The following post is intended for every street user: pedestrians and cyclists who prefer comfortable journeys, physically disabled people, car and bus drivers, etc. It’s dedicated to curb cuts, one of the most important elements of people-friendly street design, although designers and planners sometimes overlook them.
A curb cut is a ramp that connects sidewalks to the road itself. It is, eventually, a mediator of vehicles’ and pedestrians’ territories. I like to describe curb cuts as the “smootheners” of our cities: instead of segregation of roads and sidewalks, the separation becomes less clear, and the entire street is more accessible.
Curb cuts can be divided into three categories: the good, the bad and the ugly. The latter can be either good or bad, and I frankly don’t really mind about aesthetics when it comes to comfort. I searched for these three types around Groningen, and sacrificed myself to the mission, trying each of them on my bike in regular commuting speed (roughly 20 km/h).
Good curb cuts can come in two forms: those one notices and the “invisible” ones.
The first type of a good curb cut is the one you can see to the right. It is simple and easy to cross, and you can notice it from distance. These curb cuts are very common in Groningen, although they are supposedly more expensive than other types, due to the use of different types of bricks.
Although the previous curb cut is well designed and visible to everybody, I personally prefer the curb cuts one can’t really see: they are just blended with the road, complying to the idea of shared spaces. These are also the smoothest to cross. Their only downside is that drivers that accidently deviate to the side, can find themselves more easily on the sidewalk.
The nightmare of cyclists is bad curb cuts, those with a too steep angle. They are even worse than not having a curb cut at all, because you don’t notice how bad they are until you cross them, when the damage was already done.
The only reason to have these steep curb cuts is to slow cars down. That’s why these curb cuts are common in Groningen at entrances to residential streets (Woonerf streets). However, while drivers can easily cross these curb cuts traveling 30 km/h, cyclists need to dramatically slow down before crossing them, if they don’t want to feel the bump too much.
The last type of curb cuts is the ugly ones. This is what can happen when planners are retrofitting broken designs. In this case, some asphalt is added at the edge of the sidewalk in order to ease to transition between the latter and the road. As I said before, I don’t really care if these curb cuts are not beautiful, as long as they mimic good curb cuts and improve the street.
So, after cycling over countless of curb cuts during the last days, I have have one request to city planners: keep curb cuts gentle, please!