our curb-less curb extensions

John Coluccio & curb

Intro: It’s been a month since I wrote Schenectady Signal Control Superintendent John Coluccio, asking whether the new Stockade “bump-outs” will protect pedestrians despite having no curbs. A week later, I again wrote Mr. Coluccio, cc’ing City Commissioner of Services Paul LaFond and Stockade Association leaders, among others, asking if there are any Rules of the Road concerning whether or when vehicles may drive over or park on such bump-outs. Because I have received no reply from the City, and no substantive response from the Stockade Association, I’ve had to do my own research and draw my own conclusions. Below are my findings.

. . share this post with this short URL: https://tinyurl.com/curblessbumpouts

follow-up (August 19, 2020): No one at City Hall nor on the Stockade Association Board has yet replied to my questions about the rationale and efficacy of curbless bumpouts. I took the two photos in this collage on August 15, 2020, and added some editorial comments.

CurbsNeeded

IMG_1881 additional follow-up (September 9, 2020): The City has erected “No Standing Here to Corner” signs to compensate in part for the lack of curbs. See See https://tinyurl.com/HereToCorner

With NO CURBS or SIGNS to PREVENT PARKING on the bump-outs, the Stockade versions are significantly less likely to provide the hoped-for improvement in visibility of and by pedestrians, and may give a false sense of safety (especially to children). Although the bricks are prettier than asphalt, without curbs around the bump-outs, they are still part of the roadway for use by vehicles.

WITHOUT CURBS, Union Street is not actually narrowed in the Stockade, and vehicles (including bicycles) are likely to drive over them, especially when a larger vehicle is making a turn into a street where another vehicle is stopped.

  • hazardsignThe safety goal of having a shorter crosswalk to traverse with the bump-out is compromised when a pedestrian or wheelchair occupant is waiting for traffic on a curbless bump-out, as curbs offer an element of safety to those waiting to cross, and also require vehicles to make a wider turn. To the extent that the curb-extension prevents parking close to the crosswalk or intersection, they allow drivers to see waiting pedestrians. That benefit is lost if vehicles are parked on a curbless bump-out. Curbs let all know that the “bump-out” is part of the sidewalk, not part of the roadway.

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  • CURB-EXTENSIONS are Traffic Calming Devices that attempt to slow down traffic and increase visibility by narrowing the roadway, shortening the crossing distance for pedestrians, and preventing vehicles from limiting sight-lines by parking too close to the intersection. By definition, Curb-Extensions, and their “bump-out” subset at intersections, extend the curbline, using curbs (or other “vertical elements”, such as planters), to delineate an extension of the sidewalk and corresponding narrowing of the roadway and thus to guide traffic and protect pedestrians.
  • Bump-outs at other Schenectady locations all have curbs — with, of course, handicap access ramps. See, for example at Upper Union St and Dean Street, and along the Proctor’s Block, and the block of S. Church Street between State and Liberty.
  • As shown in the collage immediately below, the only illustration of a bump-out in the Stockade Streetscape Plan shows a prominent curb. Furthermore, the City’s experiment last year, at an intersection near City Hall, with analogous curbless painted pedestrian safety zones (which were a lot less expensive), added temporary bollards to help make the space safer (see Gazette article, Sept. 22, 2019).

    • When a comment was left online complaining about hitting a bump-out with a tire when turning onto Jefferson St. near Morrette’s, the response does not reassure the commenter that there will be no curbs to hit, but instead notes that getting used to the new arrangement will make the intersection safer for pedestrians.
  • The Stockade Streetscape Plan itself has virtually no discussion of bump-outs. There is a Traffic Calming Map showing proposed locations. In the Plan Appendices, however, responses to resident comments concerning bump-outs, are instructive although eerily repetitive. [Screenshots of the three relevant pages can be found at the bottom of this posting.]
    • The Glossary (Appendix A), gives this definition: “Bump-out. A visual and physical narrowing of the roadway where the sidewalk is extended to shorten the crossing width for pedestrians. Also known as curb extension or bulb-out.” Of course, without a vertical element such as curbing, there is no physical narrowing.
    • In addition, Appendix F states that “bump-outs, if designed properly, will be one of the most effective means of providing pedestrian safety.” (emphasis added). Furthermore, the Streetscape Plan asserts often that “The City will not approve a bump-out that cannot be designed for both safety and function.”
    • TEST STUDY? When a resident at a public meeting on the Streetscape suggested that a “test study be done,” the Plan commenter replied (at 86), “This may happen prior to permanent installation of bump-outs, similar to the “test” at the Liberty and Jay Street intersection.” There was no such test study, but merely a complete installation of all proposed bump-outs.
  • New York State and Federal design guidelines for curb extensions make clear that they do not mix well with storm drains, and must be located with them in mind. Nonetheless, most of the Stockade bump-outs incorporate existing storms drains. Since the City and Stockade Association have not revealed their design strategy to us, the most likely conclusion is that there are no curbs because curbs would block water from reaching the storm drains and working around them is just too expensive.
  • The failure to design the Stockade bump-outs around the existing storm drains, or to slightly relocate the existing storm drains to accommodate the bump-outs, is especially surprising, given the fact that the blocks in question underwent so much excavation, refilling, and resurfacing over the past year.
  • At p. 85 of Appendix F, the Stockade Streetscape Plan correctly notes:
“The proposed design concepts and considerations have generally accounted for the needs of all users, but the details must be confirmed through the design and engineering process”
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  • That statement raises the question: Was SA in the Design Loop? Did the City ever inform the Stockade Association Board about the problem of storm drainage and the use of curbs, or visa-versa? At the very least, the subject should have been addressed earlier this year when City Council approved the Stockade Streetscape Plan and basically incorporated it into the City Zoning Code.
  • When did SA leaders know we were getting curbless bump-outs that were in effect not bump-outs or curb-extensions at all, and were less likely to achieve their safety or traffic calming goals? If SA was surprised when the first one went in without curbs, why did they not ask for the process to immediately stop? The SA president lives on that stretch of Union Street.

CONCLUSIONS

These are Not Curb-Extensions. The Stockade does not have bump-outs/curb-extensions at its Union Street intersections. It has very expensive brick designs installed at those corners, with no comparable expectation of driver compliance with the goal of less speed when going through the intersection or making turns, nor of parking further back from the intersections and crosswalks than has become traditional in the neighborhood, to enhance pedestrian safety through “daylighting“.

COSTS. Even without hand-laid brick, bump-outs are not cheap. The Federal Highway Administration pedestrian safety guide states that: “Curb extensions cost from $2,000 to $20,000 per corner, depending on design and site conditions. Drainage is usually the most significant determinant of costs. If the curb extension area is large and special pavement and street furnishings and planting are included, costs would also be higher.”

Were curbs abandoned by City designers due to the extra cost of working around water drainage problems? If so, were responsible officials and neighborhood representatives told that safety goals were being greatly compromised?

No Rules of the Road. No wonder neither the City nor SA Board has given us Rules of the Road for curbless bump-outs. “Curbless bump-outs” is an oxymoron. They are non-existent creatures unknown to motor vehicle departments and roadway design teams. Therefore, to salvage at least a bit of the original neighborhood safety goals, signage and education are needed explaining that the bump-outs may not be parked on or driven over.

IMHO:

Very Expensive and Hard to Maintain. The inlaid brick designs are: 1] Not historically correct in a neighborhood that had cobblestones, not brick, streets; 2] Too similar to bricks used nearby for crosswalks (i.e., entering the Stockade at Erie Blvd. and at State and So. Ferry St.) that are meant to be driven over, and have been shown to quickly loose their aesthetic appeal; 3] Known to be difficult and expensive to maintain, especially under winter conditions, and thus given up by other cities.

BAD DEAL for the STOCKADE: For the past few years, Stockade Association leaders have been pulling their punches or acting like cheerleaders when dealing with City Hall. Some observers have felt their goal in not rocking the boat was to achieve acceptance and payment for the Streetscape Plan, especially the bump-outs and other traffic calming measures. If that was their goal, too much was given away in Association effectiveness and self-esteem given the bumpy results.

There must be a lot of lessons to be learned here. And, there should be accountability for the poor results.

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From Stockade Streetscape Plan, Appendix F, Final Public Workshop – April 22, 2019 Meeting Comments & Online Comments: