A road curb is an edge where a raised sidewalk meets the roadway or a street. The origin of curbs can be traced back to the 18th century where curbs were primarily constructed for aesthetic appeal. However, gradually as they begun to be realized as a safety measure, city planners across the world begun incorporating construction of curbs as a means to manage road traffic and pedestrians effectively.
It is interesting to note that before curbs were constructed using concrete and Purbeck stone paving, small wooden bollards were used to separate the areas reserved for pedestrian use. Following a series of Paving Acts, like the 1766 Paving and Lighting Act, the City of London Corporation were authorized to create footways along the streets of London by raising them above the street level and paving them with Purbeck stone. By the early 19th century, curbs became an omnipresent phenomenon across London. This suit was soon followed across the world to introduce safe walking spaces for pedestrians.
Curbs serve different purposes to pedestrians and drivers. Firstly, they enable separation of road and roadside, both for walkers and drivers. For drivers, this serves as a driving and parking guideline. For walkers, it serves as a safe area to walk. They assist in channelling motor vehicle traffic and making drivers aware of the pedestrians, making for an effective safety measure, especially in cities like Toronto, that are full of vehicles and pedestrians. From a structural point of view, curbs provide a support to the pavement edge making it safer and easier, promoting accessibility. However, it has been noted that a high-speed vehicle that hits a curb is likely to turn towards the sidewalk rather than the opposite. This is the reason why curbs are usually not present on high-speed roads or rural roads. In colder and rainy cities, curbs help to direct the flow of rainwater and snow towards drains, which allows the roads to decongest of water. And of course, there is an underlying aesthetic reason as curbs make the road to appear more fine finished.
There are many styles and types of curb classified on the basis of shape, material, height and their combination with other construction components (For example, manhole or gutters). Curbs are also constructed with varying materials like asphalt, large or small stones, masonry blocks or Portland cement concrete. The material used depends on the paving material, the function of the curb and the need. The construction method also varies as per material used. For instance, to use asphalt for constructing a curb, a paving machine is required. Though it works out to be less expensive if it is formed at the time of road pavement, it is likely to have lower durability as compared to a concrete curb.
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