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A cyclist takes a late afternoon ride down the South Platte River Greenway in Denver with the skyline as a backdrop on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.
John Leyba, The Denver Post
A cyclist takes a late afternoon ride down the South Platte River Greenway in Denver with the skyline as a backdrop on Monday, Oct. 16, 2017.
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Denver’s first proposal from a two-year urban-planning process came out this week, and its vision for pedestrian access over the next 20 years or so underlines a cost challenge that several of its big plans will face.

Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails — the first draft plan from the broader, public input-driven “Denveright” initiative — was released Monday for a two-week public review. It prioritizes projects to fill gaps in sidewalks across the city that could cost $800 million to $1.4 billion, with the higher figure also including the retrofitting of narrow sidewalks that don’t meet city standards. Add to that $400 million that the plan identifies in projects to complete the city’s trail network.

The plan isn’t circumspect about the challenge of fulfilling its ambitious goals, especially since Denver currently leaves the responsibility of building and maintaining sidewalks to adjacent property owners.

It probably will take decades, the Denver Moves plan says, and require “new thinking in Denver regarding funding” for sidewalks. (City officials soon will get a small start on that by rolling out plans for a $4 million assistance fund that will help some homeowners.)

Similarly, three other plans under the Denveright umbrella that kicked off in the spring of 2016 — the Denver Parks and Recreation Game Plan, the Blueprint Denver master plan for land use and transportation, and the Denver Moves: Transit plan — face challenges to implementation, to varying degrees, that will have to be ironed out by Mayor Michael Hancock and his successors.

City officials who are overseeing the Denveright process say they’ve been encouraged by the thousands of people whose opinions they’ve read online and heard at dozens of meetings.

Parks and Rec is offering another opportunity to weigh in this week on “preliminary action strategies.” Meetings were held Tuesday and Wednesday, and another one is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Cook Park Recreation Center.

Throughout the Denveright process, city officials also have heard overriding concerns.

“One of the outcomes of this very holistic conversation, and the comments we get back from the participants involved in the outreach efforts, is … lots of concern around affordability, equity issues (and) involuntary displacement (of residents amid redevelopment),” said Brad Buchanan, the executive director of the city’s Department of Community Planning and Development.

He is most intensively involved in the new Blueprint plan, which will update a 2002 plan that has greatly influenced development patterns amid Denver’s recent population boom.

A handout prepared by Denver city officials shows the ways that the four "Denveright" plans affect different parts of the city.
Provided by the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development
A handout prepared by Denver city officials shows the ways that the four “Denveright” plans affect different parts of the city.

During a recent joint interview of the officials with The Denver Post, Buchanan said: “We’re not going to change the physics of capitalism or the real estate markets with our plans, but our plans can help to address some of the downsides of those issues.”

The pedestrian and trails plan is heading toward administrative adoption soon, in part to help guide sidewalk projects in the voter-approved $937 million bond package. The Blueprint and parks plans are on track for formal adoption by the City Council next summer, after public-review periods for their draft versions in the spring, while the transit plan will be approved administratively.

City officials say they have decided to wrap a fifth plan into the Denveright process: an update of Denver’s Comprehensive Plan 2000, now 17 years old.

In the spring, they plan to propose an updated comprehensive plan that draws lessons from and distills the broad strokes of the other four plans.

Here is where the plans stand:

  • Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails: The new 71-page draft plan prioritizes sidewalk and trail projects, as well as making recommendations on standards for retrofits. It says 40 percent of the city’s street frontage either lacks sidewalks or has substandard sidewalks that are too narrow for people using wheelchairs to use. That citywide average compares with 47 percent of sidewalks missing or substandard in low-income neighborhoods.
  • Blueprint Denver: The 2002 version simply designated parts of the city as areas of stability or change, with the latter ripest for new development. City planners in late summer began seeking feedback for a proposed map that takes a multifaceted approach. It uses designations of corridors, centers, districts and residential areas, with some of those further broken down, to classify the entire city.
  • Parks and Recreation Game Plan: Allegra “Happy” Haynes, the city’s parks and recreation executive director, says the planning process has spurred both her department’s planners and residents to see the city’s needs from different perspectives as they work on a plan that’s mindful of health concerns, residents’ needs and the environment, including climate change pressures. There is “a recognition that parks and open space and trails, even recreation facilities, are part of the city’s infrastructure,” she said — and open space needs to grow with the city’s population, posing potential cost barriers.
  • Denver Moves: Transit: The city’s first comprehensive transit plan marks new territory for Denver, which typically has taken a back seat to the Regional Transportation District. Officials have sought public input as they build a map identifying key transit corridors and form strategies to improve transit access. Transportation director Crissy Fanganello says that along with an existing bike network plan and the new plan for pedestrians and trails, the transit plan will help prioritize use of the public right-of-way. “That’s challenging,” she said, “because we’re changing the way people travel around. And transportation is personal for folks.”

Here is the Denver Moves: Pedestrians and Trails plan draft:

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