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What is a sidewalk?

A sidewalk is an area intended for pedestrian traffic on public roads; they are generally located between building facades and the edge of the roadway. Sidewalks are usually built on both sides of the street and are typically separated from them by curbs, which elevate the sidewalks a few centimeters higher than the road used by vehicles.

What are sidewalks for?

The main purpose of sidewalks is to provide pathways for pedestrian traffic that are separate from those intended for vehicular traffic; however, they can fulfill many other functions depending on their size and the needs in question. Some of these include setting up streetlights, signage, mailboxes, bus stops, kiosks, street markets, hospitality terraces, alcoves with trees or other form of vegetation, and so on.

What is the ideal size for a sidewalk?

The measurements of sidewalks may vary according to local legislation, the road’s capacities, the terrain conditions, and the motorized and pedestrian traffic on a particular street. The ideal minimum width of the area intended exclusively for pedestrian traffic on a sidewalk is usually at least 1.80 meters wide. There should also be 1.5 meters of space along the edge, whose main purposes are to provide space for the aforementioned accessory features on the sidewalk, as well as to ensure extra security separating pedestrians from any out-of-control vehicles. Commercial areas require wider sidewalks, which can range from 3.60 meters up to more than 12 meters wide.

These size requirements cannot always be met, typically due to complications related to the layout of an urban area that has developed beyond its original plan; an example would be streets that have been used since ancient times, when there wasn’t even any division for pedestrian traffic, pack animals, and carriages.

What materials are sidewalks made of?

The sidewalk material chosen will depend on aesthetic and financial considerations. Materials capable of withstanding traffic and the wear and tear of the elements are used. One of the most common ones is concrete, which is laid in sections (around 1.5 meters each). These divisions serve to relieve the stress that tectonic movements and temperature fluctuations can exert. Common types of sidewalks include pavement, cobblestones, paving, and blocks of different kinds used to create decorative patterns on the ground. 

What are the advantages of having a proper network of sidewalks?

A proper sidewalk layout can positively impact the quality of life for residents in aspects as fundamental as:

  • Health: walking is a low-impact physical activity that offers many health benefits. If an area’s residents have well-designed sidewalks, which facilitate pedestrian traffic, they will naturally feel able to walk more; moreover, the fewer motor vehicles in operation, the lower the emissions and the higher the air quality in the area.
  • Economy: local commerce benefits from increased pedestrian traffic, which at the same time has a positive impact on the area’s economic prosperity. It has been seen that wide sidewalks make it easier for passers-by to stop and see what’s on sale in shop windows, increasing the chances that something will catch their eye and they will enter the establishments.
  • Security: violence and lack of safety in urban areas are widely associated with social isolation. The sidewalk as a meeting space among an area’s residents promotes closeness and recognition of a community.
  • Accessibility: sidewalks with an appropriate slope and entrance and exit ramps make life easier for individuals with limited mobility. Tactile paving in specific areas, such as the edges of the sidewalk, or the guiding lines in the center of a walkway, help people with visual impairments orient themselves and avoid danger.

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