the problem with rolled curbs

Curb&GutterDiagramsRolled curbs slope up from the gutter pan to the sidewalk, whereas standard curbs have a more vertical face. Standard curbs are both old and modern, but there was a period of time in the 1950s through 1970s when rolled curbs were very popular, seen as a sign of the new suburbs. In the grid area of Sacramento, including the first ring suburbs, standard curbs are quite common. In the second ring suburbs and the sprawl suburbs, rolled curbs are quite common, not only being found in residential neighborhoods but even on arterial roads.

parking up on the sidewalk with rolled curb
parking up on the sidewalk with rolled curb

So, what’s the problem with rolled curbs? Drivers use rolled curbs to drive up on the edge of the sidewalk, constraining the sidewalk width, reducing walkability, and not infrequently causing blockage of the sidewalk for people in wheelchairs. ADA regulations require at least 36 inches of clear width. Combine the narrow 4-foot sidewalks that were popular in the suburbs with this driver behavior, and the car-influence zone is expanded to the complete width of the right of way, leaving no place for pedestrians. [Note: This photo is for illustration purposes only, not to give this driver a hard time. This is common practice, and I’ve seen many instances where much more of the sidewalk was blocked.]

A side affect of parking up on sidewalks is that it leaves more of the street width for moving motor vehicles, which then increases the speed at which people drive. By trying to get their vehicles out of the way of the “speeding drivers,” they are actually making it easier for drivers to speed.

What are the solutions?

  1. When curbs, gutters and sidewalks are replaced, only standard curbs and gutters should be installed. While that is already the policy in most locations, cities and counties seem to bow to pressure from homeowners to stick with rolled curbs, in order to maintain the “feeling” of the neighborhood. Cities and counties must stand firm on standard curbs.
  2. Teach people to not park up on the sidewalk or even the inner edge of the curb, since mirrors and other parts of the vehicle may intrude even when the tires do not. As I ride around, I see some blocks with rolled curbs where no one is parked up on the sidewalk, and other blocks where almost everyone is, so I assume that people just follow what their neighbors are doing rather than thinking about it. In locations where there are police department docents or volunteers, this would be a good topic to stop and talk to people about. I think that once some people change, most others on that block would follow. If they continue to park on the sidewalk after being given fair warning, they should be ticketed.

If someone on your block or in your neighborhood is using rolled curbs to park up on the sidewalk, please talk to them about it. Direct contact would be most effective, but if you don’t see them over a long period of time, leave a note. If one talk or two notes doesn’t change their behavior, then report them to parking enforcement.

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