The 2001 green business start-up Rubbersidewalks, Inc. started out as a dream, literally. After a long day of inspecting sidewalks buckled and cracked by the roots of ficus trees, Santa Monica city sidewalk inspector Richard Valeriano had a dream. In it, he saw concrete pavement that rippled and undulated in front of him.
At first Valeriano thought it was just an odd dream, but soon after, he noticed workers laying down a rubber floor in his health club. Suddenly, the meaning of his dream became clear and he began experimenting with creating rubber sidewalk pavers.
From Dream To Company
Not long after, Santa Monica screenwriter and film producer Lindsay Smith was taking a walk when she noticed city employees preparing to cut down a row of 26 healthy trees. Outraged, she argued with the workers long enough to get them to leave and went home to start making phone calls. She was able to save the trees, but in the process she learned that the reason they were being removed was the damage they were doing to the sidewalk above their roots.
The cracked and uneven sidewalk was a hazard to bikers, strollers, and the elderly, and it was putting the city at risk of expensive lawsuits. She started researching the problem and learned that one and a half billion square feet of sidewalk is damaged every year in the United States, 80% of it by tree roots. The most common solution: cutting down the trees. Then she learned about Valeriano’s experiments.
Made from ground up rubber automobile tires, Valeriano’s rubber pavers were permeable, allowing air and water to pass through them to the roots below and reducing their need to fight their way to the surface, cracking sidewalks in the process. The rubber pavers were also far more flexible than concrete, allowing them to bend instead of crack when roots did intrude on them. Finally, the rubber pavers were modular in design, so they could easily be lifted out for maintenance or to re-grading, unlike concrete sidewalks, which must be destroyed to be removed.
In 2001, Smith launched Rubbersidewalks, Inc. Since then, more than 60 cities across the US and Canada have installed rubber sidewalks, and sales have surpassed $1 million per year.
More Benefits of Rubber Sidewalks
Saving trees isn’t the only green benefit of rubber sidewalks.
Permeable pavers such as rubber sidewalks not only save the lives and improve the health of nearby trees and other plants, they also reduce stormwater runoff, the leading source of surface and groundwater pollution in the United States.
Rubber sidewalks are also a safe and environmentally friendly way to recycle the estimated 290 million tires that are thrown away every year in the United States. Currently, many of these tires are burned, releasing pollutants into the atmosphere.
Rubber sidewalks are also better for pedestrians, bikers, and other local sidewalk users. Buckling and cracking is greatly reduced or eliminated, reducing trips and falls, and the permeability of rubber sidewalks makes patches of ice and puddles of water less likely to form, reducing slips and splashes. If a fall does occur, rubber sidewalks are far more forgiving than concrete, reducing the likelihood of serious injury. With fewer injuries also comes fewer lawsuits for cash-strapped municipalities.
Preliminary studies have also found that walking on rubber sidewalks is less likely to cause heel spurs and joint and back problems than walking on concrete.
Rubber sidewalks hold up well against hazards such as high heels, snow shovels and plows, salting, freeze-thaw cycles, and more. Though they were initially two to three times the cost of concrete sidewalks, the price has dropped in recent years as a second manufacturing plant was opened on the East Coast, reducing transportation costs. Today, the cost is about 20% higher for most regions, and city planners say the greater durability and longer lifetime more than makes up the difference compared to concrete.