Sidewalk Design and Construction 

Liability losses for slips, trips, and falls for most municipalities are high due to the high frequency of incidents, resulting in a high accumulated loss value. Claims occurring in the summer are primarily due to tripping on cracks, separations, depressions or tree roots, or simply to a failure to notice elevation changes. As expected, most claims in the winter are attributable to ice and snow.

Quick Facts: 

  • Most municipal slip, trip and fall injuries occur on sidewalks
  • Injuries due to slips, trips and falls are among the leading causes of liability losses.
  • The majority of accidents involve senior citizens with reduced visibility and motor skills.
  • Accidents will likely increase as the population ages and the rate of lawsuits increases.

Sidewalk Design
Sidewalk design and construction methods will depend on each municipality's own combination of soil, weather and budget considerations. The following are guidelines for building sidewalks:

Base
● Use an appropriate base of soil or some other granular material to avoid cracking due to freezing and thawing
● If concrete is used, it should be air-entrained to allow for expansion and contraction
● Use a higher percentage of air if your municipality has a severe freeze-thaw cycle
● Paving stones can be used to provide more resistance to cracking, a more slip-resistant surface and increased visibility for the visually impaired
● Sidewalks with a separated curb gutter are less affected by street movement, since they provide room for snow storage during the winter
● Use surface materials that are resistant to damage from de-icing materials such as salt

Reinforcement
● An alternative rebar can be extended from the sidewalk through the curb
● Reinforced sidewalks over driveways and alleyway entrances prevent damage from vehicular traffic
● Mesh or rebar reinforcement can extend sidewalk life (however, it will also increase construction costs).

Grating and Steel Plating
● Where grating is used for utility access, the openings should be a maximum of 13 mm X 150 mm
● When using gratings with large openings for air and material flow, be sure to provide a safe path across, particularly if wearing footwear with a small heel
surface.

Each municipality should have a current inventory and condition assessment of its sidewalks including information on the location of various deficiencies. This inventory can be used to set priorities for repair and replacement, and the appropriate budget allocations for sustainable funding.

As with all good risk mitigation strategies, the implementation of a sidewalk inventory and assessment of condition policy may also provide valuable documentation and demonstrate due diligence if a claim should need to be defended in a court proceeding.

Inventory should be updated regularly to reflect new sidewalks added to the system as well as recent repairs and replacements. Sidewalk inventory can be combined with the inventory of other municipal assets.

A system capable of tracking customer inquiries and the response to those inquiries is also useful. With this information, the municipality can track the yearly status of the overall condition of the sidewalks and utilize it for budgeting purposes.

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