Sidewalks are an essential component of any community’s infrastructure, as they provide a way for pedestrians to move around the area without endangering themselves or others. There is a direct correlation between the width of a sidewalk and the security and convenience it provides its users.
On average, the width of a sidewalk ranges from 3 to 5 feet, with sidewalks located at the curb face must be 6 feet wide. However, the regulations concerning sidewalk widths can vary from place to place.
In this guide, I’ll explain the importance of sidewalk widths, the sidewalk regulations according to the ADA, and how sidewalks differ from walkways.
What Is a Sidewalk?
A sidewalk is a paved walkway next to a road or street that is used exclusively by pedestrians. To name just a few of their many benefits, sidewalks ensure pedestrians’ safety, increase foot traffic, and inspire people to take transit alternatives.
Sidewalks serve a variety of other important purposes, including but not limited to ensuring pedestrians’ safety, increasing foot traffic, and motivating people to take public transportation or walk instead of driving.
People walking to and from their homes, schools, and places of employment, as well as those out for a leisurely stroll or jog, frequently use sidewalks. They can be constructed from a variety of materials, including concrete, asphalt, or brick, and can be found on the shoulder of the road or in a dedicated right-of-way.
How Wide Is a Sidewalk?
Sidewalk widths are typically regulated by local or state governments through agencies such as departments of transportation or public works, so there are no nationwide standards. There are no federal guidelines for sidewalk widths; rather, these issues are handled on a local or state level by organizations like transportation or public works departments.
On average, the width of a sidewalk will measure between 3 feet (36 inches) and 5 feet (60 inches). It’s generally advised that sidewalks are built wider to accommodate multiple pedestrians at once.
Furthermore, the vertical surface of a curb, which is the raised edge of a sidewalk or roadway that separates the sidewalk or roadway from the adjacent grassy or landscaped areas, may be subject to stringent regulations in some jurisdictions. These walkways must be a minimum of 6 feet (72 inches) wide in some areas.
Sidewalk Regulations According to the ADA
To ensure the safety and mobility of people with disabilities, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has established a number of guidelines for the building and maintenance of sidewalks. Important rules regarding sidewalks include:
- Minimum width requirements: Unless a bike lane is present, a minimum sidewalk width of 3 feet (36 inches) is recommended. If the width of the sidewalk is less than 5 feet (60 inches), then passing areas measuring 6 feet (72 inches) wide must be built every 200 feet.
- Maximum slope requirements: A sidewalk’s slope should not exceed 1:20—that is, the height should not be more than 1 inch for every 20 inches of the length—to accommodate people with mobility impairments
- Curb ramps: At intersections and other areas with a grade difference, sidewalks should be equipped with curb ramps to accommodate people in wheelchairs or walkers.
- Detectable warning surfaces: Detectable warning surfaces should be installed at curb ramps, intersections, and other high-risk areas along sidewalks adjacent to streets or roads. These areas should be constructed from a material that can be felt by a blind person’s cane or feet.
- Handrails: Handrails of 34 to 38 inches in height should be installed on sidewalks with a slope greater than 1:12 to aid people with mobility impairments. Additionally, there should be sturdy handrails on both sides of the slope.
- Maintenance: All hazards and obstructions on sidewalks should be removed as soon as possible to ensure the safety of pedestrians.
Sidewalks vs. Walkways
While both sidewalks and walkways serve pedestrian traffic and are oftentimes used interchangeably, they are not always the same.
The location of a sidewalk or walkway is one key distinction between the two. Sidewalks are paved areas adjacent to roads and streets that serve pedestrians by providing a way for them to get from one place to another without having to navigate traffic. Walkways are not limited to public places; they can also be found in parks and gardens. They can be used for recreation or to link different parts of a property or neighborhood, and they aren’t always located near major thoroughfares.
The materials used to construct sidewalks and walkways are another point of distinction. Concrete, asphalt, or brick are common materials for sidewalks because they are strong and can withstand the weight of pedestrians. However, walkways can be constructed from several different materials that look nice and blend in with the surroundings.
The third distinction is the purpose of the sidewalk versus the walkway. The primary function of a sidewalk is to facilitate pedestrian traffic, so they are typically laid out in a way that allows pedestrians to pass one another easily. Walkways can be used for both leisurely strolls and practical purposes like getting from one part of a property or neighborhood to another. They could be planned with amenities like seating, lighting, and landscaping to make strolling along them more pleasurable.
There is no overarching set of rules that applies to walkways everywhere. That said, the rules that apply to a given walkway will depend on its specific location and circumstances. However, walkways may be subject to additional rules and regulations in specific contexts.
Walkways on private property, for instance, may be subject to zoning and building regulations that dictate things like the type of materials that can be used, the angle at which they must be built, and whether or not they must be equipped with handrails and other safety features.
The governing body tasked with maintaining a public park or other public space may impose regulations on a walkway if it is located within the space. Materials allowed, the width of the walkway, and the availability of amenities like benches and lighting are all examples of things that may be governed by such rules.
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