Summer is in full swing in Canada, and with it comes the desire by citizens from coast to coast to profit from the warm weather. Whether running, walking the dog, or simply taking an evening stroll, Canadians are enjoying their neighbourhoods on foot.
Unfortunately, this is not always an easy thing to do. Because of the freezing and thawing process, and the presence of pushy tree roots, many sidewalks have fractured and shifted over the winter - making them not only a nuisance to replace, but also a potential danger to their users.
Almost exclusively, concrete and asphalt have traditionally been used for sidewalk construction in North America. Yet, neither one is particularly well-suited to this task. Both materials are very brittle, prone to cracking when trees grow beneath them and vulnerable to weather damage. Their lack of porosity is a second issue, depriving the soil of groundwater and also increasing run-off problems.
In the early 2000s, entrepreneurs in the United States sought to better meet pedestrians' needs by finding a type of pavement less likely to be broken by growing tree roots. Searching for a malleable material, they ground up discarded tires and designed resilient rubber panels - that are harder than a running track but softer than concrete or asphalt - that could replace conventional sidewalks. This solution proved extremely effective.
Not only did the rubber bend to accommodate tree growth, but when roots became too unruly, the individual panels could be removed, the path re-graded and the roots gently trimmed, and the same panels relaid again. Moreover, city workers discovered that roots actually grew more slowly beneath rubber sidewalks than concrete ones, as water could seep through the seams between the rubber panels, thereby reducing the need for trees to spread their roots in search of sustenance - further mitigating the problem of nuisance plants.
It was also realized that, once installed, the ease with which the panel sidewalk could be disassembled and reassembled made it faster and less expensive for utility companies to complete any maintenance or other underground work than having to dig up or drill into concrete slabs. Finally, the alternative material was good for its users, as walking or running on a rubber shock-absorbing surface is easier on one's joints, and more forgiving when someone falls down. Cities using the rubber sidewalks even often experienced a reduction in liability claims stemming from pedestrians tripping, as broken and uneven concrete sidewalks were no longer a hazard.
Recognizing these benefits, in the past decade rubber walkways have been put down in nearly 100 U.S. municipalities.
North of the border, however, Canadian cities have been slower to explore their potential. Only a handful, such as Kelowna, Vancouver, and Calgary, have launched pilot projects. Yet, with our extreme temperatures, a material less susceptible to weather damage may be even more advantageous than it is down south. In Vancouver, for example, concrete walks must be replaced approximately every seven years; in some parts of the country, extreme freezing and thawing necessitates replacement after just three. Tests have shown rubber stands up well against excessive heat and cold, and the panels are estimated to last up to two decades without cracking.