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FHWA Highway Safety Programs

4 Inspection, Accessibility, Compliance, Plans and Policies

The work of maintaining pedestrian facilities should be guided by an inspection and by a repair regimen, supported by policies and ordinances. A community's desire to comprehensively address the pedestrian environment should be expressed in a plan and policies that help the maintenance staff do their jobs and helps adjacent landowners and other residents understand what is expected of them and what they can expect.

The use of inspection and criteria that spark action are hallmarks of a well-operated maintenance agency. One size does not fit all in how an agency conducts inspections. Capabilities in part relate to in-house resources and every community is a little different with varying amounts of on-hand resources. There are many ways to proceed with an inspection program from the personnel being used for inspection to how much new technologies will play in measuring and documenting conditions.

Plans provide both short range and long range direction for communities. They help manage the resources available for maintenance of pedestrian facilities and contain a range of recommendations covering good practices associated with policies, ADA compliance, inspection, prioritizing maintenance activities and funding. Plans should also include an inventory and assessment of sidewalks, curb ramps, and path conditions to help establish a basis for repair.

Policies addressing maintenance of pedestrian facilities are more commonly provided as standalone documents than as part of a plan. Policies act as the supporting materials for municipal ordinances and agency directives. All agencies responsible for the pedestrian facilities have maintenance policies; sometimes simply writing them down is an important first step. Formal adoption of policies by agencies or elected officials helps head off problems when controversy arises. Policies should cover the funding of sidewalks, inspection procedures and criteria, responsibilities of property owners and the community, and problem reporting methods.

4.1 Inspection and Accessibility

4.1.1 Importance of Inspection

In order to make pedestrian facilities safe and accessible, the maintenance problems identified in Section 3.2 must be addressed. But at what point does a sidewalk, path, or curb ramp become a hazard, inaccessible, or impassable? Even facilities built to the tightest tolerances will have irregularities or suffer some displacement during freeze and thaw cycles. Criteria needs to be established and used to assess in quantifiable terms when facilities become a hazard or inaccessible for pedestrians. There are national guidelines and criteria (provided later in this section) which communities are advised to use for their own adopted inspection criteria.

Sidewalk and path inspection criteria serve many useful purposes, especially to reduce or eliminate slips and falls based on avoidable sidewalk and path hazards. Damaged surfaces and defects can make facilities impassable for everyone and also limit accessibility of people with disabilities or mobility impairments. Other reasons include providing guidelines to agency employees, conveying information to residents, and preventing and/or minimizing lawsuits and liability exposure. Section 4.1.3 below summarizes the actual thresholds or measurements that should trigger a response from a maintaining authority. Inspection results will help guide a program and are integral to a community's maintenance program.

Other ADA Standards

The 2010 ADA Standards are the measure of accessibility for buildings and sites and can be enforced at the Federal level. Some agencies will use these standards for the public right of way to the extent they seem to fit because PROWAG is not yet a federal standard. While this may work in limited circumstances, the 2010 ADA standards do not address the situations commonly found in the public right of way such as steep terrain and the constraints of being located next to roadway. They also do not address additional features such as pedestrian signals, crosswalks, refuge islands, on street parking and the need for detectable warnings at street crossings. The Access Board also establishes the guidelines for buildings and sites, so there is consistency where it is reasonable to use the same criteria."

4.1.2 Inspection Criteria

Every community that has a maintenance program in place uses criteria to evaluate existing conditions and trigger repairs. Community and agency officials contacted for this guide indicated the criteria they use are not always published, are often discretionary and are not always applied equally across the community. Additionally, many communities contacted had established criteria only for sidewalk displacements (faults, heaves, changes in level, steps) and their inspection protocol did not extend beyond that level of assessment even on a long term basis. Many other agencies responded that they follow the ADA guidelines and their criteria is consistent with that.

Communities should develop and adopt sidewalk inspection and maintenance criteria. At a minimum, inspections should consider displacements (heaving, faults, changes in level), changes in grade, cross-slopes (including cross slopes at driveways), vertical clearances, maximum running grades, minimum clear width and the distance protruding objects extend into the pedestrian path.

4.1.3 Inspection and Accessibility

Pedestrian facilities are meant to be used by everyone, including people with disabilities. Therefore, accessibility obligations are generally considered when establishing the minimum criteria for maintenance inspections. Identifying those criteria can be difficult due to the lack of an established Federal standard for pedestrian facilities in the public right of way accessibility, as of the time of publication of this document. The current document establishing the criteria is the proposed Public Right of Way Accessibility Guidelines, 2011.

Generally, there are two broad accessibility categories related to maintenance and both require maintaining an "accessible path." First, proper and routine maintenance of walkways allow access between intersections while the maintenance of intersections – including curb ramps, medians, crosswalks, etc. – ensures access at street crossings. In combination, they form an accessible path and both sets of pedestrian facilities have to be maintained equally.

ADA and Section 504 Relationship to Maintenance

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination against people with disabilities. Section 504 applies to agencies receiving Federal funds and Title II of the ADA applies to State and Local agencies and requires all programs, services and facilities to be accessible to and usable by people with disabilities. Title III of the ADA may apply to homeowner associations whose facilities are available to the public and requires accessibility and readily achievable barrier removal. Pedestrian routes within the public right-of-way link access points and destinations. Within the public right-of-way, sidewalks are considered an important part of the pedestrian access route, as are crosswalks, paths, bridges, railroad crossings and curb ramps. Traffic signals, parking and bus stops and other pedestrian facilities are also important parts of an accessible pedestrian network. Just as minor changes in facilities can greatly improve accessibility, seemingly minor maintenance problems can form a significant barrier to people who are disabled or even able bodied.

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the U.S. Access Board) has recommended accessibility guidelines for the design, construction and alteration of pedestrian facilities in the public right-of-way. These ADA accessibility guidelines – the proposed Public Right of Way Accessibility Guidelines – address new and altered pedestrian facilities. Minimum criteria are developed by the US Access Board with input from the public and other federal agencies. Although PROWAG is still a draft guideline, for the meantime, the Federal Highway Administration has endorsed the use of PROWAG as a best practice where the building standards do not apply. Since PROWAG includes guidelines that can and are used as minimum accessibility criteria, they have considerable significance for this section of the guide. In addition, shared use paths are covered under a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (SNPRM) which covers shared use paths in the public right of way that are not associated with a street or highway. The guidance for shared use paths is intended to ultimately be contained in PROWAG.

The ADA and Section 504 do not require public agencies to provide pedestrian facilities, or to build new facilities in response to an ADA complaint. However, where pedestrian facilities exist they must be accessible. Furthermore, when public agencies alter facilities affecting access for pedestrians, the completed project also must meet accessibility requirements for persons with disabilities to the maximum extent feasible.

As part of maintenance operations, public agencies' standards and practices must ensure that the day-to-day operations keep the pedestrian path of travel open and usable for persons with disabilities throughout the year. According to federal code Title 28 CFR35.133 "Maintenance of Accessible Features:"

  • A public entity shall maintain in operable working condition those features of facilities and equipment that are required to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities by the Act or this part.
  • This section does not prohibit isolated or temporary interruptions in service or access due to maintenance or repairs.

Both of these requirements are examined in more detail below.


The distinction between maintenance of pedestrian facilities and the alteration or new construction of facilities is central to the provision of accessible facilities. The determination of what falls into each category should be considered carefully. This guide addresses the maintenance of pedestrian facilities. Technically, maintenance activities do not trigger accessibility upgrades. Alterations which occur to pedestrian facilities or streets impacting pedestrian facilities are more significant and offer considerably more opportunities to incorporate ADA compliant features. When facilities are altered there is an expectation that the facility be "accessible to the extent practicable within the scope of the project." Typically, alterations to sidewalks occur as a result of alterations to the adjacent roadway.4 Since alterations are defined as changes to a facility in the public right-of-way that affect or could affect access, circulation or use by persons with disabilities, it is conceivable that a maintenance project that replaces long segments of sidewalk or path could rise to the level of an alteration. The replacement of significant sections of sidewalks associated with a street reconstruction or intersection reconstruction would be considered altered facilities.

Day-to-Day Maintenance and ADA

As part of maintenance operations, public agency practices must ensure that day-to-day operations keep the path of travel open and usable for persons with disabilities throughout the year. This includes snow and debris removal, and maintenance of pedestrian traffic in work zones with only isolated or temporary interruptions in accessibility. According to FHWA, "A public agency must maintain its walkways in an accessible condition, with only isolated or temporary interruptions in accessibility. 28 CFR §35.133. Part of this maintenance obligation includes reasonable snow removal efforts (9-12-06)."5

Maintenance and Repair under ADA

Maintenance projects do not require simultaneous improvements to pedestrian accessibility under the ADA and Section 504. For example, the spot repair of a tripping hazard does not require re-engineering a steep cross-slope. Nevertheless, as the scale of the repair or replacement grows, the adherence to acceptable standards become more feasible and expected. And 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. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the courts have not ruled on what defines an alteration vs. maintenance when sidewalks are affected by various types of projects. FHWA has considered common maintenance activities associated with roadways as those that are intended to preserve the system, retard future deterioration and maintain the functional condition of the roadway without increasing the structural capacity.

DOJ and FHWA have released guidance that states that the following types of pavement treatments are considered maintenance of streets or roads:

  • Painting and Striping
  • Chip Seals
  • Crack Filling and Sealing
  • Diamond Grinding
  • Dowel Bar Retrofit
  • Fog Seals
  • Joint Crack Seals
  • Joint Repairs
  • Pavement Patching
  • Scrub Sealing
  • Slurry Seals
  • Spot High-Friction Treatments
  • Surface Sealing

All other pavement treatments and surfacing are considered an alteration that triggers simultaneous improvements to pedestrian accessibility, including the installation of compliant curb ramps.

Based on this guidance for streets, surfacing treatments for sidewalks such as filling holes and cracks, wedging, grinding and horizontal cutting are considered maintenance. The replacement of short segments of sidewalk to repair surface irregularities is also maintenance in nature; however, communities and states must strive to meet ADA standards on these types of projects to the extent possible – even with small sidewalk replacements – given the scope of the repair and technical feasibility. Most of the communities who were contacted for this guide indicated that they are meeting ADA standards when doing routine maintenance work.

Accessibility Criteria

The ADA Draft Guidelines for the Public Right of Way provide the following guidance to insure accessibility for walkways and shared use paths. The guidelines for accessible routes are summarized below.

Firm and Stable: The guides state that surfaces of public sidewalks and paths be stable, firm, and slip-resistant, and shall lie generally in a continuous plane.

Displacement/Changes in Level (includes faults and heaves): Surface discontinuities shall not exceed a half inch (13 millimeters). Vertical discontinuities between a quarter inch (6.4 millimeters) and half inch (13 millimeters) shall be beveled at 1:2 minimum. The bevel shall be applied across the entire level change.

Maximum Running Grade: Where pedestrian access routes are contained within a street or highway right-of-way, the grade of the pedestrian access route is permitted to equal the general grade established for the adjacent street or highway, except where pedestrian access routes are contained within pedestrian street crossings a maximum grade of 5 percent is allowed. This is consistent with the AASHTO "Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets" which recommends that the sidewalk grade follow the grade of adjacent roadways, and also recommends maximum cross slopes for roadways. Where pedestrian access routes or paths are not contained within a street or highway right-of-way, a maximum grade of 5 percent is established.

Cross-Slope Grade: A maximum cross slope of 2 % is specified for pedestrian access routes, except for pedestrian access routes contained within certain pedestrian street crossings in order to allow for typical roadway geometry. A 5% maximum cross slope is specified for pedestrian access routes contained within pedestrian street crossings without yield or stop control to avoid any unintended negative impacts on the control and safety of vehicles, their occupants, and pedestrians in the vicinity of the intersection.

Minimum Clear Width: The continuous clear width of pedestrian access routes (exclusive of the width of the curb) must be 4 feet (1.2 meters) minimum, except for medians and pedestrian refuge islands where the clear width must be 5 feet (1.5 meters) minimum in order to allow for passing space.

Figure 17: The maximum extension of this object is limited to 4 inches.
Figure 17: The maximum extension of this object is limited to 4 inches.

Protruding Objects: Objects with leading edges between 27 inches (685 millimeters) and 80 inches (2 meters) above the finish surface must not protrude into pedestrian circulation paths more than 4 inches (100 millimeters). Post-mounted objects such as signs that are between 27 inches (685 millimeters) and 80 inches (2 meters) above the finish surface must not overhang into pedestrian circulation paths more than 4 inches (100 millimeters) measured horizontally from the base of the post. The post base must be 2.5 inches (64 millimeters) at a minimum. Where objects are mounted between posts, and the clear distance between the posts is more than one foot (305 millimeters), the lowest edge of the object must be 27 inches (685 millimeters) minimum or 80 inches (2 meters) maximum above the finish surface. The requirement is consistent with the MUTCD which requires the bottom of signs installed on the sidewalk to be 7 feet minimum above the sidewalk, and the bottom of secondary signs (i.e., signs mounted below another sign) that are lower than 7 to project not more than 4 inches into the sidewalk (see MUTCD section 2A.18). See Appendix B for more discussion and illustrations.

4.1.4 Using Maintenance to Improve Accessibility

Section 3.2 of this guide characterized maintenance problems with pedestrian facilities that often caused the facilities to exceed the acceptable standards. Not every sidewalk, path and curb ramp within a community is going to simultaneously meet all of the guidelines listed above. However, communities need to have a multiple prong approach to meeting the criteria.

First, communities should respond to and eliminate immediate hazards to pedestrians such as tripping hazards as soon as possible. Most of these hazards are related to displacements in sidewalks and paths, especially around trees and utilities, but serious hazards could also result from cracks, holes, and damaged surfaces or from objects protruding into walkways. Inspections using the adopted criteria should uncover these problems which must be addressed immediately.

Second, communities should address other deficiencies in an ADA transition plan. This plan, required for communities that have more than 50 employees, should lay out a timeframe for replacing pedestrian facilities that fail to meet any of the ADA criteria listed above, but may not present an immediate hazard. For instance, a community may have sidewalks that cross driveways at a 4% grade. This fails to meet the criteria above, but replacing long segments of sidewalks at driveways is beyond the scope of maintenance, needs to be funded through a longer range capital budgeting plan, and does not present a defect in the same way a tripping hazard or obstacle does.

Finally, another recommended means of addressing all of the maintenance needs is with a zone-by-zone sidewalk repair and replacement program. This approach may take a longer view on correcting and preventing maintenance problems. Communities can respond quickly to sidewalk hazards community-wide while a more robust sidewalk repair and replacement program – applying all criteria – is working zone by zone in a community addressing problems that are not necessarily related to urgent defects which might require immediate treatment.

Many communities contacted or researched for this guide had good inspection programs including descriptions of defects and the thresholds they use for triggering repair and replacement of sidewalks. However, many communities were using criteria that failed to meet the above criteria established for accessibility, such as a displacement threshold that exceeded the quarter to half inch displacement limit.

Several communities had photos on their website clearly depicting sidewalks that failed to meet inspection criteria. This is a recommended practice, because as an information tool, it provides illustrative examples of maintenance problems and establishes clear expectations for repairing and replacing sidewalks. Figure 18 from a Midwestern community's website provides excellent photos and descriptions of problems that would fail inspection. Even in this otherwise good example, the community has some criteria that fail to meet the ADA guidelines.

Figure 18: Sidewalk inspection examples and criteria from a Midwestern city (some criteria fail to meet ADA).

Stub Toe (S): The vertical misalignment along any part of the seam between two slabs, or between section of a cracked slab, of ½" or more, or deemed hazardous by engineering judgment Cracked Slabs (C): Slabs fragmented by cracks into four or more sections, and/or where any one of the gaps is greater than 2 inches and prohibit the sidewalk from functioning as designed
Traverse Slope (T): Any individual slab or portion of a slab shall not slope toward the street or the adjoining property at a ratio of more than 5/8" per foot (1:20) Gaps (G): Opening in between sidewalk slabs greater than 2" in width, or those caused by the absence of a fragmented section of sidewalk exceeding 2" in width
Spalling (Pitted) Slabs (P): Slabs whose surface is granular or a chunk of the sidewalk surface greater than 2" in width has broken out, and the result is a hole ½" or deeper Tree Root Damage (R): Any deficiencies in a slab or part of a slab that are deemed to be caused by tree roots from a tree in the city right-of-way will be the responsibility of the city.
Longitudinal Slope (Sunken/Raised Sections) (L): Any sidewalk panels that have lifted to a peak or sunken such that the slab or portion of a slab deviates from the average line of the sidewalk surface level at a ratio of more than 1 inch per foot Public Utility Damage (O): Any deficiencies in a slab or part of a slab that are deemed to be caused by public infrastructure (sewer and water mains, sewer manholes, catch basins, etc.). Damage deemed to be caused by public infrastructure will be the responsibility of the city.

Temporary Closures

If an inspection reveals areas where a sidewalk or path is not up to the established inspection standards, the pedestrian facility must be brought up to the standard and a planned course of action should be laid out for ultimate repair. If the facility presents a hazard a temporary repair should be made as soon as practicable. In some cases where alternate pedestrian facilities can clearly serve the same adjacent land uses and destinations, a temporary closure can be considered. Temporary closings can give staff more time to return the pedestrian facility to sufficient conditions often associated with weather-related events, but they are rarely effective at keeping pedestrians from key destinations.

4.1.5 Inspection Types

Inspections can be conducted on a community-wide basis, by zones, or simply on the spot after a complaint. There are reporting mechanisms that are important components of these three main approaches.

Community-wide Inspection

A community or agency may conduct an initial inspection of every sidewalk, path, and curb ramp within a defined period, such as a six-month window. This can also be done "system-wide". For instance, a state transportation agency may decide to inspect its entire sidewalk system in an area thus extending beyond a community. Community-wide or system-wide inspection often requires significant resources, and commonly involves more than simple maintenance issues. This approach is often associated with conducting an ADA Transition Plan (described later in this chapter) or is in response to outstanding needs that have not been addressed over a long period of time. Some smaller communities or communities with relatively few sidewalks can inspect all of their sidewalks annually, but this is difficult for larger communities with extensive sidewalk systems.

Several communities contacted for this guide used an initial inventory of sidewalk conditions as basis for a prioritization plan. Sometimes this was done when pedestrian facilities had fallen into such a state of disrepair that funding and staff had been marshaled to begin to correct the problem by first doing a comprehensive inspection.

In other cases, a community-wide effort to assess sidewalks often acts as the planning phase to develop an operational plan aimed at making repairs by zones. This was the approach used by Boulder, Colorado. The inventory was conducted using a van to video the sidewalk condition and identify defects. The city established zones and a list of criteria that enabled them to prioritize the most critical needs by zone and guide an annual schedule for repairs. This particular example demonstrated how a community can move from a community-wide inspection to a zone inspection (zone inspection addressed below).

Zone Inspection

Another approach is for a city, village or town to segment their community into zones to implement a repair program. By having the community split into three to ten zones, efforts and funds can be targeted in more manageable areas – zone by zone. Costs can also be further controlled by keeping crews within in a tighter geographic area, reducing mobilization and coordination costs. Although inspections are made in a proactive fashion on a zone-by-zone basis, often the same inspectors are used to respond to immediate inspection issues in other areas of a community if a hazard has been reported.

Statewide Inspection

The Florida DOT is one of just a few State DOTs that maintains nearly all sidewalks on its highway system. Their Office of Maintenance has one of the most detailed inspection standards for a state DOT. Its Maintenance Rating Handbook is intended for field inspection and covers all facets of maintenance. For sidewalks, 99.5% of a sidewalk must be free of vertical misalignments greater than ¼ inch, horizontal cracks greater than ¾ inch, or spalled areas greater than ½ inch in depth, and no visible hazards. The manual has detailed instructions and photos of how measurements should be made and computed.

Many communities are using this process of inspection and repair and it is a recommended practice. About half of the communities who were contacted for this guide use this zone-by-zone approach or a variant of it. For instance, the City of Minneapolis has organized their sidewalk inspections and repair program into ten geographic zones, and targets their annual sidewalk repair budget into one of these zones each year, thereby inspecting and maintaining their public sidewalks on a ten year cycle. Similarly, almost all of these communities had either informal or formal arrangements to focus inspection and repairs in their downtown areas where pedestrian traffic is most common. The community that took that effort to the greatest length was Rochester, Minnesota. The central downtown area around the Mayo Clinic is examined on a monthly basis and the greater downtown area is inspected on a yearly basis. The rest of the city, which is primarily single-family residential (but some areas of multi-family use as well), is inspected at 5 percent per year; the city will also respond to any complaints or safety hazards on a community-wide basis. The targeted hospital area is roughly one quarter of a mile in radius while the greater downtown area is roughly one half to three quarters of a mile in diameter. The city is cognizant of the need to create a safe and ADA-compliant pedestrian experience, particularly for the many new visitors to the hospital area and downtown.

Spot Inspection

Nearly every agency that has pedestrian facilities has a variation of a spot inspection program. Spot inspection occurs when a hazard is identified and reported by the public or staff. This type of inspection also occurs when a fall or slip is reported due to a hazard. Before any repair is made, an employee of the agency needs to verify that a problem exists. In many smaller communities the repair crews are authorized to inspect the reported problem and follow-up with an immediate repair based on their inspection. Several communities researched relied entirely on spot inspection and the subsequent repair of sidewalks and paths. Upon completion of inspection and determining the extent of a problem, some form of work order is usually issued leading to one of the following repairs: wedging, grinding, patching or sidewalk replacement. It could also lead to sweeping, vegetation removal or trimming. For a path, an asphalt patch, crack filling, or overlay may also be considered.

Communities involved in zone-by-zone inspection also conducted spot inspections, and were better equipped to do so because they already have trained inspectors and/or inspection teams.

Actions Following a Complaint or Injury

Depending on state and local laws and ordinances as well as general exposure to liability, it may be prudent for a community to establish standard operating procedures when handling inspection of a pedestrian facility in the event of an injury. The following steps are recommended, but certainly a community should keep its attorney aware and involved in these instances.

  • An incident report should be completed by the injured person or agency employee. The report should include the incident location, what occurred, and the presence of any identified defects.
  • Ownership and maintenance of the pedestrian facility should be verified. Often there are several different agencies having control over pedestrian facilities within a single community.
  • Inspect the pedestrian facility immediately after the incident becomes known and details are made known (through the incident report). An inspector should describe the condition of the pedestrian facility including any defects, take photographs, take measurements, and compare the post-accident sidewalk condition with the condition at the last inspection.
  • At the same time, the inspector should determine if the defect causing the mishap met the criteria for a spot improvement using the adopted inspection criteria. A spot improvement includes a temporary repair or even minor sidewalk replacement.
  • Documentation is important and should include strong and clear support for a decision when no repairs are made.

Using Volunteers for Inspections Hoboken, New Jersey

A unique approach to sidewalk inspection involves the use of volunteers. Hoboken, New Jersey has an annual inspection program in which the city enlists trained volunteers to walk the sidewalks and record any problems. The volunteers tend to be younger students and elderly residents, and are given some training in how to recognize and document pedestrian facility issues. Currently, the volunteers note the location of damage to a specific sidewalk slab and rate the severity of the disrepair. The City of Hoboken has enlisted college student volunteers to develop a smartphone application (separate from Hoboken311 described separately) that their volunteer inspectors can use so that the whole sidewalk inventory would be digitized instantly."

There should be communication with the injured party. According to the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust the community can acknowledge the mishap, but should not admit fault or liability. The community should inform the injured party what action has been taken in the past (inspection and maintenance policy) and will be done in the future in response to a complaint or injury. A community should keep its staff (including its attorney) involved in the process especially if there was a defect that was associated with the injury.

Documentation, discussed below, is a guard against liability. In the event of a claim or lawsuit, the community can use these documents to prove the existence of its inspection practices and adherence to adopted practices and policies. Documentation can also show that the city exercised reasonable care in inspecting and maintaining its sidewalks. Although there are some agencies that are not liable for injuries if there was no prior written notification of a maintenance problem, documentation of problems and when they were addressed is always a recommended practice. The League of Minnesota Cities, who maintains excellent information sheets on this topic, cautions that sometimes communities will have the mistaken notion that if they do not document policies or problems, there will be no paper trail to hurt them later on (see appendix B for information sheet). However, judges and juries can draw negative inferences from a lack of documentation. Documentation shows that a community took deliberate action to inspect and maintain facilities.

Reporting by the Public

Every community should have more than one means of learning about problems. In addition to staff inspections, the public should be enlisted to help identify hazards and offered multiple reporting methods. Research conducted for this guide found that the most common form of reporting was by phone to the public works, transportation department, or parks department (particularly for paths). The next most common form was electronically through an agency's website. PEDS, a metropolitan Atlanta advocacy group, has established an online hazard reporting system now checked by the City of Atlanta and many Atlanta suburbs. People are encouraged to report broken sidewalks, dead walk signals, faded crosswalks and other pedestrian hazards.

The City of Hoboken, New Jersey has a program called Hoboken311, which brings together all manners of reporting issues into one system. Along with phone and website reports, the program includes a smartphone application (also called Hoboken311) that can be used to report any number of public nuisance problems including snow removal issues, needed sidewalk repair, burnt-out pedestrian lighting, damaged pedestrian signals, etc. The application allows the user to take a picture of the problem to send in with the complaint and the system will automatically send the user status updates until there is a resolution to the problem. Several communities also have developed similar smartphone applications, including Cambridge, Massachusetts, Boston, Massachusetts, Louisville, Kentucky, and Charlotte, North Carolina.

Preferably, all types of inspections and hazard reports will go to one person or unit. In the absence of that, it is important to have a unit responsible for overall coordination of reporting. Complexity grows when various reporting methods are used and cover all types of pedestrian facilities because reports may be received by the Parks Department for path problems, the Public Works Department for sidewalk hazards, and the Streets Department for crosswalk and signal problems. As noted above, a "311" program can bring together all manners of reporting issues into one system. Many communities have a "report a problem" section to their website. This will allow a community to easily sort through the pedestrian problem reports.

Choosing an Inspection Program

The type of program selected depends largely on the resources available: community-wide inspection requires the most resources, while a spot inspection program requires the least; a zone inspection program falls between. The resources required to carry out an inspection program vary not just with the type of program selected, but also with the age of the sidewalks being inspected. In newer communities, it may be possible to inspect large areas very quickly, as sidewalk systems have been built to current guidance, and have not had extensive damage from tree roots. Inspection and recording of problems of older sidewalk systems can take considerable time, especially in areas where curb ramps have not been brought up to ADA standards, or mature trees have damaged sidewalks.

Chapter 11 of Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access -Part II6 has an excellent discussion laying out a complete sidewalk assessment system. This is used for more extensive inspection processes for community-wide assessments and often for ADA transition plans and sidewalk replacement programs being conducted on a zone-by-zone basis within a community. Features of such an assessment go beyond routine inspection procedures with the following measurements being involved: sidewalk cross slopes (including cross slopes at driveways and maximum cross slopes), running grades, changes in level, changes in grade, minimum clear width, surface defects, minimum vertical and horizontal clearances and the distance protruding objects intrude into the pedestrian path.

Of communities contacted and profiled for this report, the majority lacks a coordinated sidewalk and path inspection program and typically responds to problems that could be caught earlier with inspections. Creating such a program can be an early priority for a sidewalk maintenance plan. At a bare minimum, a basic inspection system should consist of spot inspections as described above. This is certainly the least formal and robust approach to inspection, but is necessary to respond to immediate maintenance problems caused by a variety of factors.

Inspecting Shared Use Paths Madison, Wisconsin

Of the communities contacted for this guide, Madison, Wisconsin, had the most extensive path inspection system. All paths are visually inspected on a regular basis, and individually rated for pavement condition on an annual basis. Condition reports are reviewed every year and a number of paths are selected for resurfacing or repaving based on condition rating, path usage and other factors. Between major resurfacing projects, surface problems are addressed based on reports of hazards, with pothole patching or other repairs being completed as necessary and priority given to problems with safety implications.

When sidewalk and path conditions deteriorate, one of the following factors will exceed an acceptable threshold. Routine inspections should consider, at a minimum, changes in level or grade, excessive cross-slopes and vertical clearances. Additional factors are considered in more comprehensive inspections such as those conducted zone-by-zone or community-wide.

Unlike sidewalks, nearly all shared use paths are uniformly owned and maintained by the communities contacted for this study. There appeared to be little ambiguity about who's responsible for maintaining paths. Despite this, only a few communities contacted had any formal and proactive inspection process for shared use paths, even though they may have had a robust inspection and repair program for sidewalks. Most communities relied on reports of hazards from users; almost all of whom were bicyclists. However, when path inspection and repair was discussed with communities, nearly every community indicated that their attention to repairs on paths was as good or even better as the efforts they were making for sidewalks. Several indicated that they paid more attention to deficiencies in paths than sidewalks, because of the sheer volume of users (often citing heavy bicycle traffic) on paths compared to sidewalks. Several communities indicated that they do visual inspections when their staff is on the paths, but it did not constitute a formal inspection process. When there is an opportunity to coordinate the inspection of paths with street inspections it is worth considering since the inspection for asphalt paths is often very similar to that conducted for street surface ratings and inspections.

4.1.6 | Documentation of Inspection Results and New Technologies

An important aspect of sidewalk and path inspection is the management of collected data. Inspection of all types – from spot inspection to comprehensive assessments – should be documented. During an inspection a form is typically completed for each property. If a spot inspection is conducted due to a reported problem, only one or two properties may be inspected. For more comprehensive inspections, notes and forms are completed assessing the defective sidewalk sections, the types of defects found, and the length and width of the anticipated repair. These field notes are then used to generate inspection reports, which are sent to the adjacent property owners in communities where they are required to pay for all or part of the sidewalk repair or replacement.

Communities can streamline and benefit by use of sophisticated data collection and management systems for sidewalk inspections. Specific sidewalk and path inspection tools that can be used include check sheets, smart levels and GPS and GIS programs. Since there are specific criteria related to prevent tripping hazards, a profile gauge is often used to measure small changes in level and a smart level or digital inclinometer is used to measure cross slopes and running grades. A new and innovative approach to inspection makes use of sensor and data acquisition components mounted on a Segway HT scooter. The inspection device, supported through the Federal Highway Administration, allows a single person to inventory sidewalks and convert the data into a city's GIS system at a rate of nearly six miles per hour. It is based on an inertial profiler system that had been in use since the 1970s to measure defects on highway and airport pavement surfaces. The device's laser measurement system, three accelerometers, and gyroscope measure the sidewalk profile at a rate of 10,000 records of data per second. Together, these devices enable the capture of highly accurate location-specific information about sidewalk slope and even small surface variations.

Using Technology to Aid Inspections

Fond du Lac, Wisconsin The City of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, was one of the first communities in the country to use a more sophisticated data management system for sidewalk inspections. Fond du Lac created a custom database application using computer software to help manage the vast amount of data associated with the city's sidewalk program. This database application stores all of the sidewalk data in one central location and automatically generates several reports. The electronic database allows the city to not only manage the data in one place, but to automatically calculate quantities for estimating sidewalk replacement costs and bid quantities.

A mobile GIS application consisting of a handheld computer with GIS software and a global positioning system (GPS) is used in the field and synchronized with the sidewalk database as inspections occur. A GIS parcel map is used to note defects in the sidewalk and create points in the database using the inspector's GPS location. Digital photographs are also taken of the defects during the inspection and are added to the parcel information in the database.

Higher tech but much less expensive measurement devices are also being tested. In Atlanta an Android App operates on a tablet that records video, GPS, accelerometer, and gyroscope data. The tablet is attached to a wheel chair and automatically records the video and collects the data necessary to identify sidewalks that may need of repair or reconstruction. This data collection system is low-cost due to the use of a standard, manual wheelchair and computer tablet device. It is being tested and supported through Georgia Tech College of Engineering, Georgia DOT, and the City of Atlanta.

Many agencies are using electronic management systems to record sidewalk, curb ramp, and path data. Departments should keep in mind that data collection and documentation efforts require the use of limited resources so choosing the right technology is an important step. One form of technology that has caught on is the use of handheld computers (or even smart phones) to increase data collection efficiency and accuracy. One of the major benefits is that these tools are GPS-enabled and can record spot problems to within three feet of the problem. Sidewalks can be identified and cross-referenced by parcel number and/or street address. This level of sophistication is often used to conduct a comprehensive sidewalk and curb ramp inventory. Once in place, the inventory and the same tools can be used by inspectors as they respond to problems and update the inventory.

Without an electronic inventory of facilities, it is still possible for inspectors to make use of new technologies. For example, an inspector can issue work orders by address or parcel number electronically from the field. Although that would be using only a small part of the available technology, it may be just right level of technology for communities that have not gone through an extensive inventory process.

Having trained inspectors is crucial to the delivery of a sound inspection program. This training should be extended to all personnel making decisions in the field and applying engineering judgment when a spot repair is going to be made or a sidewalk section replaced. For smaller agencies first line public works employees may be summoned to inspect and repair reported sidewalk and path defects. In many communities there will not be a dedicated inspector, so street or public works employees can be trained on standards and requirements. This produces the benefit of having the same employees inspecting, documenting, and making or supervising the repair. Empowering inspectors and other field personnel to make decisions on the spot is often the most efficient and reliable means of dealing with reported defects.

4.2 Compliance

In most places, maintenance and often repair of sidewalks is a cooperative effort between the community and its residents. According to research conducted for this guide, the majority of agencies require adjacent property owners to attend to year-round day-to-day maintenance of sidewalks and even curb ramps. This includes sweeping, vegetation control, and snow and ice removal. And in many communities, property owners are also held responsible for making or paying for repairs on sidewalk segments in front of their homes and businesses. Jurisdictions committed to maintaining an accessible sidewalk network must create systems to ensure that responsibilities are spelled out with property owners and they themselves hold up their set of commitments. This usually involves inspection regiments and administrative and compliance actions.

In communities where the governmental agency conducts and pays for all sidewalk repairs and replacements, the main compliance issue is day to day maintenance. Compliance with regulations on removal of snow, ice, debris still requires an inspection and reporting system

4.2.1 Principles for Compliance

There are a number of principles that should be considered for the effective use of administrative, compliance and enforcement measures. Laws, ordinances, and directives need to be understandable, clear, and reasonable. Any enforcement actions arising from the ordinances or laws must also be fair, prompt, consistent, and predictable. It does not help a program to have enforcement practices vacillate from season to season or from year to year.

4.2.2 Compliance with Sidewalk Repair and Replacement Ordinances

The most outstanding maintenance and public coordination effort occurs when agencies require adjacent property owners to make sidewalk repairs or fund agency-lead repairs. A clear and consistent administrative effort is essential to the year-round safety and accessibility of sidewalks and curb ramps.

In the series of discussions which were conducted with agencies as part of the research for this guide, several indicated they had difficulty in applying sidewalk repair ordinances. Many communities expressed concern that enforcement of sidewalk repair ordinances could result in untenable costs to residents and community backlash. This can be compounded when there is a perception that the burden of sidewalk replacement fall more heavily on lower-income neighborhoods, or that higher-income residents are able to pressure city officials to avoid citations. Others respondents mentioned that often the responsibility for sidewalk repair is unclear (such as when city-maintained street trees crack sidewalks).

In some communities, this gap between the intent of an ordinance and effective enforcement means sidewalks are falling into disrepair. A community that recognizes this problem has several options. The leadership of the public works department can request that the ordinance be revisited and reaffirmed or revised; this is particularly helpful when simple changes would help address the problems. Some communities are taking more responsibility for sidewalk repair and replacement by lowering assessments and finding other funding sources for repairs. In some cases, residents' groups are helping raise the visibility of the issue so that sidewalk repair gets a higher priority. Most importantly, the public works staff should systematically document the condition of the sidewalk network, and provide this information to the community's leadership, so those leaders will have the tools to effectively address the problem.

In communities that do enforce delinquent sidewalk repairs, common compliance mechanisms include fines and assessment for work completed by an agency. For unpaid fines, communities commonly assess the cost to a property.

According to the research for this report, the most common approach used by agencies was the practice of making simple repairs (patching and wedging) themselves. But if sidewalks had to be replaced, a set of procedures were set in motion requiring adjacent property owners to pay for all or part of the cost of an agency to use its own crews or a hired contractor to replace the sidewalks.

It is important to note, that if a pedestrian facility is impacted by an alteration project (see 4.1.3), cost is not a reason for a public agency to refuse to bring a pedestrian facility in the scope of the project within ADA standards. "Each facility or part of a facility altered by, on behalf of, or for the use of a public entity in a manner that affects or could affect the usability of the facility or part of the facility shall, to the maximum extent feasible, be altered in such manner that the altered portion of the facility is readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities, if the alteration was commenced after January 26, 1992." [ 28 CFR 35.151] "Maximum extent feasible" relates to technical infeasibility only, not cost, when considering how to meet ADA standards and determinations about what constitutes the "maximum extent feasible" need to be documented.

Several successful local agency compliance programs were identified for sidewalk repair and replacement as part of the research for this Guide. Most repairs are triggered by complaints, requests, incidents, or by a sidewalk inspection program. An agency's sidewalk program will then issue a sidewalk notice of repair or defect. In some cases an abutting property owner has an option to repair or replace a sidewalk panel and will give the property owner 2 weeks to 60 days to repair the sidewalk. If the sidewalk repair is not made the agency will often do the repair and charge the property owner for the work. Often if the charge is not paid within a grace period, the charge becomes a lien against the property. Adjacent property owners are provided opportunities to contest repairs and the costs associated with the repairs.

A much longer time period is established when a sidewalk has to be repaired or replaced to provide time for the repair to be made. Very clear procedures should be in place if the repair work is done by the agency, but assessed in full or in part to the abutting property owner.

Sidewalk repair supported by laws and ordinances

Federal or state laws or policies may govern local sidewalk maintenance compliance plans. For example, current maintenance provisions of the U.S. DOT require that pedestrian facilities built with federal funds be maintained just like other roadway facilities in the area.7 State agencies often have some of the same conditions when they construct sidewalks along state highways. In some situations, state agencies will provide maintenance for sidewalks along the roadways they control, and will not expect this to done by the local agency.

Some jurisdictions that have adopted a complete streets policy or have otherwise reexamined their commitment to improving their sidewalk infrastructure have concluded that they need to take more direct responsibility for sidewalk repair and replacement. They see the sidewalk is an important part of the right-of-way, rather than an extension of an individual property, and may have also found that putting the burden on property owners results in an uneven sidewalk quality. While taking over such responsibility can be a major expense, some jurisdictions, such as Missoula, Montana, have created shared fee structures that ease the burden on individual homeowners and move the community in the direction of a better sidewalk network.

4.2.3 Compliance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)

When pedestrian facilities are impacted due to maintenance activities, pedestrian accommodations should still be provided while avoiding detours. This issue will be especially commonplace when sidewalk or path sections are removed and replaced. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Controls (MUTCD) provides standards and guidance on "temporary traffic control (TTC) zones." It is the national standard for designing, applying, and planning traffic control devices which applies to all streets and roads within the U.S. Temporary signs and devices will need to be provided to direct pedestrians safely through work zones. The standards from the MUTCD include several key provisions:

Figure 19: An accessible detour
Figure 19: An accessible detour
  • The needs and control of all road users (motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians within the highway, or on private roads open to public travel, including persons with disabilities) through a TTC zone shall be an essential part of maintenance operations.8
  • Where pedestrian routes are closed, alternate pedestrian routes shall be provided for maintenance.9
  • When existing pedestrian facilities are disrupted, closed, or relocated in a TTC zone, the temporary facilities shall be detectable and shall include accessibility features consistent with the features present in the existing pedestrian facility.10

Additional guidance provided in the MUTCD includes:

  • Whenever possible, work should be done in a manner that does not create a need to detour pedestrians from existing routes or crossings.11
  • Pedestrian detours should be avoided because pedestrians rarely observe them and the cost of providing accessibility and detectability might outweigh the cost of maintaining a continuous route12
  • Bicyclists and pedestrians, including those with disabilities, should be provided with access and reasonably safe passage through the TTC zone.13
  • A smooth, continuous hard surface should be provided throughout the entire length of the temporary pedestrian facility.14

Considerable guidance is provided in the MUTCD on the importance and support for providing temporary pedestrian facilities and traffic controls within TTC zones.

4.2.4 Routine Maintenance Supported by Laws and Ordinances

Any enforcement effort should be backed by an ordinance or law that is easy to understand and provides clear direction to the people who are responsible for enforcement. Any lack of clarity or need for alteration should be called to the attention of the elected officials who are responsible for passing such ordinances. The ordinances and laws can establish a fine or fee schedule for issuance to people for failing to comply. Often they will establish a short grace or notification period in which the property owner can respond to reported problems especially for vegetation removal.

Compliance for clearing snow and debris

A goal for any agency is to have compliance with little enforcement, particularly when it comes to clearing sidewalks of snow and other debris. If an agency can keep sidewalks clear with little enforcement, they will likely be saving money while avoiding potentially negative interactions with residents. The jurisdiction can work to establish a community norm that supports the importance of sidewalk maintenance among residents as part of good citizenship and encourages people to help neighbors if they are struggling. A recommended approach is to formally or informally organize volunteers to help keep sidewalks clear where older or disabled residents cannot remove snow, ice, vegetation overgrowth, or sweep on their own. In larger communities, this strategy is often part of a larger snow removal plan or program. Fort Collins, Colorado, has an "Adopt-a-Neighbor" program which coordinates volunteers to shovel for someone who cannot do so on their own. The Cambridge Department of Public Works will clear the sidewalks at no cost if residents in need of assistance add their name to the annual exemption list. In some smaller communities, especially those located in warmer climates that have less severe snow events, informal volunteerism may be relied upon.

Getting Organized

Working with property owners on sidewalk maintenance requires a clear and organized approach. The jurisdiction should establish multiple means of reporting problems, such as through websites, over the phone, and by employees, but just one person or unit should be responsible for responding to all of these reports. Just as importantly, this same person or unit needs to manage and monitor enforcement actions that are taking place.

4.2.5 Types of Enforcement Efforts

When property owners are required by law to maintain pedestrian facilities, enforcement through fines or other punitive measures should be used as a last resort. Fines will be one of the tools for enforcement, but should not be viewed or portrayed as a means of raising funds. The costs associated with a robust enforcement program are likely to be higher than the funds raised through fines. There are a number of strategies that can help establish and retain an effective enforcement effort. As with any enforcement effort, it is essential that enforcement information and protocols be clearly communicated to the public and within the agency including: which department (and contact person) within an agency is responsible for accepting reported problems and monitoring enforcement, the fines and notification periods for different types of maintenance, the standards expected for maintenance, and the options available for people who cannot perform maintenance.

In many communities a tiered enforcement approach is put into effect that makes use of warnings, but also cracks-down on chronic problems. For example, in Boulder a property owner is given a warning for the first incidence of non-compliance (per year/season) and then a ticket for the second non-compliance event. If the location is identified as a chronic issue the city may take more severe measures including conducting the maintenance themselves (or by contract) and billing the property owner for the work. Although this can work for many forms of property owner maintenance, providing a notification period for snow and ice removal is not recommended because of the immediate hazard confronted by pedestrians.

Enforcement for pedestrian maintenance can be aided by other employees of the agency. This involves the identification of problems by a range of public employees and is considered to be more proactive. Communities can train parking meter readers, parks employees or police, public works staff, and inspectors to be alert to and to report sidewalk accessibility issues and dangers. It is usually best if a public works employee – usually an inspector – then visits the property. The inspector can make a decision in the field, talk to the property owner, and process the paper work for a citation or fine if necessary. There can also be more proactive inspections after a major snowfall or on a schedule to identify problems that need an immediate response. By using the range of employees and reporting mechanisms, hazards can be reported and attended to sooner.

Reactive enforcement of problems is probably more common and involves just specified employees being called upon to issue a citation or fine for a recently reported problem. This often involves a two-step process when an inspector assesses the problem, and depending on the problem, some time may be given for an adjacent property owner to address it. This is especially true if a sidewalk needs to be repaired or replaced. Conversely, if a sidewalk is impassable because of snow and ice, an inspector or a public works employee might issue a fine on the spot.

Communication is a key element of an enforcement strategy. The strategy should contain methods that enhance on-going communication on how citizens and employees will resolve problems. Lines of communication can be formalized with neighborhood groups and business associations. The annual timing of messages is also important. For instance, communication should begin in the fall of the year regarding snow and ice removal while repair of sidewalks and vegetation control are subjects for the spring and summer seasons. This line and type of communication will help to remind longer-term residents, but will also inform new residents for the first time. The goal is compliance without instituting more time-consuming enforcement practices or relying on fines to affect maintenance efforts. There is more on communication in section 4.4.3.


A common enforcement tool for getting compliance from property owners is through the use of fines and is used primarily with day-to-day maintenance efforts. Charges can accrue daily for failure to comply with the order or it may be effective enough for the fine to simply cover the cost of crews to clear the sidewalk or make a repair. In other cases, because the goal is to move toward compliance; increasing fines over time can prompt residents to reason that they would rather shovel snow or trim bushes than face higher fines. A fee structure can include different fines for residential and commercial properties or for single family and multi-family housing. Recurring charges resulting in a lien on the property can be an effective strategy for encouraging property owners and managers to comply with requirements.

Snow removal compliance efforts are covered in more detail under 5.3.3, but in general successful enforcement programs should treat snow removal enforcement much like parking enforcement: violators are promptly fined and failure to pay the initial fee results in additional penalties; warning tickets are not recommended since it can elongate the time the sidewalk remains impassable to pedestrians and creates additional work for the agency.

Although enforcement is a key element for compliance, agencies must make reasonable exceptions and always tie education with enforcement. For instance, exceptions and longer compliance windows are especially necessary for significant snowfalls or ice storms. Communities that combine education efforts with enforcement efforts are more successful at having sidewalks attended to. See 5.3.3 of this guide on examples of education programs related to snow removal by adjoining property owners.

Innovative Enforcement
Boston, Massachusetts

According to Keeping it Clear – Recommendations for Sidewalk Snow and Ice Removal in Massachusetts by Walk Boston, even when there are adequate laws and ordinances, overall compliance might be negated by low manpower. In the City of Boston, the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) is responsible for issuing tickets for uncleared sidewalks. However, there are fewer than 15 code enforcement officers on staff and they cannot cover the entire city. As an example of a clever way to use other personnel who spend much of the day outside, the City of Cambridge recently gave parking enforcement officers the ability to ticket for uncleared sidewalks and that has resulted in a marked improvement in adjacent property owners clearing sidewalks.

4.3 Policies and Ordinances

It should be clear by now that the process of inspecting pedestrian facilities, deciding on actions to take, and working with (or issuing fines to) the public, requires strong policies and ordinances that clarify how facilities will be maintained and if adjacent property owners will be required to conduct maintenance on their own.

Most communities with pedestrian facilities will have at least some written maintenance policies, often through ordinances. The best way to develop policies is as part of writing a maintenance plan, but policies can also be established independently. They should cover the funding of sidewalks, inspection procedures and criteria, and responsibilities of property owners and the community. The policies will establish the overarching principles with direction to agency staff to carry out the specifics. It is likely that a complete set of adopted policies can have the same affect at directing pedestrian facility maintenance actions as does a plan. The City of St. Michael's sidewalk and trail maintenance policy is included in Appendix C.

One of the most important topics to cover in a policy is the general criteria used to determine when to repair and replace pedestrian facilities or address non-compliance of a standard level of service. These criteria will dictate when a repair should be made, a sidewalk replaced, vegetation trimmed, or snow and ice removed. The policy should address who is responsible for making repairs, and for regular chores such as clearing snow, ice, vegetation overgrowth, and debris.

The strongest policy will be written into an ordinance for passage by the jurisdiction's governing body; if the community is assessing property owners for installing or maintaining sidewalks or ramps this will almost always require an ordinance. In fact, some state statutes require the passage of an ordinance when special assessments are used. Ordinances carry more weight than plans and policies. The policies as suggested above will cover more facets of pedestrian facility maintenance than do ordinances. A plan will provide an even broader range of topics, measures and analysis, such as an inventory of facilities and a suggested prioritized scheme.

Sidewalk ordinances from the Cities of Des Moines, Iowa and Eau Claire, WI are included in appendices E and F. These ordinances cover the placement of sidewalks, inspection, construction standards, and obligations that these municipalities place on adjacent property owners for maintenance. Ordinances will vary from state to state and in those communities that have the responsibility of maintaining the sidewalks themselves, there will be no language requiring day-to-day maintenance.

4.4 Plans

Plans are the best way to cover all facets of pedestrian maintenance. They should be incorporated as an essential element of general maintenance plans. However, plans that are specific to just pedestrian facilities can provide important direction on timeliness, techniques and priorities, are encouraged. ADA transition plans are another excellent opportunity to incorporate the need for pedestrian facility maintenance. A community may also incorporate a section on pedestrian facility maintenance as part of community-wide pedestrian plan. For example, the City of Minneapolis' Pedestrian Master Plan15 included a chapter of maintenance of pedestrian facilities. All such plans need to be officially adopted by the jurisdiction that completes them. Developing these plans will provide an excellent opportunity to involve the public in the planning process including residents, homeowner associations, neighborhood groups, and business development associations and interests.

Pedestrian plans which address facility maintenance at the municipal level will communicate the agency's responsibilities as well as lay out what is expected of property owners. Additionally, they will cover the coordination necessary between jurisdictions and agencies for effective and timely maintenance. The following categories are recommended as the main sections of a pedestrian facility maintenance plan. Each is described in more detail below.

  • Prioritization and funding for maintenance
  • Goals, objectives, performance measures
  • Schedule for improvements
  • Communication and mechanisms for reporting problems
  • Inspection procedures (included in more detail under 4.1)
  • Documentation (addressed in more detail under 4.1.3)
  • Procedures for repair and replacement, including seasonal considerations
  • Identification and recommendations of major pieces equipment necessary for pedestrian facility maintenance

4.4.1 Inspection Criteria and Procedures

It is critical for a plan to establish how inspections will be done. This includes criteria that will be used to determine when to repair and replace pedestrian facilities, such as degree of displacements, cracking, holes surfacing problems, etc. A plan should also address who will inspect problems associated with snow, ice, vegetation overgrowth, and walkway and path debris. It is appropriate and helpful to identify the personnel (by job classification) expected to conduct the inspections and when and how it will take place – on a scheduled basis, in response to problems, or when street work or tree trimming is being conducted, or some combination.

4.4.2 Prioritization and Funding

Each community will need to balance its needs and funding for maintaining pedestrian facilities. It should have a clear policy for how it expects to schedule and fund walkways, especially if special assessments will be used to repair or replace sidewalks. One option is to identify specific sidewalk sections and curb ramps that need to be repaired or replaced, while another approach is to create a system for prioritizing repair and maintenance of pedestrian facilities.

If a plan is new, the first step is to conduct an inventory of facilities. The inventory should collect and organize critical information on the condition of pedestrian facilities including sidewalks, curb ramps, paths, median crossings, and pedestrian signals. Such an inventory can also be used to update or prepare ADA transition plans. Conversely, the development of an ADA transition plan can be an excellent opportunity to conduct a comprehensive inventory and establish priorities for maintenance.

Communities use two main options for funding pedestrian facility repairs. The preferred method is to fund such repairs through general road repair funds or the general fund. If the road in question is a state highway, the existence of a state complete streets policy can be used to negotiate a cost-share or full-funding arrangement – with the potential use of federal transportation funds – that brings pedestrian facilities into alignment with state maintenance of the roadway. However, in most states, it is common for local governments to assess the repair costs to adjacent property owners. This practice is grounded in English common law, but has become a barrier for installation and maintenance of adequate pedestrian facilities. Given the financial burden of changing this system, many communities use a combination of the two. For instance, a local government may pay for and conduct all of the temporary repairs to a deficient sidewalk and pay 50 percent of the costs for sidewalk replacement. It is also likely to pay for the entire cost of curb ramp replacement. If the option requires assessing the cost of the repair or replacement to adjacent property owners, a community's procedures should clearly cover the assessment procedures and provide a process for owners to dispute repairs and costs. Additional options should be spelled out which could allow residents to do the work themselves or hire a contractor. Funding priorities should be addressed in policies or ordinances; plans can focus on details or can include details on plans to look for additional funding. For more information on funding, see Chapter 7.

Transportation funds apportioned to a State to carry out the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) under MAP-21, may be used by a State to correct ADA and Section 504 (of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) deficiencies in its public-rights-of-way (e.g., sidewalks and curb ramps) identified in the State's ADA/Section 504 transition plan if the correction of ADA and Section 504 deficiencies identified is part of the construction of any Federal-aid highway project. The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), authorized under Section 1122 of MAP-21 (23 U.S.C. § 213), provides funding for projects or activities, including: transportation alternatives, as defined at 23 U.S.C. §101(a)(29); the recreational trails program under 23 U.S.C. § 206; the safe routes to school program under section 1404 of SAFETEA-LU; and the planning, design or construction of boulevards and other roadways largely in the right-of-way of former Interstate System routes or other divided highways. 23 U.S.C. § 213(b).

4.4.3 Communication

A plan can be an important way to communicate to the public and internally to its own employees about the importance of maintaining pedestrian facilities, and who will do what when. The plan will begin and should also enhance on-going communication on how residents and employees will resolve problems. On-going communication should run in sync with the seasons – begin in the fall of the year regarding snow and ice removal while repair of sidewalks and vegetation control are subjects for the spring and summer seasons.

A plan should establish procedures that follow in logical order for the public to understand and follow. This should cover how a community repairs facilities, pays for them (especially if assessing them to property owners), informs affected residents, does inspections, establishes projects annually, and schedules repairs. This is also an excellent document to address and communicate to the public what is expected of them for clearing snow and removing overgrown vegetation.

Finally, a good plan will establish a mechanism in how the jurisdiction deals with unforeseen circumstances and changes in conditions. A common change may be brought on by a budget shortfall. For example, resources might be stretched because of a severe winter that requires a greater use of maintenance funds for snow clearance than anticipated. Rather than eliminate all repairs, a discussion and process should be followed to address these changes. The plan could include a planned response, such as a reduction of sidewalk replacements coupled with greater attention to temporary repairs (hole and crack filling, wedging, grinding, horizontal cutting) to ensure the network remains safe until replacements can resume. The plan can also include provisions for responding to more unusual circumstances by specifying when a public works board or the city council itself should be called upon to make adjustments to the plan.

4.4.4 Documentation

The plan should outline documentation procedures. It is always helpful and legally defensible to document the reasons why actions were taken the way they were. If a community establishes reasonable procedures through a plan (or policies) and follows them only to have a mishap occur, community employees or its attorney can argue that all the appropriate procedures were in place based on the plan or set of policies established in the plan. Even when cuts in funding or staff has led to a diminution of services, if appropriate documentation shows a thoughtful and deliberate consideration of the re-prioritization of resources, this will serve the community in a better way than if no documentation was made.

4.4.5 Equipment

A plan is an excellent place to identify equipment needs for walkways and paths for the following purposes: repair and replacement of pavements, and the removal of snow, ice, vegetation and brush. This is especially important for communities that are taking on responsibilities for removing snow and ice on paths and sidewalks, where specialized equipment may be needed. Since equipment has an established expected life, and new equipment can add significantly to a budget, a plan can establish the timing for replacement or purchase of equipment that is not already in place. For example, often smaller-sized equipment or pick-up trucks mounted with plows can be used for paths, but those purchases (and the equipment to be attached to them) must also be identified and budgeted especially to respond to a change in policy or an expansion of snow removal responsibilities.

4.5 Conclusion

Communities must continue to make their pedestrian systems safer, more accessible and well-maintained. These three goals are inextricably linked as discussed and presented as recommendations in this chapter on inspection, compliance efforts, plans and policies. Simultaneously, many of these recommendations will lead to improved efficiencies and often cost savings for cities and other sidewalk maintaining authorities. Efforts to deal with funding issues and any changes in maintenance operations should be documented and shared with the community. The most effective way agencies can deal with a flat or declining budget for maintenance is to prioritize sidewalk, curb ramp and path repairs. A sufficient amount must always be kept available to respond to reported hazards that need immediate repair. Longer term sidewalk, curb ramp, and path replacement projects can be prioritized. This is often done by dividing communities into zones and working within a specific zone on an annual basis.

Compliance efforts are necessary when agencies require adjacent property owners to take on the responsibility of maintaining facilities in the public right-of-way, for example, the removal of snow and ice or the repair of sidewalks. In several sections of this chapter and guide, practices within communities were highlighted where just the opposite was in place – property owners not called upon to provide maintenance. Sidewalks are being viewed more and more by society as public facilities that serve people just like streets serve motorists and bicyclists. In the same way streets are being maintained, so should sidewalks. The time, cost, and effort associated with compliance and enforcement efforts can be reduced or eliminated as agencies assume more or all maintenance responsibilities for pedestrian facilities.

Clearly, agencies are obligated to make their pedestrian facilities accessible. Inspection criteria should be based on the ADA guidelines. ADA compliance is triggered when alterations are made, however, maintenance repairs may also present an opportunity to improve accessibility. A pedestrian facility maintenance program can work hand-in-hand with a program aimed at accessibility problems. Conversely, an ADA transition plan should also consider which pedestrian facilities are priorities for repair or replacement based on maintenance issues. For example, a transition plan should target and prioritize deficient curb ramps and sidewalks that are in need of maintenance anyway.

Anchor4 See Kinney v. Yerusalim, 9 F.3d 1067 (3d Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 511 U.S.C. 1033 (1994).

Anchor5"Question and Answers AboutADA/Section 504." U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. Accessed January 23, 2013.

Anchor6 Designing Sidewalks and Trails for Access – Part II of II. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. 2001.

Anchor7FHWA Office of Asset Management Memorandum, 2008.

Anchor8Paragraph 2 of Section 6A.01 in the MUTCD.

Anchor9 Paragraph 8 of Section 6G.05 in the MUTCD.

Anchor10 Paragraph 9 of Section 6G.05in the MUTCD.

Anchor11 Paragraph 7 of Section 6G.05 in the MUTCD.

Anchor12Paragraph 7 of Section 6G.05 in the MUTCD.

Anchor13 Item 2E in Paragraph 7 of Section 6B.01 in the MUTCD.

Anchor14 Item C in Paragraph 11 of Section 6D.01 in the MUTCD.

Anchor15City of Minneapolis Pedestrian Master Plan – 2009.