Vancouver looks for financial and ecological bounce with rubber sidewalk

City says expensive sidewalk will save money on maintenance

A sidewalk on the 500-block stretch of East 17th Avenue feels vaguely spongy, providing a softer surface for a trot or walk.

You dont feel that same jarring feeling as you do on regular sidewalks, said Jarrett Kalthoff, who recently moved into the neighbourhood and was walking past.

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Thats because the sidewalk is fashioned completely from recycled tires, a material the city is monitoring for its longevity with the particularly soft soil at that location.

The block previously had maintenance crews continually filling cracks in the concrete with asphalt. Now charcoal grey rubber tiles imprinted with a brick pattern extend along the south side of the street while the north side features half a block of bright almost white concrete that includes wire mesh to improve its flexibility and half a block of coal-hued asphalt.

The city will monitor the performance of the rubber surface for four years.

So far the rubber sidewalk is working quite well, said Jonas Moon, a project engineer with the city.

The city calculates it costs $250 to buy and install per square metre of rubber sidewalk, whereas one square metre of standard concrete sidewalk costs $150.

We think that were going to save on maintenance in the long run because we dont have to go out there and patch cracks or have to replace the whole sidewalk, Moon said.

Laying rubber on soft soil requires more preparation but the sidewalk can be ready for use faster than concrete, which needs time to cure.

Making concrete and asphalt is resource intensive whereas recycling tires for rubber content and replacing rubber sidewalks less often saves on greenhouse gas emissions, Moon said.

The interlocking panels on East 17th made by Eco-Flex near Edmonton, Alta., which recycles the rubber from 12 million discarded tires each year into products that include patio flooring.

Scott Mydan, business development manager with Eco-Flex, says 14 tires are ground to produce one five-foot-by-four-foot tile of rubber sidewalk. Glue is mixed with the rubber and pressure to create the two-inch-thick tiles without the use of heat.

Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto and smaller cities are also testing the sidewalks, many of them laid at schools as part of green initiatives to teach children about recycling, according to Mydan.

Moon said the city hopes to receive a grant from Tire Stewardship B.C. to test rubber sidewalks in select areas of the city. Recycled rubber sidewalks wouldnt be used citywide. They could be laid where tree roots cause sidewalks to heave because the rubber panels can be lifted, roots trimmed and panels replaced. Rubber sidewalks could also better serve joggers and people using wheelchairs and walkers. They are produced in shades of grey, black, terracotta, green and brown.

The city saw little success with a rubber and plastic sidewalk that was installed in 2007 on West Eighth Avenue at Arbutus. It was difficult to deal with because it didnt come in panels.

Twitter: @Cheryl_Rossi

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