Sidewalks and Walkways

Description

Residential sidewalk in Boston

Sidewalks and walkways are “pedestrian lanes” that provide people with space to travel within the public right-of-way that is separated from roadway vehicles. They provide places for children to walk, run, skate, ride bikes, and play. Sidewalks are associated with significant reductions in pedestrian collisions with motor vehicles. Such facilities also improve mobility for pedestrians and provide access for all types of pedestrian travel: to and from home, work, parks, schools, shopping areas, and transit stops. Walkways should be part of every new and renovated road facility and every effort should be made to retrofit streets that currently do not have sidewalks.

While sidewalks are typically made of concrete, less expensive walkways may be constructed of asphalt, crushed stone, or other materials if they are properly maintained and accessible (firm, stable, and slip-resistant). In more rural areas, in particular, a “side path” made of one of these materials may be suitable. In areas where a separated walkway is not feasible, a wide paved shoulder on a roadway can provide a place for pedestrians to safely walk.

Both the FHWA and the Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE) recommend a minimum width of five feet for a sidewalk or walkway, which allows two people to pass comfortably or to walk side-by-side. The preferred width for paved shoulders is at least 6 feet. Wider sidewalks should be installed near schools, at transit stops, in downtown areas, or anywhere high concentrations of pedestrians exist. Sidewalks should be continuous along both sides of a street and sidewalks should be fully accessible to all pedestrians, including those in wheelchairs.

A wide sidewalk in Portland, Oregon, with a buffer that includes street trees and street lights

A buffer zone of four to six feet is desirable to separate pedestrians from the street. The buffer zone will vary according to the street type. In downtown or commercial districts, a street furniture zone is usually appropriate. Parked cars or bicycle lanes can provide an acceptable buffer zone. In more suburban or rural areas, a landscape strip is generally most suitable. Careful planning of sidewalks and walkways is important in a neighborhood or area in order to provide adequate safety and mobility. For example, there should be a flat sidewalk provided in areas where driveways slope to the roadway.

Purpose

Pedestrians often walk along the roadway in areas where sidewalks or walkways are unavailable. Because there is no buffer between the pedestrian and the vehicular traffic, walking along the roadway can put a pedestrian at risk. It can also be difficult, if not impossible, for pedestrians with visual or mobility restrictions, as the road surface and gravel shoulders are generally not designed for pedestrian use. Sidewalks create the appropriate facility for the walking area of the public right-of-way and dramatically improve pedestrian safety.

Considerations

  1. While continuous walkways are the goal, retrofitting areas without them will usually occur in phases. Even small sidewalk projects can provide the groundwork for later development of a continuous system.
  2. Designers should consult the proposed Accessibility Guidelines for Pedestrian Facilities in the Public Right-Of-Way promulgated by the U.S. Access Board.
  3. In retrofitting streets that do not have a continuous or accessible system, locations near transit stops, schools, parks, public buildings, and other areas with high concentrations of pedestrians should be the highest priority.
  4. Street furniture placement should not restrict pedestrian flow.

Cost

Sidewalk costs can vary greatly, depending on the type of material, the scale, and whether it is part of a broader construction project. A concrete five-foot sidewalk is approximately $32 per linear foot on average, but can range from $2 to $400. Using paving materials other than concrete can alter the cost substantially. More detailed cost information is provided here.