12 - Maintaining Pedestrian and Bicycling Facilities
Published: January 20, 2023
This chapter describes approaches to maintaining safe, comfortable, and accessible walkways and bikeways year-round through routine asset management and seasonal maintenance. Communities generally maintain on-street bikeways as part of routine street maintenance. However, sidewalks, separated bike lanes, and shared use paths require dedicated maintenance activities and, in some cases, equipment.
12.2 Management Approaches
Non-winter maintenance is broadly placed into two categories: infrastructure repair and year- round maintenance. Both types of maintenance should be supported by a robust inspection and compliance program. The Roadway Infrastructure Maintenance Responsibility Manual (RIMR) establishes all roadway infrastructure maintenance responsibilities throughout the state. In addition, WBO’s Maintenance Overview specifically summarizes the maintenance responsibility and activities for pedestrian and bicycle facilities as well as local and national sidewalk maintenance case studies. In addition, the report summarizes maintenance funding opportunities available to local governments.
12.2.1 Inspections/Rating system
Routine inspections and rating systems track pavement conditions of shared use paths, separated bike lanes, and sidewalks. The goal of a rating system is to build a program of surface maintenance which extends facility life, delaying expensive reconstruction projects and thereby saving money over the long run. No matter the surface of the facility (asphalt, concrete, gravel), these types of inspections should be completed on an annual or biennial basis for shared use paths and separated bike lanes, and every three to 10 years for sidewalks.
Inspection programs for sidewalks are described in detail in Chapter 4 of the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Guide for Maintaining Pedestrian Facilities for Enhanced Safety.1 This includes inspection criteria, ADA requirements, and types of inspection programs. Inspection and maintenance should be coordinated with ODOT’s Transportation Asset Management Plan.
12.3 Types of Maintenance
Year-round maintenance activities include pavement marking and sign repair, pavement preservation, vegetation management, and sweeping.
12.3.1 Signal, Signing, and Pavement Markings
Signing and pavement markings on and along pedestrian and bicycle facilities should be maintained to be clear and legible allowing these facilities to function safely and comfortably. Similarly, traffic signals on and along pedestrian and bicycle facilities shall be inspected a minimum of one time annually to ensure reliable function and identify signals and equipment to be replaced before failure. TEM Section 260, 360, and 460 provide inspection and maintenance guidance for signing, pavement markings, and signals respectively for roadways, which can also be applied to separated bike lanes and shared use paths. Facilities should be inspected per this guidance and repaired or replaced when necessary.
12.3.2 Street Buffer Treatments and Sidewalk Buffer Amenities
Vertical objects placed within a separated bicycle lane street buffer may be struck by motor vehicles and require regular replacement. Maintenance and operation crews should plan on replacing vertical objects placed in the buffer zone, refreshing pavement markings, and trimming any adjacent vegetation on a regular basis. If vertical objects are struck with significant regularity, adjustments to the design should be considered.
Other elements along walkways and bikeways that are provided to address pedestrian and bicyclist safety and comfort, such as lighting, benches, trash receptacles, etc., should also be inspected on a regular basis to ensure they are in good working condition, and when appropriate these elements should be repaired and/or replaced. Small plaques may be affixed to these elements, or signs added at trailheads, providing a method for the public to report damaged amenities.
12.3.3 Asphalt Paths and Separated Bike Lanes
Asphalt is the most common surface type for shared use paths and separated bike lanes. As discussed in Section 5.3.9, shared use paths are typically designed to accommodate less loading than a roadway; however, as pavement section thickness decreases, the susceptibility to cracking, settlement, and root uplift typically increases. In northern climates like Ohio, these facilities should be built with a minimum of 4.5 inches of Asphalt Concrete on 6 inches of aggregate base. Eventually all bicycle facilities must be reconstructed, but with proper maintenance techniques, it can be delayed up to 40 years. To extend the life of the pavement and maintain a smooth rideable surface, a regular maintenance schedule such as the one shown in Figure 12-1 should be adopted. Table 12-1 illustrates the relative costs of maintaining asphalt bicycling facilities.
Figure 12-1: Example shared use path maintenance schedule for a 38-year design life
Table 12-1: Construction costs for typical asphalt pavement surfaces
Relative costs: $ = Thousands, $$ = Tens of Thousands, $$$ = Hundreds of Thousands
Crack sealing extends the life of asphalt by diverting water from seeping through cracks that leads to erosion of the base layer of the pavement. The process of crack sealing includes blowing out debris with compressed air, heating the crack face with a lance, and then filling it with sealant. Sealants should be rubberized to seal the crack while staying flexible with the pavement’s movement. Crack sealing should be applied within the first five years of pavement construction to achieve the maximum benefit, and then reapplied as needed thereafter. A layer of paper placed on top of crack sealing allows wheeled and foot traffic to continue after its application.
Figure 12-3: Reserved for Future Use
Microsurfacing is a thin (1/4 – 3/8 inches thick) surface coat of cold applied paving mixture composed of polymer-modified asphalt emulsion, 100 percent crushed aggregate, mineral filler, water, and other additives. Microsurfacing is used to retard raveling and oxidation, fill ruts, reduce the intrusion of water, improve surface friction, and remove minor surface irregularities.
Figure 12-4: A shared use path with fresh microsurfacing.
(Photo credit: Three Rivers Park District)
In instances where the pavement base materials are still intact and undamaged, asphalt can be overlaid on top of the existing asphalt. If existing asphalt is damaged on the surface but intact farther down, the top layer may be milled down (or scarified) before a new layer of asphalt is placed. The purpose of milling is to provide a stable asphalt base so that existing cracks do not reappear through the new layer. Besides reconstruction, asphalt overlays are the most expensive type of surface maintenance. However, it is still an effective way to extend the life of a shared use paths and separated bike lanes in the same way it’s used for roadway maintenance, since all of the existing material does not have to be removed or recycled, and a new base layer of aggregate does not have to be laid.
Figure 12-5: An asphalt overlay on top of an existing asphalt path, which previously had a deteriorated
Shared use path and separated bike lane reconstruction is the process of entirely removing and/or recycling an existing pavement that has deteriorated to the point where it can no longer be maintained
If vertical surface discontinuities develop in the pavement, the pavement should be repaired appropriate to provide a smooth walking and biking surface:
- If they are less than 0.5 inches in depth, the surface may be beveled with a slope not steeper than 50 percent. The bevel shall be applied across the entire vertical surface.
- If they are more than 0.5 inches in depth, they may cause a ripping hazard and should be reconstructed to smooth out the surface.
12.3.4 Concrete Paths
Where concrete is used for shared use paths, FHWA’s Guide for Maintaining Pedestrian Facilities for Enhanced Safety2 provides a comprehensive discussion for maintenance. The guide includes information on surfacing issues, grades, cross slopes, curb ramps, concrete patching, wedging, grinding, horizontal cutting, slab-jacking, and panel replacement.
12.3.5 Vegetation Management
Maintenance of vegetation next to sidewalks, shared use paths, and separated bike lanes is necessary both above and below ground to ensure the functionality and long-term condition of these paths are maintained.
Above ground mowing and pruning
Routine trimming, mowing, and pruning of vegetation contributes to the aesthetics and user safety. These activities should be performed on a regular basis to keep sight lines clear and the areas free from obstructions. Agencies should also be prepared to respond to specific complaints of low- hanging branches or downed trees as needed. When performing maintenance activities, the area should generally be cleared for 2 ft. on each side, as well as a height of 10 ft. clearance. Trees that are diseased can affect the safety of facility users—if they fall they may interfere with sight distances, clearance, or lighting. If they have the potential to fall on a walkway or bikeway, they should be removed. If they don’t, they should remain undisturbed to preserve natural aesthetics and habitat for wildlife.
Below ground roots
Below ground tree and shrub roots may affect the pavement surface due to their proximity or size. In the case of asphalt pavement, roots can cause the surface to raise-up and create abrupt bumps and ripples that affect ADA compliance for pedestrians, serve as tripping hazards, and can create severe rideability issues for wheeled users. A root barrier can be used to help prevent root uplift, which can be installed as part of the original installation or as part of pavement spot repairs. A certified arborist should be consulted regarding tree proximity and health before root barriers are installed. Walkways and bikeways can also be routed around vegetation, or trees and shrubs may be removed during the design or maintenance process.
When root uplift does occur, sidewalks are often ground down at the root uplift to remove the surface discontinuity, but asphalt pavement typically needs to be milled and may require reconstruction to correct root uplift issues. Where the installation of root barriers is not desired due to tree health or proximity, another typical treatment for asphalt areas with root uplift damage is to replace the damaged area with pervious pavement surfaces such as rubberized pavement or pervious asphalt. The pervious surfaces will allow stormwater to reach the tree roots and reduce the damaging uplift; however, these areas will still require regular maintenance to correct surface deformations that are likely to continue.
Routine sweeping of walkways and bikeways is necessary in areas with overhanging trees and shrubs to remove leaves which may obscure potholes and other surface irregularities and which when wet or froze become slick and become dangerous to bicyclist ability to stop or control their direction of travel. Where walkways or bikeways intersect with gravel roads or driveways, these locations should be regularly swept to keep the pedestrian and bicycle path free of gravel. It is preferable that paved approaches or aprons be provided to reduce gravel spread and overall maintenance needs where these conditions are present. Bikeways should also be swept immediately following a large storm events and where sand is spread for traction in winter and where facilities meet roads where sand is spread.
Large-scale sweeping efforts are most effective with special sweeping equipment, such as broom attachments for utility vehicles. Broom attachments can also be used for snow during winter maintenance. Sweeping on walkways and bikeways is typically handled by local agency maintenance staff, while sidewalk sweeping is usually carried out by adjacent property owners. Special service districts (or business improvement districts) will sometimes include sweeping services, and coordination with these districts should occur to find local opportunities to maintain specific facilities in their district.
12.4 Winter Maintenance
Winter maintenance activities include before, during, after winter precipitation techniques, equipment, design, and transit stops. Districts and local jurisdictions should develop a snow maintenance plan for the bicycle network to help prioritize which corridors are of higher importance to clear first, for example main routes to transit, work centers, or major destinations. As new bikeways are added to the network, the maintenance plan should be updated to account for the new facilities. The snow maintenance plan should also identify the equipment needed to maintain each bikeway so that the equipment deployment is understood and organized as part of the regular equipment deployment
Like for motorists, the safest walking and bicycling surface for pedestrians and bicyclists is bare pavement. Achieving bare pavement may require action before, during, and after winter precipitation.
- Before: Pre-treating paths, walkways, or bikeways with salt brine or ice bite will lower the temperature at which liquid freezes, often keeping pavement surfaces wet and reducing the formation of ice.
- During: Clearing accumulated precipitation often prevents footsteps and bicycle tires from packing snow onto surfaces.
- After: Clearing snow and ice with equipment and spreading material (e.g., sand and salt) speeds melting and improves traction.
Liquid anti-icing mixtures such as salt brine and the beet-based ice bite are often used to pre- treat walkways and bikeways before a winter storm. Pre-treating or anti-icing offers many benefits over de-icing (i.e., applying salt after a snow storm), including faster salt activation and quicker melting, lower melting temperature, better salt penetration, and reduced salt loss due to a lower “bounce and scatter” rate, which saves money and reduces environmental impacts by using less material. Applying too much salt as a winter treatment can be harmful to the local ecosystem as it eventually ends up in our lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands. High levels of salt in waterways pollutes water supplies and is harmful to fish and other aquatic life. Once salt is in our waterways, it does not break down.
Figure 12-6: Sweeping leaves off a shared use path.
(Source: City of Brooklyn Center, MN)
Figure 12-7: Anti-icing spray after it has been applied to a buffered bike lane
Timing of snow and ice removal efforts is also an important consideration. Sometimes winter precipitation begins with rain, and with a subsequent drop in temperature, ends with ice and/or snow. Cold air often follows winter precipitation, freezing liquid into ice on a walkway or bikeway. To achieve bare pavement in these scenarios, keep the following in mind:
- If rain falls before ice or snow, spreading salt is ill-advised because rain will wash it away. Rain can also push salt into storm sewers and bodies of water, causing unnecessary harm to the water supply.
- If rain and snow has turned to slush, remove the combination from walkways and bikeways before the temperature falls very far below freezing. Otherwise this precipitation will stay frozen in place as long as sub-freezing temperatures persist.
Equipment for maintaining walkways and bikeways varies widely, from snow shovels to plows attached to pick-up trucks (see Figure 12-8). Operators also vary, from pedestrians and tractor operators to licensed drivers. Unlike roads, walkways, and separated bikeways (i.e., shared use path, side paths, separated bike lanes) are narrow facilities that may require smaller vehicles and lighter maintenance vehicles.
Figure 12-8: Variety of Maintenance Vehicles
Pickup truck with plow
Approximate Width: 8.5 ft./2.6 meters
Walkway/Bikeway Facility Types: Trails, side paths, 2-way separated bike lanes
Skid loader with snow blower
Approximate Width: 4 ft./1.2 meters
Walkway/Bikeway Facility Types: Walkways, trails, side paths, 2-way separated bike lanes, 1-way separated bike lanes
Miniature tractor with snow blower
Approximate Width: 4 ft./1.2 meters
Lawn mower tractor (converted to winter maintenance vehicle) with broom
Maintenance vehicle attachments such as plows, blowers, and brooms are vital pieces of winter equipment. Plows may be attached to many different types of vehicles and are used for pushing aside snowfalls of about 2 inches or more. Blowers and brooms are attached to smaller pieces of equipment. Blowers move large snowfalls (6 inches or more) and are also routinely used to move windrows, which are compacted piles of snow left over from road plows. Brooms are used to achieve a bare pavement surface and are typically used for snowfalls of 2 inches or less. Brooms may also be used to achieve bare pavement after plows or blowers have passed. Salt and sand spreaders may also be attached to maintenance vehicles.
Several preventative measures can be taken during the design phase of a project to make winter walking and bicycling more feasible. Through careful design, walkways and bikeways can be engineered to avoid issues such as poorly drained facilities becoming icy and slippery because of the freeze/thaw cycle that often follows a winter precipitation event. As shown in Figure 12-9, designers should ensure that the areas next to the bikeway or walkway are graded away from the walking or biking surface, and that adequate drainage infrastructure should be provided to prevent standing water. For maintenance considerations for the placement of vertical elements in the street buffer along separated bicycle lanes, see Section 6.3.7.
Whenever possible, curb ramps should be located at the high point of an intersection to avoid standing water, and if this isn’t possible, ADA compliant storm drain grates should be provided immediately upstream from the curb ramps.
When possible, snow should be stored in the space between a road and a sidewalk or shared use path. The dimensions will depend upon the given community’s climate, but typically these areas range from 4 ft. to 8 ft. in width. Where there is no space for snow storage, designers should consult with the jurisdiction’s maintenance staff to make plans to address snow storage or off-site removal.
Several communities have retrofitted separated bike lanes that are located at street-level between existing curbs. When these facilities are located down-slope from the crown of a road, snow often melts and re-freezes into icy patches across bike lanes. To prevent this from occurring, snow should be removed from between the travel lanes and bike lanes instead of using this space for snow storage. The preferred long-term solution is to redesign the street to drain snowmelt away from separated bike lanes as shown in Section 6.3.7 - Drainage.
Figure 12-9: Removing snow from the buffer zone prevents snowmelt from refreezing across a separated bike lane
12.4.4 Transit stops
Transit stops may see high amounts of foot traffic in winter, making snow and ice removal on nearby walkways critical. Good winter maintenance near transit stops improves safety by keeping pedestrians out of the street and other dangerous areas. The clearing of snow at transit stops and on the walkways used to access transit stops is essential for maintaining access and is required to maintain ADA compliance.
Each community and agency should develop a well-defined understanding of who is responsible for maintaining transit stops. The responsible party may be state or municipal crews, transit agency crews, or adjacent property owners. While some communities have volunteer programs3, the most important principle is providing consistent and reliable maintenance that allows transit users to walk to and from their stops.
12.5 Additional Resources
The following resources provide information about the importance of active transportation facility maintenance:
- Cycling in Cities Opinion Survey4 – for data about how factors like routes with ice/snow, glass/ debris, and potholes/uneven paving deter adult bicyclists.
- Severity of Urban Cycling Injuries and the Relationship with Personal, Trip, Route and Crash Characteristics5 – to understand the role that collisions with potholes, rocks, roots, leaves, and ice play in emergency room visits at hospitals.
- Winter Maintenance Resource Guide6 – for answers to questions like, “Do people walk and bike in snowy and icy conditions?”, “Why do people walk and bike in winter?”, “Will more people walk and bike if infrastructure is clear of snow and ice?”, and “Does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require snow removal on walkways?”
Chapter 12 Endnotes
- A Guide for Maintaining Pedestrian Facilities for Enhanced Safety - FHWA
- A Guide for Maintaining Pedestrian Facilities for Enhanced Safety - FHWA
- Cycling in Cities - Opinion Survey
- Severity of Urban Cycling Injuries and the Relationship with Personal, Trip, Route and Crash Characteristics
- Winter Maintenance Resource Guide