An Examination of Practices for Retrofitting Existing Roads with Sidewalks in the United States

Report No: 10-R4

Published in 2010

About the report:

In Virginia, as in the United States, many roads were built without sidewalks.  With steadily increasing efforts to develop a more balanced, multimodal transportation system, missing sidewalks pose a unique connectivity issue.  Although the Virginia Department of Transportation’s (VDOT) Policy for Integrating Bicycle and Pedestrian Accommodations allows for the construction of bicycle and pedestrian facilities separate from highway construction, it does not specifically address the issue of missing sidewalks.  The purpose of this study was to identify and examine current practices relating to retrofitting existing roads with sidewalks in order to provide VDOT with guidance on addressing the issue of missing sidewalks in its transportation system.

Three tasks were performed to achieve the study objectives.  First, a literature review was conducted to identify material that addressed issues relating to retrofitting existing roads with sidewalks.  Second, VDOT’s current practices were documented and reviewed based on a survey and interviews of district staff.  Third, the practices of state departments of transportation (DOTs) and selected localities were identified based on a survey of the DOT and locality representatives, the literature review, and a search of agency websites.

With regard to the literature review, no publication focusing on the topic of missing sidewalks was found.  Most of the literature was focused on accommodations for pedestrians along newly constructed roads and on operational issues for existing pedestrian facilities. 

With regard to VDOT’s current practices, VDOT has no current policy to construct missing sidewalks.  No VDOT district has an inventory of sidewalks or missing sidewalks or any “wish-list” for sidewalk connections.  Further, there is no prioritization method should more requests for sidewalk connections be received than is possible to accommodate.  Although VDOT has completed a limited number of projects to provide missing sidewalks, there is no dedicated funding source to address future requests. 

Most state DOTs are similar to VDOT in not having a program to construct missing sidewalks. Experiences of localities across the United States show successful sidewalk retrofit programs, which focus on targeted areas with high pedestrian activity.

The study recommends that VDOT develop guidelines for identifying, prioritizing, and constructing missing sidewalks.  Such guidelines are expected to provide guidance relating to identifying high-priority targeted areas for constructing missing sidewalks, prioritizing needed projects, and identifying funding options.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


Other Authors

Ilona O. Kastenhofer

Last updated: November 18, 2023

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