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Olympic champion: Broken elevators a "huge problem" in Denver for those with mobility challenges

Posted at 8:35 AM, Feb 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-24 23:53:23-05

DENVER — Life is full of obstacles. In her lifetime, Amy Van Dyken has overcome a few more than most. Van Dyken is an Olympic gold medalist and former world-record holder for swimming.

However, in 2014, Van Dyken got into a serious ATV crash that paralyzed her. Despite the hurdles, she doesn’t let the fact that she’s in a wheelchair slow her down.

On Thursday, however, Van Dyken encountered an obstacle she wasn’t expecting.

Van Dyken went out to dinner near Union Station in Denver with some of her friends and used a pedestrian bridge to get from her home to the restaurant; she only lives a few minutes away from the restaurant and says it was a quick, easy commute to get there.

On the way home, she decided to use the Millennium pedestrian bridge near 16th and Chestnut but the elevator was broken down.

There was a sign warning people about the elevator outage and advising them to head either to 18th Street or to 15th Street to cross over the train tracks in the area.

“So, I went from 16th Street over to 18th Street to see if that elevator would work to take me over the bridge to go over the tracks. That elevator was broken, so then I had to go from 18th Street all the way to 15th Street,” Van Dkyen said. “It was freezing, it was dark, it was night and it was a little freaky.”

Van Dyken says she encountered some homeless people under the bridge and was worried for her safety.

“I’m a single woman in a wheelchair, I know I’m a pretty vulnerable person,” she said. “Being in a wheelchair, people have push people out of wheelchairs to steal these things, they are expensive.”

Van Dyken says she didn’t end up running into any problems though and she was able to eventually make it home.

The underpass on 15th Street, however, is steep and challenging for someone in a wheelchair to safely cross.

“I’m a CrossFitter and I CrossFit every single day. Everyone knows me. I mean, I’m an Olympian and it took a lot for me to get up on the other side. If there is someone who’s older, they’re not getting up there, they’re stuck and that poses a huge, huge problem,” she said.

This is not the first time Van Dyken has come across broken elevators commuting around the city. In fact, she says broken elevators are a common obstacle for people with mobility issues to overcome.

Van Dyken was so upset with her experience that she posted a video on Instagram talking about her frustrations.

“We deserve to be able to get around in our awesome city without having a problem and without having to worry about this, but I just feel that sometimes the disabled community, which is a big community here in Denver, it’s overlooked,” she said.

In the video, she called on Mayor Michael Hancock to help her and others in the city to get these elevators fixed.

However, the elevators are operated by the Central Platte Valley Metropolitan District. On its website, the District posted a public letter on November 6 saying a contractor was upgrading and modernizing the elevator.

“We anticipate the work will be complete by late winter 2019. The Millennium Bridge elevator will be inoperable during the 6-8 weeks when the elevators are being upgraded,” the letter read.

On Feb. 24, however, the district manager from Central Platte Valley Metropolitan District said elevators at the Millennium bridge won't be ready until mid to late March, adding complications with the repair are causing delays.

Last month, seniors complained to Denver7 about the inconvenience the elevator outage was causing them.

Near the bridge, there was a button with audio that explained the outage. However, that button was not working on Friday. It’s also up a set of stairs that Van Dyken and others in wheelchairs are not able to reach.

In a statement, Mayor Hancock’s office said, “We certainly appreciate Ms. Van Dyken sharing her thoughts on social media, and it’s clear she has had some frustrating experiences. Like any Denver resident, she is welcome to reach out to us directly with her concerns so we can address them.”

Denver Public Works said it will be following up with the District to find out what the status of the elevator is. Denver7 was not able to get ahold of the District for comment.

For now, Van Dyken is just trying to raise awareness about the struggles people with mobility challenges face every day.

“I just have to say it takes my freedom away. I don’t have the ability to climb up the stairs I mean I probably could but it would take a really long time. So there has to be some other way that we can get around just like the able-bodied people can get around and not have to worry about it,” she said.

Editor's note on Feb. 24 at 9:52 p.m.: This story has been updated to include a time frame of when Central Platte Valley Metropolitan District expects the elevators to be operational again.