design transport

Reclaiming the kerbside as public space

How are kerbs used where you live? Or do you have curbs instead? Whatever your preferred spelling, if it’s anything like where I live, then the edges of the pavement are mainly reserved for cars to park on. Even on my wide residential street, many households have more vehicles than they can fit on their double-driveways, and the kerb serves as extra parking.

Lambeth Council in London are challenging this. As they point out, kerbs are the largest public space under their control. If you added all the kerbs in the district together, it would be equivalent to 194 football pitches – and 94% of that goes to cars. They’ve published a ‘kerbside strategy‘ to reclaim this space for the public and for its climate objectives. It’s a pioneering idea that I fully intend to nick for Luton.

“The kerbside is a public space – it belongs to all of us,” says the strategy, but cars take up that space by default. “We’re so used to the kerbside being like this that it can be hard to imagine anything different, but change is necessary and possible.”

What sort of change are we talking about? The strategy calls for 25% of kerbs to be used differently, so the angry car drivers still get the lion’s share and can sit back down. The quarter being repurposed will be used in four different ways:

Improving access and active transport – this includes standards for disability access and more disabled parking bays. It’s also means infrastructure to support walking and cycling, such as bike parking and space for shared bike schemes. As an example, here’s a ‘bike hangar’ that’s been installed in former car parking spaces in Camden:

Climate resilience – to help reduce urban heat, Lambeth is committing to planting more street trees and creating shade. That’s something that can be seen in the photo above too, but these trees take space out of the pavement. Lambeth suggest that the space should be taken out of the road instead, with little extensions from the kerb. They aim to have a tree every 25 metres across every street. Kerbside space will also be used for wildflowers, and for rain gardens that help to reduce flood risk.

Social spaces – This creates new outside spaces for people who might not have gardens of their own, which is important in a city like London. Groups can apply to make community gardens, and businesses can apply to put out seating. Lambeth has already piloted this, with a variety of ‘parklets’, allotments and new cafe spaces created. Here’s a new seating area on a street called The Cut:

Lower emissions and traffic – There are a number of transport related proposals under this category, all enabling sustainable travel options and supporting the borough’s target of reducing traffic by 27% by 2030. One priority is electric car charging bays, which is vital in a city where most car owners don’t have off-street parking. Ultimately Lambeth wants fewer cars, electric or not, and so there will be more spaces reserved for car club vehicles and e-scooter rentals.

As I say regularly, car culture is a major obstacle to climate targets. Switching to all electric cars eliminates some of the problems, such as carbon emissions and local air pollution. It does nothing to address traffic congestion, safety, or the dominance of cars in cities. So I really like the practical, step by step reclaiming of public space that Lambeth are demonstrating in their kerbside strategy. It’s all helping to make neighbourhoods more attractive, safer, healthier and more sustainable.

I don’t know of any kerbside plans like this outside of London, so tell your local councillor about it and let’s see if we can get some more communities re-thinking the role of the kerb.


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