Sidewalks in Costa Rica are different
IVO HENFLING | NOVEMBER 14, 2014
A sidewalk in Costa Rica? What’s that, a sidewalk? Who needs a sidewalk anyway? Costaricans don’t use sidewalks, even if they have one.
Costaricans walk on the road, mostly for lack of sidewalks or sidewalks with too many obstacles. A few weeks ago, I wrote about obstacles on the roads of Costa Rica and this blog is all about obstacles you might find when walking on a sidewalk. You will find lamp posts, trees, power posts, advertising signs, billboards, fences, garages and the most incredible objects cross your path on a side walk in Costa Rica. I have been in many cities in the US where they don’t have sidewalks either, because people don’t walk, they drive. But in Costa Rica, many people walk and jog and walk the dog. If you are in a wheelchair or you want to the baby in the stroller, you’re in for a treat.
Walking in Costa Rica is not an easy task and if you plan to practice jogging, think twice. Escazu, where I live for example as well as many other communities in Costa Rica, has no sidewalks on more than half the streets. To have space for a sidewalk, you need planning. And planning is not what they do well in Costa Rica.
Suddenly, you might bump into a wall or an extended carport
Many gates can be hurdles on a sidewalk
In many towns and even cities in Costa Rica, the streets were originally oxcart trails until someone invented cars. With the invention of pavement, years later, now we suddenly needed two lanes plus a sidewalk, which of course wouldn’t fit. Therefore you might find a sidewalk on one side of the street and none on the other side. Or a sidewalk will suddenly bump into a wall or someone’s carport.
It is also possible your way is blocked by a guard shack
The topography of Costa Rica is slightly irregular in most places as you probably know, so it is very difficult to build a sidewalk even if there is space to build one, and make it level seems to be impossible. Most property owners in Costa Rica think it’s nice to have that extra space as part of your front yard. Sidewalks in Costa Rica are built as driveways into properties, not as sidewalks. If you have bad knees or your ankles aren’t like the million dollar man, don’t try to walk or run on a Costarican sidewalk in a residential neighborhood.
You will need bionic knees and ankles to walk on a sidewalk like this
Besides, when it rains it pours, so just a sidewalk next to the road won’t work. We need large ditches to get rid of all that rain water. Of course storm ditches don’t understand corners and why a pedestrian would need to cross the street. To be able to do so, you need to be a practiced jumper. Other times, you might not find a storm ditch, or a sidewalk, as you can see in this picture of the old road in Escazu.
When it rains, it pours. Where is the sidewalk?
It is pretty common to use the sidewalk to park your car. Builders do no bother to calculate the length of a parking spot and add the width of the sidewalk. Lots of commercial real estate is short of parking spaces and car owners will just use the sidewalk and block access.
Use the sidewalk to park your car
Or park your motorbike
Of course, if you look at the property building codes, you will find that they oblige anyone who builds on his property, to also build a sidewalk. Law indicates that sidewalks need to have a minimum of 1.20 meters, just over 13 feet with no more than 3% inclination, which nobody really controls. In Escazu, as well as some other municipalities they started many years ago to oblige property owners, even of those who have just a building lot, to build a sidewalk. If the property owner doesn’t build one, the municipality will do it for you and will charge you when you pay your property taxes. It is a slow process and it will probably take them at least 100 years to do it everywhere.
How wide should the sidewalk be?
In downtown areas of cities, shoppers will stroll very slowly and stop in the middle of the sidewalk to look into a window, so that it is impossible to walk faster than anyone else. For that reason, many walk on the street, a reason to be careful when you are driving in busy shopping areas.
Why even bother using the sidewalk?
More reasons to drive carefully so you won’t create any accidents are: Costaricans might use dark clothes at night, or they might walk with their back to traffic or hold the hand of their child but have the child on the roadside.
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