Where the Sidewalk Ends: A Pedestrian’s Struggle with Growth in Denver


In Mayor Hancock’s State of the City address this month, he focused on the need to better manage Denver’s growth, largely through transportation. To do so, he announced a $2 billion “Mobility Action Plan” to help increase the number of people biking, walking or taking transit, while reducing the number of people driving. By 2030, the City has set a goal that no one will be killed in traffic and that greenhouse gas emissions will fall 80 percent. These are goals we applaud.

Denver needs to move especially quickly towards these goals given the city's rapid growth – the metro area is one of the country's fastest growing, whose population is expected to grow more than 50 percent in the next 25 years.

Getting people out of cars and onto their feet, bikes and transit necessitates creating a safe and convenient multi-modal transportation network across the city. Big policy goals like the mayor's plan are critical, as is appropriate funding. But, at the ground level, Denver has a lot to do in order to ensure its treatment of people not traveling by car is consistent with its long-range goals.

Currently, Denver's building boom poses a unique and dangerous challenge to pedestrians as vast stretches of sidewalk are blocked for months, or even years, at a time. Here’s an example:


The corner of 15th Street and Little Raven, where construction has regularly blocked the sidewalk for more than a year.

Construction on this corner is blocking the sidewalk on both the south and west sides of the lot. Behind this new building (see the blue star, below), is access to two river trails, where many people run, walk their dogs, bike to work, and take their kids swimming. As it is now, if a pedestrian standing on the left corner of the previous photo wanted to (safely) access all those great amenities, they’d have to walk a nearly half-mile loop (see the blue line).


Most pedestrians, lacking a safe and convenient option, would instead opt to attempt to cross mid-block without a crosswalk. This scenario plays out similarly at dozens of sites across Downtown. While some roads are blocked by construction, the majority of sites block the adjacent sidewalk and allow vehicle traffic to pass. This policy puts pedestrians at risk and demonstrates skewed, and contradictory, priorities from the City.

Funding for better infrastructure is critical, but so is ensuring that policies in all sectors of city life, including construction, reflect the values and goals of the city. If the most vulnerable road users, pedestrians, are ignored or actually put in harm’s way in favor of maintaining car traffic while Denver grows, the City won’t achieve its laudable transportation goals.