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Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access

Part II of II: Best Practices Design Guide

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All facilities, including sidewalks, require regular maintenance to reduce the damage caused over time by the effects of weather and use. However, many maintenance issues can be reduced if properly addressed in the planning and designing phases before construction even begins. Proper maintenance is essential to promote user safety, to ensure ease of access, and Sidewalk Maintenance and Construction Site Safety to encourage the use of a designated route. The implementing regulations under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act require all features and equipment that are required to be accessible to be maintained in operable working condition for use by individuals with disabilities (U.S. Department of Justice, 1991a).

Figure 10-1. Regular sidewalk maintenance can prevent or correct sidewalk conditions, such as changes in level.
Figure 10-1. Regular sidewalk maintenance can prevent or correct sidewalk conditions, such as changes in level.

10.1 Facility maintenance

Accessible designs are useless if maintenance is neglected and sidewalks are allowed to degrade to a state where they cannot be used or must be avoided during travel. Frequently identified roadway safety and sidewalk design problems include:

Maintenance strategies should be included in the preliminary planning stages of new construction and alterations. Maintenance plans should also address existing facilities. The extent and frequency of maintenance schedules will vary greatly depending on the location, amount of use, and resources available. It is recommended that a plan be developed that clearly specifies the frequency of maintenance activities and how reported maintenance concerns will be addressed.

10.1.1 Assessment techniques

In order to maintain passable sidewalk conditions, current and potential problems must be identified through an objective assessment process. There are many methods available for identifying maintenance needs on existing sidewalks. For example:

For a maintenance program to be effective, it must identify conditions that can impede pedestrian access and quickly respond with prompt repairs. Any citizen complaints reported should be given first consideration for improvement or repair if the reporting involves a safety or access issue.

Figure 10-2. Sidewalk cracks and broken concrete are common sidewalk maintenance problems that inhibit pedestrian access to sidewalks.
Figure 10-2. Sidewalk cracks and broken concrete are common sidewalk maintenance problems that inhibit pedestrian access to sidewalks.

10.1.2 Sidewalk maintenance problems

Sidewalk inspectors should look for conditions likely to inhibit pedestrian access or cause injuries. The following list of common sidewalk maintenance problems was generated from promotional material created for homeowners by the Bureau of Maintenance in the City of Portland, Oregon (1996) and the Division of Engineering for the Lexington-Fayette County Urban Government (1993):

10.1.3 Maintenance responsibilities

Although sidewalks are usually elements of the public right-of-way, some city charters assign the responsibility for sidewalk upkeep to the owner of the adjacent property. City charters commonly specify that the city cannot be held liable for any accidents or injuries incurred due to sidewalk conditions.

When homeowners and businesses are responsible for sidewalk maintenance, they are allowed to decide whether to hire a contractor, perform repairs on their own, or have the city do the repair. Homeowner associations in some neighborhoods address right-of-way maintenance as a group to minimize the cost to individual members. In some areas, the city will subsidize property owners for sidewalk repairs. Local laws may also dictate whether or not a homeowner must hire a professional contractor to undertake sidewalk repair. Regardless of the approach for sidewalk maintenance, municipal inspectors should review and approve all repairs to guarantee that the improved sidewalk meets pedestrian access needs.

10.2 Information maintenance

In addition to maintaining the physical characteristics of sidewalks, agencies should also maintain signs, signals, and other information regarding crossing construction and general pedestrian facility conditions. Periodic reassessment of sidewalks should be conducted to verify that conditions have not changed. Assessment data should also be verified after a catastrophic event, such as a flood or an earthquake.

Signs should comply with MUTCD and ADAAG specifications. In general, signs should also be reevaluated periodically and replaced when age and weathering reduces legibility. The design of the sign and signal should consider the information that is being displayed, as well as actions taken to reduce theft or vandalism. Signs should be removed or replaced when messages are no longer needed, the content of the information has changed, or information is not being provided for people with visual impairments.

Figure 10-3. Residents of Seattle can request the installation of a wheelchair ramp at an intersection by completing this form and submitting it to the City's Wheelchair Ramp Program.

Figure 10-3. Residents of Seattle can request the installation of a wheelchair ramp at an intersection by completing this form and submitting it to the City's Wheelchair Ramp Program.

10.3 Citizen reporting

Those responsible for sidewalk maintenance should provide users with a convenient means to report sites in need of maintenance. The following techniques have been used successfully by a variety of municipalities to obtain maintenance input from users:

Figure 10-4. The Maine Department of Transportation sends to its residents this 'Spot Me' postcard. Residents use the postcard to suggest small repairs and improvements along streets and sidewalks.

Figure 10-4. The Maine Department of Transportation sends to its residents this "Spot Me" postcard. Residents use the postcard to suggest small repairs and improvements along streets and sidewalks.

Citizens' Request programs can provide local maintenance agencies with an efficient way of repairing facilities. Residents living in an area can often identify issues quicker than a centralized agency.

Pedestrians who take the time to submit problems to the appropriate agency need to receive a timely written response or see quick results to feel their efforts were worthwhile. If timely action or notification of pending action is not taken, participants could become frustrated and be less likely to spend time in the future identifying problems. If problems are to be resolved in an upcoming project, then the citizen can be notified of the plan.

Figure 10-5. PROBLEM: Construction sites should include temporary ramps and should be blocked off with solid fencing. The thin tape in this illustration is not detectable using a long white cane.

Figure 10-5. PROBLEM: Construction sites should include temporary ramps and should be blocked off with solid fencing. The thin tape in this illustration is not detectable using a long white cane.

10.4 Construction safety

Construction sites contain a variety of hazardous conditions such as work areas, workers, tools, equipment, machines, and stockpiles of materials that are potential obstacles and dangers to pedestrians when not correctly cordoned off from public use. Roadway and sidewalk maintenance and construction activities can adversely affect pedestrian access by:

Figure 10-6. Signs notifying pedestrians of damaged sites or construction work should be located at the corner to prevent pedestrians from reaching the problem and having to turn around. Note: When technology improves, audible information of sidewalk closures should be provided for pedestrians with visual impairments.

Figure 10-6. Signs notifying pedestrians of damaged sites or construction work should be located at the corner to prevent pedestrians from reaching the problem and having to turn around. Note: When technology improves, audible information of sidewalk closures should be provided for pedestrians with visual impairments.

A variety of measures can be taken to reduce potential safety and access problems at or near construction sites. A continuous route for all pedestrians must be maintained at all times. It is not acceptable to simply close a sidewalk without identifying an alternate circulation route. The alternate route must enable pedestrians to bypass the construction site without retracing their steps or going significantly out of their way. Additional consideration should be given to the needs of pedestrians with disabilities since they may not have the ability to improvise (e.g., balancing along the curb or a very narrow path) or use unofficial alternatives (e.g., using an adjacent grass surface). When a temporary route is established, it must be accessible to people with disabilities.

Information sources should be used to provide advance warning to pedestrians of the presence of the sidewalk construction site and to clearly mark the alternate circulation routes available. Information sources should use a variety of methods (e.g., signs, audible information, and electronic information sources) to convey this information to pedestrians. It is particularly important to ensure that all information sources are accessible to people with vision and cognitive impairments that may not be able to access signs or written information sources that have traditionally been used. To ensure the highest level of accessibility, information sources should:

Figure 10-7. GOOD DESIGN: Mesh fencing and temporary ramps are critical features at construction sights.
Figure 10-7. GOOD DESIGN: Mesh fencing and temporary ramps are critical features at construction sights.

Additional information can be provided via off-site information sources, including the internet or a telephone information line. However, these should be used only to supplement on-site information sources. Off-site information sources are beneficial since they allow pedestrians to obtain information in advance of their travel to or near the construction site. Advance information makes it easier for pedestrians to plan an alternate route to avoid the construction site.

It is essential that ground level, solid, continuous barriers be constructed to prevent pedestrians from entering the construction site either intentionally or unintentionally. Pedestrian safety is compromised because of the obstacles and hazards that will be present if access to the construction site is permitted. The use of flagging tape, ribbon, or signs to identify a site without a solid barrier is inappropriate. Barriers should also be used for all temporary closures, such as window cleaners and painters working overhead.

Barriers defining the alternate route should:

Strong consideration should be given to closing off one lane of the street to traffic if pedestrians need to be diverted off of the sidewalk at a site location. This allows the outside (curb) lane for motorists to be used as the alternate pedestrian circulation route. It is easier and quicker for vehicles to find an alternate route than pedestrians, especially those with vision, cognitive, or mobility impairments. Construction contractors should also ensure that supervisors, contractors, and workers at the site are sensitized to the potential pedestrian conflicts that may occur. In this way, they can be alert to changing hazards and conditions that might impact pedestrian safety (e.g., the delivery of a new load of materials) and provide any assistance that pedestrians may require.

Updated: 02/10/2014
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