Smooth Sidewalk Edges Create Safer Neighborhood Walks

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Henry Dunbar Tweet Us @WalkArlington@WalkArlington January 22, 2018

Henry Dunbar is the Director of Operations for Active Transportation. He is a year-round bike commuter and wants to make it easy for everyone to get around by whatever mode they choose, except driving alone which should be harder.

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Sidewalks are being made safer with this simple and cost-effective maintenance technique performed by Arlington County's Department of Environmental Services.

While on a December jog in my South Arlington neighborhood, I was pleasantly surprised to see many of the concrete sidewalk squares with neatly shaved edges. It really is the little things that mean a lot, especially to people with limited mobility. Previously, these had settled and/or risen to become tripping hazards, which had brought me down more than once (Full disclosure: yes I’m a klutz).

Following my run, I learned about a Street Maintenance program managed by Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services (DES) that maintains overall concrete maintenance in addition to paving and street markings. Dave Hundelt, Chief Support Engineer of the Water, Sewer, Streets Bureau explained, “The process of shaving is a horizontal concrete saw that cuts a wedge out of the sidewalk. It is effective for many situations and is a cost savings vs. traditional remove and replace of full sections of sidewalk.”

The County did a few hundred repairs during several pilot phases over the past few years. With this repair method being substantially cheaper than replacement, more of this kind of repair will be seen on our sidewalks.

“In many cases, these are a direct response to the 311 requests we’ve gotten for areas with tripping hazards,” Hundelt said. “We are transitioning to using this process for our ‘zone’ maintenance system, where we visit a neighborhood or group of neighborhoods about every decade to do routine concrete maintenance and do the heavier remove and replace concrete maintenance in concert with the paving program.”

However, Hundelt cautioned that shaving off the edges won’t work in all situations. “Areas such as tree roots are not always possible to fix with this approach, or at least we know the solution won’t be permanent, if the tree keeps growing and heaving the sidewalk further,” he said.

Safer Walks for People of All Ages and Abilities

I know from experience that these little fixes can go a long way toward making a walk a pleasant experience. Years ago, foot surgery put me on crutches for several weeks. It was during that phase of being mobilitychallenged that I became acutely aware of how the slightest unevenness in the ground could be catastrophic to not only me but people of all abilities. Wheelchairs also have a rough time with these uneven surfaces. Though I am back to being fully mobile, I still appreciate the smoother plane made with these saws.

“We piloted this technique several years ago in Ballston, Clarendon-Courthouse, Arlington Village, and parts of Lyon Village as part of both zone maintenance and 311 responses,” Hundelt said. “It is not a perfect solution, a few of those where trees are part of the issue have regrown into tripping hazards, but many remain very good solutions.”

This new technique appears to be a very good solution to me. Now with my somewhat new and improved sidewalks, my runs and walks will be much less hazardous. If I happen to trip now, it will likely be over my own feet and not the sidewalk.

How to Report Sidewalk Issues

Do you have some sidewalks in your neighborhood that need some attention? Contact Arlington County by using their Report a Problem tool (click “Streets” then “Sidewalk Repair”).

Photo Credit:

Sam Kittner/

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