Polish paths and pavements

Having lived in Poland for 15 months now, I have to say I like it very much. However… one thing that really, really annoys me is the consistency of paths and pavements. I’m in the lucky position to be able to walk 10-15 minutes to work, and I tend to do most of my shopping within walking distance also. Thus most of my day-to-day travelling tends to be as a pedestrian, and this allows me to experience the many, many varieties of paths on Polish streets and roads.

My major gripe is not specifically with the quality of paths, as I have walked on some great paths, which are well built and have good quality paving stones. However, my complaint lies mostly with the consistency of path and what to expect. I can walk on one street with a good quality finish and then turn a corner and find myself on a path with holes and broken paving stones, and then go 100 metres further and find that part of the pathway has become sticky and soft from the tar melting in the heat. Below I have listed some of the examples of paths and pavements I have encountered on the streets of Kraków and beyond.

Crack’d & Broked

Unfortunately, I’ll start with an example of a bad path. This is just one example of where the ground beneath the path has sagged and fallen in on itself, due to excess weight being applied from above. This usually happens from cars parking on the path. As you can see below, the paving stones are cracked in a few places and some major repair work would need to be done to correct this. This tends to occur when a car parks fully on the path (not just with wheels resting on the pavement) and is using the pathway as a free car park.

Sagging under the weight of expectation?

Simple Stones and Slabs

Just 25 metres away, by walking farther down the same street, you can find a fine example of a well finished, undamaged path. The stones are of good quality red brick and are well fitted. They even look good in the rain and don’t appear to have any issues with cars being parked on them. There are many examples of such paths, but they are interspersed among other bad examples.

Yellow Red Brick Road

A Whole load of Holes

This image of red brick quality does not last for long though. A further 5 minutes walk from the above paths takes you to Kraków’s Poczta Głowny, on the corner of ul. Westerplatte and ul. Starowiślna. This is an extremely busy intersection for traffic, for both trams and cars as it is a crossing point for a number of routes through that part of the city. Strangely though, the paths nearby seem to have suffered much more damage than the road – even though it is not possible for cars to park anywhere in front of the post office. Despite this, there are some huge holes in the pavement, both old and new. The old ones have been partially filled in, but not with much quality of effort. Both examples below are outside the main entrance to the post office building, and frankly, I believe it is embarrassing for this amount of damage in such a prominent location.

*Please note, the above path has now been repaired (to some extent), but I will leave the above example to show how bad things can get

Before and after – the makeover of a Polish pathway hole

Rural Rarity

An interesting sight I noticed when in the Silesian countryside was a big, wide paved pathway going alongside the road in some locations. For example, I took the below picture outside the house of my parents-in-law, which lies about 4 kilometres from a village on one side, and 6 kilometres from a small town on the other. It’s a broad, high path about 1.5 metres wide, and is very useful, especially for cyclists and pedrestrians. It even has dipped sections for cars to enter the driveways. Now, I understand that this is probably not the norm for most roads in the Polish countryside. However, coming from Ireland where there are no paths outside towns and villages, it was a pleasant surprise to see one of such quality deep in the Polish countryside.

Wide enough to drive a lorry through

The Flipper

Finally, we come to the ‘flipper’. This type of stone can be a pedestrians worst nightmare, especially as the seasons are just changing now, with autumn and winter coming. The ‘flipper’ is usually a large paving stone, which normally looks innocent enough. However, there are times when you put a foot on it, and you get a sinking feeling as one corner begins to slide down and the opposing corner flips up. In the autumn months, this usually leads to water splashing up on the unsuspecting pedestrian. Thankfully I have not experienced too many of the flippers, but if you tip one over, you’ll remember it.

To finish, I do understand that not all paths and pavements are terrible. I know there are many excuses that can be thrown out, such as:

  • Cars damaging the paths by parking on them
  • The extremeties of the weather (from -22 degrees in January 2010 to +35 in July 2010 in Kraków) cause damage
  • “We don’t have money to fix them” which is probably a standard answer to expect from councils

I just wish I could see some consistency, that I know one area would have decent paths and another poor quality and I could plan accordingly!

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17 thoughts on “Polish paths and pavements

  1. tandrasz says:

    Consistency? That would be boring. :-)

    Your second picture may be showing a sidewalk damaged by a heavy truck, not a regular car. This happens quite often.

    Greetings from Florida, where most sidewalks are solid concrete.

  2. Kukuł says:

    If pavements were really the worst thing about Poland, I’d consider staying here.

  3. Pavements? You’re looky to ‘ave PAVEMENTS! Where we com from, there’s streets an’ streets with mud from one side of road to t’other, mud that’s knee-deep where cars get stook an’ pedestrians need wellingtons to get aboot.

    An’ you tell this to the pampered people of Kraków an’ they complain that a paving slab ‘as got a wee crack in it!

  4. Should we also be grateful that we have electricity, a sewage system, trams/buses that cover most sections of the city, etc?

    I’ve never understood cars parking on pedestrian walkways here. They are, very clearly, NOT supposed to park there …otherwise they’d be sloped at the edges so you don’t have a 10 centimetre climb and drop to get on/off of them.

    Regardless, it’s inadequate or poor drainage that makes them subside or sink like one of the photos showed. There’s a spot on Rakowicka, near Lubicz, that had that problem because a building’s storm water system was improperly draining and was washing away the sand (yes). I’ve seen them “fix” that spot several times.

    My favourite pavement thing is when those same rooftop drainage systems leak near the ground in the winter, creating an icy mound. Always fun navigating those.

    BTW, around Belchatow, where my wife’s parents live, there’s also a significant network of very nice pavements with both bike and pedestrian sides marked. I was told this was because Belchatow is a coal-mining town and they wanted to keep the residents happy and plow a bit of money back into the town. I’ve ridden those paths before and they go on for a VERY long way with the same dipped spots for cars to cross as Decoy noted.

  5. Lilo says:

    “I’ve never understood cars parking on pedestrian walkways here. They are, very clearly, NOT supposed to park there ”

    If the walkway is wide enough (and provided that certain other conditions are met) the law specifically allows it, even if the place is not marked as parking space. Low/sloped curbs have nothing to do with it. See Kodeks Drogowy, chapter 5, section 2 (art. 47).

  6. bob says:

    Good observations. Many ‘pavement’ things perturb me as well:

    No one enforces the ‘clean the snow’ ordinances anywhere in Poland. The snow turns to ice, the ice to mud and the cities are a mess. Add to that the ‘law’ about dogs fouling the sidewalks and environs winter and summer – in winter they turds get covered by layer upon layer of snow and ice and emerge in the spring as continual land mines catching the unsuspecting quite easily. In the city it is always where one parks the car and exits.

  7. Decoy says:

    Yeah, life is tough when paths are my main complaint!


  8. domingo says:

    Mud? Luxury. Where i live we have a lake on each side of the roads!

  9. Lilo: my comment wasn’t on what is/isn’t legal. It was about common sense. Just as walking down the middle of the road is obviously stupid and wrong …parking a car where people are supposed to be walking is stupid and wrong.

    I wouldn’t care so much if it was reasonable to walk at the edge of the road, off the pavement, in order to get around some huge van or someone that’s parked so close to a building that you can’t walk between the car and the building but of course the drivers in Poland would only realise they’d run someone down when, if the unfortunate pedestrian had any luck at all, they glanced in the rear-view mirror.

  10. island1 says:

    A lake!? When I were a lad we had to march 12 miles through a sea of fire just to get to the pavement, which was mined.

  11. island1 says:

    Sewage, electricity, viniculture: bloody Romans.

  12. island1 says:

    Yeah, because cars on the road are not enough of a problem that we really need them on our pavements too.

  13. Domingo says:

    Oh, we dream to have a mined pavement! When I say “lake”, I only mean an endless ocean of caustic acid filled with deadly leeches, but it is a lake to us!

  14. odrzut says:

    We used to dream about mined pavements.

    Our cartoon houses were built over huge lava ocean where fire resistan crocodiles lived

    We had to jump over they heads on our way to the school. And it was uphill both ways.

  15. odrzut says:

    Parking cars on pavement closer than 1,5 meter to the wall is forbidden, exactly to allow people to use the pavement :), but enforcing this law could be better.

    Polish roads were built when one in a few families had a car, now it’s more like 1 – 1,5 car per family. Parking places are hard to find in cities, and people still don’t want to use public transport. It’s shame, because as USA cities shows going “car transport only” is the wrong way, we should give more priority to cycles/public transport.

    Probably in a 5-10 years this will happen. I hope.

  16. What are the differences between the paving materials used in Poland, Western Europe and the USA?

    In Poland under communism almost one type of material was used: middle-sized concrete slabs that are shown here in the second photo. Since 90’s everything has changed and small paving blocks (especially red) has become the predominant material (that’s about 90% of new pavements; in Polish: polbruk, although it is known in many countries).

    In the USA, as I’ve seen in the Internet, pavements are built from big concrete slabs or just plain leveled concrete surface with grooves imitating slabs.

  17. Tomasz says:

    My friend, in USA most towns don’t have sidewalks in European understanding. Americans drive everywhere.
    Drive through Restaurants, Liqueur stores (certain county in Colorado), ATM (Bankomat), drive-in theatres (although these are almost extinct)… Hell, I got married in Las Vegas in a Drive through chapel although we where sitting in a limo and whole chapel was supposed to put a smile on your face.

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