DENVER — Drive anywhere in Denver, and it's not hard to find what Jill Locantore so elegantly calls "dumb sidewalk situations."
"I call this a dumb sidewalk situation, the executive director of Denver Streets Partnerships said, pointing to a sidewalk that abruptly ends on Josephine Street. "We have lots of dumb sidewalk situations all over the city."
Locantore said the city hasn't made meaningful change about these situations in the 7 years that she's been working toward change.
"A lot of people don't realize that they're responsible for repairing the sidewalk right in front of their home," said Locantore. "It's as if they were responsible for filling the potholes or replacing the street. It's just not a good way to maintain public infrastructure."
Her organization hopes to change that by taking this issue to Denver voters this November. If Denver Deserves Sidewalks gets enough signatures, a ballot initiative would ask to publicly fund sidewalk construction and repair.
Locantore said a yes vote would mean property owners pay an annual fee, about $100 dollars for owners of a typical single family home.
"So the program would fund the construction and repair of sidewalks city wide, it would allow the the complete sidewalk network to be built out within 9 years compared to 400 years at the current funding level," said Locantore.
Even the Denver Auditor called the city's current approach ineffective and inequitable. In a 2020 audit, his office wrote the sidewalk repair program "results in residents having unequal access to safe and accessible sidewalks and places an undue and inequitable financial burden on some Denver residents."
April Garcia, who grew up in west Denver between Sheridan and Federal, didn't need an audit to tell her that certain neighborhoods bear the brunt of bad sidewalks more than others.
"If you live in these parts of town you get used to it," said Garcia. "It's a poorer side of town and it's just what it is."
Denver's sidewalk repair program has been on pause since the pandemic began, and the city's Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) says they're still assessing the ordinance, as they said they would in their reply to the audit.
When they paused the Neighborhood Sidewalk Repair program that began in 2018, a little over 700 sidewalks had been repaired in the Speer neighborhood.
"We are actively exploring how best to retool the sidewalk repair program in order to speed up results," said Nancy Kuhn, a spokesperson for DOTI. "This includes hiring a contractor to do a citywide sidewalk condition assessment."
In the meantime, Locantore will work to get the just under 10,000 signatures they need to get this issue in the ballot.
"Let's allow the community to decide if they want to take action," she said.
And Garcia will keep walking on sidewalks, and sometimes just dirt.
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