The Other Problem With Curb Cuts

Sorry, No Parking Here, the Homeowners Would Like a Garage

On Monday night, the ANC rejected a request by the residents of 1724 35th st. to establish a curb cut on S st. to allow them to build a two car garage on the back of their home. The Commission expressed concerns about the effect the move would have on parking and stated their general distaste for such curb-cuts. While the ANC made the right choice by rejecting the curb cut, it did so for only partially the right reasons. Find out why after the jump:

Parking:

It’s no secret that parking is a huge issue in Georgetown (although, less so for us over in the northern East Village). When you allow a curb cut and a garage, you are taking away a parking spot from the “pool” so to speak. The owners inevitably argue that you’re also taking a car off the road too. But in effect you’re not taking a car off the road as much as simply guaranteeing a parking spot directly in front of the owner’s house. From an equitable point of view, that’s somewhat indefensible.

Beauty:

Curb cuts are simply ugly and inconsistent with our neighborhood form. They turn a sidewalk into a driveway. As a result they are dangerous and make a sidewalk (the place pedestrians should feel the most secure) feel unsafe. GM has had plenty of occassions where he’s been walking on the sidewalk and came across a car trying to exit or enter its garage, and had to stop short waiting to make sure the driver saw him. Sure they’ve never hit him, but so what? It’s still an unecessary danger for the pedestrian, especially considering that it only exists to benefit the homeowner. And that’s not even mentioning those inconsiderate homeowners who park their cars across the sidewalk. That’s downright rude, not to mention callous of people who can’t or shouldn’t step out into the road, like children or certain handicapped individuals.

Traffic:

Ok so they’re anti-social, what else is wrong with them? Well consider this: right now it’s a pain in the ass to own a car in Georgetown, particularly in the West Village. It’s even more of a pain in the ass to own two. You’ve got to constantly struggle to find a spot on the street to store that car, particularly if you drive it every day. In fact, it’s probably such a pain in the ass that a certain amount of people choose not to own a car or two. Or if they own one, they may not drive it as much as they otherwise might.

Guaranteeing storage changes that equation. Allowing residents to build a two car garage virtually guarantees that they and all future residents of that house will, in fact, own two cars. When you lower the natural disincentive to own and drive a car what do you get? Driving. Lots of it.

Now plenty of people will argue that the traffic back-ups in Georgetown are mostly caused by non-residents. And they’re right. But Georgetown residents contribute to that. And if we were to start allowing more and more “easy parking” it would cause more and more Georgetowners to own cars or own second cars and start taking more discretionary trips. This would increase the congestion and unpleasantness of the neighborhood.

So yes, the ANC was right to say that allowing a curb cut unfairly alters the parking equation, but they still don’t seem to see that parking is only part of the problem. Safety, beauty, and traffic are as much if not more at stake with curb cuts.

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13 Comments

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13 responses to “The Other Problem With Curb Cuts

  1. I’m a homeowner in Georgetown with a pre-existing curb cut, and I’ve observed two other problems not mentioned here. Every driveway in Georgetown is a by default a turn-around point for cars using the road. This is a particular problem on weekends and during rush hour. Every 5th or 6th car that comes up the street, uses the driveway to turn around, backing up traffic in both directions as they inch back and forth to make the maneuver. Additionally, I’ve watched cars swing into the driveway at a high rate of speed, often with the driver on a cell phone. Because of the parking on both sides, it would be impossible for the driver to spot a pedestrian, especially a smaller person; the smashed brickwork on either side of our driveway and the damaged bumper of our car from “drive bys” is testimony to this. While I recognize and appreciate the personal convenience of having a guaranteed spot, I have to agree that curb cuts are problematic.

  2. Chris

    Cry me a river.
    An opportunity to park one’s individual auto on one’s own property is unjust.

    Just becasue access to a garage has to go across the sidewalk is silly. By that same reasoning a footpath up to the front door should never be allowed in future building.

  3. J. MacLeod Carter

    Though a few valid concerns have been mentioned – in the end I believe that if a homeowner can resonably accomodate parking on their OWN property – then it is their “right.” It’s interesting (ironic even) to see in the accompanying picture that the location for the cut out – apparently – would be alongside the existing alley entrance/exit. The ANC and others protesteth too much!

  4. J. MacLeod Carter

    …and yes I DO actually know how to spell “reasonably” and “accommodate”… LOL!

  5. Demosthenes

    Wow! Reminds me of my 3 year old trying to explain why she needs two barbies instead of one: There is no logic involved! Here is why you are all wrong:
    1.) Parking? 2 cars in a garage for the price of 3/4 of a parking spot is a 1.25 car improvement. Therefore you gain parking rather than losing it. In the rare event that the owner has BOTH cars out of the garage at the same time, you will lose 3/4 of a spot. You still gain parking in the exchange assuming they have at least one car parked in the garage more often than the garage is completely empty.
    2.) Beauty? I think most people would agree that a nice clear spot on the side of the road is prettier than an old VW van with rust spots all over blocking up the scenery. (or any car for that matter)
    3.) Traffic? I fail to see how the rare curb cut can be a major contributor to traffic. Traffic is increased by added population, by additional attracions and shops… not by added convenience for a few people recieving curb cuts.

    Stop being so hateful and spiteful and go find a real issue to blog about!

  6. Ralph

    I agree with everything Demosthenes wrote. Well said.

  7. GM

    Some good points, let me respond:

    Kathy: I didn’t think about the turn-around safety issue. That’s obviously another element to consider.

    Chris: I didn’t really follow you there, but you seem to be suggesting that allowing a car to drive across a publicly owned sidewalk is the functional equivalent to allowing an individual to walk from the sidewalk to the house. If you truly believe that, then I doubt we’ll agree on much.

    J. McLeod: I simply don’t believe people have a god given right to ingress and egress with their cars over public property that has been set aside for a specific purpose, namely pedestrian travel. And while I believe any off street parking is going to increase the amount people drive, I am more supportive of people accessing their off-street parking via alleyways. First of all, the curb-cut services multiple addresses so it has less of a detrimental effect per household. Secondly, there is more of a visual cue to pedestrians when they come to an alleyway that there could be cross traffic.

    In this case the ANC actually explored with the homeowners the alleyway option, but it’s not a real alleyway, and the grade is too steep for code to allow it.

    Demos.
    1. It was more than 3/4 of a space. Right now four cars can park between the alley and 35th st. If the plan was accepted, only 3 could. There’s no such thing as a quarter of a spot. If they park one car outside (which they may be inclined to do whenever there’s a space open) or if somebody parks a little too far forward, then they’ve taken out two spots.

    And moreover, the only reason they could be removing two cars from the streets is because they’ve decided to have two cars in the first place. If every house and apartment in Georgetown had one car per person, there just wouldn’t be enough space to house them all (particularly on that side of town). In essence, they are already taking more than their “fair share” of parking. For them to reduce their “footprint” to just one spot is not exactly a heroic act.

    2. Sure, a rusted car is worse than no car at all. But I was talking about the attractiveness of the sidewalk itself. I think an unbroken sidewalk is more attractive than something like this. Maybe you don’t. Fair enough (and in honesty, there are some brick-paved curb cuts that are barely noticeable, but by being barely noticeable they become a lot more dangerous, particularly for children).

    I really should’ve titled the second part “safety” because that’s a much more serious concern.

    3. Traffic is not added by people. It’s added by people in cars. The easier you make it to have and drive a car, the more people in cars you’ll have. I certainly agree that one curb cut wouldn’t contribute noticeably to traffic. But if everyone had a curb cut and every house had a car per adult, it certainly would. If it would be bad for everyone to do something, how do you justify allowing just a few to do it?

    I’m not hateful of anyone trying to build a curb cut. And it’s probably not fair that some already have old curbcuts, but it’s too late to do anything about that. In this case I am particularly sympathetic with them for basically being lied to by their realtor (they were wrongly told that they could park via the alleyway). I just think it’s bad for the neighborhood (and people like you are free to disagree). If that’s not an issue for a neighborhood blog to write about, than I’m not sure what is.

    Thanks for reading, and hopefully we can agree on other issues.

  8. A Hallock

    One issue that has not been mentioned is the increased tax revenue this curb cut would bring. Having a garage in DC (let alone a two car garage) is an asset to any home in any neighborhood and probably more so in Georgetown. With the current economic situation and decreased revenue from sales tax this may be a welcomed source to augment that lost revenue.
    Safety? Really? The way people “stop” at stop signs is much more of a hazard than a few curb cuts. I would also argue that alleys are perhaps more dangerous because the increased length allows the driver to achieve a greater rate of speed prior to intersecting the crosswalk. Having been a victim of many car vs runner accidents, residential driveways are the least common culprits.

    GM, I do agree that two cars per home will greatly increase the traffic vs a one car ratio. However you can’t assume that the current rate in that area of Georgetown is one, two, three cars per home or greater. I think what the ANC should do is work with the home owners and the city to find a way to make an alley entrance amenable to the current code either with a variance or a recommended design alternative. Where there is a will there is a way.

  9. Jad

    The best example of unfortunate curb cuts in a historic district is O St. between 21st & 22nd (Dupont):

    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=dupont+circle+washington,+dc&sll=38.909008,-77.05578&sspn=0,359.997586&g=3022+r+st.,+nw+washington,+dc&ie=UTF8&t=h&layer=c&cbll=38.908555,-77.047655&panoid=b3jXa4u_BVTNw_7fPPxwsQ&cbp=12,70.57598784734432,,0,-3.799999999999992&ll=38.908553,-77.047846&spn=0.001436,0.002414&z=19&iwloc=addr

    The public sidewalk becomes in essence a continuous driveway. Safety, aesthetics, and street parking are all sacrificed.

  10. ah

    If the homeowner wants to have two cars, they would also be able to get two RPPs, and thereby take up 2 spaces on the street. entirely legally. The curb cut reduces parking by at most one space. So net fewer cars on the street.

  11. ah

    BTW, the fact that someone has a two-car garage is no guarantee they will fill it with two cars. Based on observation, they are much more likely to fill it with one car and a bunch of junk. Or no cars and even more junk.
    ;)

  12. You should have cited my piece on parking and historic districts, which provides some historical context on this issue.

    urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2009/02/parking-in-historic-districts.html

  13. Pingback: Death by a thousand curb cuts « Club Soda and Salt

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