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Posted by Stephen Beach on March 20, 2014

Women's High Heels and Boardwalks Gaps: Minimizing the Risk

See other great resources on: Boardwalk Materials, Boardwalk Design

During a recent lunch and learn presentation, I was asked by an engineer about the walking surface of our boardwalk system, but this question was a bit different than I was used to hearing. “Have you ever had problems with women’s high heels getting stuck in the gaps?” he asked. His coworkers pointed and laughed and asked why he, of all people, would be asking that question.

What do high heels have to do with boardwalks?! 

women's heels boardwalk

Truth be told, it’s a fairly common question. Even Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge herself, had to laugh off an incident in which one of her high heels became stuck in a grate during a St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Though many women enjoy a nice high-heeled shoe, this type of footwear comes with risks, including sprained ankles, blisters, calluses and heel pain – or so I’m told by my wife. The dangers of high heels aren’t life-threatening, but walking in them can pose day-to-day challenges. 

Designers planning a new boardwalk may not expect many people to stroll a greenway or multi use path in high heels. But women in high heels is a definite possibility for some boardwalks — particularly if the structure is near an urban or commercial area, or if the boardwalk product is used in a promenade or observation deck type of application.

Women’s shoes come in a variety of heel widths and the smaller the width, the more unstable the shoe will be. Generally, there’s not much risk of a wedge heel getting stuck on a path. But a stiletto poses great risk for someone wearing them while on a boardwalk. The small tip of the stiletto heel - which touches the ground - is typically less than ¼’’.

ADA Compliance in Boardwalk Design

women's heels concrete pavers

The ADA requirement for boardwalk gaps is that they do not exceed ½’’ — which can still be dangerous for women in their heels! Stiletto, cone and prism heels all taper to a blunt point at the ground and run the highest risk of getting caught in timber boardwalk planks, uneven bricks or other surfaces that have gaps or dips. This kind of snag could result in a fall, a broken shoe or a broken ankle, a potential liability that boardwalk owners obviously want to avoid.

Gaps in boardwalk design do serve an important purpose: they allow for proper runoff from rainwater so that the surface doesn’t become too slippery. However, these walking surfaces can be designed so that they don’t exacerbate the tripping dangers of high heels. A smooth, reliable walking surface is important to minimize the risk of tripping for anyone (and especially someone in heels).

How PermaTrak Materials Minimize the Risk of Boardwalk Gaps

24'' lay length concrete treads
  • PermaTrak adheres to the ADA accessibility guidelines for gaps in a boardwalk’s walking surface (allowing no more than a ½” gap between treads).
  • Depending on the application, PermaTrak’s concrete boardwalk treads have a lay length of 10’’, 24’’ or 36’’ – whereas the typical lay length of a timber or composite plank is 4’’ - 6’’. This additional real estate helps minimize stuck heels, slips and falls. With fewer gaps at a minimum of 10’’ apart, heels are much less likely to fall in the cracks.
  • Unlike pressure-treated wood boardwalks, precast concrete doesn’t rot away from wet/dry cycles, UV exposure or general wear and tear. This rotting issue with timber boardwalks can create holes, as well as gaps up to ¾’’.
  • The textured surface options available for PermaTrak boardwalks allow them to be traversed by pedestrians without shoe worries. The surface is rough enough to prevent slipping but uniform enough to allow good balance on even the most precarious of high heels.

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Photo Credit: 1st photo by semisara, 2nd photo by xeeliz

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About This Blog

The PermaTrak boardwalk blog articles are written for landscape architects, engineers, and agency or municipality professionals.

We aim to provide educational resources for designing and building boardwalks, pedestrian bridges, trail and greenway systems. 

By reading our weekly posts, you will deepen your understanding of boardwalk design, cost estimates, and construction practices. 

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