Some tree species, such as the cherries (Prunus spp.), will naturally have a higher propensity of forming a shallow rooting system, and in urban settings this can be particularly damaging. Not only can surface roots act as trip hazards themselves, but they can lift paving slaps (that act also as trip hazards), damage low structures, and generally be somewhat of a nuisance for some (not all) people – notably highway engineers.
Granted, this problem is largely self-inflicted – we plant tree species in the wrong places, don’t give them adequate soil volumes free of compaction and complete with nutrients and moisture, and then bemoan the developing situation of surface roots as roots both go in search of resources and look to anchor themselves into the only ground they can penetrate through. Considering many roads and pavements are laid upon highly compacted ground, because this ground provides the stability required, can we reasonably expect for trees to not create the problems they do? I don’t think so.
Anyway, below is a good example of surface roots of a cherry, and in this case we have a double-whammy of paving slabs and highly-compacted ground. The result is somewhat of an aggravation for those nearby, I would expect. But if the tree comes out, no trees exist. Is that better or worse than having surface roots? Only those living nearby can answer that.