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Rubber sidewalks add spring to Charlotte walkers' steps


Starting today pedestrians in Charlotte can add a little bounce to their step on two stretches of sidewalk. The city is giving rubber sidewalks a test run. Vivian Coleman really wants people to get marching on the rubber sidewalks. She's the city's pedestrian program manager and she's been intrigued with the idea for a couple of years. "The residents of Charlotte need to come out to one of these sites. Go ahead and have a walk on it, see what you think and let us know!" she exclaims. Coleman is at one of the test sites in Charlotte's Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. She says the sidewalks could be a good match for the city. "The rubber sidewalks are 100 percent recycled tires and this is one of the newest products on the market. It's been in effect for about eight years now. We'll be one of the first cities, if not the first city in North Carolina to try out these sidewalks," she says. A used tire is equal to one square foot of rubber sidewalk. And Coleman estimates the Plaza stretch is 60 to 80 feet long. "So you're talking about a number of tires, that's 400 tires," she says. Coleman explains this material is not squishy at all like an athletic track. She says it's a shock absorber and has health benefits. But the city is most interested in the sidewalk's ability to adjust to tree roots. "One of the benefits is looking at this product around the tree roots, around the trees, which would have cost savings," she says. Coleman says initial costs are higher than putting a concrete sidewalk in. She says concrete is about 25-dollars a foot. The rubber stuff's about 80-dollars a foot. Coleman says the rubber slabs plus work on close to 80-feet of sidewalk along The Plaza would cost about eight thousand dollars. In the long run though, Coleman says rubber sidewalks on top of well-grown tree roots are supposed to last about 15 years before they wear out. Concrete lasts two to five years once roots start to push out of the ground. Three years ago, about 60 cities across the country started sampling these walkways. But concrete mixers aren't exactly threatened. Bill Arent is executive vice president of the Carolinas Concrete Ready Mix Association. He says, "No, I didn't think it was going to put us out of business. I guess the thought that went through my mind was, 'You just never know where the competition's going to come from.'" Besides, he says, even concrete mix is made up of mostly recycled products. Well, the rubber sidewalks may not be concrete but they're definitely hard. A few knocks on a slab makes your knuckles sting. Coleman say it does hurt, but "I think it's a pretty neat product and we're going to give it a try. And again, residents, please come out and try it out, see what you think." The other test sidewalk is by the fire station on 28th and Grimes Streets just northwest of uptown. The Charlotte Department of Transportation will monitor the sidewalks over the next few years to see if they'll want to install more particularly in areas with lots of trees.