Permeable pavement projects

Evidence Rating  
Scientifically Supported
Evidence rating: Scientifically Supported

Strategies with this rating are most likely to make a difference. These strategies have been tested in many robust studies with consistently positive results.

Health Factors  

Permeable pavement, also called porous or pervious pavement, is a type of green infrastructure that is often part of low impact development efforts to make city landscapes more permeable. Permeable pavement can be made from a range of materials and techniques, including pervious concrete, porous asphalt, permeable interlocking pavers, open-jointed blocks or cells, and resin bound paving. Homeowners can install or retrofit a driveway or patio with permeable pavement, or commercial property owners can use it for a parking lot or walkway. Permeable pavement projects can also be larger scale efforts, encompassing sidewalks, low speed roads with light traffic loads, or parking lots throughout a city, county, or larger geographic region1, 2. Permeable pavement projects can be part of larger green infrastructure efforts to increase urban perviousness, and are often considered along with green roofs, bioswales, increased street trees, pocket parks and greening vacant lots, and rain gardens3.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Reduced run-off

  • Reduced water pollution

  • Reduced urban heat island effects

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Reduced crashes

  • Reduced soil erosion

  • Reduced flooding

  • Increased wildlife habitat

What does the research say about effectiveness? This strategy is rated scientifically supported.

There is strong evidence that permeable pavement projects reduce stormwater run-off and pollutant concentrations, especially total suspended solids and heavy metals4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. Permeable pavement may reduce urban heat island effects when materials used function as cool pavement5, 14, 15, and reduce glare and automobile hydroplaning accidents16. Using permeable pavement may mitigate urban flooding5, and along with other low impact development techniques is a suggested strategy to reduce soil erosion, improve water quality, and preserve habitat, property, and other infrastructure1, 3, 17. Periodic maintenance is needed to maintain effectiveness over time4, 5.

Permeable, porous, and pervious pavements can be designed to have an evaporative cooling effect, meaning the pavement has a cooler surface temperature because water can flow around, be retained, or flow through14. Some studies find such pavements to be 8-25 degrees Celsius cooler than impermeable pavement, depending on conditions. Evaporative pavement is especially well-suited for rainy and humid climate zones. One type of innovative permeable pavement (IPP) which has capillary columns and an internal water storage zone with a liner, is designed for areas with a high water table and low-permeability soil. IPP appears to better mitigate the urban heat island effect than permeable interlocking concrete pavement and impervious concrete pavement18. In some cases, without water or during drier seasons, the pavement can be hotter than conventional pavement14. More research is needed on the cooling effects of permeable pavement on nearby air and thermal comfort5.

Coordinated large scale efforts to use permeable pavement throughout a city, county, or region have a greater effect on water quality than small scale permeable pavement projects implemented in isolation19. Permeable pavement has been shown to infiltrate stormwater run-off in cold weather climates8, 13. Stormwater filtered through permeable pavement projects in cold climates after winter applications of salt can retain chlorides, which can then be released during spring runoff events20; design and maintenance adaptations in cold climates can reduce risks to groundwater8. A Wisconsin-based study suggests winter sand applications can contribute to clogging during spring runoff20. Some studies do not recommend permeable pavement in cold climates, while others suggest adaptations may also be needed to address clogging concerns and stress on pavement from freeze/thaw cycles6, 21. Further studies suggest permeable pavements’ geothermal heat exchange properties could make them useful in sustainably heating or cooling buildings, though more research is needed6.

The effectiveness of most permeable materials varies with stormwater run-off volume22; a comparison of 10 different permeable surfaces suggests porous concrete has the greatest infiltration rates and the least variation23. Maintenance such as industrial vacuum cleaning, pressure washing, or milling can remove clogging material and retain permeability over time24. Permeable pavement projects with thicker subsurface layers of gravel more effectively remove total suspended solids (TSS) than thinner layers. Smaller gravel sizes may also increase TSS removal but require more frequent maintenance than larger gravel layers25. One lab study comparing modifications suggests maintaining a saturated region in the pavement system subbase (to maintain necessary humidity and decrease oxygen, which increases biodegradation) and adding an organic carbon layer and thin sand layers to enhance removal of TSS26.

A New Orleans-based comparison of permeable pavements, bioswales, and rain gardens finds that 4 of 6 tested pavement sites did not meet the guidelines for infiltration capacity27. Experts suggest in similar regions (below sea level, with high groundwater tables, and low permeable soil) that performance can be improved with regular monitoring for trash, damage, and clogging, and that inlets and outlets be strategically placed. Signage or other communication can also help increase public insight into sites’ function and maintenance as green infrastructure27.

Some studies suggest permeable pavement systems are more cost effective than green roofs or traditional concrete storage basins for managing flow and volume of stormwater6. Life-cycle analyses should include construction, operation, and maintenance costs, with the benefits potentially including environmental benefits from groundwater recharge and improved water quality, as well as flood protection and savings at drainage and sewage treatment facilities6. Permeable pavement to retrofit highway shoulders appears to be cost effective and technically feasible compared to conventional practices21. Costs for permeable pavements vary by the material used. Permeable pavement projects are particularly cost effective where land values are high6 and where flooding or icing is a problem1. Maintenance costs also appear to be lower when pavements cover larger surface areas28. Experts also suggest that 20-year, pavement lifespan-length studies are needed, and that permeable pavement failures are due to design mix, construction, and lack of maintenance21.

Additional research is needed to confirm effectiveness for higher speed roads with heavier traffic loads, especially highways2. Experts recommend permeable pavement systems as part of a multi-component “treatment train” approach to stormwater management and suggest permeable systems be installed in sections of the treatment train which avoid heavy loading and have less clogging potential, such as on footpaths6 and highway shoulders21. At least one type of clogging resistant permeable pavement is being developed that appears resistant to clogging by sand and clay and has higher strength and permeability than conventional permeable concrete29.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated potential to decrease disparities: suggested by expert opinion.

Permeable pavement projects, as part of efforts to improve stormwater management or add green infrastructure, are a suggested strategy to reduce disparities by race and income in exposure to flood risk and health dangers from untreated stormwater38 and exposure to excess heat and urban heat island effects37, 39.

Communities of color and those with lower incomes experience higher risks of flooding from inadequate or outdated stormwater infrastructure, and risks are increasing with climate change38. Families can also be exposed to pathogens that cause illness, as well as pollution that includes industrial chemicals, if low-quality stormwater and sewer infrastructure lead to indoor flooding3. Methods for treating stormwater runoff that remove more pollutants also improve water quality at beaches and in rivers. This can reduce rates of gastrointestinal and other illnesses, which amount to millions of dollars in health care costs38. Beaches and rivers also provide cooling recreational space particularly in communities of color and those with lower incomes38.

Cities and some neighborhoods can be hotter than elsewhere due to inequitable types of landcover in urban areas, causing what is known as a heat island effect or intra-urban heat island effect37. Studies show the urban heat island is related to outdoor and indoor thermal comfort, energy demand and consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution levels, residential water use, and morbidity and mortality from extreme air temperatures, especially in warmer seasons. The magnitude of urban heat island effects is also increasing due to more frequent extreme heat events caused by global climate change14. Studies of over 150 cities in the U.S. find strong associations between neighborhoods that experience systemic racial discrimination, higher neighborhood temperatures39, 40, and less tree canopy cover41. Individuals of color and those with low incomes are more likely to live in neighborhoods that were historically redlined and are today intra-urban heat islands37. Permeable pavement projects can be part of larger efforts to increase greenness and tree canopy cover in cities, which is associated with reduced urban heat island effects42.

Experts and practitioners emphasize the potential for green infrastructure installations, designed with a whole-ecosystem view, to provide mutually-reinforcing, cumulative stormwater management, alongside other benefits43. Experts suggest greening infrastructure projects can improve neighborhood equity, by reducing heat islands, increasing access to green space, and supporting ecosystem health through better stormwater control and increased wildlife habitat3, 43. Researchers are developing models to help communities map out location, type, and size of implementation of stormwater low-impact development and green infrastructure so it benefits communities with the greatest need44.

To successfully implement green (vs. grey) infrastructure communities have to address several potential challenges, including coordination across sectors and agencies; concerns about green infrastructure and its effects, such as on neighborhood gentrification and parking; hyper-local projects which do not consider entire watersheds; failure to account fully for environmental costs from poorly managed stormwater; lack of local expertise, personnel, funding, or regulation aligning with projects scaled to ecosystem needs; and paying for and carrying out maintenance43.

What is the relevant historical background?

More people are living in urban areas than in previous decades, with 8 in 10 individuals predicted to live in cities by 205045. Urban areas generally contain much more impervious surface coverage6. In the 1990s, local planners and others began to shift their focus from concrete pipes, culverts, and spillways to manage stormwater (grey infrastructure) toward green infrastructure, which includes treatments with sponge-like properties to reduce flooding severity of storm events and to reduce pollution entering ground and surface waters from excess stormwater3, 6. In recent decades, interest in these approaches has also grown due to the potential for green infrastructure to mitigate excess urban heat14.

In the U.S., a multi-component approach to stormwater management is often called Green Stormwater Infrastructure43 or Low Impact Development (LID) and elsewhere may be called Water Sensitive Urban Design (Australia) or Sustainable Drainage Systems (UK). In some countries, such as Germany, developers are legally required to apply sustainable stormwater management techniques in new urban developments6. Historically systems for drinking water, groundwater, stormwater, and wastewater have been governed by different agencies in the U.S.; however, experts recommend increased coordination to understand the full costs and benefits of policy and infrastructure decisions38.

Equity Considerations
  • Have any types of permeable pavement been installed in your community or state? If so, where?
  • How are decisions being made about where permeable pavement and related projects will be sited? Do assessments consider whole watersheds?
  • Who is leading the design of green infrastructure retrofits and installations, including for stormwater management, in your area? What are the priorities of these projects (e.g., reduce flood risk, reduce urban heat island, etc.)?
  • How are communities paying for permeable pavement projects and maintenance?
  • What outreach is happening in communities affected by installations, to increase understanding of stormwater management systems’ function and maintenance, and to solicit input for green infrastructure projects?
Implementation Examples

A few states have regulations that encourage sustainable water management, including techniques such as permeable pavement; California is one example30. Pennsylvania has utilized pervious pavement in shared use paths, bike trails, and parking lots at state parks31. Many states and cities have guidelines and strategic plans that encourage stormwater management best practices that include using low impact development and green infrastructure such as permeable pavement, rain gardens, bioswales, green roofs, and rain barrels. Examples include Connecticut32, Minnesota33, Boston34, Los Angeles35, and Washington, D.C.36. Los Angeles is also among cities with specific heat equity initiatives. The Cool LA program includes installing cool pavements and adding trees in the neighborhoods with the highest temperatures, which also tend to have lower incomes37.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

US EPA-Permeable pavement - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). Soak up the rain: Permeable pavement.

US EPA-Cool pavements - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). Using cool pavements to reduce heat islands.

US EPA-LID - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Urban runoff: Low impact development (LID).

LSS-Stormwater - Lake Superior Streams (LSS). Tools for stormwater management.

MAPC-Sustainable water - Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). Environment: Sustainable water management.

NRMCA-Pervious pavement - National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA). Pervious concrete pavement.

SEMCOG-LID 2008 - Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG). Low impact development (LID) manual for Michigan: A design guide for implementers and reviewers. 2008.

CA DWR-Water efficient - California Department of Water Resources (CA DWR). Model water efficient landscape ordinance.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 US EPA-Green infrastructure - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). What is green infrastructure?

2 Kayhanian 2015 - Kayhanian M, Weiss PT, Gulliver JS, Khazanovich L. The application of permeable pavement with emphasis on successful design, water quality benefits, and identification of knowledge and data gaps. National Center for Sustainable Transportation. 2015.

3 Urban-Fedorowicz 2020 - Fedorowicz M, Schilling J, Bramhall E, et al. Leveraging the built environment for health equity: Promising interventions for small and medium-size cities. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute; 2020.

4 Sambito 2021 - Sambito M, Severino A, Freni G, Neduzha L. A systematic review of the hydrological, environmental and durability performance of permeable pavement systems. Sustainability. 2021;13(8):4509.

5 Wang 2022 - Wang R, Fu X. Examining the effects of policy design on affordable unit production under inclusionary zoning policies. Journal of the American Planning Association. 2022;88(4):550-564.

6 Kuruppu 2019 - Kuruppu U, Rahman A, Rahman MA. Permeable pavement as a stormwater best management practice: A review and discussion. Environmental Earth Sciences. 2019;78:327.

7 Mullaney 2014 - Mullaney J, Lucke T. Practical review of pervious pavement designs. Clean - Soil, Air, Water. 2014;42(2):111-124.

8 Drake 2013 - Drake JAP, Bradford A, Marsalek J. Review of environmental performance of permeable pavement systems: State of the knowledge. Water Quality Research Journal of Canada. 2013;48:203-222.

9 Ahiablame 2012 - Ahiablame LM, Engel BA, Chaubey I. Effectiveness of low impact development practices: Literature review and suggestions for future research. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution. 2012;223:4253-4273.

10 Revitt 2014 - Revitt DM, Lundy L, Coulon F, Fairley M. The sources, impact and management of car park runoff pollution: A review. Journal of Environmental Management. 2014;146:552-567.

11 Imran 2013 - Imran HM, Akib S, Karim MR. Permeable pavement and stormwater management systems: A review. Environmental Technology. 2013;34(18):2649-2656.

12 Scholz 2007 - Scholz M, Grabowiecki P. Review of permeable pavement systems. Building and Environment. 2007;42:3830-3836.

13 Dietz 2007 - Dietz ME. Low impact development practices: A review of current research and recommendations for future directions. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution. 2007;186:351-363.

14 Kousis 2023 - Kousis I, Pisello AL. Evaluating the performance of cool pavements for urban heat island mitigation under realistic conditions: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Urban Climate. 2023;49:101470.

15 US EPA-Wong 2008 - Wong E. Reducing urban heat islands: Compendium of strategies: Chapter 5 Cool pavements. US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). 2008.

16 LSS-Pervious pavement - Lake Superior Streams (LSS). Pervious pavement.

17 CDC-Water quality - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Healthy places: Water quality.

18 Liu 2020 - Liu Y, Li T, Yu L. Urban heat island mitigation and hydrology performance of innovative permeable pavement: A pilot-scale study. Journal of Cleaner Production. 2020;244:118938.

19 US EPA-LID - US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Urban runoff: Low impact development (LID).

20 Selbig 2019 - Selbig WR, Buer N, Danz ME. Stormwater-quality performance of lined permeable pavement systems. Journal of Environmental Management. 2019;251:109510.

21 Weiss 2019 - Weiss PT, Kayhanian M, Gulliver JS, Khazanovich L. Permeable pavement in northern North American urban areas: Research review and knowledge gaps. International Journal of Pavement Engineering. 2019;20(2):143-162.

22 Hoss 2016 - Hoss F, Fischbach J, Molina-Perez E. Effectiveness of best management practices for stormwater treatment as a function of runoff volume. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management. 2016;142(11):5016009.

23 Alizadehtazi 2016 - Alizadehtazi B, DiGiovanni K, Foti R, et al. Comparison of observed infiltration rates of different permeable urban surfaces using a Cornell sprinkle infiltrometer. Journal of Hydrologic Engineering. 2016;21(7):6016003.

24 Winston 2016 - Winston RJ, Al-Rubaei AM, Blecken GT, Viklander M, Hunt WF. Maintenance measures for preservation and recovery of permeable pavement surface infiltration rate – The effects of street sweeping, vacuum cleaning, high pressure washing, and milling. Journal of Environmental Management. 2016;169:132-144.

25 Huang 2016 - Huang J, Valeo C, He J, Chu A. The influence of design parameters on stormwater pollutant removal in permeable pavements. Water, Air, & Soil Pollution. 2016;227(9):311.

26 Kuruppu 2023 - Kuruppu U, Rahman A. Evaluation of permeable pavement systems for removing heavy metals from stormwater. Water. 2023;15:1573.

27 Boogaard 2023 - Boogaard F, Rooze D, Stuurman R. The long-term hydraulic efficiency of freen infrastructure under sea level: Performance of raingardens, swales and permeable pavement in New Orleans. Land. 2023;12:171.

28 Siwakoti 2023 - Siwakoti S, Binns A, Bradford A, Bonakdari H, Gharabaghi B. A prediction model to cost-optimize clean-out of Permeable Interlocking Concrete Pavers. Water. 2023;15:2135.

29 Kia 2021 - Kia A, Wong HS, Cheeseman CR. High-strength clogging resistant permeable pavement. International Journal of Pavement Engineering. 2021;22(3):271-282.

30 CA-SB 7 - California Legislative Information. Senate Bill (SB) 7. Part 2.55. Sustainable water use and demand reduction: Chapter 5: Sustainable Water Management. 2009.

31 PA DOT-Pervious pavement - Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PA DOT). Pervious pavement.

32 Fuss & O’Neill 2013 - Fuss & O'Neill. Quinnipac River: Watershed based plan. 2013.

33 MN PCA-Stormwater - Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MN PCA). Stormwater management: Low impact development and green infrastructure.

34 MAPC-Sustainable water - Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC). Environment: Sustainable water management.

35 LASAN-Green infrastructure - City of Los Angeles, LA Sanitation & Environment (LASAN). Watershed protection program: Low impact development, green infrastructure, and more.

36 DC DDOT-Green infrastructure - Washington, D.C., District Department of Transportation (DDOT). Green infrastructure.

37 US EPA-Heat islands equity - U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA). Heat islands and equity.

38 PI-Yanez 2021 - Yañez E, Bennett R, Bruins E, Aboelata MJ. A time of opportunity: Water, health, and equity in the Los Angeles region. Case statement prepared for the Water Foundation. Oakland, CA: Prevention Institute (PI); 2021.

39 Manware 2022 - Manware M, Dubrow R, Carrión D, Ma Y, Chen K. Residential and race/ethnicity disparities in heat vulnerability in the United States. GeoHealth. 2022;6(12):e2022GH000695.

40 Hoffman 2020 - Hoffman JS, Shandas V, Pendleton N. The effects of historical housing policies on resident exposure to intra-urban heat: A study of 108 US urban areas. Climate. 2020;8(12):1-15.

41 Locke 2021 - Locke DH, Hall B, Grove JM, et al. Residential housing segregation and urban tree canopy in 37 U.S. cities. npj Urban Sustainability. 2021;1(1).

42 Kinay 2022 - Kınay P, Ji JS. Reported evidence of greenness co-benefits on health, climate change mitigation, and adaptation: A systematic review of the literature. Environmental Research: Climate. 2022;1(1):012002.

43 Jayakaran 2020 - Jayakaran AD, Moffett KB, Padowski JC, Townsend PA, Gaolach B. Green infrastructure in western Washington and Oregon: Perspectives from a regional summit. Urban Forestry and Urban Greening. 2020;50:126654.

44 Herbst 2023 - Herbst RS, Culver TB, Band LE, Wilson B, Quinn JD. Integrating social equity into multiobjective optimization of urban stormwater low-impact development. Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management. 2023;149(8).

45 Gianfredi 2021 - Gianfredi V, Buffoli M, Rebecchi A, et al. Association between urban greenspace and health: A systematic review of literature. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2021;18(10):5137.

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