Denver needs $1 billion to complete its sidewalk network. Here’s a start.

A draft plan from Denver Moves finds that 40 percent of Denver blocks lack sidewalks or have sidewalks that are too small for use with a wheelchair.

(Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

staff photo
Though a good part of Elyria-Swansea had accommodable sidewalks, a lack of infrastructure and upkeep is evident as well as cause for local groups to begin engaging city council.  corridor of opportunity; eyria; swansea; infrastructure; globeville; development; sidewalks; puddles; rain; denver; colorado; denverite; kevinjbeaty

Sidewalks are missing in many parts of Elyria-Swansea. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The Denver City Council gave initial approval Monday to a plan to help residents fix sidewalks, and voters recently approved $31 million for sidewalk construction. But a new report shows that it could cost more than $1 billion to bring Denver’s walking network up to proposed standards.

The long-term need:

A draft plan released Monday lays out the city’s potential vision for sidewalks. It finds that 40 percent of Denver blocks lack sidewalks or have sidewalks that are too small for use with a wheelchair.

The plan would set new standards for sidewalks in Denver, with five-foot sidewalks for the smallest streets and eight-foot sidewalks and twelve-foot lawns alongside larger arterials.

Of course, that won’t always be possible. The proposed plan makes allowances, simply calling for walkways “as wide as possible” when space is limited.

Building out the full sidewalk network would cost $800 million at minimum and up to $1.4 billion if all the subpar sidewalks are retrofitted, according to the Denver Moves report.

“Completing the sidewalk network will take many years and will likely require new thinking in Denver regarding funding. A commitment to walkability in Denver must be accompanied by a commitment to funding,” the plan states.

Comments on the plan will be accepted through Dec. 11.

It’s unclear how or when this might be funded, but the city already has a start: Voters on Election Day approved a bonds package that included about $48 million for citywide sidewalk construction, and pedestrian improvements are included in the budgets for many major corridor overhauls in the bond program.

The plan sets priorities.

The proposal splits up potential projects into several tiers. The top priority for sidewalks would be in areas where pedestrians are frequently hurt, as identified in Mayor Michael Hancock’s Vision Zero initiative.

These high-priority sidewalks could be built for around $25 million, the report says. The next priority would be areas around high-frequency transit.

The top tier also includes bridges over railroads and busy roads at numerous locations, such as a potential connector from Brighton Boulevard to National Western Drive. Refer to page 25 of the plan for more on this. There are six tiers in total.

Finally, the document lays out potential projects that would complete the city’s bike and pedestrian trails network, starting on page 61. The trails projects could cost an additional $400 million, according to the plan.

The short-term plan for sidewalks:

In Denver, property owners are generally responsible for maintaining the sidewalks near their property. However, the city rarely forces people to make repairs. As a result, a lot of sidewalks are in rough shape.

Under another new plan — separate from the Denver Moves report — the city would ramp up enforcement, but it also would make $4 million available to ease homeowners’ financial pain. The city would pay for some people’s repairs and offer low-interest loans for others, depending on the homeowner’s income. We have more details here.

The Denver City Council approved the creation of the fund without objection at a meeting on Monday night. More details should arrive in December.