DENVER — A 75-year-old woman who uses a wheelchair to get around the city is the person behind the pitch for $400,000 in sidewalk repairs in her neighborhood.
Phyllis Mack has to negotiate her safety every time she leaves her home. The sidewalks around her home are often too narrow, or too damaged to safely maneuver her wheelchair. It's even more treacherous after snow.
Frequently, Mack ends up using the street to travel, instead.
“They need to be widened and smoothed,” she said about the sidewalks in her Athmar Park neighborhood. “So I don’t have to go out into the street and get hit by a car.”
Mack lives in Walsh Manor, a Denver Housing Authority property for seniors and people with disabilities. She’s not the only one struggling to get around in this neighborhood.
“A lot of people are in walkers or scooters. It’s hard for us to get out when sidewalks aren’t shoveled, hard to get off ramps,” she said.
But thanks to Mack’s efforts, the sidewalks are about to get a big upgrade.
Last year, the City of Denver launched its first Participatory Budgeting (PB) Program – where residents can pitch ideas for infrastructure improvement projects, then vote on what gets done with the $2 million dollars the city set aside for this purpose.
Mack said she first learned about the PB program during a meeting at her building. With help from her friend and pedestrian safety advocate, Jonathan Stalls, along with others’ help and encouragement – she applied for and won a mini-grant from the city to connect with her neighbors and develop the pitch.
When it came time to vote – Mack’s proposal was one of the nine projects approved by voters: $400,000 to widen the sidewalks in Athmar Park and make them more accessible in the area near Walsh Manor.
“I did it for myself but I did it mostly for the community. It’s dangerous going out in the street,” she said. “I think people are finally realizing we need to get the pedestrian dignity back to the people.”
Mack said she liked the participatory budget process so much, she just might do it again.
“Overwhelming. It was exciting. I learned a lot – how the city operates,” she said. “I think I’m going to go for another project! I got one in mind.”
She said she’ll share details of her idea later, but hinted it would further her advocacy around pedestrian safety. For now, she looks forward to the planning and work starting on the sidewalk project sometime this spring.
Several other projects also won voters' approval, including tiny homes and shower trailers for people experiencing homelessness, community gardens for affordable housing sites and improvements to New Freedom Park in East Colfax.
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