Here’s how far participatory budgeting can reach $ 1.7 million in Denver.


In 2017, Denverites voted to allow the city to borrow $ 937 million to renovate libraries, repair sidewalks and make parks more enjoyable. Mayor Michael Hancock has agreed to put $ 1.7 million into a “crowdfunding” fund, which residents will decide how to spend. (Participatory budgeting nerds simply call the process “PB”.)

On Tuesday, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., the city will hold its first open house for those interested in helping guide the future of this fundraiser.

Kiki Turner, spokesperson for the Denver Department of Finance, said the plan is to form a community steering committee that will become the voice of residents in this process. A $ 1 million fund is earmarked for projects in areas with completed neighborhood plans – essentially, “inverted L” areas, she said. The rest will go to mobility projects to make the streets safer and easier to use for people who do not use a car.

Denver’s long-term commitment to PB is still at an early and experimental stage, Turner said. No one knows exactly how that will turn out, or who will even be able to vote on spending once the process gets to this point. How these finer details are handled, she said, will depend heavily on the steering committee. She also said Denver has already set aside an additional $ 1.7 million to run a second cycle PB.

While the people of Cole have already spent $ 30,000 this way, and the neighbors of Overland have spent $ 275,000 like this with Grandoozy’s money, Turner said it was the first PB project in Denver citywide.

She admitted that $ 1.7 million isn’t a lot of money, especially considering Denver’s 2022 budget is around $ 1.49. billion. But even with all that buying power, she said officials are still dealing with more projects than they can afford and all kinds of compromises and negotiations. Anyone weighing down on the new PB process will feel this pain. The hope is that this process will help people better understand how governments handle money and participate in the city’s affairs for the long term.

“Our hope is that this will show people and bring them into processes in a more authentic way and hopefully pave the way for longer civic involvement,” Turner said over the phone. “Success for us means there will be easier ways to get involved in other forms of government processes. “

We wanted to see how far that money would actually go, so we asked the city how much it cost.

Here are the basic rules for these numbers: (1) The following prices are approximations and do not include invisible issues such as environmental remediation or right-of-way issues. (2) Each of these were from the costs of previous projects that Department of Transportation spokesperson Nancy Kuhn and Parks and Recreation spokesperson Cynthia Karvaski sent us, which means (3) that none of these estimates include increases due to inflation or supply chain issues.


Kuhn said sidewalks can cost anywhere from $ 300,000 to $ 1 million per mile for just one side of the street.

PB enthusiasts can reasonably expect to spend the entire $ 700,000 mobility budget on a half-mile of a given street. For context, about 17 blocks equals one mile in short east-west blocks to Capitol Hill or nine long north-south blocks. The $ 1.7 million could buy 14 miles of sidewalks on both sides of the street on the high end.

Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite

Border improvements

Kuhn told us that “tactical curb extensions,” which can provide more accessible passage, cost about $ 40,000 per intersection. $ 1.7 million would give you 42.5 best intersections at that rate.

Mayoral candidate Kayln Rose Heffernan demonstrates her inability to activate a pedestrian crossing on Colfax Avenue.  Denver Streets Partnership's Amazing Denver Mobility Race, April 4, 2019 (Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite)
Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite

Flashing pedestrian crossing lights

These come in two varieties. First there are the little yellow signs that flash when someone presses a button. Second, there are the “High Intensity Activated Pedestrian Crossing Beacons” known as HAWKs, which are installed on poles above streets, like regular traffic lights.

The first costs $ 25,000 to $ 50,000 per intersection, which means the entire PB pot could buy about 34 of these smaller signals.

HAWKs are ten times higher and range from $ 250,000 to $ 400,000 each. For those of you playing at home, the $ 1.7 million could buy HAWK 4.25.

Cycle paths

The estimates sent by Kuhn come in four different varieties:

1. An ordinary unprotected bike path can cost $ 50,000 per mile. The $ 1.7 million could buy about 17 miles of these lanes on both sides of the street; the $ 7 million set aside for mobility could only buy 7 miles on both sides.

2. A “buffered bike path” with space and markers costs approximately $ 75,000 per mile on one side of the street. $ 1.7 million could buy about 11 miles on these two sides of the street versus 4.6 miles with just the mobility budget.

3. A one-way protected bike path costs about $ 300,000 per mile for one side, which means $ 1.7 million could buy 2.8 miles on both sides of the street. That $ 700,000 mobility budget doesn’t buy much more than a mile for both sides.

4. A protected two-way bike path costs around $ 750,000 per mile, which costs more than the mobility budget can afford and would only buy 2.2 miles of two-way lanes with all the pot. Kuhn pointed out that the PB process is still in its very early stages and that these prices will depend on the location and any constraints that come with it.

Part of the protected 13th Avenue bike path under construction.
Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite

Play ground…

… Can be very expensive. Karvaski said the new City Park structures cost around $ 2,460,000, which came from 2017 bonds, Parks and Rec bank accounts and a non-profit fundraiser that raised funds for the new inclusive swing and carousel. The entire PB handbag could fund about two-thirds of this playground, though it’s worth noting that it’s both big and cool.

Turner said it’s possible for city departments to supplement PB projects that cost more than what residents will receive, but nothing is certain.

For some background, Karvaski said freestanding swings cost around $ 10,000 per structure. The million dollars set aside for neighborhoods could bring in 100, but she added that that doesn’t include drainage, ramps, excavation, etc. The full package could cost $ 45,000 – or 22 freestanding swings with all the fixings.

Mayor Michael Hancock waits to cut the ribbon on a new playground in City Park.  October 26, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite

Picnic tables

These humble structures alone cost only around $ 3,500 each, so Denverites could approve 285 tables with the $ 1 million neighborhood budget. This price goes up to a minimum of $ 100,000 if you want to include shelter and concrete, so $ 1 million buys up to 10 luxury picnic areas.

A picnic table at the First Creek Natural Playground in Denver's DIA neighborhood on August 1, 2019 (Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite)
Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite


Karvaski said a single light pole can cost between $ 8,000 and $ 10,000, which means the neighborhood’s $ 1 million budget could purchase around 100 of these items. But this is just the light itself, and does not include electrical equipment, Xcel hookups, impacts on the ground or trees that could hinder and reduce this number.

Black birds fly over upscale neighborhoods.  September 1, 2021.
Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite


This one is orders of magnitude more complicated than the rest of the items on this list, but it’s worth mentioning because a lot people we spoke to about PB last year told us that’s where the money in this town needs to go.

A new upcoming affordable housing project in Central Park will cost between $ 21 million and $ 31 million per building, so the entire PB scholarship could buy 8% of one at the bottom of the ladder. . Interestingly, Denver made a $ 1.67 million loan for one of these buildings, so it’s conceivable that a future community steering committee would try to donate their money to a developer and encourage that sort of thing. .

On the other hand, the Denver Housing Authority operates in the area of ​​hundreds of millions of dollars.


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