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FHWA Highway Safety Programs

1 Purpose

A Guide for Maintaining Pedestrian Facilities for Enhanced Safety provides guidance for maintaining pedestrian facilities with the primary goal of increasing safety and mobility. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) developed the Guide as one of several means of reducing the approximately 4,000 pedestrian fatalities and tens of thousands of pedestrian injuries occurring in the United States annually. This Guide is based on a research report completed as a part of developing the guide. The report is available online and includes a literature review, review of local maintenance programs including discussions with 50 municipalities and state agencies, and an overall assessment of the current practice of pedestrian facility maintenance.

Who is responsible for facility maintenance?

Many jurisdictions have laws or ordinances addressing pedestrian facility maintenance, which often require the adjacent property owner to repair deteriorated sidewalks adjacent to their property. More often ordinances require property owners to remove snow and ice and vegetation encroaching onto sidewalks. However, property owner requirements and enforcement of these regulations may vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Maintenance of shared use paths is more complicated still, because the agencies that are responsible for them do not always make a practice of monitoring them and making sure they are in safe and passable condition.


FHWA works toward reducing pedestrian fatalities and injuries by providing tools and technology to assist practitioners in improving pedestrian safety. One way pedestrian safety can be improved is by encouraging state, local and municipal governments to provide and maintain accessible sidewalks along streets and highways where there is pedestrian activity such as near school zones, transit locations and other locations with frequent pedestrian activity. Although there are guidelines and standards to aid in the design of pedestrian facilities, it can be difficult to adequately maintain facilities once they are in place so they remain safe and accessible. Federal funding is not available for maintenance activities, and many state and local government agencies have severely constrained resources for monitoring, inspecting, and maintaining sidewalks and other pedestrian facilities. Not only does this problem relate to walkability and accessibility, there are also liability consequences related to poor, inadequate, or infrequent inspection and maintenance of pedestrian facilities.

The purpose of the guide is to identify effective and exceptional practices, along with barriers for pedestrian facility maintenance: what works and what does not work based on experience from state and local agencies. The guide will provide exemplary and effective practices for maintaining pedestrian facilities and infrastructure.

1.2 Audience for Guide

This guide is intended for any agency or organization that builds and maintains pedestrian facilities. Most commonly this includes government bodies at the state, county or local level, but it may also include homeowners associations, private land management organizations and other groups. Any government entity, group or organization that builds or maintains sidewalks or shared use paths will benefit from the material contained in this guide.

For the purpose of brevity, these groups will often be referred to as "agencies," "municipalities" or "communities" in this document, even though the group may include non-governmental entities such as homeowners associations.

1.3 Types of Pedestrian Facilities

In this guide maintenance is defined as inspecting, preserving, repairing, and restoring a pedestrian facility and keeping it in condition for safe, convenient, and accessible use. Maintenance includes repairing surface defects and changes in level (e.g., heaving) as well as snow/ice, debris, and vegetation removal.

This Guide will focus on the following categories of facilities used by pedestrians

  • Sidewalks, walkways and curb ramps
  • Shared use paths
  • Crosswalks, signals and other treatments of facilities for crossing streets
  • Signs

Sidewalks or walkways (a slightly broader term that also includes walks that do not parallel a street) will receive the greatest attention in this Guide as they comprise the vast majority of the pedestrian system in the United States. Shared use paths will often have the same maintenance needs as sidewalks, and where a discussion can cover sidewalks and paths, the guide does so. The guide includes discussions on Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) including curb ramps, detectable warning fields and sidewalk surface materials. Pedestrian facilities used to cross streets, such as crosswalks and signals, and their associated maintenance issues are also discussed. Other sections of the report include funding and techniques to elongate the maintenance life of pedestrian facilities. All of the sections include a discussion of exemplary maintenance practices from around the United States and recommendations for maintenance. In some cases, a discussion of a practice or set of practices to avoid is provided.

1.4 Overview of Pedestrian Maintenance Programs in the United States

Although there are strong similarities among some areas of the country, the maintenance of pedestrian facilities varies widely across the United States. This is due to a variety of factors including different management structures for maintaining agencies, different legislative requirements, and different climates that require varied approaches to maintenance. Although pedestrian facilities are not subject to the wide variation in traffic volumes and vehicle loads as roadways, in some ways maintenance of them is more challenging than roadway maintenance. For instance, the repair of sidewalks is fairly labor intensive, regularly requires specialized treatments, and is difficult to maintain with heavy equipment. The situation is complicated by the wide variety of parties responsible for pedestrian facility maintenance (e.g. different local agencies, individual property owners, state departments of transportation, and community and homeowners associations).

As part of the research conducted for this guide, dozens of local agency programs were identified and profiled. Follow-up discussions were arranged with 50 communities and state departments of transportation. A review of an equal number of community maintenance programs were also conducted, but without discussions with agencies. Based on this work, several patterns emerged:

  • In the vast majority of states, local and municipal governments can and do require that adjacent property owners perform day-to-day maintenance of sidewalks including snow/ice removal, vegetation removal and trimming, and sweeping. Jurisdictions may be ultimately responsible for this type of maintenance, but at least initially, that responsibility is shifted to the property owners. In the absence of the adjacent property owners providing the maintenance, local jurisdictions may have to step in to do the maintenance, although they will most often charge or fine the adjacent property owner for that service.
  • Based on the research conducted for this guide, it appears that the majority of state and local governments are either initially or ultimately responsible for the repair and replacement of sidewalks and shared use paths. In many cases the community will either carry out the repair work or notify the property owner that the work will be done by city or village crews at partial or full cost charged and/or assessed to the property owner. It is less common for communities to initially enlist or obligate an adjacent property to perform this work themselves only to later intervene if the work is not undertaken in a short timeframe (often 30 to 60 days). In a small percentage of cases, communities require that the adjacent property owners conduct the work themselves or hire a contractor to complete the work. A list of approved contractors is often supplied to the property owner, but the city, village, or county will not arrange for any of the repair work. The property owner will likely be fined for non-compliance.
  • Curb ramps, crosswalk markings, and pedestrian signal maintenance are all part of a jurisdiction's maintenance program. The maintenance of crosswalk markings presents significant problems for continued upkeep because of the excessive wear caused by motor vehicles driving over them.
  • The maintenance of shared use paths is typically performed by local governments, although state governments, homeowner associations and other groups are also involved in maintenance. Based on the research performed for this guide, in many communities shared used paths are not cleared of snow and ice by the local government or maintaining authority. This often contrasts with winter sidewalk maintenance where the local government or maintaining authority either performs snow and ice removal or requires abutting property owners to do so. There are exceptions to this, and some communities do clear snow and ice from shared use paths, but research indicates that this is rare. However, communities are beginning to make changes to this approach, and winter maintenance is increasingly more commonplace.

1.5 Conclusion

There is no simple way to explain how and to what extent pedestrian facilities are maintained in the U.S. The quality and timing of maintenance, inspection standards, funding, and even ownership of facilities varies considerably across the country. This is one of the first national guides of this type that focuses entirely on maintenance with an emphasis on safety. There were many examples that were identified in the research that placed a municipality or a state agency as the maintaining authority for all pedestrian facilities. When the maintenance becomes the responsibility of adjacent property owners the dynamic changes and enforcement processes now have to be put in place to ensure consistent and timely maintenance because another constituency is accountable.

There is considerable overlap between maintaining pedestrian facilities and accessibility. Later in this guide this relationship is explained in more detail, but it is important to establish this connection in the first chapter. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Within the public right-of-way, sidewalks are considered an important part of the pedestrian access route, as are crosswalks, paths, curb ramps, traffic signals, and signs. Maintenance projects do not automatically require simultaneous improvements to pedestrian accessibility under the ADA and Section 504. For example, the spot repair of a heaved sidewalk does not require re-engineering a steep cross-slope. Nevertheless, because pedestrian facilities are required to be accessible, maintenance activities may also provide an opportunity to improve conditions and move agencies closer to meeting their accessibility obligations.