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As neighborhood, business sidewalks sit un-shoveled, Denverites step up

Bryan Wilson shoveling snow
Posted at 7:58 PM, Jan 18, 2023

DENVER — Most cities in Colorado require their residents to clear snow off their walks within a day of a snowfall, but as many Denver7 viewers have noticed and reported to us, that doesn’t always happen, in particular after our last big winter storm at the end of December.

While some notices and citations are issued, a few of our neighbors have decided to jump in and pick up the slack.

Bryan Wilson has been one of those neighbors for about a decade now.

“It started for me back in 2013. I was commuting at the time from Centennial up to Commerce City for a teaching job,” Wilson said. “I would just see this mess that students from other districts would just have to stand out in and have a difficult time accessing. Then fast forward maybe a year or two, I would see people get stuck in the snow in their wheelchairs in my neighborhood.”

As Wilson puts it, seeing his neighbors struggle through the snow “lit the fire” within him to shovel the public walkways that are often neglected.

With our latest major winter storm, Wilson started his day at 4:30 a.m. to clear sidewalks and bike lanes near Teller Elementary School and along Colfax.

“I just want people to get from point A to point B safely, like I can,” Wilson said. “I can manage, but there are plenty of people who can’t and they’re basically trapped in their houses and their apartments until [the snow] does get cleared.”

The city of Denver, like many cities, has an ordinance requiring property owners to shovel their walks within 24 hours of snowfall ending. If they don’t, they can get a written notice from city inspectors. If their walks still haven’t been cleared 24 hours after the written notice, they can face a $150 fine.

Fines actually being issued, however, is rare. Between December 23, 2022, and January 17, 2023, city inspectors issued 2,065 notices, according to the city. Of those, only 45 received the fine 24 hours later.

“Our focus is on education, and we find it’s very effective,” said Laura Swartz, communications director for Community Planning and Development with the city of Denver. “Most people clear their sidewalks after receiving a notice from an inspector, and we don’t need to issue a fine in those cases.”

Wilson, as a civilian volunteer, certainly isn’t issuing citations or fines as he treks through the snow with his bike and shovel before the sun rises. He makes no money, and he’s not looking to — the thanks he gets from complete strangers is payment enough.

“Sometimes they’ll tell me that, you know, "I will often slip here," or, "I have to walk on the street." And just that alone is enough to make me want to go to the next one,” Wilson said. “And then it just keeps happening all day long. And so, until I get too tired to keep going, I’ll just keep going.”

If you would like to help clear walks in Denver after snowfall, the city of Denver has a volunteer program called Snow Angels that assists residents who are physically unable to shovel. You can learn more about it here.