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Rubber Sidewalks Give Commuters Comfort and Safety
Tuesday, January 16, 2007 12:11 PM

SidewalkJust ask any woman commuter. Stilettos and concrete are murder on your feet.


Now imagine walking on downtown sidewalks that bounce as you step on them.


Pedestrians in 65 cities – including Seattle, Chicago, and Baltimore, are testing these shock-absorbing rubber sidewalks. The photo above is Pratt Street in Baltimore, Md., which installed 2,000 square feet of rubberized sidewalks last October.


Texas has yet to come on board, but we look forward to them coming on board,” said Lindsay Smith, owner of Rubbersidewalks Inc. in Gardena, Calif. “And we think Houston will be the first.”


Smith added that coincidentally, someone from the Houston Parks and Recreation Department inquired about rubberized sidewalks the same day I called.


In 2006, the company received 30 formal requests for quotes, translating into $950,000 in potential sales and close to 90,000 potential square feet of rubberized sidewalk, said Dan Joyce, vice president of marketing at Rubbersidewalks.


Interested Texas parties include developers, Lee College in Baytown, San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Memorial Club Townhouses Association Inc., and the City of Hunters Creek Village, added Joyce. The American Red Cross chapter in Orange, Tx., has a test sidewalk of 950 square feet on its property.


Made from recyclable tires, rubberized sidewalks are a modular, interlocking system that can be used to replace broken concrete around tree roots.


Sidewalk“It’s the only system that allows a city to manage its sidewalks,” said Smith. “Concrete cannot be managed – it survives or breaks, and when it breaks, it becomes very expensive and very dangerous. Cities are tired of replacing broken concrete and tired of people getting hurt on broken sidewalks.”


The spongy texture is also easy on aging joints and knees – great for commuters who walk to bus or train stops and stand and wait. “It’s infinitely safer and more comfortable to walk on…and stand on,” said Smith.


Besides the comfort factor, consider the environmental pluses: Although the initial cost is one-third more than concrete, every 5 feet of rubber pavers keeps five tires out of landfills. Four-hundred square feet of rubberized sidewalk saves more than two tons of waste tire rubber from clogging our landfills.


And since the material is porous, rainwater seeps into the ground, reducing runoff in our storm sewers. For Houstonians who weathered Tropical Storm Allison and Hurricane Rita, that aspect makes rubber sidewalks even more comforting.   


On another note:

The Q card is coming. Read Rad Sallee’s story published yesterday in The Houston Chronicle. I’ll post more on this tomorrow.


Several of you made some great suggestions about downloading bus schedules on an iPod and other MP3 devices or Palm Pilots. I’ll be talking to our IT department on this and will get back to you shortly.


And I’m researching some of the questions about security cameras in the Park and Ride lots. Stay tuned.


Royko said:

We may have another case of METRO "Selling the Sizzle" but instead of Beef, it's more baloney.

Sorry Purple Rose, but some of these selling points are not significantr benefits for Houston.

First, the fact that the material is pourous.  So!?

Perculation is a function of the soil.  The subsoil conditions for much of downtown are a Lake Charles Urban clay "Gumbo," and being sub-tropical, when we get typical rainfall, it comes at a rate of one-to-four inches per hour.  The vast majority of the rain is going to run-off into the streets, accumulate deeper than three inches, and still stop the Utopian "transit backbone" tram.

It seems to be priced triple of what concrete is priced at, but since METRO is wallowing in a tsunami of "Windfall" sales tax revenue, who cares what the total cost will be!

Texas generates tens of millions of used tires each year, but METRO is considering importing recycled tires from a Yankee State?

Has anyone ever considered that "Stilettos" were disfiguring and unsafe footware, and not healthy for women, and the long-manipulated fashion-addicted woumen could decide not to wear them?

It would be a lot cheaper for everyone, all-around.

# January 16, 2007 4:27 PM

Royko said:

Correction:  They are located in California, I was wrong.

# January 16, 2007 4:34 PM

DominicMazoch said:

It would be cheeper for people to buy rubber inserts into ther shoes than to replace concrete with rubber!

# January 16, 2007 8:51 PM

Woody Speer said:

These rubberized sidewalks seem more applicable for safety purposes on children’s playgrounds. I can't imagine how hot a black rubber mat would get in July and August. I can think of numerous other areas for METRO to focus spending on to meet the future needs of a growing population whose congestion problems will only worsen in years to come.  To my knowledge, the only area that METRO has made any investment in cushy “rubber surfaces” is on the front bumper of the METRO buses.  Some may argue that this too was for the benefit of pedestrians.

# January 16, 2007 9:53 PM

Matt Bramanti said:

<i>translating into $950,000 in potential sales and close to 90,000 potential square feet of rubberized sidewalk</i>

That's more than $10.50 per square foot. My handy-dandy Marshall and Swift cost manual says a 4" thick concrete sidewalk ought to cost about $3.50 per square foot.

These rubber sidewalks don't cost "one-third more than concrete" like the article says. They cost three times as much.

But the real question is: What does this have to do with Metro?

# January 17, 2007 4:08 AM

Royko said:


I mentioned the estimated cost was about triple.

What chaps my hide is that there are/were Texas vendors of all-weather and rubberized surfaces for running tracts, tennis courts, and more recently children's play areas, so why import California's waste tires?

# January 17, 2007 5:58 AM

Rorschach said:

And this has WHAT to do with METRO again? Has METRO run out of things to waste money on and are looking for new boondoggles?

# January 17, 2007 1:11 PM

Frank said:

Is it true that rubber sidewalks attract pigeons?

# January 17, 2007 3:36 PM

Kauzman Entertainment (From Tha Bottom) said:

I see pigeons when I wait for the bus every time so prolly so, Frank.

# January 17, 2007 11:55 PM

Mary Sit said:

Several of you have asked what rubber sidewalks have to do with METRO. Nothing. But if you're a commuter (and I am when I don't miss the bus), you walk. Rubber sidewalks are something pedestrians would be interested in - I  am.

I will be writing not only about METRO on this blog but about transportation in general and issues that I think would interest commuters.

BTW, I sort of like Purple Rose, Royko. I'm flattered. :-)

# January 18, 2007 11:17 PM

DominicMazoch said:

It might make some sense if concrete sidewals were built in blocks.  If they need to dig, or remove, a section, just put new blocks in its place.

# January 19, 2007 7:58 AM

Matt Bramanti said:

Mary, do you work at the Metro administration building downtown?

# January 19, 2007 10:26 AM

Woody Speer said:

Mary Sit said:  

"I will be writing not only about METRO on this blog but about transportation in general and issues that I think would interest commuters."

In regards to transportation in general why don't you do a story on how METRO intends to roll out the bike racks on METRO buses as promised in 2008?  METRO's 2008 budget year starts in October 2007 so its not far off.  In addition, this would help demonstrate to the public how METRO would be complying with the provisions of METRO Solutions that called for bike racks on all buses.

All three of the towns that you mentioned Seattle, Portland and Baltimore all have bike racks on their buses.  Why is METRO so slow on the uptick compared to other more progressive transit agencies?  It can't be for lack of funding.  A blog article from a few days ago said that METRO spent $16MM on cameras that will do little to increase ridership.

# January 19, 2007 9:11 PM

Mary Sit said:

Woody, thanks for the suggestion. Bike racks on buses is on my list of blog topics, and I've already interviewed someone about that.  Coming soon. :-)

# January 19, 2007 11:20 PM

Don Gallagher said:

Nothing personal Mary, but that piece seemed more of a sales piece for the company.

Those panels always look cut and make sense when first seen on a shelf or in pictures. What really matters, especially to a city government or property owner is liability issues.

I have been in the construction business now for over 35 years and see every new gadget and idea possible. We installed rubber interlocking pads in a playground at the former Houston School for Deaf Children at Dallas and Shepherd and it sure looked cute and safe the first year but degrades and came apart after a few seasons of use. This was when it was placed over a solid surface and not soil.

The mistakes made with sidewalks is that they definitely do not reinforce the concrete with enough steel to withstand root growth and rarely do they stabilize the ground before pouring.

If you're real lucky, you might see them stabilize and compact the ground before pouring but the "steels the deal". West U is pouring right now and they compact but only use #4 rebar (from my passing vehicle at 30mph). If they were to upgrade to say #6 or #8 rebar, especially at trees, they would stand a better chance of longer life expectancy.

The rubber concept on dirt would be a real issue when the roots do push upward as it will not show up easily and someone's going to trip first.

Where Houston also fails miserable is in their tree rules. The Ordinances prohibit trees any closer than 2 feet from a curb. Right now they are planting oaks along Kirby between the sidewalks and curb that are only 2-3" caliper and 2 feet away. The Ordinance should state "2 feet minimum from the maximum caliper at maturity to the curb line or sidewalk".

The sidewalks and street on Kirby will fail much sooner due to the planting done and cost us far more, much quicker.

I called on this same issue where live oaks were planted 1 foot from the curbs at Metro's Smiths Landing parking lot. Those trees were pulled and relocated farther in where now they will ruin the parking lot first. They never did remove all of them though so we will pay (as tax payers) later.

# January 21, 2007 10:05 PM

Matt Bramanti said:

Mary, is your office in the Metro administration building downtown?

# January 22, 2007 10:14 AM

Lach Mullen said:

You have to wonder what walking on concrete does to people, since our bodies weren't supposed to walk on such hard surfaces.  Feet, knees, even backs are for dirt or foliage, not hard cement.  Shoes help, but I wonder if in the future we will be using tech like this to avoid wear and tear on  our bodies.

Not to mention our shoes...  Initiatives like this help the less fortunate in our society, who cannot afford plush, comfortable sneakers and spend much of their time on sidewalks.

As someone who really enjoys "bussin' it" and walking, I would really appreciate this, save my shoes, save my knees, and sure: spend a little for it.


Your comments about waste tires seem a little narrow-minded.  I live in Washington, and am more than happy to see California recycling their tires, however they can do it.  Anywhere we can recycle stuff it helps the global good, since this world is too small a place to think in terms of state lines when it comes to conservation.

# January 22, 2007 10:20 AM

Matt Bramanti said:

"I live in Washington, and am more than happy to see California recycling their tires, however they can do it."

Yes, good for California. However, as Royko pointed out (and you ignored), Texas has vendors that sell rubber surfaces. Why should we import waste products and export money while waste tires pile up here?

# January 22, 2007 2:15 PM

Bluelight said:

No where did it say thery were going to use the CA company.  They just said they had a lot of inquiries about the product.  Also if the company in CA has a better product would you still stay use the Texas company..  Wait I can hear it now then in a few years the same people that screamed use TEXAS would then be complaining about how cheap the product was and how it did not hold up. PS did anyone say anything to these other Houston bussiness that contacted the CA company. <Interested Texas parties include developers, Lee College in Baytown, San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Memorial Club Townhouses Association Inc., and the City of Hunters Creek Village, added Joyce. The American Red Cross chapter in Orange, Tx., has a test sidewalk of 950 square feet on its property. >
# February 5, 2007 10:10 PM
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