Sidewalk Design Parameters

If you are like most people you probably haven’t ever considered how to best design a sidewalk; for many people, its as simple as asking, “is there one or not”. But if you are like me, you understand that sidewalk design can play a huge role in the vibrancy of street-level activity, allowing businesses to thrive and acting as the “front steps” to a city.

The design and operation of sidewalks has been an area of interest for me throughout my career. Unfortunately, the design and location of sidewalks, particularly in new subdivisions, is often a decision by a engineering or drafting technologist, based on municipal standards, without consideration of how the sidewalk space will be used.

As a side note, all of the ideas below are intended to apply on streets that should have pedestrian traffic. There are many cases on higher volume roads with heavy distance commuter traffic, where pedestrian access should be limited, or fully separated. But in places where sidewalks work, there are some fairly obvious principles that can make for a great sidewalk, and be used to improve the streetscape.

I’ll use some examples from the town I currently work in to describe how these design principles can work.

This isn’t my first post on sidewalks, I keep coming back…


Pedestrian safety is the primary reason we build sidewalks. The sidewalk should ensure separation from vehicular traffic. There are a couple of ways we can achieve this.

Grade separation

A simple 6″ (150mm) upright or barrier curb provides adequate grade separation for vehicles on slower-speed streets. Vehicles that bump into a curb are directed back onto the roadway. In many places, including suburbs and even downtown areas, roll over (or mountable) curb profile has been installed, which deliberately allows vehicles to mount the curb. This type of curb is not suitable in areas where vehicles travel at higher speeds, or in downtown or urban areas where parked vehicles can easily block sidewalks.

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Grade separation

A simple 6″ (150mm) upright or barrier curb provides adequate grade separation for vehicles on slower-speed streets. Vehicles that bump into a curb are directed back onto the roadway. In many places, including suburbs and even downtown areas, roll over (or mountable) curb profile has been installed, which deliberately allows vehicles to mount the curb. This type of curb is not suitable in areas where vehicles travel at higher speeds, or in downtown or urban areas where parked vehicles can easily block sidewalks.

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Prototype Small Scale Solutions

As a resort community, Revelstoke sees a lot of tourist traffic in the downtown, both pedestrians and vehicles. Additionally, as a community to over 7,500 residents, Revelstoke boasts one of the highest per capita rates of active transportation in Canada, with over 22% in the 2016 census showing walking or cycling as the main mode of transportation for their work commute. Providing residents and visitors safe street designs is part of my department’s work, and we’ve focused on some small-scale implementations to trial or prototype ideas.

Three Problems, one solution?

Problem #1

Revelstoke, like most communities has multiple bike racks on most downtown blocks, but it is not uncommon to see ten bikes leaning against a building, bikes against every tree and post. At times this can take away from pedestrian movement, safety and enjoyment of the downtown.

Problem #2

Parking in Revelstoke can be tough, particularly on busy summer days, and often vehicles park in areas marked as no parking with a yellow curb. Given the high volume of larger vehicles coming into the downtown, such as RVs, and trucks with travel trailers or boats, often these vehicles will park in these locations that are intended to give drivers and pedestrians better visibility for safely navigating the intersections. Sometimes, vehicles will even park blocking the crosswalk with their trailers.

Problem #3

Downtown Revelstoke is generally a pedestrian and cycling friendly zone, but the City has received concerns about the intersection of 2nd St and Mackenzie, which now operates as a two way stop, particularly with vehicles turning off Mackenzie at higher speeds. There have been requests for this intersection to be changed to a 4-way stop, however, unnecessary stop signs often breed indifference to regulatory signs and shouldn’t be used to regulate speed. 4-Way stops are a passive, authoritarian device, enforcing unbending rules on everyone, even at 2am. Every single vehicle that approaches the intersection must stop, this is a tyranny that can backfire when a frustrated driver about to have the right of way is held up for a precious few more seconds by an innocent pedestrian. We can do better than that!

A Solution

Bike racks are a key component in shifting away from a car dominant culture. The City often receives requests from businesses for more bike racks, but finding areas to fit them in that doesn’t impact the sidewalk experience, or take away from vehicle parking has been challenging. We’ve reached a level of saturation on the sidewalks in some areas of town, and needed to look for innovative solutions.

Last week we installed sixteen new bike racks in the heart of downtown. Located outside a busy coffee shop and the Mountain Co-Lab, this site will restrict illegal parking, improving pedestrian safety at the adjacent intersection, and offers much needed bike parking surrounded by planters. There’s still some polishing touches to finish, a couple more delineators on the street side of the bike racks and maybe some lane markings, but even before staff were finished installing this facility, there were already bikes lined up in the racks.

By restricting vehicles from parking illegally at this location, which was an almost hourly occurrence at some times of the year, the potential height of obstructions for visibility has been reduced from 6 or more feet of solid truck or travel trailer height, down to less than 4 feet of bike and 2 1/2 feet of planter. As with all out bike racks, we’ll be pulling these out in the fall to make sure they are not damaged by snow or snow removal activities, so we may still need to develop a longer term solution to manage winter parking and safety challenges here.

Other Projects

Other projects in this program include a one-way island to restrict through traffic on a local road, while allowing cyclists through, (at the corner of Douglas and Charles), which was completed last year; reducing the speed limit on the Illecillewaet Bridge to 30km/hr and restricting passing on the bridge to protect cyclists; and in the next couple of weeks staff will be installing some traffic calming and pedestrian safety improvements at the intersection of Fourth St (one of Revelstoke’s main stroads) and Edward, by Southside market, where a young cyclist was injured a couple of years ago.

Finding innovative ways to make places safer and more livable, and trialing these concepts at relatively low cost is the future for many improvement programs in communities of all sizes. There will still be a need for the bigger civil projects to make incrementally larger improvements, Revelstoke’s roundabout projects are good examples of this need, sometimes the issues are well beyond small scale interventions. For now though, we’ll watch how these projects work, learn from our efforts, refine, document, and if successful, we’ll repeat elsewhere.

Deep Work and Time Blocks

A couple of weeks ago, I had to review the information contained in almost a dozen reports that were cross referenced, dating back over a decade. These reports totaled over 300 pages of information on water and sewer system upgrades and in the five years that I have been at the City of Revelstoke, I knew these reports were “important” information to process, but “urgent” matters tended to push these reports to the back burner.

An example of Covey’s time management quadrants

A report I was reviewing prior to acceptance was relying on these older reports as background information for their conclusions, and it was imperative that I had a clear understanding of the information contained and the appropriate values and facts to be referenced. This led to a further internal report drafted to consolidate many of my findings and provide recommendations to the developer’s engineer and the City on infrastructure. The outcome of my efforts is an increased understanding in the City’s leadership and across the community of some major infrastructure challenges that we are facing as we grow.

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BC Wildfires 2017

There’s a lot to consider with how quickly these wildfire grew and how communities and agencies are reacting and responding. The best news is that proactive evacuations are in place, with the aim of reducing last-minute fleeing. I’ll update this page as news and images come in.

(Due to the Storify service closing down, this content has been removed). 

Camp Creek Mudslide

One of the challenges of living in the Interior of BC is that the routes between communities are through mountain passes and in bottom of narrow winding river valleys. The effort to keep these routes open year round is Herculean, with rock scaling and ditching in the Spring, paving in the summer, and snow removal and avalanche control in the winter.

When things go wrong, the impacts can domino across the region. This small crossing of a stream on the Trans Canada Highway was overwhelmed when a mudslide caused the opening under the bridge to be blocked. Detours were at least 5 hours longer than if this bridge was open, and traffic on the detour route was constrained by two ferry crossings that had, at times, up to 4 sailing waits. I imagine there were a lot of people really upset about this, and this speaks to how much we’ve come to rely on fast, efficient, working transportation routes. Personally, I feel that the speed that this has been dealt with is really impressive. It is unfortunate that the alternate routes are so far out of the way, but that’s a reality of having to cross mountain ranges and skirt around lakes in the interior.

Featured image from BC Ministry of Transportation’s Twitter account. 

Check out the timeline of the response below….

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Support Mike in the Great Cycle Challenge

I have registered for the Great Cycle Challenge and my goal is to pedal 300 km this June and raise $500 to fight kids’ cancer! And my challenge starts NEXT WEEK.

Why am I doing this? Because over 1,400 children are diagnosed with cancer in Canada every year. It will be tough, but it’s nothing compared to what these kids face every day of their lives as they battle this terrible disease.

Kid should be living life, not fighting for it.

And so I am taking on my own personal challenge to support cancer research to give these kids the brighter futures they deserve. But I need your help. Please support my challenge and join me in the fight to save little lives by making a donation through my fundraising page:

All funds raised will support SickKids’ Foundation to continue their work to care for these kids, develop innovative treatments and find a cure for childhood cancer.

Thank you for your support!

Simple Solutions

How often do you feel that the world is unnecessarily complex? Here are some simple products and solutions I’ve enjoyed using recently.


I’ve used Sugru for a couple of years now. It’s not an everyday product, but it has provided lasting solutions to a number of problems in our house, from a broken toilet seat, to crafting a new butt for a fishing rod, to the usual fixes like cord protectors. What’s Sugru?


SinkShroom and Tubshroom

After years of frustration with complex North American bathroom plumbing in a household with three girls with long hair, I didn’t hesitate to back the Sinkshroom and Tubshroom on Kickstarter last year. Now available on Indiegogo, I can highly recommend these products as an alternative to complex and easily clogged sink and tub stoppers. Finally a simple, easily cleaned solution to hair and lint blockages.

That’s all, just wanted to share these great products!