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Dropped kerbs – making life easy at road junctions

Transport for All

Life in a wheelchair nowadays is far easier...

Life in a wheelchair nowadays is far easier than it was many years ago. One of the things which make it easier is the fact that most pavements now have dropped kerbs at road junctions – places where the kerb is lowered to make it level with the road. But are there enough dropped kerbs? And are they all fit for purpose?


Having dropped kerbs on our streets is not just essential for wheelchair and mobility scooter users, but also useful for a wide cross section of people, from parents with buggies, to older people and tourists with heavy luggage. The sloping transition from pavement to road avoids the need for stepping off the kerb.


A strong and skilled manual wheelchair user can negotiate most full-height kerbs, but this requires the ability to do a ‘wheelie’ balancing on the big wheels of the wheelchair while bouncing up or down the kerb. This operation can be risky and is really not practical for some wheelchair users. For people using mobility scooters or powered wheelchairs, full-height kerbs are simply an insurmountable barrier.


It is the responsibility of local authorities to install dropped kerbs, and in general they have done an excellent job. Over the years it has become easier to get around on wheels and problems with regard to the accessibility of the street scene are becoming rarer.


Nevertheless some problems do still exist and when they arise they throw up many frustrating barriers to getting around.


Some dropped kerbs are badly designed or badly maintained. The ideal dropped kerb consists of a gentle slope from pavement level to a seamless join with the road, with tactile tiles to alert people with visual impairment to the presence of the drop. But in many cases the point where the slope joins the road consists of a step, or a rough area of large cobblestones in the road, or worn-away tarmac – obstacles which make the dropped kerb very hard to use. And sometimes the tactile tiles are not present, which makes things difficult and unpleasant for visually impaired people.


Thoughtless parking can also be a problem. A car parked across a dropped kerb can often send a wheelchair or scooter user on a long detour to get over the junction. Enforcement of parking restrictions needs to become much stricter in order to protect dropped kerbs from cars and vans parking illegally.


There are some strange anomalies where dropped kerbs are missing in busy areas, or present in almost deserted areas. For example, Camden Council has installed a full set of really good dropped kerbs in the tiny and hardly-used St Chad’s Place near King’s Cross. On the other hand, I have found – very surprisingly – many junctions in Soho, one of the busiest parts of London’s West End, where there are no dropped kerbs at all! This has forced me into awkward and circuitous routes to get around in a famous part of London that should cater for everyone. Along Kensington Road, near the Royal Albert Hall, there is a two-step double-height kerb along the pavement, without any dropped kerbs for a long stretch of road.


I have been in touch with Westminster Council about the problem areas in Soho, and they have agreed to install most of the dropped kerbs which I requested. Meanwhile Transport for All is still campaigning for Westminster to install dropped kerbs along Kensington Road.

So whilst there is much to rejoice about, there is more to be done, and Transport for All is working to try to encourage all local authorities to resolve the remaining problems and make London a place without barriers for all pavement users. Get in touch with us if you have encountered any problems with dropped kerbs, missing dropped kerbs, or kerb drops without tactile tiles, and we will take up your case with the relevant authorities – you can find our contact details here.

Chris Stapleton

A man standing in front of a painted brick wall smiling at the camera. He is holding a cane and is wearing glasses, a black jacket and a grey t-shirt. A man standing in front of a painted brick wall smiling at the camera. He is holding a cane and is wearing glasses, a black jacket and a grey t-shirt.

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