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Consumer Technology Rubber sidewalks have been installed in almost 100 cities across the U.S.

Published on July 19th, 2009 | by Tina Casey

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Rubber Sidewalks Give the Bounce to Concrete

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July 19th, 2009 by
 
Rubber sidewalks have been installed in almost 100 cities across the U.S.

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Rubber sidewalks are all grown up.  Once perceived mainly as a safe surface for playgrounds, rubber sidewalks have developed into a means of preserving urban trees, reducing stormwater runoff, recycling tires, and curbing greenhouse gas emissions.  A company called Rubbersidewalks (what else?) began installing the modular units in 2002, and its rubber sidewalk products now appear in almost 100 cities across the country.  Even the U.S. military is getting into the act.  Plans are in the works to install rubber sidewalks at Coast Guard Island in Alameda, California, and they’re being promoted by the Pollution Prevention Program at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

The Benefits of Rubber Sidewalks for Urban Trees

Rubbersidewalks (the company, that is) attributes its core concept to Richard Valeriano, a senior public works inspector for the City of Santa Monica.  The original idea behind a rubber sidewalk was to achieve a flexible surface that would reduce cracking around tree roots.  In turn, that would reduce the need to cut or drastically trim trees with overgrown roots.  Over the course of several years, city workers noticed that the rubber surface seemed to slow the growth of roots while providing the tree with sufficient water and oxygen, helping to mitigate the problem of root overgrowth at the source.  The modular installation system also enables workers to remove sections of sidewalk to inspect tree roots, without the need for pavement-breaking equipment that could damage a tree.

The Other Benefits of Rubber Sidewalks

Aside from the potential savings in reduced personal injury lawsuits, the modular rubber surface makes it easier to open and close sections of sidewalk for maintenance or utility work.  Seams in the modules enable stormwater to infiltrate into the soil instead of running into gutters.  They’re handy to use for temporary sidewalks, and they’re suitable for surfacing urban tree wells.  On the sustainability side, Rubbersidewalks’s first-generation product was made from 100% recycled tires.  It now offers a second incarnation called Terrewalks, which uses a mix of tires and waste plastic from farm irrigation equipment.  As a means of finding a use for the millions of tires disposed every year, rubber sidewalks promise a scale similar to that of recycled tire roof shingles — a big leap over smaller projects like tire shoes and toys.

Rubber Sidewalks and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Walking and biking instead of driving are often cited as effective ways to lower one’s personal greenhouse emissions, but the equation skews when you factor in the greenhouse emissions involved in constructing more sidewalks and bike paths. A good chunk of those emissions have to do with concrete surfaces.  Concrete is made from cement, which is a significant source of greenhouse gasses.  Worldwide, cement is estimated to account for about 5% of all carbon dioxide emissions from human activity, with concrete accounting for about 8% overall.  Though rubber surfaces do involve some greenhouse gas in the manufacturing process, there would seem to be a savings in emissions related to transportation, installation, maintenance, and urban street tree health.  If there is any way to have your cake and eat it too, a rubber sidewalk could be it.

H/T: Aberdeen Proving Ground Pollution Prevention Program

Image: Derek Diamond on flickr.com

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • Sara Chukoian

    This sounds like a great way to go green. Reduce, Reuse & Recycle! It seems to have many perks and I hope that others will recognize that. Thank you for sharing!

    -Sara @greenglobaltrvl

  • Pingback: New Technology Recycles Old Tires and Concrete into New Building Blocks : CleanTechnica

  • http://www.emeirubber.com angel

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    Best Regards,

    Angel

  • http://www.emeirubber.com angel

    We are the professional manufacturer for recycled rubber flooring in china, for more details please visiting our web http://www.emeirubber.com

    Best Regards,

    Angel

  • http://www.emeirubber.com angel

    We are the professional manufacturer for recycled rubber flooring in china, for more details please visiting our web http://www.emeirubber.com

    Best Regards,

    Angel

  • Pingback: Magnum D’Or to Recycle 30 Million Old Tires into…New Tires : CleanTechnica

  • i hate the world

    Forget trying to save the world…It’s Over. The world and all its little animals can die!

  • i hate the world

    Forget trying to save the world…It’s Over. The world and all its little animals can die!

  • http://extremegreenvillage.com Bob

    How expensive is this per square foot compared to regular concrete.

    What we keep finding out is that these products usually are much more expensive than they should be considering the tires are a waste product now.

  • http://extremegreenvillage.com Bob

    How expensive is this per square foot compared to regular concrete.

    What we keep finding out is that these products usually are much more expensive than they should be considering the tires are a waste product now.

  • John R. Hopper

    Just a quick question…any idea about how this product does with the leaching of chemical from the rubber?

  • John R. Hopper

    Just a quick question…any idea about how this product does with the leaching of chemical from the rubber?

  • http://twitter.com/olhonatv OlhoNaTV

    Cool!

  • http://twitter.com/olhonatv OlhoNaTV

    Cool!

  • Menk

    Me and my girl have to cross a section of rubber sidewalk on the way home from our favorite bar.

    It’s become a ritual to say “i hate walking” on the concrete before we reach it, and then yell “I LOVE WALKING” when we step on those awesome, bouncy rubber tiles.

    You forgot a couple of other benefits:

    1. Shoes last longer

    2.COMFORT

    3. Great for the very young, very old, or very clumsy – rubber is alot more forgiving than concrete if you fall.

    Why aren’t these everywhere?

  • Menk

    Me and my girl have to cross a section of rubber sidewalk on the way home from our favorite bar.

    It’s become a ritual to say “i hate walking” on the concrete before we reach it, and then yell “I LOVE WALKING” when we step on those awesome, bouncy rubber tiles.

    You forgot a couple of other benefits:

    1. Shoes last longer

    2.COMFORT

    3. Great for the very young, very old, or very clumsy – rubber is alot more forgiving than concrete if you fall.

    Why aren’t these everywhere?

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