroll down, look for “Downtown Coordination Meeting Notes”.)

      The city really does need a better process for maintaining pedestrian access past construction sites. MPAC’s recommendations are good ones, and I hope DPW won’t dawdle on the new rules. (And of course that new rules will actually be enforced.)

  • Trinkar

    It is also maddening to have bus stops blocked for construction. In many cases the next bus stop is several blocks away. If the city is serious about mass transit it should make sure that bus stops continue to be available during construction. Taking the bus is difficult enough already.

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