What is “the kerbside” and can we use it sustainably?

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Space on our streets is at a premium and there are increasing demands and pressure on it – more than ever before. In London Borough of Lambeth, it is a space the size of 194 football pitches and we will use 25% of it to support climate resilience.

We first started talking about an elusive “kerbside strategy” in 2019, following loose suggestions from The Mayor Transport Strategy back in 2017. In 2019, Centre for London’s The Future of Parking, suggested we were missing a trick. But it was in 2020 and Lambeth’s first Citizen Assembly on Climate Change that really kicked things into gear, agreeing that the borough would use 25% of its kerbside to support community resilience and the strategies mandate was properly established.

The kerbside is a public space and it belongs to all of us

Photo by London Borough of Lambeth

There was no universally agreed definition of the kerbside yet, and according to some sources (see Cambridge Dictionary), it includes the bit of pavement by the kerb. This might seem a bit pedantic, but the implications were significant. Pressure on our pavements is at an all-time high, and if we include it in our definition, it ultimately entrenches the idea that pavements are for anything except for walking and wheeling.

The kerbside, however, is the opportunity area on most streets, where you can do lots of interesting things and still leave plenty of space for walking, cycling and driving. You can store cars in the kerbside, or you can have wildflowers, play spaces, a community library, shared cargo bikes or anything else that’s roughly two meters wide. It is, by far, the part of our streets with the most untapped potential.

“Sustainable use” of the kerbside?

We needed to define what “sustainable” uses of the kerbside and this part was trickier than expected.

As a borough that had committed to using 25% of its kerbside sustainably, we were shocked to learn that 24% of it was double yellow lines which are often there for safety reasons and arguably sustainable.

So, is a kerbside use “sustainable” when it reduces the danger from vehicles on our roads? What if there were less dangerous vehicles on our roads? Would it still be sustainable? If you answer no, then you free this space up for other undeniably sustainable uses like trees or cycle parking.

Inevitably, any definition of “sustainable” will be subject to personal, political, organisational biases and any borough looking to do the same will have to come to their own definition.

How do we use the kerbside today?

We couldn’t find anyone that had done this, and so we enlisted the kind folks at Systra to help us answer the question. This was a manual process, but as boroughs move to map-based traffic orders, it will be much easier.

This baseline flagged some shocking home truths:

“94% of kerbside is used to manage vehicle parking, but 60% of households don’t have a vehicle.”

and

“There are over 48km of driveway crossovers. More than all of our sustainable uses combined.”

We certainly assumed the dial had been allowed to go too far towards motor vehicles, but not by this far. In many ways these shocking statistics helped make the initially radical 25% target seem far more sensible, more about restoring a degree of fairness than some pie in the sky target.

One thing that came right from the top, was that this strategy should represent the whole council not just the transport team. So, we began speaking to teams across the council and asking the question “how could the work you do benefit from kerbside space?”.

Unsurprisingly if you work in transport, you can rattle off loads of answers to this question because we ask ourselves it all the time. It was the answers from non-transport people, people who have rarely if ever been asked this question, which were creative and surprising in equal measure.

“Neutral spaces to talk with children” from our social workers or “…that business told us they would have shut down without being allowed some kerbside space during COVID” from our regeneration team.

Evident then that reallocating kerbside space could lead to greater social and economic sustainability, as well as the more obvious climate sustainability that triggered the strategy initially.

Kerbside basics are parking minimums for the 21st century (and hopefully 23rd, 24th centuries!)

Donald Shoup, a.k.a “professor of parking policy”, highlights how if your objective was cars dominating the built environment, then parking minimums in the US are a truly fantastic policy tool. What if we took the same concept and applied it to what we need from our streets today and over coming decades?

This is where our Kerbside Basics came from, minimum levels of service for the typical Lambeth Street. We set these out against four priorities and ultimately all of them help to accelerate loads of work the Council was already working towards. Rather than explain them, why not take a look at this great video walkthrough from Cllr Rezina Chowdhury, our Cabinet Member for Clean Air and the Environment.

David Wilson is Climate Response Strategy Manager for Transport and Public Realm at Lambeth Council/The London Borough of Lambeth

This article was originally published on 14th April 2023 on London Councils’ Climate Blog, “Medium”, a space for London borough officers and London Councils’ climate programmes to share their work on net zero and adaptation.  

Feature Image Source: Adrian Schweiz on Pixabay

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