Citizen Initiative Asks Property Owners to Fund Sidewalk Repairs

By Corbett Stevenson

A cross much of Denver, sidewalks are damaged or simply absent, leaving pedestrians to travel in the grass, across broken pavement, or in the street.

This November, voters will be asked to vote on Initiative 307 that aims to complete and repair Denver’s sidewalk system. The ballot measure, named “Denver Deserves Sidewalks,” was created by the Denver Streets Partnership, a coalition of community organizations dedicated to “people-friendly” streets.

Denver Streets Partnership’s executive director Jill Locantore has been working on the ordinance since before they began gathering signatures in July.

“The initiative would publicly fund the construction and repair of sidewalks citywide, allowing everyone to get around freely and safely,” Locantore said. “It is a departure from the current policy which places all of the responsibility for building and repairing sidewalks (on) adjacent property owners.”

A citizen-led initiative is looking to increase funding for its crumbling sidewalks by assessing property owners a fee. Photo by Eric Heinz

Instead of property owners shouldering the full cost of their adjacent sidewalks to be repaired and maintained, the ordinance proposes an annual fee based on the linear footage of sidewalks adjacent to the property.

If passed, the measure would require homeowners with corner lots to pay a larger fee than those with center lots, but Locantore explained that the larger fee is still less than what the current system asks of property owners.

“Forcing residents to shoulder the full cost of sidewalk construction and repair is a huge financial burden—it can often cost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to cover the full cost,” Locantore said.

In an effort to ensure the annual sidewalk fee is not overly burdensome, Locantore explained that there is a 20% discount applied to low-income neighborhoods, and an option for homeowners to defer the fee until the point of sale on the home.

The ordinance would also mean the hiring of contractors and other professionals to repair the sidewalks would fall back to the city in the same way as other forms of public infrastructure. The current system, Locantore said, just isn’t cutting it.

With 40% of Denver streets having no sidewalks or sidewalks too narrow for wheelchair use, the current pace of construction and funding has the city on track to finish the sidewalk system in 400 years. The Denver Deserves Sidewalks initiative would change that projection to only nine years to complete the sidewalk network. “

We hear all the time from community members that the lack of sidewalks in their neighborhood is a major barrier to being able to walk safely … and low-income neighborhoods where people are most likely to depend on walking are least likely to have safe sidewalks,” Locantore said. “People walking in Denver are 30 times more likely to die in a traffic crash compared to people in cars and the lack of safe, usable sidewalks is a major contributor to that huge safety issue,” she said.

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