Into the Weeds: Durham UDO - Curb Cuts

This MAY end up being a series where I take one specific piece of the code, briefly talk about why it is a problem and discuss why it matters. Then, if possible, try to figure out what can be done to fix the problem.

Curb cuts! These are those places in the street curb that allows cars to enter driveways. (and with that I have lost about 75% of the readers - but for the rest of you, keep reading - at the very least, this is a short post).

But wait. That picture is not a good example. In Durham, the edges of the curb cuts need to be curved.

These curved edges are supposed to allow cars to turn more gradually into driveways. That may sound good, but in practice, it allows cars to go faster in and out of the driveway (instead of slowing down to take a sharper turn). Faster entry/exit means faster flow, which is the main goal for traffic engineers, but it flies directly in the face of safety.

Cars that don't have to slow down as much to turn into a driveway are more likely to seriously injure a pedestrian crossing on that sidewalk. In the US, we spend so much time and effort to speed up traffic and forget that killing pedestrians is not worth a commute that is 45 seconds shorter.

Durham has decided that the curb cut radius needs to be 2.5 feet. Essentially, that means an even more gradual curve than the one shown here (and what was previously required), which in turn means faster entry and exit to the driveway.

Not only that, but every time there is a new home built, the developer has to foot the bill to tear up the already existing curb cut and replace it with a gentler curved curb cut.

Your initial reaction may be "boo hoo, the developer of these new houses can afford the extra few thousand dollars and still make a huge profit on their expensive homes", but that is exactly the point. Can Habitat for Humanity afford that? Can anyone trying to create quality, affordable housing afford that without sacrificing quality elsewhere afford it?

If Durham makes the developer pay these types of costs, Durham is going to get the type of development that can absorb these types of cost.

So, in effect, this piece of the code makes Durham streets less safe and crowds out much needed smaller scale, affordable housing.

I realize this is a tiny part of the building process, but that is exactly why I am highlighting it. There are many of these small costs that add up. Each individual small cost is not worth anyone's time to fight, but does its small part to kill any housing other than the big expensive stuff.

What can be done? Developers with deep pockets aren't going to fight these rules because it isn't worth their time. Developers with less deep pockets can't afford to spend time and resources on each individual extra cost. And for everyone else, these feel like small problems that don't affect them.

Maybe there should be a "developer suggestion box", where small developers can raise their concerns, but the City is responsible for putting in the resources to evaluate the problem. Staff could work with the small developers to create a report on these types of issues that City Council, the Planning Director, and any other pertinent officials could review.

That is just a first stab at a solution. I would love to hear other thoughts in the forums!

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