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On Snow, Streets, and Sidewalks: How Winter Storms Punish Pedestrians

I am one of the lucky Denverites that lives close enough that I am confidently able to walk to work most of the year from my apartment in Lincoln Park. While roughly 90% of the time I have not had many issues with the sidewalks themselves, the 10% of the time can be particularly brutal depending on the circumstances, mostly related to water. Sprinklers, large puddles, and, most notoriously, ice and snow, are some of the biggest threats to my wellbeing when I walk anywhere in the city.

Like a lot of other things in Denver, roads get prioritized much heavier than sidewalks do after a snowstorm. While residences have to clear sidewalks within the next day after snow starts to fall and businesses have to clear snow immediately after the storm or potentially face a $150 fine, that often isn’t the case. Even when residences and businesses follow city code and shovel their sidewalks, their efforts are often negated by snowplows that send snow towards the sidewalk, or subsequent snow that gets overlooked due to the icy snow underneath keeping it from being shoveled. This often causes entire neighborhoods and areas to become virtual slip and slides for residents, including myself, who want to try and walk without having to constantly be watching the sidewalks to make sure there isn’t an icy patch.

In contrast, high priority roads are taken care of fairly quickly after the storm by snowplows, both at the state and city level. The one to two particularly bad days of driving that a snowstorm causes are quickly negating by the high level of maintenance that roads are given, while sidewalks can be left snowy for weeks, dis-proportionally affecting people with disabilities, the elderly, and children trying to merely walk to where they want to be.

There are a couple of ideas that may help remedy the problem of having practically unwalkable sidewalks. While Denver already has the snow angels program to help those that cannot necessarily shovel due to whatever circumstance, perhaps adding some sort of incentive to join the program (volunteer recognition, money, etc.) would be a way to get more volunteers to take part in it. Additionally, the city needs to be more proactive in making sure businesses that do not shovel in front of their sidewalks are fined, perhaps increasing the fine to encourage shoveling sooner than later. Regardless, more should be done to make sure that pedestrians are not punished by simple acts of nature while drivers are able to feel more safe knowing the roads will always be plowed consistently.

Featured Image is of an unshoveled sidewalk on 6th and Kalamath next to a completely paved road.

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