Commentary: Sidewalks will carry you wherever I go
Sarah E. Moss, MPA is a civic dreamer and doer and a strategist who solves policy and political puzzles. Her clients are advocacy organizations, political campaigns, and governments. This is her third stint as Streetsblog Denver’s interim editor on behalf of the Denver Streets Partnership. Connect with her online at SarahMossInc.com and on Twitter at @SarahEMoss.
Once upon a time, I fell for a man. He had beautiful brown eyes, and his shy smiles revealed an adorable dimple. He also had a love of land use and transportation policy that matched — perhaps even exceeded — my own. On our first date, he rode a red Denver B-Cycle to my house, and we walked to a nearby park for a picnic. As I opened the blanket and a box of crackers, he unwrapped one, two, three, four types of cheese. After the date, I bragged about him to my best friends. They admiringly nicknamed him Four Cheese Guy, which evolved into Four Cheeses and Quattro Formaggio.
Not long after the picnic, Four Cheeses and I took an Uber to a concert. As he talked about Denver city politics, I noticed the starry sky framing his head through the car window and realized I was in love with him. Unfortunately, I waited far too long to say it out loud.
Not long after the starry Uber ride, the Denver Streets Partnership started operating Streetsblog Denver. They asked me to serve as interim editor, which became the first of my three stints as this publication’s caretaker. I enthusiastically accepted not only because I loved the people of the Denver Streets Partnership and transportation policy, but also because I loved Four Cheeses. Four Cheeses supported and tithed to Streetsblog Denver the way some people do with houses of worship. If Streetsblog Denver were a church, Four Cheeses would have been a deacon.
(I suppose this stretched analogy makes me and former Streetsblog Denver executive directors/editors David Sachs and Andy Bosselman pastors or rabbis or something. Regardless, I’ll gladly accept membership to any club that involves David Sachs and Andy Bosselman.)
Four Cheeses religiously read my daily headlines roundups for Streetsblog Denver, sometimes in draft. When I questioned if something I’d penned was too snarky or not snarky enough, he weighed in. We discussed how I differentiated the personalities and voices of Streetsblog Denver versus the Denver Streets Partnership. We had long, intellectual conversations about Denver multimodal transportation policy and politics. It was hot, truly the sexiest dirty talk imaginable, and it made me love him more.
Four Cheeses and I walked. We walked to restaurants, to meet friends, to watch sunsets, to gaze at the moon. One night while we kissed on the sidewalk under a big moon, a family of three raccoons scampered down the street, determined to be somewhere.
We took long, meandering walks with no destination in mind. We held hands, reconnected after a long workweek, and breathed fresh air (or sometimes vehicle-emission- or forest-fire-tinged air). We explored his neighborhood, where many cats lived and followed us up and down sidewalks, meowing at me as if I spoke their language. We stopped to admire porches and landscaping, greet his neighbors, and pet any dog that gave us puppy eyes. We enjoyed watching a pair of crows nest and teach their babies to fly.
A few blocks from his house was an egregiously disjointed sidewalk. Two hunks of pink flagstone had separated like a jagged fault in the Earth’s crust. I wondered, if left alone, how long it would be before they started to resemble the Rocky Mountains.
Four Cheeses had called 311 about the sidewalk fault line months, maybe years, earlier. As we avoided tripping, he joked about delivering a cupcake to the sidewalk on the anniversary of his 311 call, commemorating the neglect by the property owner and the City and County of Denver. I encouraged Four Cheeses to write a guest commentary for Streetsblog Denver. I offered to get a cupcake and take photos. He didn’t write a guest commentary. (But other people have written about Denver’s sidewalks: Check out Bad Sidewalks? City says it’s a YOU problem and Denver’s sidewalks need a lot of help: Where do we start?)
Four Cheeses had a lot to say about policy and Denver’s tiny, inadequate sidewalk repair program. On this topic, he was right about Every. Single. Thing. It was hot, in a Talking-Transport-is-My-Love-Language way, and it made me love him even more.
I thought Four Cheeses and I had — to quote a song we both enjoyed – years of happiness and decades of laughter ahead of us. We would build a life of walks, public transit, and cheese-fueled policy nerd-outs. I took him to Washington, DC, where I’ve lived twice, to meet the friends who dubbed him Four Cheese Guy/Quattro Formaggio. We traversed DC and northern Virginia on Metro buses and trains. We went to Portland, Oregon and rode the entire streetcar line for fun. We booked flights to Spain, dreaming of Manchego cheese and high-speed, cross-country trains.
He alluded to me moving in with him. He contemplated aloud where we might hypothetically charge the electric car he thought I should someday buy. He remodeled his bedroom and configured the closet to hypothetically accommodate my dresses and many pairs of shoes. I alluded to us hypothetically adopting a medium-sized dog that we would walk together around the neighborhood, coming home to his impeccably maintained sidewalk that he promptly shoveled when it snowed. We brainstormed where in the house we might hypothetically create a home office for me. I let myself believe I’d soon be sharing the cheese drawer in his fridge. He felt like home.
But I did not move my many pairs of shoes into his remodeled closet. We did not adopt a medium-sized dog. We did not visit Spain or savor Manchego cheese while riding high-speed trains.
Four Cheeses loved land use and transportation policy, but he did not love me.
I wrote this essay for two reasons: First, I want to commemorate the poetic personal and professional bookends of my three stints as Streetsblog Denver’s affectionate caretaker on behalf of the Denver Streets Partnership. It has been my honor and pleasure to help shape this community, edit guest commentaries, and welcome writers like Adrian Miller (Walking While Black in the Mile High City) and Ann Nguyen (Cycling Towards Upward Mobility).
Second, I want to remind us all why we advocate for better walking, biking, and transit. It’s not because we love policy and budgets, although I am a huge fiscal policy nerd. It’s not because we love the red paint of dedicated bus lanes or the freshly poured concrete of sidewalks. It’s because — as the Denver Streets Partnership says — streets are for people.
Denver is home. I love Denver. I love its neighborhoods. I love that love happens in small, day-to-day moments between people walking along streets filled with talkative cats, crows raising babies, and the occasional raccoon family scampering by.
I once wrote in a Denver Streets Partnership email newsletter (which you can subscribe to here):
Streets are so much more than pavement and concrete. Streets are neighborhoods where we hold a loved one’s hand on walks and where kids trick-or-treat for gummy bears and chocolate. They are the neighbor’s dog we stop to pet and the restaurant patios we dine on with friends. Streets connect us to what matters most, to the places — and people — that feel like home.
When the Denver Streets Partnership recently asked me to step in as Streetsblog Denver’s interim editor for the third time and also decided to end operations of Streetsblog Denver… Well, first, I cried. Later, I gathered a ruler, a gluten-free cupcake, and a candle.
I visited the egregiously disjointed sidewalk.
I measured a 5.5-inch hazard to anyone walking, running, rolling in a wheelchair, or pushing a stroller or mail cart.
I lit the candle and watched it burn.
My request to you, dear reader, is this: Think about walking with someone you love. Are you walking hand-in-hand with your beloved, as I used to, during sunsets or full moons? Are you pushing a child in a stroller? Are you with a friend who rolls in a wheelchair or a parent who uses a cane? Are you walking a medium-sized dog? Are you greeting the delivery person bringing Chinese food or pizza to your home?
We want to keep our loved ones safe and healthy. We do not want to walk in vehicle traffic because there’s no sidewalk. We do not want to navigate too-narrow sidewalks or egregiously disjointed sidewalks. We, our loved ones, and all Denverites deserve a complete sidewalk network.
Did you know that Denver property owners are responsible for their own sidewalk construction and maintenance? In the City and County of Denver, 40% of streets have missing (10%) or substandard (30%) sidewalks that are too narrow for a person in a wheelchair, a parent with a stroller, or two people walking side-by-side holding hands. It’s an equity issue: 47% of streets in low-income areas have missing or substandard sidewalks. It’s also a safety issue: Denver’s Vision Zero Action Plan pledges to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by the year 2030, yet a record 84 people died by traffic violence in Denver in 2021.
With the City and County of Denver’s current funding levels, it will take nearly 400 years to build out a complete, integrated sidewalk network that serves every Denver neighborhood. That’s way too long for us and our loved ones. Denver needs dedicated and sustainable funding to build and maintain the sidewalk network quickly without placing an undue burden on individual property owners, particularly owners in low-income neighborhoods.
I invite you to join the many people and organizations who support the Denver Deserves Sidewalks campaign. Sign the letter. Order a yard sign. Share your story about walking with someone you love. Post to social media with #DenverDeservesSidewalks.
Sidewalks are like relationships: We can build them if we are willing. We can repair them if we are willing. They don’t fall apart overnight. They need care, maintenance, and people choosing to do the work.
Saying goodbye to Streetsblog Denver feels like saying goodbye to Four Cheeses all over again. I don’t know if I’ll always see his face in the faces of the strangers walking by me in the park where we picnicked with one, two, three, four cheeses. I don’t know if egregiously disjointed sidewalks and Tim Minchin’s music will always be the shape of the absence of him. Maybe sidewalks will carry him wherever I go.
But I know: Denver deserves sidewalks.