In Bellevue the Sidewalks are Paved with…Rubber?

The city of Bellevue has undertaken a project designed to give their streets a little more bounce. Taking cues from cities like Seattle, Olympia and Tacoma, Bellevue city hall launched a pilot project this year that will test the viability of rubber sidewalks in the downtown core.

Starting with a small stretch of sidewalk on NE 10th, just west of 102nd Ave NE, the experimental footpath will help the city evaluate the long term costs and durability of rubber sidewalks as opposed to concrete ones. If the project proves successful, city officials plan to use the rubber pavers in another 700 sidewalk locations throughout the city.

One of the main advantages of the rubber sidewalks is their ability to bend. Though everyone loves a shady, tree lined street – when those gnarly old roots start tearing up the pavement, children trip, wheelchairs get stuck, people sue. When this happens, it’s a bit of a showdown: sidewalk vs. tree. Last year, 12 trees lost the battle and had to be cut down. Even when the tree can be spared, if the roots are cut to save the sidewalk the tree can still die. Either way, all the time and money spent on maintenance is costly.

The alternative is to pave the sidewalks with something that can co-exist with the trees, something like rubber that won’t crack under pressure. For pedestrians, the rubber is a slightly softer surface to walk on that can put a bit of a spring in the step. Better traction and improved accessibility for people in wheelchairs are other ground-level advantages. But perhaps the most appealing advantage for Bellevue staff and citizens is the fact that the recycled tiles are good for the environment, preserving the trees and turning what would have become landfill into something everyone can be happy about. The rubber sidewalk tiles are made out of recycled tires with about 5 tires compressed into every two inch thick paver.

The rubber sidewalk initiative is just one of many environmentally friendly projects undertaken by the local government in the past year. In an effort to reduce their municipal carbon footprint, Bellevue has also adopted land use patterns that reduce sprawl, sought ways to preserve the city’s tree canopy, turned one of their beloved golf courses into a wildlife sanctuary recognized by the Audubon Society and started purchasing hybrid vehicles for the city fleet.

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