What factors should be considered when installing a new sidewalk or replacing a walkway?

Sidewalks are key walkways for people’s foot or bike traffic. Safety, accessibility, and maintenance are primary factors to be considered when installing a sidewalk. There are standards in sidewalk design that you should abide by, such as accessible widths (minimums) of lanes, implementation of buffers, surface texture, gentle sloping, etc.

 

There are a lot of ways to design a walkway. Determining the sidewalk width and primary use should be the principal focus during the planning stage. The more you think about the vision of the walkway, the better the outcome of the project will be. Here are some questions to ask yourself before beginning:

 

  • Will people use it while walking side-by-side?
  • Will children be using it to play and ride bikes on?
  • What kind of traffic will it potentially be seeing?
  • How visible is the intended area?
  • Are there points of interest along the walkway such as a garden?


Concrete walkways or sidewalks are more than just a way to get wherever it is you’re going—they can provide much-needed curb appeal to homes and buildings, and they are fast becoming a point of artistic expression with several decorative concrete options. Talk to your concrete contracting company to see what they offer and what the pricing is.

Concrete being poured from a mixer truck into a concrete with sidewalk

Concrete Sidewalk Table of Contents

What is the standard width of a front walkway?

How wide should a front sidewalk be? While site constraints often determine the width of your front walkway, ideally a front sidewalk at the street should be no less than 4 feet wide at its narrowest and no wider than 6 feet. At 4 feet, two people can walk side by side or pass each other comfortably.

 

Average human shoulder width is 18 inches. Allowing an extra 6 inches, the walk should be a minimum of 24 inches wide for one person. A Two Person Pedestrian Path is what it sounds like—a path where two people can walk in the same direction or different directions without bumping into one another.

Auxiliary Walkways

Auxiliary walkways generally only need to accommodate one person at a time and therefore 24”  is essentially all you really need. This seems a bit narrow for some scenarios so we generally bump them up to 36”-48”.

Sidewalk expansion and control joints.

Expansion joints should be placed at 16-foot to no more than 20 foot intervals. Control joints should be 4-5 feet apart. Expansion joints are put in place before the concrete is poured. 

Expansion joints are used to allow the slab to move and not put stress on whatever it abuts. These joints are placed where a slab meets a building, where a slab meets another slab, and where a pool deck meets the coping.

Control joints are planned cracks which allow for movements caused by temperature changes and drying shrinkage. In other words, if the concrete does crack-you want to have an active role in deciding where it will crack and that it will crack in a straight line instead of randomly.

 

 

What is the best thickness of a sidewalk?

The standard thickness for a general use concrete sidewalk is four inches. The purpose of your sidewalk is the main determining factor of the thickness you need. Typical sidewalks provide a smooth solid surface for foot traffic and light-weight wheel traffic like bicycles and handcarts. 

Your concrete contractor will most likely use 2×4 lumber to construct the forms, giving you the needed thickness.

All sidewalks should be at least four inches thick, except where automobile driveways cross the same, in which case the sidewalks shall be at least six inches in thickness for residential driveways.

Cement truck mixer pouring fresh concrete on reinforced cement sidewalk

Standards for walkway concrete materials and construction.

All sidewalks and residential driveways should be constructed of concrete using a minimum of 3500 to 4000 PSI, a combination of 3/4 blend of sand, stone and cement and also 6 to 7% air included in the mix.. 

 

Subgrades should be constructed true to grade, so the concrete is of even thickness The subsoil or grade shall be compacted to about 90 percent density and shall be wet down immediately prior to the placement of concrete. Crushed ¾ “ stone is a good sub base as is recycled crushed concrete for a cheaper option.

 

Air entrained concrete is very important for any concrete exposed to cold or freezing weather conditions. Air-entrained concrete contains billions of microscopic air cells per cubic foot. These air pockets relieve internal pressure on the concrete by providing tiny chambers for water to expand into when it freezes. Keeping your concrete from spalling or scaling at the surface.

 

Slopes and sidewalks

Primary residential walkways generally should not slope more than 2% unless it is designed for wheelchair access. Any slope greater than 2% can be dangerous when covered in ice. Auxiliary walkways can have slopes up to 5%, but if it is well-used consider adding steps if ice can be a problem.

 

All walkways should have some slope to ensure proper drainage. So, how do you know if your walkway is exceeding 2% slope? A 2% drop over a distance of 10 feet (120 inches) is 2.4 inches. If your walkway drops more than 2.4 inches over 10 feet, you know you are over 2% (drop ÷ distance x 100 = % slope). The old rule of a ¼” of an inch per foot is still good today.

 

Whenever your slope exceeds 2%, use steps in your design. The key to the proper use of steps is to keep them all at a consistent height. 6 – 7 inches is the preferred height, while we consider anything less than 4 inches a trip hazard.

Looking down sidewalk with overhanging trees through thick fog

Removal of trees for sidewalk construction.

Trees existing within the sidewalk area should be removed prior to sidewalk installation, if deemed to be a problem with the sidewalk in the future. Tree roots can lift the sidewalk, causing a tripping hazard. 

 

A good rule of thumb is no tree trunk within 4-6 feet of a sidewalk for trees that grow taller than 20 feet when mature. 

How wide is an ADA sidewalk?

For ADA compliance, the minimum sidewalk width is 36 inches (3 feet), though sidewalks can be wider. If sidewalks are less than 60 inches (5 feet) wide, passing spaces must be constructed every 200 feet.

Do you have to install ADA ramps at the curb?

The ADA requires curb ramps and ramps to be installed along any accessible route in a public area, along a path where there’s a change in height greater than ½ inch. It is best to check with your township to find out their rules on ADA sidewalk ramps.

Is ADA compliance mandatory?

Not for residential dwellings. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires businesses to make reasonable accommodations for those with recognized disabilities, but only if those businesses fall within the ambit of the law. If your business is on the small side or doesn’t cater to the public, it may not need to comply with the ADA.

Alternative and decorative sidewalk finish options.

While standard gray concrete is the most often surface installed, as seen on most concrete sidewalks, there are many decorative concrete alternatives sure to spice it up, transforming your sidewalk from drab to dramatic.

 

  • Stamped Concrete

Stamped concrete has become the most popular decorative surface treatment for concrete walkways.

 

  • Stenciled Concrete

Stenciling can be a great alternative to decorative stamping while permitting similar design flexibility.

 

  • Exposed Aggregate Finishes

Sidewalks often incorporate this colorful pebble-like finish not only for its beauty but also for its highly slip-resistant walking surface.

 

  • Decorative Concrete Scoring and Saw cutting

With concrete saws or hand tools, permanent patterns can be sawed or grooved into a walkway or sidewalk surface.

 

  • Colored Concrete

There’s no need to go with a plain gray concrete walkway with the many options available today for installing permanent color in cement. Coloring is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to beautify a sidewalk.



Conclusion

Concrete sidewalks may be something we take for granted, but when constructing them the right way, a little thought goes a long way. We hope you find this article helpful. 

 

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