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  • Writer's pictureEngineer Mike

Sidewalk Cracks and Damage

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

Sidewalks, which are considered concrete flatwork, require regular maintenance such as cleaning, weeding, sealing cracks, replacing damaged sections, and ensuring proper drainage. Visible cracks or separations do not necessarily mean that a construction defect exists.

Crack in concrete flatwork near a column.
Tripping hazards such as sidewalk cracks and abrupt elevation changes are dangerous to pedestrians and people with disabilities.


Cracks, Spalling, Vertical Movement, and Separations

Spalled surface of concrete sidewalk and a crack at the joint.
Severely damaged sections of sidewalk require replacement to avoid injuries and ADA access issues.

Damage to sidewalks, in the form of cracks, spalling, vertical movement, and separations, always worsens over time. Water affects pavement by freezing or undermining the soil underneath, and this process continues throughout the life of the pavement.


Sidewalk Cracks and Damage are Tripping Hazards

Tripping hazards caused by heave, settlement, cracking, or spalling of concrete can result in bodily injury if not properly maintained or repaired. Not only is this a liability issue for homeowners and HOAs, but the issue also involves American Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards and requirements. Homeowners need to understand that any injury related to the ADA can involve lawsuits in the Federal Courts. This is why homeowners need to repair their own sidewalks and report any damage to community sidewalks to their HOA.

Section of sidewalk that has settled - tripping hazard around a manhole.
Severe tripping hazards are dangerous and can restrict access to pedestrians with limited mobility or people in wheelchairs.


Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990

The ADA Standards for Accessible Design provide specific guidelines regarding ground and floor surfaces. People who have difficulty walking or maintaining balance or who use crutches, canes, or walkers, and those with restricted gaits are particularly sensitive to slipping and tripping hazards.

Diselevated sections of concrete sidewalk.
Vertical elevation differences of less than 1/2-inch can be repaired.

Generally, floor surfaces along accessible routes in accessible rooms and spaces, including floors, walks, ramps, stairs, and curb ramps, must be stable, firm, and slip-resistant.

In addition, vertical elevation differences and separations between adjoining surface edges can be tripping hazards or can impede the movement of wheelchair wheels.

Crack and separate of concrete joint measured by a tape measure.
Horizontal separations of less than 1/2-inch can be repaired.

Per ADA, openings in floor or ground surfaces cannot allow passage of a sphere more than ½-inch (13 mm) diameter. Elongated openings must be placed so that the long dimension is perpendicular to the dominant direction of travel.

ADA pedestrian-safe inlet grate.

The ADA allows for vertical elevation differences of up to ¼-inch without any required edge treatment.

pavement vertical elevation differences of up to ¼-inch

Vertical elevation differences ranging from ¼-inch to ½-inch require beveling. Vertical elevation differences greater than ½-inch must be accomplished by means of a ramp that complies with ADA.

Vertical pavement beveling for elevation differences ranging from ¼-inch to ½-inch

Allowed horizontal spaces, cracks, or separations between pavement sections are limited to ½-inch.

Heaved sidewalk measured by a tape measure.
Vertical elevation differences of more than 1/2-inch must be repaired by the replacement of affected concrete sections.

Concrete spalling at edge of concrete sidewalk section measured by a tape measure.
Horizontal elevation differences of more than 1/2-inch must be repaired by the replacement of affected concrete sections.


Maintenance and Repair Responsibility

It is important to understand that private sidewalks are the responsibility of homeowners or HOAs. In many jurisdictions, sidewalks in the street Right-of-Way may also be the responsibility of the adjacent homeowner by law. Always check with your local governmental office regarding laws that may apply to sidewalk maintenance.


I hope this information helps you better understand tripping hazards and the applicable ADA guidelines. For additional topics related to construction defects, go to

Visit my photo collections page, which has examples of damage that can be due to construction defects.  


Engineer Mike


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