Geospatial Analysis of Tree Root Damage to Sidewalks in Southeastern Idaho

By Raza, Mansoor; Weber, Keith T. et al. | URISA Journal, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Geospatial Analysis of Tree Root Damage to Sidewalks in Southeastern Idaho


Raza, Mansoor, Weber, Keith T., Mannel, Sylvio, Ames, Daniel P., Patillo, Robin E., URISA Journal


INTRODUCTION

Urban forests can be defined as ecosystems that emerge because of the presence of trees and other vegetation in association with human development (Nowak et al. 2001). They are an important asset in the urban areas where 80 percent of the U.S. population lives (Dwyer et al. 1992, U.S. Census Bureau 2000). Urban dwellers may plant trees for a number of reasons. Some plant trees because they are motivated by personal and environmental value systems. Others are motivated by more practical reasons, such as noise reduction, shading to reduce watering costs, and increased property values (Westphal 1993). Sommer et al. (1994) demonstrated that people plant trees because trees were perceived to improve neighborhood interaction and empower residents to improve their own surroundings. A more recent study by Lohr and Pearson-Mims (2002) showed that urban residents held positive attitudes toward trees. These attitudes were even more positive if the homeowners took part in gardening and tree planting.

Despite the advantages of having trees, Lohr et al. (2004) identified a number of problems associated with trees, including allergies, obstructing street signs, damaging power lines, increasing concealment for criminal behavior, and causing sap damage to automobile finishes, and the perceptions that trees are unsightly when not maintained, that trees cost cities too much money, and that tree roots are the principal cause of cracked sidewalks. This study focused on quantitatively assessing the latter perception.

Different species of trees possess varied types and extents of root systems. The majority of trees, however, have root systems that extend down and outward in balance with the top growth of the tree (Kohut 2007). As a rule of thumb, roots extend just a little further than the tree canopy (i.e., drip line) (Kohut 2007).

Wagar and Barker (1983) found that tree roots can cause major damage to sidewalks and curbs each year and that repair costs represent a large expense in any city's budget. Hamilton et al. (1975) found that annual repair costs because of root-damaged sidewalks were $27,000 each within 22 northern California cities. Sidewalk damage was especially serious for cities were increasingly liable when citizens were injured because of damaged sidewalks (Samuel and Radkov 1977, Edgar 1962). More than two decades later, McPherson (2000) reported approximately $70.7 million was spent annually by 18 California cities on "tree-root related costs" (sidewalk repair [$23 million], curb and gutter repair [$11.8 million], trip and fall liability payments and legal costs [$10.1 million]). Their study was based on a mailed questionnaire.

On the other hand, Sandfort and Runck (1986) and Sandfort (1997) suggested that other factors, such as soil characteristics, may be more important relative to sidewalk failure. In addition, Sydnor et al. (2000) found that only one of their three study sites exhibited sidewalk damage attributable to tree roots. They concluded that trees appear to play only minor roles in sidewalk service life. Further results suggested that sidewalks older than 20 years failed at a higher rate regardless of any other factors. Sidewalks that were less than 20 years old and built on fine silt or fine loam soils appeared more stable and less prone to failure compared to those constructed on coarse or mixed soil complexes. Newly built sidewalks that were less than five years old were not affected by trees in any type of soil examined. Sydnor et al. (2000) concluded that trees may have less of an impact than previous studies suggest. Sydnor et al. (2000) acknowledged that trees can displace sidewalks but may not be the principle cause.

D'Amato et al. (2002) related that sidewalk engineers in Cincinnati, Ohio, considered that sidewalks should last a period of 20 to 25 years, but not indefinitely. Furthermore, it was pointed out that sidewalk construction methods have changed over the years. …

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Geospatial Analysis of Tree Root Damage to Sidewalks in Southeastern Idaho
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