The standard sidewalk in San Francisco consists of traditional concrete material. Where requested and approved, special, non-standard, material may be used to help improve the look and feel of your neighborhood by emphasizing public spaces. Special sidewalks can also act as a functional storm water amenity by helping to reduce storm water runoff if designed as permeable paving, which is a part of the SF Better Streets Plan. Click here to see greening options for your sidewalk.
A Special Sidewalk Surface Permit grants permission to replace standard concrete sidewalk with alternative paving materials. A permit is required to ensure that sidewalk paving is properly constructed and maintained in order to maximize environmental benefits, protect public safety and limit conflicts with infrastructure.
Special sidewalk materials can range from natural stone pavers, bricks, textured and colored concrete, stamped asphalt, and concrete with exposed or special aggregate or other finish treatments. For a complete list of acceptable special non-standard, materials, click here. Many paving surfaces, sealants, coatings, traffic markings, and other products are composed of materials that are harmful to the natural environment. The type of material selected should consider the level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and specify zero- to low- VOC agents. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH)-free sealants and/or asphalt bases should be considered.
Many paving surfaces are composed of natural materials derived from highly impactful quarrying and processing methods that are damaging to the natural environment. The City encourages the use of recycled or reclaimed materials.
- Select surface materials with low maintenance requirements and high durability, slip-resistance and compressive strength. In order for a surface material to be approved, a coefficient of friction must be provided by the project applicant, using the ASTM C-1028 testing method and producing a minimum coefficient of friction of 0.65 under wet and dry conditions (0.80 on sloped surfaces greater than 1:20 or 5%).
- Retain a certified geotechnical engineer and reference a geotechnical investigation report for soil type and loading capabilities.
- Understand soil type and settlement potential when choosing a paving surface material and sub-base thickness.
- A proper sub-base is as important as the surface material. Use of a recycled sub-base is recommended. Ask suppliers of recycled materials to provide material testing results for loading equal to Caltrans classification standards.
- Understand the loading needs per the expected use (trucks, emergency vehicles, vehicles, pedestrian-only). The paver and sub-base depth should be designed for the heaviest expected loading per City standards. A concrete slab with mortar pavers is recommended in high traffic areas with heavy loading for long-term durability.
- Settlement may be an issue in areas of high clay content or over “Bay Mud”. An enhanced sub-base or concrete slab base is typically required per geotechnical recommendations.
- Follow manufacturer recommendations for maximum slopes and minimum recommended sub-base depth and material.
- Conduct percolation tests or soil science reports if permeable or porous pavers are used. Where infiltration is not feasible, an under drain may be used.
In most cases, special sidewalk surfaces may be allowed adjacent to the subject property and within the curb furnishing zone; provided that a minimum 6-foot path of travel is maintained using standard concrete in order to comply with Americans with Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG).
Paving materials must meet all accessibility standards per ADA regulations :
- Paving materials should not pose tripping hazards or cause excessive vibration for wheelchairs
- Paving should be designed, installed, and maintained to be smooth and level. Surfaces should not be interrupted by steps or abrupt changes in level of more than 1/4 inches.
- Unit pavers must have gaps of no more than 1/4 inches, beveled to no more than a 1:2 ratio
- Saw cut joints in poured concrete are preferable to troweled joints.
- Sidewalks must meet minimum coefficient of friction
- Surfaces with a slope of less than 5% gradient should be at least as slip-resistant as what could be described as a medium salted finish.
- Surface with a slope of 5% gradient or more must be slip resistant.
- Surface cross slopes should not exceed 1/4 inches per foot except where, due to topography, it creates an unreasonable hardship, in which case the cross slope may be increased to a maximum of 1/4 inch per foot.
- Special or small streets
- Full right-of-way of shared public ways
- Transit stop areas, including transit curb extensions and medians
- Mid-block and raised pedestrian crossings
- Furnishing zones of sidewalk
- Submit three (3) sets of completely dimensioned and noted plans to show ONLY the extent and location of the proposed work. Special sidewalk plans can be in conjunction with other DPW permits.
- Submit a non-refundable fee payable by cash, checks, or VISA/MC to the Department of Public Works for investigation and inspection. (See Fee Schedule)
- Submit all of the above with this application to our office: Department of Public Works, Bureau of Street-Use and Mapping, 1155 Market Street, 3rd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103-0942
- Upon approval of permits additional fees will be required for notarization and recordation of approved permits. The Recorder’s Office is located on the ground floor of City Hall in Room 190. For information on Recorder’s fees, please call (415) 554-4176. Any certified Notary Public may notarize the permit.
Other Resources – Bureau of Urban Forestry (BUF)
For More Information:
SF Public Works • Bureau of Street-Use & Mapping
1155 Market Street, 3rd Floor • San Francisco, CA 94103 - map
Telephone : (415) 554-5810 • Monday-Friday
Operating Hours : 8:00am-5:00pm
Permit Processing Hours : 7:30am-4:00pm