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For other uses, see Asphalt (disambiguation). Note: The terms bitumen and asphalt are mostly interchangeable, Asphalt Millings Driveway in Florida  except where asphalt is used as a shorthand for asphalt concrete. Natural bitumen from the Dead Sea Refined asphalt The University of Queensland pitch drop experiment, demonstrating the viscosity of asphalt

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Asphalt (/ˈæsˌfɔːlt, -ˌfɑːlt/), also known as bitumen (UK English: /ˈbɪtʃəmən, ˈbɪtjʊmən/,[1] US English: /bɪˈt(j)uːmən, baɪˈt(j)uːmən/)[2] is a sticky, black, and highly viscous liquid or semi-solid form of petroleum. It may be found in natural deposits or may be a refined product, and is classed as a pitch. Before the 20th century, the term asphaltum was also used.

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The primary use (70%) of asphalt Asphalt Driveway Replacement Companies is in road construction, where it is used as the glue or binder mixed with aggregate particles to create asphalt concrete. Its other main uses are for bituminous waterproofing products, including production of roofing felt and for sealing flat roofs.

The terms “asphalt” and “bitumen” are often used interchangeably to mean both natural and manufactured forms of the substance. In American English, “asphalt” (or “asphalt cement”) is commonly used for a refined residue from the distillation process of selected crude oils. Outside the United States, the product is often called “bitumen”, and geologists worldwide often prefer the term for the naturally occurring variety. Common colloquial usage often refers to various forms of asphalt as “tar”, as in the name of the La Brea Tar Pits.


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Naturally occurring asphalt is sometimes specified by the term “crude bitumen”. Asphalt Millings Driveway Its viscosity is similar to that of cold molasses[6][7] while the material obtained from the fractional distillation of crude oil boiling at 525 °C (977 °F) is sometimes referred to as “refined bitumen”. The Canadian province of Alberta has most of the world’s reserves of natural asphalt in the Athabasca oil sands, which cover 142,000 square kilometres (55,000 sq mi), an area larger than England.

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The word “asphalt” is derived from the late Middle English, in turn from French asphalte, based on Late Latin asphalton, asphaltum, which is the latinisation of the Greek ἄσφαλτος (ásphaltos, ásphalton), a word meaning “asphalt/bitumen/pitch” which perhaps derives from ἀ-, “without” and σφάλλω (sfallō), “make fall”.  Black Asphalt Driveway the first use of asphalt by the ancients was in the nature of a cement for securing or joining together various objects, and it thus seems likely that the name itself was expressive of this application. Specifically, Herodotus mentioned that bitumen was brought to Babylon to build its gigantic fortification wall.[11] From the Greek, the word passed into late Latin, and thence into French (asphalte) and English (“asphaltum” and “asphalt”). In French, the term asphalte is used for naturally occurring asphalt-soaked limestone deposits, and for specialised manufactured products with fewer voids or greater bitumen content than the “asphaltic concrete” used to pave roads.

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The expression “bitumen” originated in the Sanskrit words jatu, meaning “pitch”, and jatu-krit, meaning “pitch creating” or “pitch producing” (referring to coniferous or resinous trees). The Latin equivalent is claimed by some to be originally gwitu-men (pertaining to pitch), and by others, pixtumens (exuding or bubbling pitch), which was subsequently shortened to bitumen, thence passing via French into English. From the same root is derived the Anglo-Saxon word cwidu (mastix), the German word Kitt (cement or mastic) and the old Norse word kvada.

In British English, “bitumen” is used instead of “asphalt”. The word “asphalt” is instead used to refer to asphalt concrete, a mixture of construction aggregate and asphalt itself (also called “tarmac” in common parlance). Bitumen mixed with clay was usually called “asphaltum”,[13] but the term is less commonly used today.[citation needed]


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In Australian English, “bitumen” is often used as the generic term for road surfaces.

In American English, “asphalt” is equivalent to the British “bitumen”. However, “asphalt” is also commonly used as a shortened form of “asphalt concrete” (therefore equivalent to the British “asphalt” or “tarmac”).

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In Canadian English, the word “bitumen” is used to refer to the vast Canadian deposits of extremely heavy crude oil,[14] while “asphalt” is used for the oil refinery product. Diluted bitumen (diluted with naphtha to make it flow in pipelines) is known as “dilbit” in the Canadian petroleum industry, while bitumen “upgraded” to synthetic crude oil is known as “syncrude”, and syncrude blended with bitumen is called “synbit”.[15]

“Bitumen” is still the preferred geological term for naturally occurring deposits of the solid or semi-solid form of petroleum. “Bituminous rock” is a form of sandstone impregnated with bitumen. The tar sands of Alberta, Canada are a similar material.

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Neither of the terms “asphalt” or “bitumen” should be confused with tar or coal tars.[further explanation needed]

See also: Asphaltene

The components of asphalt include four main classes of compounds:

The naphthene aromatics and polar aromatics are typically the majority components. Most natural bitumens also contain organosulfur compounds, resulting in an overall sulfur content of up to 4%. Nickel and vanadium are found at <10 parts per million, as is typical of some petroleum.

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The substance is soluble in carbon disulfide. It is commonly modelled as a colloid, with asphaltenes as the dispersed phase and maltenes as the continuous phase.[16] “It is almost impossible to separate and identify all the different molecules of asphalt, because the number of molecules with different chemical structure is extremely large”.

Asphalt may be confused with coal tar, which is a visually similar black, thermoplastic material produced by the destructive distillation of coal. During the early and mid-20th century, when town gas was produced, coal tar was a readily available byproduct and extensively used as the binder for road aggregates. The addition of coal tar to macadam roads led to the word “tarmac”, which is now used in common parlance to refer to road-making materials. However, since the 1970s, when natural gas succeeded town gas, asphalt has completely overtaken the use of coal tar in these applications. Other examples of this confusion include the La Brea Tar Pits and the Canadian oil sands, both of which actually contain natural bitumen rather than tar. “Pitch” is another term sometimes informally used at times to refer to asphalt, as in Pitch Lake.

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Bituminous outcrop of the Puy de la Poix, Clermont-Ferrand, France

The majority of asphalt used commercially is obtained from petroleum.[18] Nonetheless, large amounts of asphalt occur in concentrated form in nature. Naturally occurring deposits of bitumen are formed from the remains of ancient, microscopic algae (diatoms) and other once-living things. These remains were deposited in the mud on the bottom of the ocean or lake where the organisms lived. Under the heat (above 50 °C) and pressure of burial deep in the earth, the remains were transformed into materials such as bitumen, kerogen, or petroleum.

Natural deposits of bitumen include lakes such as the Pitch Lake in Trinidad and Tobago and Lake Bermudez in Venezuela. Natural seeps occur in the La Brea Tar Pits and in the Dead Sea.

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Bitumen also occurs in unconsolidated sandstones known as “oil sands” in Alberta, Canada, and the similar “tar sands” in Utah, US. The Canadian province of Alberta has most of the world’s reserves, in three huge deposits covering 142,000 square kilometres (55,000 sq mi), an area larger than England or New York state. These bituminous sands contain 166 billion barrels (26.4×10^9 m3) of commercially established oil reserves, giving Canada the third largest oil reserves in the world. Although historically it was used without refining to pave roads, nearly all of the output is now used as raw material for oil refineries in Canada and the United States.

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The world’s largest deposit of natural bitumen, known as the Athabasca oil sands, is located in the McMurray Formation of Northern Alberta. This formation is from the early Cretaceous, and is composed of numerous lenses of oil-bearing sand with up to 20% oil.[19] Isotopic studies show the oil deposits to be about 110 million years old.[20] Two smaller but still very large formations occur in the Peace River oil sands and the Cold Lake oil sands, to the west and southeast of the Athabasca oil sands, respectively. Of the Alberta deposits, only parts of the Athabasca oil sands are shallow enough to be suitable for surface mining. The other 80% has to be produced by oil wells using enhanced oil recovery techniques like steam-assisted gravity drainage.

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Much smaller heavy oil or bitumen deposits also occur in the Uinta Basin in Utah, US. The Tar Sand Triangle deposit, for example, is roughly 6% bitumen.

Bitumen may occur in hydrothermal veins. An example of this is within the Uinta Basin of Utah, in the US, where there is a swarm of laterally and vertically extensive veins composed of a solid hydrocarbon termed Gilsonite. These veins formed by the polymerization and solidification of hydrocarbons that were mobilized from the deeper oil shales of the Green River Formation during burial and diagenesis.

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Bitumen is similar to the organic matter in carbonaceous meteorites.[23] However, detailed studies have shown these materials to be distinct.[24] The vast Alberta bitumen resources are considered to have started out as living material from marine plants and animals, mainly algae, that died millions of years ago when an ancient ocean covered Alberta. They were covered by mud, buried deeply over time, and gently cooked into oil by geothermal heat at a temperature of 50 to 150 °C (120 to 300 °F). Due to pressure from the rising of the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Alberta, 80 to 55 million years ago, the oil was driven northeast hundreds of kilometres and trapped into underground sand deposits left behind by ancient river beds and ocean beaches, thus forming the oil sands.

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The use of natural bitumen for waterproofing, and as an adhesive dates at least to the fifth millennium BC, with a crop storage basket discovered in Mehrgarh, of the Indus Valley Civilization, lined with it.[25] By the 3rd millennia BC refined rock asphalt was in use, in the region, and was used to waterproof the Great Bath, Mohenjo-daro.

In the ancient Middle East, the Sumerians used natural bitumen deposits for mortar between bricks and stones, to cement parts of carvings, such as eyes, into place, for ship caulking, and for waterproofing.[3] The Greek historian Herodotus said hot bitumen was used as mortar in the walls of Babylon.

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The 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) long Euphrates Tunnel beneath the river Euphrates at Babylon in the time of Queen Semiramis (ca. 800 BC) was reportedly constructed of burnt bricks covered with bitumen as a waterproofing agent.

Bitumen was used by ancient Egyptians to embalm mummies.[3][28] The Persian word for asphalt is moom, which is related to the English word mummy. The Egyptians’ primary source of bitumen was the Dead Sea, which the Romans knew as Palus Asphaltites (Asphalt Lake).

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Approximately 40 AD, Dioscorides described the Dead Sea material as Judaicum bitumen, and noted other places in the region where it could be found.[29] The Sidon bitumen is thought to refer to material found at Hasbeya.[30] Pliny refers also to bitumen being found in Epirus. It was a valuable strategic resource, the object of the first known battle for a hydrocarbon deposit—between the Seleucids and the Nabateans in 312 BC.

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In the ancient Far East, natural bitumen was slowly boiled to get rid of the higher fractions, leaving a thermoplastic material of higher molecular weight that when layered on objects became quite hard upon cooling. This was used to cover objects that needed waterproofing,[3] such as scabbards and other items. Statuettes of household deities were also cast with this type of material in Japan, and probably also in China.

In North America, archaeological recovery has indicated bitumen was sometimes used to adhere stone projectile points to wooden shafts.[32] In Canada, aboriginal people used bitumen seeping out of the banks of the Athabasca and other rivers to waterproof birch bark canoes, and also heated it in smudge pots to ward off mosquitoes in the summer.

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In 1553, Pierre Belon described in his work Observations that pissasphalto, a mixture of pitch and bitumen, was used in the Republic of Ragusa (now Dubrovnik, Croatia) for tarring of ships.

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An 1838 edition of Mechanics Magazine cites an early use of asphalt in France. A pamphlet dated 1621, by “a certain Monsieur d’Eyrinys, states that he had discovered the existence (of asphaltum) in large quantities in the vicinity of Neufchatel”, and that he proposed to use it in a variety of ways – “principally in the construction of air-proof granaries, and in protecting, by means of the arches, the water-courses in the city of Paris from the intrusion of dirt and filth”, which at that time made the water unusable. “He expatiates also on the excellence of this material for forming level and durable terraces” in palaces, “the notion of forming such terraces in the streets not one likely to cross the brain of a Parisian of that generation”.

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But the substance was generally neglected in France until the revolution of 1830. In the 1830s there was a surge of interest, and asphalt became widely used “for pavements, flat roofs, and the lining of cisterns, and in England, some use of it had been made of it for similar purposes”. Its rise in Europe was “a sudden phenomenon”, after natural deposits were found “in France at Osbann (Bas-Rhin), the Parc (Ain) and the Puy-de-la-Poix (Puy-de-Dôme)”, although it could also be made artificially.[35] One of the earliest uses in France was the laying of about 24,000 square yards of Seyssel asphalt at the Place de la Concorde in 1835.

Among the earlier uses of bitumen in the United Kingdom was for etching. William Salmon’s Polygraphice (1673) provides a recipe for varnish used in etching, consisting of three ounces of virgin wax, two ounces of mastic, and one ounce of asphaltum.[37] By the fifth edition in 1685, he had included more asphaltum recipes from other sources.

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The first British patent for the use of asphalt was “Cassell’s patent asphalte or bitumen” in 1834.[35] Then on 25 November 1837, Richard Tappin Claridge patented the use of Seyssel asphalt (patent #7849), for use in asphalte pavement,[39][40] having seen it employed in France and Belgium when visiting with Frederick Walter Simms, who worked with him on the introduction of asphalt to Britain.[41][42] Dr T. Lamb Phipson writes that his father, Samuel Ryland Phipson, a friend of Claridge, was also “instrumental in introducing the asphalte pavement (in 1836)”.[43] Indeed, mastic pavements had been previously employed at Vauxhall by a competitor of Claridge, but without success.

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Claridge obtained a patent in Scotland on 27 March 1838, and obtained a patent in Ireland on 23 April 1838. In 1851, extensions for the 1837 patent and for both 1838 patents were sought by the trustees of a company previously formed by Claridge. Claridge’s Patent Asphalte Company—formed in 1838 for the purpose of introducing to Britain “Asphalte in its natural state from the mine at Pyrimont Seysell in France”,—”laid one of the first asphalt pavements in Whitehall”.  Trials were made of the pavement in 1838 on the footway in Whitehall, the stable at Knightsbridge Barracks,”and subsequently on the space at the bottom of the steps leading from Waterloo Place to St. James Park”. “The formation in 1838 of Claridge’s Patent Asphalte Company (with a distinguished list of aristocratic patrons, and Marc and Isambard Brunel as, respectively, a trustee and consulting engineer), gave an enormous impetus to the development of a British asphalt industry”.[45] “By the end of 1838, at least two other companies, Robinson’s and the Bastenne company, were in production”,[50] with asphalt being laid as paving at Brighton, Herne Bay, Canterbury, Kensington, the Strand, and a large floor area in Bunhill-row, while meantime Claridge’s Whitehall paving “continue(d) in good order”.

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Paving Companies Quotes Standard design on a wide median.[1] Stylized depiction of the design in Grand Haven, Michigan, at US 31 and Robbins Road (north to the right), showing the additional area necessary to make a turn on a narrow median.[1] 43°2′40.18″N 86°13′12.57″W / 43.0444944°N 86.2201583°W / 43.0444944; -86.2201583 (US 31 at Robbins Road, Grand Haven, Michigan)

A Michigan left is an at-grade intersection design which replaces each left turn with a U-turn and a right turn. The design was given the name due to its frequent use along roads and highways in the U.S. state of Michigan since the late 1960s.[2] In other contexts, the intersection is called a median U-turn crossover or median U-turn.[1][3] The design is also sometimes referred to as a boulevard left,[4] a boulevard turnaround,[5] a Michigan loon[6] or a "ThrU Turn" intersection.[7][8]

Two versions of signs posted along an intersecting road or street at an intersection. Top: most commonly used; Bottom: lesser-used variant.

The design occurs at intersections where at least one road is a divided highway or boulevard, and left turns onto—and usually from—the divided highway are prohibited. In almost every case, the divided highway is multi-laned in both directions. When on the secondary road, drivers are directed to turn right. Within 1⁄4 mile (400 m), they queue into a designated U-turn (or cross-over) lane in the median.

When traffic clears they complete the U-turn and go back through the intersection. Additionally, the U-turn lane is designed for one-way traffic. Similarly, traffic on the divided highway cannot turn left at an intersection with a cross street. Instead, drivers are instructed to "overshoot" the intersection, go through the U-turn lane, come back to the intersection from the opposite direction, and turn right.

When vehicles enter the cross-over area, unless markings on the ground indicate two turning lanes in the cross-over, drivers form one lane. A cross-over with two lanes is designed at high-volume cross-overs, or when the right lane turns onto an intersecting street. In this case, the right lane is reserved for vehicles completing the design. Most crossovers must be made large enough for semi-trailer trucks to complete the crossover. This large cross-over area often leads to two vehicles incorrectly lining up at a single cross-over.

The maneuver forces the driver to quickly merge into the extreme left lane to complete the turn, usually from a complete stop. The turning vehicle is potentially a hazard and may cause a disruption in the flow of traffic in the left lane.[citation needed]

When the median of a road is too narrow to allow for a standard Michigan left maneuver, a variation can be used which widens the pavement in the opposite direction of travel. This widened pavement is known as a "bulb out"[7] or a "loon" (from the pavement's aerial resemblance to the aquatic bird).[6] Such a design is sometimes referred to as a Michigan loon; in Utah, as a ThrU Turn, which is a portmanteau combining the terms "Through" (the intersection, followed by a) "U Turn".[7]

In 2013, Michigan lefts were installed in Alabama for the first time, in several locations along heavily traveled U.S. Route 280 in metro Birmingham.[9]

Tucson, Arizona, began introducing Michigan lefts in 2013, at Ina/Oracle and Grant/Oracle. Their reception has been mixed.[10]

The design is relatively common in New Orleans, Louisiana, and its suburb Metairie, where city boulevards may be split by streetcar tracks,[11] and suburban thoroughfares are often split by drainage canals.[12] Some intersections using this design are signed similarly to those in Michigan, but with more descriptive text,[13] however in some cases the only signage is "No Left Turn" and drivers are left to figure it out for themselves.[14]

Since the redevelopment of the intersection between University Boulevard (MD 193) and Colesville Road (US 29) in Silver Spring, Maryland, a Michigan left has been used to increase efficiency of traffic through an otherwise underdeveloped and congested intersection. Due to its proximity to the Capital Beltway, heavy traffic is handled more safely and efficiently.[citation needed]

A typical Michigan left layout: Telegraph Road (US 24) at Warren Road near Detroit, showing Michigan lefts 42°20′28″N 83°16′23″W / 42.341°N 83.273°W / 42.341; -83.273 (US 24 (Telegraph Road) at Warren Road, Dearborn, Michigan)

The Michigan Department of Transportation first used the modern design at the intersection of 8 Mile Road (M-102) and Livernois Avenue[15] (42°26′46″N 83°08′28″W / 42.4461°N 83.141°W / 42.4461; -83.141 (M-102 (8 Mile Road) at Livernois Avenue))[16] in Detroit in the early 1960s. The increase in traffic flow and reduction in accidents was so dramatic (a 30–60% decrease[17]) that over 700 similar intersections have been deployed throughout the state since then.[18]

North Carolina has been implementing Michigan lefts along US 17 in the southeastern part of the state, outside Wilmington.[18] In 2015, a Michigan left was constructed at the intersection of Poplar Tent Road and Derita Road in the Charlotte suburb of Concord.[citation needed]

Columbus, Ohio introduced a Michigan left at the intersection of SR 161 and Strawberry Farms Boulevard in 2012. Reception has been mixed with several accidents occurring per year.[citation needed]

At least two Michigan lefts have existed in Texas. One was located at the intersection of Fondren Road and Bellaire Boulevard in Houston from the 1980s through 2007, when it was replaced with conventional left-turn lanes. Another was built in mid-2010 in Plano at the intersection of Preston Road and Legacy Drive.[19] In January 2014, the city announced plans to revert the turn to a traditional intersection as a result of drivers' confusion.[citation needed] A section of State Highway 71 east of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport at FM 973 in Austin, Texas did have a signalized Michigan U-turn which was constructed in 2014—this was a temporary fix until the SH71 tollway over SH130 (including the re-routing of FM973) was completed in early 2016.[citation needed] There are multiple Michigan left turns currently being used along US 281 north of Loop 1604 in San Antonio. These were adopted as a short-term solution for traffic issues as development expanded north, but will likely be phased out as US 281 is elevated.[citation needed]

The city of Draper, Utah, a suburb of Salt Lake City, announced in 2011 that it would be building Utah's first "ThrU Turn" at the intersection of 12300 South and State Street, just off Interstate 15 through Salt Lake County. Construction began in summer 2011 and was completed in fall 2011.[7][20][21] Other similar intersections were implemented in South Jordan[22] and Layton.[23]

In Australia, where traffic drives on the left, the Victorian state government introduced the "P-turn", similar to the Michigan left, at one intersection in 2009. This requires right-turning vehicles to turn left then make a U-turn. As of May 2015, the intersection in the southeastern Melbourne suburb of Frankston remains the only one of its kind in the state, and local residents have called for its removal.[24]

A similar style P-turn is used in the junction of the A4 Great West Road and A3002 Boston Manor Road in Brentford, England.

The design has been proposed in Toronto, Ontario, to relieve motorists who wish to make a left-turn on roadways which will contain a proposed streetcar line by the Transit City project.

In Ottawa, Ontario, a Michigan left exists to proceed from Riverside Drive, northbound, to Bank Street northbound.

Another Michigan left exists in Windsor, Ontario, on Huron Church Road, just north of the E.C. Row Expressway, where a narrow-median variant put in place years ago is now seldom used due to the realignment of the expressway in conjunction with the construction of the Herb Gray Parkway.

In Mexico, Guadalajara has a grade-separated variation of this setup in the intersection of Mariano Otero Avenue and Manuel Gómez Morín Beltway (20°37′50″N 103°26′06″W / 20.630666°N 103.434981°W / 20.630666; -103.434981).[25] Traffic flowing through Mariano Otero is routed through an overpass above the beltway, with two access roads allowing right turn on all four possible directions; the U-turns, meanwhile, are built underneath the beltway and allow the left turn from Mariano Otero avenue to the beltway. U-turn intersections are very common throughout Mexico, particularly in Mexico City.

Brazil is also known to utilize this setup especially in São Paulo.

This is the design at some busy junctions in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong Island examples include the junction of Fleming Road and Harbour Road in Wan Chai North, and the junction of Hennessey Road and Canal Road Flyover in Wong Nai Chung. In Kowloon this design exists between Cheong Wan Road and Hong Chong Road/Salisbury Road.

The capital city of Angola, Luanda, makes widespread use of a simplified variant of this type of intersection on its two- and three-lane, median-separated throughways instead of using traffic lights. Larger junctions use this intersection type instead of much more costly grade-separated interchanges.

This type of intersection configuration, as with any engineered solution to a traffic problem, carries with it certain advantages and disadvantages and has been subject to several studies.

Studies[by whom?][when?] have shown a major reduction in left-turn collisions and a minor reduction in merging and diverging collisions, due to the shifting of left turns outside the main intersection[clarification needed].[1] In addition, it reduces the number of different traffic light phases, significantly increasing traffic flow. Because separate phases are no longer needed for left turns, this increases green time for through traffic. The effect on turning traffic is mixed.[1] Consequently, the timing of traffic signals along a highway featuring the design is made easier by the elimination of left-turn phases both on that highway and along intersecting roadways contributing to the reduction of travel times and the increased capacity of those roadways.[1]

It has been shown to enhance safety to pedestrians crossing either street at an intersection featuring the design since they only encounter through traffic and vehicles making right turns. The left-turning movement, having been eliminated, removes one source of potential vehicle-pedestrian conflict.[1] One minor disadvantage of the Michigan left is the extra distance required for the motorist to drive. Sometimes the distance to the turnaround is as far away as 1⁄4 mile (400 m) past the intersection. This design leads to each motorist driving an additional 1⁄2 mile (800 m) to make a left turn. It also results in left-turning vehicles having to stop up to three times in the execution of the turn.


Asphalt Repair Cost Estimate Raised sidewalks beside a 2000-year-old paved road, Pompeii, Italy

A sidewalk (American English) or pavement (British English), also known as a footpath or footway, is a path along the side of a road. A sidewalk may accommodate moderate changes in grade (height) and is normally separated from the vehicular section by a curb. There may also be a median strip or road verge (a strip of vegetation, grass or bushes or trees or a combination of these) either between the sidewalk and the roadway or between the sidewalk and the boundary.

In some places, the same term may also be used for a paved path, trail or footpath that is not next to a road, for example, a path through a park.

The term "sidewalk" is usually preferred in most of North America, along with many other countries worldwide that are not members of the Commonwealth of Nations. The term "pavement" is more common in the United Kingdom,[1] as well as parts of the Mid-Atlantic United States such as Philadelphia and New Jersey.[2][3] Many Commonwealth countries use the term "footpath". The professional, civil engineering and legal term for this in North America is "sidewalk" while in the United Kingdom it is "footway".[4]

In the United States, the term sidewalk is used for the pedestrian path beside a road. "Shared use paths" or "multi-use paths" are available for use by both pedestrians and bicyclists.[5] "Walkway" is a more comprehensive term that includes stairs, ramps, passageways, and related structures that facilitate the use of a path as well as the sidewalk.[6]

In the UK, the term "footpath" is mostly used for paths that do not abut a roadway.[7] The term "shared-use path" is used where cyclists are also able to use the same section of path as pedestrians.[8]

East India House, Leadenhall Street, London, 1766. The sidewalk is separated from the main street by six bollards in front of the building.

There is evidence that sidewalks were built in ancient times. It was claimed that the Greek city of Corinth was paved by the 4th-century, and the Romans were particularly prolific sidewalk builders – they called them semitas.[9]

However, by the Middle Ages, narrow roads had reverted to being simultaneously used by pedestrians and wagons without any formal separation between the two categories. Early attempts at ensuring the adequate maintenance of foot-ways or sidewalks were often made, such as the 1623 Act for Colchester, although they were generally not very effective.[10]

Following the Great Fire of London in 1666, attempts were slowly made to bring some order to the sprawling city. In 1671, 'Certain Orders, Rules and Directions Touching the Paving and Cleansing The Streets, Lanes and Common Passages within the City of London' were formulated, calling for all streets to be adequately paved for pedestrians with cobblestones. Purbeck stone was widely used as a durable paving material. Bollards were also installed to protect pedestrians from the traffic in the middle of the road.

A series of Paving Acts from the House of Commons during the 18th century, especially the 1766 Paving & Lighting Act, authorized the City of London Corporation to create foot-ways throughout all the streets of London, to pave them with Purbeck stone (the thoroughfare in the middle was generally cobblestone) and to raise them above the street level with curbs forming the separation.[11] The Corporation was also made responsible for the regular upkeep of the roads, including their cleaning and repair, for which they charged a tax from 1766.[12] By the late 19th-century large and spacious sidewalks were routinely constructed in European capitals, and were associated with urban sophistication.

In the United States, adjoining property owners must in most situations finance all or part of the cost of sidewalk construction. In a legal case in 1917 involving E. L. Stewart, a former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives and a lawyer in Minden in Webster Parish, the Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that owners must pay whether they wish for the sidewalk to be constructed or not.[13]

Pedestrians walking on the pavement (sidewalk) in London.

Sidewalks play an important role in transportation, as they provide a safe path for people to walk along that is separated from the motorized traffic. They aid road safety by minimizing interaction between pedestrians and motorized traffic. Sidewalks are normally in pairs, one on each side of the road, with the center section of the road for motorized vehicles.

In rural roads, sidewalks may not be present as the amount of traffic (pedestrian or motorized) may not be enough to justify separating the two. In suburban and urban areas, sidewalks are more common. In town and city centers (known as downtown in North America) the amount of pedestrian traffic can exceed motorized traffic, and in this case the sidewalks can occupy more than half of the width of the road, or the whole road can be reserved for pedestrians, see Pedestrian zone.

Sidewalks may have a small effect on reducing vehicle miles traveled and carbon dioxide emissions. A study of sidewalk and transit investments in Seattle neighborhoods found vehicle travel reductions of 6 to 8% and CO2 emission reductions of 1.3 to 2.2% [14]

Sidewalk with bike path See also: Road traffic safety

Research commissioned for the Florida Department of Transportation, published in 2005, found that, in Florida, the Crash Reduction Factor (used to estimate the expected reduction of crashes during a given period) resulting from the installation of sidewalks averaged 74%.[15] Research at the University of North Carolina for the U.S. Department of Transportation found that the presence or absence of a sidewalk and the speed limit are significant factors in the likelihood of a vehicle/pedestrian crash. Sidewalk presence had a risk ratio of 0.118, which means that the likelihood of a crash on a road with a paved sidewalk was 88.2 percent lower than one without a sidewalk. “This should not be interpreted to mean that installing sidewalks would necessarily reduce the likelihood of pedestrian/motor vehicle crashes by 88.2 percent in all situations. However, the presence of a sidewalk clearly has a strong beneficial effect of reducing the risk of a ‘walking along roadway’ pedestrian/motor vehicle crash.” The study does not count crashes that happen when walking across a roadway. The speed limit risk ratio was 1.116, which means that a 16.1-km/h (10-mi/h) increase in the limit yields a factor of (1.116)10 or 3.[16]

The presence or absence of sidewalks was one of three factors that were found to encourage drivers to choose lower, safer speeds.[17]

On the other hand, the implementation of schemes which involve the removal of sidewalks, such as shared space schemes, are reported to deliver a dramatic drop in crashes and congestion too, which indicates that a number of other factors, such as the local speed environment, also play an important role in whether sidewalks are necessarily the best local solution for pedestrian safety.[18]

In cold weather, black ice is a common problem with unsalted sidewalks. The ice forms a thin transparent surface film which is almost impossible to see, and so results in many slips by pedestrians.

Riding bicycles on sidewalks is discouraged since some research shows it to be more dangerous than riding in the street.[19] Some jurisdictions prohibit sidewalk riding except for children. In addition to the risk of cyclist/pedestrian collisions, cyclists face increase risks from collisions with motor vehicles at street crossings and driveways. Riding in the direction opposite to traffic in the adjacent lane is especially risky.[20]

Since residents of neighborhoods with sidewalks are more likely to walk, they tend to have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, obesity, and other health issues related to sedentary lifestyles.[21] Also, children who walk to school have been shown to have better concentration.[22]

Native Americans busking at Orchard Road, Singapore

Some sidewalks may be used as social spaces with sidewalk cafes, markets, or busking musicians, as well as for parking for a variety of vehicles including cars, motorbikes and bicycles.

Contemporary sidewalks are most often made of concrete in the United States and Canada, while tarmac, asphalt, brick, stone, slab and (increasingly) rubber are more common in Europe.[23] Different materials are more or less friendly environmentally: pumice-based trass, for example, when used as an extender is less energy-intensive than Portland cement concrete or petroleum-based materials such as asphalt or tar-penetration macadam). Multi-use paths alongside roads are sometimes made of materials that are softer than concrete, such as asphalt.

In the 19th century and early 20th century, sidewalks of wood were common in some North American locations. They may still be found at historic beach locations and in conservation areas to protect the land beneath and around, called boardwalks.

Brick sidewalks are found in some urban areas, usually for aesthetic purposes. Brick sidewalk construction usually involves the usage of a mechanical vibrator to lock the bricks in place after they have been laid (and/or to prepare the soil before laying). Although this might also be done by other tools (as regular hammers and heavy rolls), a vibrator is often used to speed up the process.

Stone slabs called flagstones or flags are sometimes used where an attractive appearance is required, as in historic town centers. In other places, pre-cast concrete slabs (called paving slabs or, less correctly, paving stones) are used. These may be colored or textured to resemble stone.

Freshly laid concrete sidewalk, with horizontal strain-relief grooves faintly visible

In the United States and Canada, the most common type of sidewalk consists of a poured concrete ribbon, examples of which from as early as the 1860s can be found in good repair in San Francisco, and stamped with the name of the contractor and date of installation.[citation needed] When quantities of Portland cement were first imported to the United States in the 1880s, its principal use was in the construction of sidewalks.[24]

Today, most sidewalk ribbons are constructed with cross-lying strain-relief grooves placed or sawn at regular intervals typically 5 feet (1.5 m) apart. This partitioning, an improvement over the continuous slab, was patented in 1924 by Arthur Wesley Hall and William Alexander McVay, who wished to minimize damage to the concrete from the effects of tectonic and temperature fluctuations, both of which can crack longer segments.[25] The technique is not perfect, as freeze-thaw cycles (in cold-weather regions) and tree root growth can eventually result in damage which requires repair.

In highly variable climates which undergo multiple freeze-thaw cycles, the concrete blocks will be separated by expansion joints to allow for thermal expansion without breakage. The use of expansion joints in sidewalks may not be necessary, as the concrete will shrink while setting.[26]

In the United Kingdom, Australia and France suburban sidewalks are most commonly constructed of tarmac. In urban or inner-city areas sidewalks are most commonly constructed of slabs, stone, or brick depending upon the surrounding street architecture and furniture.

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