U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Most communities surveyed have allocated budget for pedestrian facility maintenance. Sidewalk repair and replacement programs were often grouped into a single budget category.
Of the communities surveyed, many fund sidewalk repair and replacement through the general fund, which is typically funded by property and sales tax revenues. Funding sidewalk maintenance from the general fund is typically done through a separate sidewalk repair and replacement program, or in some cases, several sidewalk maintenance projects (e.g. typically replacement) may be lumped together and included as a line item in the capital improvement program. Sidewalk repair and replacement projects often compete with other projects and funding obligations. Based on discussions with communities, sidewalk repair and replacement programs that are largely funded out of the general fund often fall victim to budget cuts or shifting priorities.
Most cities of the cities surveyed fund winter maintenance out of the general fund. Typically cities set aside a discrete amount of money for snow and ice removal. Due to the uncertainty of how much snow and ice removal may be required during winter, cities may end up with a surplus of money or have to acquire additional funds from the general fund. Most cities return surpluses back to the general fund or carry the funds over for the following year.
Gas tax revenues are a common component of sidewalk maintenance funding. Though not common, some local governments have been given authority to levy local fuel taxes, typically in the range of one to three cents per gallon, to pay for roadway improvements including sidewalks. More commonly, in many states a portion of state-generated gas tax revenues are shared with local communities to fund street improvements. Sometimes gas tax revenues are a component of a larger state-side fund that pools revenues from a variety of sources and distributes them to local governments based on a distribution formula (see below). Communities in North Carolina, Arizona, Oregon and Washington that were contacted specifically mentioned gas tax monies being used to fund sidewalk maintenance.
State-aid funds are funding programs aimed at distributing state-generated revenues to local governments for funding transportation projects. In some cases such funding is only made available for transportation projects within state-aid eligible rights-of-way. Such funds are typically comprised of revenues from fuel tax and vehicle license fees and taxes. In some cases, such funds are set-aside for communities to draw on for specific transportation purposes, e.g. safety projects. In other cases, like Wisconsin and Virginia, such funds are set up as reimbursement programs. A portion of costs associated with local sidewalk construction is reimbursable in the State of Wisconsin.
The Arizona Highway User Revenue Fund (HURF) distributes transportation funding to cities, towns and counties and to the State Highway Fund. The HURF itself is funded by taxes on motor fuels and a variety of fees and charges relating to the registration and operation of motor vehicles on the public highways of the state. These taxes represent a primary source of revenues available to the state for highway construction, improvements and other related expenses. Twenty-seven and a half % of revenues are distributed among cities and towns, 19% among counties, and 3% among the three largest cities (Tucson, Phoenix and Mesa).
In Minnesota bicycle paths and sidewalks may be eligible for state-aid funding if the facility is located within the permanent right-of-way of a state-aid-eligible route or within an easement generally parallel with a state-aid route. County state-aid funds may be spent on bicycle paths or sidewalks as a match to federal-aid funds or on bicycle paths or sidewalks that are both a part of an adopted plan and are located within the permanent right-of-way of a state-aid route or within an easement generally parallel with a state-aid route. County municipal state-aid funds may be spent on bicycle paths or sidewalks located within the permanent right-of-way of a state-aid route or within an easement generally parallel with a state-aid route.
Massachusetts and Maine are two other examples of states that have active state-aid funds that may be used for pedestrian facilities.
Some communities are able to target the funding of pedestrian facilities by voter approved levies or special property tax assessments. Several communities surveyed had received funding by this means. The City of Seattle funds sidewalk repair through the "Bridging the Gap" Levy, a voter approved levy that addresses the city's maintenance backlog of transportation projects. The city's ADA program is also partially funded by the levy. The $365 million levy requires that "no less than 18%" of the overall levy be spent on pedestrian and bicycle safety projects including pedestrian signals, new and repaired sidewalks, walking routes to schools, curb ramps and remarked crosswalks. The city plans to repair 144 blocks of sidewalks over the course of the levy.
The City of Ann Arbor, MI, has a voter-approved sidewalk millage tax, which generates $560,000 or more per year for sidewalk repair and replacement. It was proposed by city officials as a means to address significant sidewalk maintenance that was not being adequately addressed through the city's code requirements, which assigns the responsibility of sidewalk maintenance to the adjacent property owner. The special millage was seen as a more equitable and effective means to address the city's sidewalk maintenance needs and was approved by over 60% of voters. As a result of the 0.125-mill the average household pays an additional $13 per year.
While many communities indirectly use sales tax to fund pedestrian facility maintenance by way of the general fund, no communities that were contacted mentioned having sales tax revenue specifically earmarked for pedestrian facility maintenance. However, sales tax revenue is a common source of funding for street maintenance and there are communities that use these revenues to also fund sidewalk repair and replacement programs. The City of Fort Collins uses 33% of its sales tax revenues for street maintenance and repair and 17% for other street and transportation needs.
Many of the municipalities contacted require property owners to partially or completely cover the costs of repairing or replacing abutting sidewalks; however, in practice, few municipalities follow through on assessing property owners for these purposes. The two common reasons cited by agencies for not addressing sidewalk maintenance through special assessments are the amount of time it takes to do so and political considerations. Several communities that were contacted have shifted responsibility of sidewalk maintenance away from property owners in order to address a backlog of sidewalk maintenance in a more expedient and equitable fashion. These communities have revised their municipal codes by removing provisions referring to property owner responsibility and assessments for sidewalk repair. In some cases these communities established dedicated funding sources for sidewalk maintenance, however, at least one community had not, which has resulted in little sidewalk maintenance being completed.
Madison, Wisconsin, is among the few communities contacted that actively assesses property owners for costs associated with sidewalk replacement. However, only about a quarter of the city's million dollar plus sidewalk program is funded through property owner assessments. Property owners are responsible for 50% of the cost of sidewalk repairs and 100% for sidewalk replacements. The remainder of the city's sidewalk program is funded with general obligation bond funds. Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Seattle, Washington, pay for minor sidewalk repairs, but require adjacent property owners to pay the city 100% of costs associated with sidewalk replacement. Hoboken, New Jersey, and Ithaca, New York, are two other communities that have successful sidewalk repair/replacement programs based largely on property owner assessments. Ithaca does cover the cost of repairing/replacing sidewalks damaged by trees in the public right-of-way and the cost of curb ramp replacement. It also has a program to assist low-income residents with sidewalk maintenance. Boulder, Colorado, assesses residential property owners up to $420 and commercial property owners 50% of total cost for sidewalk repair and replacement.
Bonds are often used by governments to address significant funding gaps by leveraging existing revenues to pay for large capital expenditures. Several communities that were contacted use bond-generated funds to pay for sidewalk and other pedestrian facility maintenance. In 2011, residents in Boulder, CO, approved a capital improvement bond measure by a three-to-one margin, which gave the City the authority to leverage existing revenues to bond up to $49 million to pay for necessary capital investments. The bond is focused on funding significant deficiencies to address maintenance and renovations needed for existing facilities as well as high priority system enhancements. Sidewalk reconstruction is among the types of projects that are being funded by the bond. Lee's Summit, Missouri, is using a voter-approved general obligation bond to fund public safety improvements, sidewalks, curbs and new roadway construction. The bond issue earmarks just under $12 million for the purpose of constructing new sidewalks, rehabilitating existing sidewalks and replacing curbs and curb ramps. Voter approved bonds in Durham, North Carolina, provide approximately 86% of the city's sidewalk funding, which includes significant amounts of funding dedicated to ADA-related repairs. Two bond measures (one in 2005 and another in 2007) have provided about $8.45 million for sidewalk repair, replacement and ADA repairs.
Utility fees are used by some municipalities to fund street and sidewalk maintenance, although they are less common among those agencies contacted. Often such fees are voter-approved. Examples of utility fees, which are provided below, seem to indicate that the amount an individual household pays is relatively small, but the steady funding source enables municipalities to plan and execute maintenance activities in a systematic way.
Corvallis, Oregon, includes a sidewalk maintenance fee as part of residents' monthly City Services bill, which also includes water and sewer charges. The $0.80 monthly fee was determined by taking the average yearly cost to repair defective sidewalks ($150,000) divided by the number of utility customers divided by 12. In the past, the property owner paid for repairs to sidewalks in the public right-of-way along their property. Now, the City will use the money raised by the new fee to pay for repairs to defects on public sidewalks.
Cheney, Washington, uses a voter‐approved tax on electrical and natural gas services to fund maintenance of residential streets and sidewalks. The 4% electric and natural gas tax generates roughly $380,000 annually. This dedicated funding paid for the repair of nearly 18 miles of existing residential streets and nearly 6 miles of existing residential sidewalks throughout the city over 14 years.
Funding pedestrian facility maintenance using revenues from vehicle license fees is not common based on information gathered from agency discussions. Seattle is the one community that explicitly mentioned using vehicle license fees to partially fund its ADA program, which includes replacing curb ramps. The state of Arizona's Highway User Revenue Fund, a portion of which is distributed among the state's cities and counties, receives funding from vehicle license fees.
Funding pedestrian facility maintenance using revenues from red light cameras is not common based on information gathered from agency discussions. Fort Worth, Texas was the only community that explicitly mentioned red light cameras as a funding source for its pedestrian maintenance activities. Seventy-five % of this revenue goes towards new sidewalk construction and 25% goes towards repairing existing sidewalks.
It is common for cities to seek grant funding for pedestrian facility construction and maintenance; such funding may be used to supplement other available financial resources, and typically is used for targeted projects such as replacing large segments of sidewalks, installing ADA-compliant curb ramps, and installing and upgrading pedestrian signals. Grant funding sources used for pedestrian facilities by communities that were contacted include Safe Routes to School (Traverse City, Mississippi, Plattsburg, New York, and Carmel, Indiana), Community Development Block Grants (Carmel, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky), and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grants (Durham, North Carolina, for greenway repaving; Lee's Summit, Missouri, for pedestrian signals; and Omaha, Nebraska, for pedestrian signals). Perry, Georgia, and the State of Alaska were the only agencies that mentioned using Transportation Enhancement grants as a means to replace/install pedestrian facilities.
Piggy-backing sidewalk repair/replacement with other improvements within the public right-of-way can be an effective and efficient means to address maintenance needs. An example of a community taking such an approach is Ironwood, Missouri. That city had to replace a significant number of water and sewer lines and was able to wrap in the cost of replacing sidewalks into the total project costs.
Davidson, North Carolina, has had some success in partnering with developers to address sidewalk and other pedestrian facility maintenance needs through an informal process. Where a developer may have equipment and crews dispatched for street-related work and there is an identified maintenance need nearby, the City has asked the developer to address the maintenance need.
The majority of communities that were contacted have downtown or other business district areas established (i.e. Business Improvement Districts, Community Improvement Districts, Business Improvement Area, etc.) that have assumed responsibility of sidewalk maintenance, including winter maintenance.
Fort Worth, Texas was the only community that was contacted that mentioned using tax incremental financing (TIF) districts as a means to address pedestrian facility maintenance needs in commercial areas. TIF is a method to use future gains in taxes to subsidize current improvements. TIF districts operate in most states and are typically targeted toward making improvements in distressed, underdeveloped or underutilized parts of a jurisdiction where development might not otherwise occur. These could be areas where there are existing pedestrian facilities in disrepair.
Damaged sidewalks present a significant obstacle to pedestrian mobility: they present trip hazards for users, can block access for people with disabilities and pose liability risks to municipalities and property owners. Some common types of sidewalk damage can be prevented or slowed through the use of exceptional practices in initial sidewalk construction. In particular, close attention to specific design details can result in sidewalks that require low or lower levels of maintenance over their lifespan, thereby improving access in a community and reducing municipal and property owner costs. A good example is that of bricks and concrete pavers for sidewalks and walkways. Recently, there has been a great deal of discussion on the use of bricks and pavers related to accessibility issues. Many communities are replacing existing bricks with concrete sidewalks. Some of these issues are tied to the reputed increased maintenance need of these material types to keep the surfaces stable, firm and in a continuous plane (free from vertical faults of more than ¼ inch). Aside from the accessibility issues, the design details chosen for brick and concrete sidewalks can have a significant impact on lessening future maintenance. This includes the material chosen for the base layers and its depth and how well the sidewalks will ultimately be constructed.
Initial design and construction methods greatly influence the long-term maintenance and lifespan of sidewalks. The thickness of the sidewalk material, depth of subbase below the sidewalk, distance from trees, and other design details impact how well a sidewalk will age over time. If best practices are followed, the expected sidewalk materials service life can be as long as:
Although the lifespans noted above are achievable, many cities consider 25 years to be an expected lifespan for concrete sidewalk24
Research into sidewalk construction best practices for reduced maintenance has been limited. While some data exists on construction methods that can mitigate the potential for future damage, there is an opportunity for increased research in this area.
As noted earlier in this chapter, sidewalk failure can be described as damage that results in cracked, broken or uneven sidewalk surfaces. Sidewalks fail for a variety of reasons including damage due to:
Much of this damage can be avoided by using proper construction techniques that take into account the type of soils underlying the sidewalk, seasonal extremes that impact soils underlying sidewalks, tree placement and sidewalk thickness.
The type of soil underlying a sidewalk may be the greatest determinant if the sidewalk will fail before the end of its projected lifespan. A comprehensive study in Cincinnati showed a greater correlation between soil types under failed sidewalks than the presence of nearby trees.25Providing an adequate subgrade below sidewalks may deter many of these failures by providing a stable material below the sidewalk that drains well and is less susceptible to climatic changes. Canadian best practices outline the following guidance for construction:
Providing an adequate subgrade of free-draining material may also reduce problems from nearby tree roots, and is detailed below.
In the United States, standard concrete sidewalk thicknesses range from 3.5 inches in warm climates with no vehicle loading to 6 inches or more in areas that experience a winter freeze and vehicle loading. In theory, the thicker the sidewalk, the less likely it should be to fail prematurely; however, adequate research does not exist to support this claim with regards to failure due to frost heave or tree roots. It is important to ensure that sidewalks are constructed with enough thickness to support expected vehicle loading which may include maintenance vehicles or more substantial loads at driveway crossings.
Asphalt thicknesses for shared use paths range from two inches with an adequate aggregate depth (4 inches) suitable for only very light duty equipment to 8 inches for full depth asphalt without a base and suitable for medium duty trucks. According to a recent report by the Illinois Center for Transportation – Best Practices for Bicycle Trail Pavement Construction and Maintenance in Illinois, June, 2012 – a minimum hot mix asphalt thickness for paths that can support regular-duty and heavy-duty trucks is 3 inches for a 4 inch aggregate. Depths for asphalt sidewalks are not very well documented, but at a minimum should be 2 inches with an adequate aggregate depth similar to the minimum depth of an asphalt path.
Proper sidewalk drainage is important for maintenance purposes and to provide a safe and comfortable experience for users. It is important to provide a slight cross slope on sidewalks to ensure proper drainage and prevent pooling of water, especially in climates where ice can form. ADA requirements prescribe a maximum cross slope of 2%, which provides adequate drainage, but also does not adversely impact sidewalk usability for people with disabilities.
Sidewalk immediately behind the curb should be considered for installation of a subdrain system parallel to the curb to facilitate drainage away from the base and reduce frost heave. Additionally, providing a subgrade of quick draining material as noted above will help reduce frost heave in areas with poor draining soils.
Control and expansion joints should be provided in all sidewalks to minimize cracking and guide where cracking should occur. Decorative jointing/scoring should be minimized to aid accessibility. Saw cutting control/construction joints is recommended rather than troweling joints into the surface. Joints should be level and as narrow as possible. For interlocking pavers, the maximum variation in height should be 2 millimeters.28
Full depth isolation joints should be placed adjacent to existing rigid structures such "s" poles, walls, hydrants and buildings. Isolation joints should also be located at the beginning and end of curved sections of sidewalk and at all intersections.
Control joints, also known as contraction joints, provide a location where drying shrinkage cracks can occur without affecting the appearance of the sidewalk. Control joints are to be located at a maximum distance of 24 to 30 times the thickness of the concrete. The transverse contraction joint should extend to a depth of one quarter to one third of the depth of the concrete sidewalk and be a maximum width of 5 millimeters. If the sidewalk width is 2.5 meters or greater, a control joint should also be formed along the center line of the walk. It is recommended that the control joints be saw cut instead of trowelled.
Curb ramps and ADA mandated detectable warning fields present unique maintenance challenges. The primary issues with detectable warning fields are debris collection, detachment from the sidewalk, or domes becoming damaged. Detectable warning fields tend to collect dirt and debris between raised domes. This is particularly true at curb ramps where pooling occurs during rain events. The primary solution to this issue is frequent sweeping of curb ramps and detectible warning fields. Seasonal pressure washing of detectable warning fields may also be of value, and may help retain the color contrast between the detectable warning field and the surrounding sidewalk.
Physical damage to detectable warning fields and their domes is common in areas that require snow removal. Detectable fields are easily damaged by snowplows that clear some paths and sidewalks, and can even be damaged by snowblowers. A number of manufacturers are now providing cast iron detectable warning fields that are significantly heavier and stronger than those manufactured from stainless steel, alloy, thermoplastic or pressed directly into the concrete. The cast iron detectable warning fields may be excessive for areas that do not experience significant snowfall, but may provide reduced maintenance and replacement costs in areas with snowfall.
Detectable warning fields pressed directly into fresh concrete suffer from two primary issues. First, it is common for some of the concrete domes to not be fully formed during the initial installation on the curb ramp. When this occurs, it is likely that the incomplete domes will break off. Second, snow removal equipment, even household snowblowers, can cause damage to concrete domes. If concrete detectable warning fields are used, a regular maintenance schedule should be developed to monitor the integrity of the fields and perform necessary maintenance.
Street trees are a common feature along most streets and roadways. Trees can provide a canopy over the street, enhance aesthetics of a corridor, provide shade and green space in urban environments and help define the character of a corridor. However, street trees can also cause damage to sidewalks and walkways when either the trees or sidewalks are poorly sited. Proper selection and location of street trees is essential to ensure that the trees thrive in their location and do not interfere with nearby utilities, sidewalks or streets.
Street trees should be carefully selected to ensure that they will be compatible with their surroundings. While appropriate trees will vary from location to location, desirable features should be selected:
Planting street trees in appropriate sites will help ensure their successful growth and development while minimizing sidewalk and street maintenance issues commonly caused by poorly sited trees. Following are broad guidelines drawn primarily from Chapter 11 of the Los Angeles County Model Design Manual for Living Streets:
Damage to sidewalks from nearby tree roots can largely be eliminated by selecting appropriate tree species for the region and providing ample room for tree root systems to develop.
23 Sidewalk Design, Construction, and Maintenance: A Best Practice by the National Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure. Federation of Canadian Municipalities and National Research Council. July 2004.
24 T. Davis Sydnor, David Gamstetter, Joan Nichols, Bert Bishop, Jammie Favorite, Cherelle Blazer, and Leslie Turpin "Trees are not the Root of Sidewalk Problems." Journal of Arboriculture 26(1): January 2000. 20 – 26.
25 Snydor et al.
26 Sidewalk Design, Construction, and Maintenance: A Best Practice by the National Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure. Federation of Canadian Municipalities and National Research Council. July 2004.
28 Sidewalk Design, Construction, and Maintenance: A Best Practice by the National Guide to Sustainable Municipal Infrastructure. Federation of Canadian Municipalities and National Research Council. July 2004.
29 Smiley, E. Thomas. Comparison of Methods to Reduce Sidewalk Damage from Tree Roots. Arboriculture & Urban Forestry 34(3): May 2008. 179 – 183.