DENVER — Any pedestrian will likely tell you if you see cranes in the distance, it likely means you’ll be rerouted. Denver’s construction boom has closed sidewalks around the city.
Closures during construction are certainly expected. But pedestrian advocates say the City of Denver’s current laws governing them are antiquated.
“Currently construction detours only consider the impact on people driving and don’t provide good accommodations for people walking, biking or trying to access transit,” said Jill Locantore, executive director of Walk Denver, a group that strives to make Denver a more pedestrian-friendly city.
Most often, when a contractor must close a sidewalk to complete a project, they simply put a blockade and a sign telling pedestrians to cross to another sidewalk to get through the area. Very rarely do contractors take the time to determine an alternate route for pedestrians like they would for vehicle traffic, Locantore said.
“A lot of times people are caught by surprise, mid-block, all of a sudden they encounter a sign that tells them they have to cross the street which means they either have to backtrack or human nature you just cross right there and it’s really unsafe,” she said.
The city’s permitting system for contractors charges them by each foot of space closed down, but Locantore said there is little incentive to encourage developers to try to find ways to keep sidewalks open or at least protect them.
“It’s set up now as an incentive system where the developer would have to pay a fee to close the sidewalk or close a traffic lane and the fees are set up in such a way that it doesn’t incentivize them to provide a route for pedestrians,” she said.
So Walk Denver has been working with other groups, talking to city’s public works department about changing permit policies.
“The idea is that you don’t force the pedestrian to cross the street or to walk several blocks out of the way. Ideally, you provide a path directly adjacent to the construction site that’s safe and protected for the pedestrian,” Locantore said.
Her group has suggested the city encourage developers to use parking lanes as an alternate route for pedestrian traffic or re-purpose bike lanes during construction to turn them into multi-modal routes.
And the discussions appear to be working, albeit slowly. The city committed to addressing the problem in early 2018, but just recently hired a contractor to begin looking into changing the rules, Locantore said.
A spokeswoman for the city’s public works department released this statement on the issue:
Denver Public Works is currently reviewing right-of-way construction permitting policies in order to reduce the impact on pedestrians, people on bikes and residents. These changes aim to increase the use of pedestrian canopies, reduce the total amount of right-of-way closed during a construction project, and require that construction workers park off-site rather than in neighborhoods where construction is taking place. Several internal procedure and policy changes are expected to be finalized and implemented later this month, with other changes proposed later this Spring
The city is expected to have some potential solutions by April, Locantore told 9News.
Meantime, some contractors are already doing what the advocates suggest.
As crews work to re-develop the northeast corner of Colorado Boulevard and 8th Avenue, they built a walkway out of lumber to protect pedestrians and give them a direct path down the sidewalk along 8th Avenue.
Locantore argues giving pedestrians a direct route will avoid dangerous situations as those same pedestrians attempt to get through the area.
“It just inherently sets people up for conflict…so it’s no mystery why people are getting angry during their daily commutes.”