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Curb Extensions:
Adapted from <i>Making Streets That Work</i>, Seattle, 1996

Curb extensions—also known as bulb-outs or neckdowns—extend the sidewalk or curb line out into the parking lane, which reduces the effective street width. Curb extensions significantly improve pedestrian crossings by reducing the pedestrian crossing distance, visually and physically narrowing the roadway, improving the ability of pedestrians and motorists to see each other, and reducing the time that pedestrians are in the street.

Curb extensions placed at an intersection essentially prevent motorists from parking in or too close to a crosswalk or from blocking a curb ramp or crosswalk. Motor vehicles parked too close to corners present a threat to pedestrian safety, since they block sightlines, obscure visibility of pedestrians and other vehicles, and make turning particularly difficult for emergency vehicles and trucks. Motorists are encouraged to travel more slowly at intersections or midblock locations with curb extensions, as the restricted street width sends a visual cue to motorists. Turning speeds at intersections can be reduced with curb extensions (curb radii should be as tight as is practicable). Curb extensions also provide additional space for curb ramps and for level sidewalks where existing space is limited.

Curb extensions are only appropriate where there is an on-street parking lane. Curb extensions must not extend into travel lanes, bicycle lanes, or shoulders (curb extensions should not extend more than 1.8 m (6 ft) from the curb). The turning needs of larger vehicles, such as school buses, need to be considered in curb extension design.

Photo by Dan Burden
A curb extension on an arterial street in Seattle, Washington. The crossing distance for pedestrians is substantially reduced by the installation of this device. The extension is limited to 1.8 m (6 ft) to allow bicyclists to pass safely.

• Improve safety for pedestrians and motorists at intersections.
• Increase visibility and reduce speed of turning vehicles.
• Encourage pedestrians to cross at designated locations.
• Prevent motor vehicles from parking at corners.
• Shorten crossing distance and reduce pedestrian exposure.
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• Curb extensions can provide adequate space on narrow sidewalks for curb ramps and landings.
• Curb extensions should only be used where there is a parking lane, and where transit and bicyclists would be traveling outside the curb edge for the length of the street.
• Midblock extensions provide an opportunity to enhance midblock crossings. Care should be taken to ensure that street furniture and landscaping do not block motorists’ views of pedestrians.
• Where intersections are used by significant numbers of trucks or buses, the curb extensions need to be designed to accommodate them. However, it is important to take into consideration that those vehicles should not be going at high speeds, and most can make a tight turn at slow speeds.
• It is not necessary for a roadway to be designed so that a vehicle can turn from a curb lane to a curb lane. Vehicles can often encroach into adjacent lanes safely where volumes are low and/or speeds are slow. Speeds should be slower in a pedestrian environment.
• Emergency access is often improved through the use of curb extensions if intersections are kept clear of parked cars. Fire engines and other emergency vehicles can climb a curb where they would not be able to move a parked car. At midblock locations, curb extensions can keep fire hydrants clear of parked cars and make them more accessible.
• Curb extensions can create additional space for curb ramps, landscaping, and street furniture that are sensitive to motorist and pedestrian sightlines; this is especially beneficial where sidewalks are otherwise too narrow.
• Ensure that curb extension design facilitates adequate drainage.
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  Estimated Cost
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 cost. If the curb extension area is large and special pavement and street furnishings and planting are included, costs would also be higher. Costs can go up significantly if something major, such as a utility pole or controller box, is moved.
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