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FHWA Highway Safety Programs

8 Conclusion

This guide is one of the first of its type to research pedestrian facility maintenance practices nationwide and to suggest recommended practices based on that research. Pedestrian facilities that were selected for this study include sidewalks, paths, curb ramps, crosswalks, signals, and signs and constitute the primary set of facilities that are used by pedestrians on a daily basis.

The guide provides a comprehensive set of reasons to support the maintenance of pedestrian facilities ranging from safety to access to liability. One of the main challenges conducting research and developing the guide was the variation in practices throughout the country. There is no simple way to explain how and to what extent pedestrian facilities are maintained in the United States because the quality and timing of maintenance, inspection standards, funding, and even ownership of facilities varies considerably across the country. Practices of over a hundred agencies, including cities, villages, counties, state transportation agencies, and homeowners associations were studied. The research identified many examples where a municipality or a state agency is the maintaining authority for all aspects of pedestrian maintenance. However, the research also identified many examples where pedestrian facility maintenance becomes the responsibility of adjacent property owners; this shift changes the dynamic of pedestrian facility maintenance and causes the need for enforcement processes to be put in place to ensure consistent and timely maintenance.

The most variation in maintenance practices occurred between states. Several state transportation departments (Alaska and Florida) and many communities assumed total control of sidewalks and paths including winter maintenance. On the other end of the spectrum, many agencies simply considered sidewalks as strictly a property owner responsibility and provided little or no maintenance. A significant percentage of agencies simply relied on reported mishaps or serious problems before they addressed maintenance of sidewalks.

Maintenance of pedestrian facilities is split into two broad categories: day-to-day maintenance (sweeping, vegetation removal, and snow/ice removal, etc.) and structural maintenance requiring repair work (patching, wedging, minor sidewalk replacement, etc.). As sidewalk replacement increases in scope and scale, the activity moves beyond the common definition of maintenance. There are a number of deformation forces which impact the condition of sidewalks and paths. These forces cause cracking, heaving, or sinking of pavements which will ultimately affect the surface quality, and in many cases, present immediate hazards to pedestrians. Inspection is one of the most important aspects of a maintenance program and perhaps the one element that has changed the most in the past 10 years with improved technology, methods and changes in inspection criteria.

Maintenance projects do not automatically trigger the need bring the pedestrian facility up to current ADA standards. However, maintenance activities provide opportunities to comply with ADA and should be used to make facilities as accessible as possible. The guide supports the use of the ADA criteria as the best source of standards related to cross-slope, running grade, displacements, and other measurers. The guide also acknowledges that not every maintenance repair can comply with every ADA standard.

There are common forms of maintenance repair for sidewalks and paths. Each repair has an appropriate use and a typical lifespan. Sidewalks and paths are the focus of much of this guide because they represent the vast majority of the pedestrian system. However, curb ramps have the same set of maintenance issues as sidewalks and paths plus additional maintenance considerations related to the detectable warning fields (truncated domes). The maintenance of markings is also important and is the major maintenance need for crosswalks. The type of marking material – paint, epoxy, thermoplastic, tape – used will be a major factor in how often the marking will have to be maintained to achieve an acceptable level of conspicuity.

The types of funding used for maintenance facilities have broadened somewhat in the past 20 years. However, in simple terms, the maintenance of pedestrian facilities is covered by a community's or agency's general fund, through special assessments, or directly by adjacent property owners when they provide maintenance themselves – especially for day to day maintenance such as snow and ice removal. State and federal funds rarely cover maintenance costs. The research for this guide has uncovered several new and innovative methods to pay for maintenance. Many agencies are requiring adjacent property owners to pay for repairs of sidewalks, particularly the replacement of sidewalk sections and the day-to-day maintenance of sidewalks and curb ramps. Although this is often an effective way of providing safer and more accessible facilities, there are legitimate concerns about the equity of these arrangements. In many communities streets are maintained by various maintaining agencies, but sidewalks that fall within the same right-of-way become the responsibility of adjacent property owners. Shifting to a system where all sidewalk repairs – especially sidewalk replacements – are totally funded by the maintaining agency responsible for the street will be a funding challenge, but communities have succeeded at making this switch.

The best approach to reducing the cost of maintaining pedestrian facilities is to build pedestrian facilities with maintenance in mind. Sidewalks and paths with a suitable base course and pavement thickness will last longer than those that are not well constructed. Concrete surfaces that have been properly finished with a very slight cross-slope will provide slip resistance and shed water (which can become ice). The placement and selection of the type of street trees will have a profound effect on how the trees' root systems will impact sidewalks and paths and require maintenance.

There are many pedestrian facility maintenance topics that need be further studied. State and local laws and ordinances have a considerable effect on how agencies treat sidewalk maintenance. The research conducted for this guide uncovered the labyrinth of laws and practices for a number of states, but did not provide a state-by-state comparison or an assessment of how those laws were being put in practice. Another topic for continued study involves keeping abreast of new technologies that will continue to improve the efficiency and accuracy of inspections. Finally, an entire mini-guide could be written on how street trees impact sidewalks and how sidewalk replacement can be handled to increase the survivability of trees.

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 guide. Simultaneously, many of the recommendations in this guide will lead to improved efficiencies and often cost savings for communities and agencies charged with maintenance.