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Kerbs including tactile dropped kerbs of Footways and Footpaths

One of a series of street environment design guides.

Description of the element

This design guide provides information on the siting and use of kerbs to aid pedestrians in negotiating the street environment. Plain dropped kerbs and tactile dropped kerbs are discussed within different street settings.

Context and existing guidance

According to The Manual for Streets (Dft 2007), kerbs are elements used to separate the footway from the carriageway to protect pedestrians; channel the surface water; and to allow visually impaired people using a long cane to differentiate the pavement from the road. However, kerbs can become barriers for other people such as wheelchair or scooter users and in such cases it is necessary to provide tactile information to compensate the removal of kerbs or the raise of a road crossing.

The Guidance on the use of Tactile Paving Surfaces (DfT 2005) and in a similar way, the Inclusive Mobility guide (DfT 2002) explain furthermore the relationship between kerbs and visually impaired people and provide guidelines for the use and layout of the diverse tactile paving surfaces currently available for pedestrian environments. For dropped kerbs and raised crossings, the recommendation is to provide the surface with parallel rows of flat-topped blisters 5mm high, 25mm in diameter in red color at controlled crossings and buff or any other colour except red at uncontrolled crossings.

The British Standards guidance: Concrete kerb units. Requirements and test methods (BS EN 1340:2003) provides the standard dimensions for kerbs.

What older people tell us they prefer and why

We asked participants which type of kerb they prefer to use, and the reasons for this. Participants were allowed to select more than one kerb type. 40.0% of participants feel comfortable using a Normal kerb, 77% of participants prefer a Dropped Kerb, and 48% of participants prefer a Tactile Dropped Kerb. This shows that 60.0% of participants do not like a Normal kerb and 52.0% of participants do not like a Tactile Dropped kerb. Most participants therefore prefer a Plain Dropped Kerb without tactile.

Plain normal kerb

A traditional kerb may be a barrier for people with mobility aids

“Any kerb is fine”
“Impossible when on the scooter”
“You know its there, and it’s easy to step up”
“I nearly fell down one just today”

Plain dropped kerb

A plain dropped kerb may be difficult to detect by anyone

“Smooth transition”
“This is designed to help people with walking across the road”
“I look for this now because my balance is not so good”
“I need a dropped kerb on both sides of the road for my scooter. There’s no point having it on one side but not on the other”

Tactile dropped kerb

A tactile dropped kerb which contrasts with its surround surfaces

“The best because it is low and the tactile paving makes it non slippery”
“They are excellent because they advise people with impaired vision where they are, they are marvellous”
“Really uncomfortable”
“Feel as if you are going to twist you ankle on it”
“I prefer to walk around them”
“I don’t feel safe, I feel I might Trip, and they hurt my feet”
“They are fine providing they are in the right place and right angle but so often they are not, if they are sloping and wet they are dangerous and look horrible, they are a waste of time. I don’t know any older person who likes them”

Findings from the physical audit survey

At the neighbourhood scale, 61.5% of neighbourhoods have a consistent lack of dropped kerbs for pedestrians, and 17.5% of neighbourhoods have poorly laid tactile paving.

Bar Chart Types of kerb provision at crossing points

Bar chart 1 Types of kerb provision at crossing points

Other findings

The lack of appropriate colour and tonal contrast on kerbs affects commonly people with some residual vision and often is older people who “trip going up or down steps and curbs as they cannot clearly see the edge” (Burton and Mitchell, p.122).

Different research (Croft 2005) has established that the use of materials such as concrete or tarmac or the combination of both causes poor contrast along footway edges between footway, kerb and road along footways edges, especially when the surfaces are wet.

On the other hand, the presence of the tactile paving at dropped kerbs for people with visual impairments is not fully understood by all people and generally not understood by people with dementia. People have the tendency to assume that the purpose of the tactile surface is purely aesthetic and consider it a surface uncomfortable to walk on. In addition, the surface is considered to be a trip hazard especially when badly maintained (Burton and Mitchell 2006).


Most footways were originally designed with plain normal kerbs and when car cross over points were required then dropped kerbs were installed. This meant that dropped kerbs favoured the motorist with a driveway rather than the pedestrian wanting to cross the carriageway at a convenient crossing point. Whilst there has been an increase in dropped kerbs at formal crossing points including tactile paving installation, there remains limited dropped kerb provision at informal crossing points. It is recommended that:

  • Plain dropped kerbs are installed wherever practicable, but particularly along pedestrian desire lines and at road crossing points in residential areas;
  • Plain dropped kerbs are installed on both sides of a carriageway enabling the pedestrian to safely cross the road with minimal crossing distance;
  • The maintenance of tactile paving is prioritised such that it is a safe surface for pedestrian use;
  • Further research is undertaken on the implications of tactile paving for older people.

Case study

Shared space: lack of kerbs

The concept of ‘shared space’ where drivers, cyclers and pedestrians can have equal access to places is increasingly being adopted by the UK authorities for the redesign of high streets and city centres. A shared space is conceived as an area where all the possible users are integrated under the same conditions. As a principle, having one high quality designed space, very people oriented, without physical barriers on the surfaces such as kerbs could potentially originate the perfect ‘inclusive’ scenario. However, a report carried out with several focus groups in the UK (Guide Dogs 2006) highlighted a series of concerns of many people with respect to their use of the ‘shared spaces’. Between blind and partially blind people there are safety concerns for the lack of demarcation between footway and traffic area due to the removal of footways and kerbs which expose them to accidents and hazardous situations. The lack of orientation clues such as footways, kerbs and tactile paving is other motive of concern that has a significant impact in the capacity of blind and partially blind to navigate safely and independently.

The lack of kerbs affects mainly to visually impaired people. Source: Shared Surface Street Design Research Project (Guide Dogs 2006)
The lack of kerbs affects mainly to visually impaired people. Source: Shared Surface Street Design Research Project (Guide Dogs 2006)

In conclusion, according to the report, the kerb removal “exposes blind and partially sighted people to greater risk, undermines their confidence, and so creates a barrier to their independent mobility”.

Between the recommendations of the report are suggestions to provide clear separation of pedestrian from vehicles and cycles and to reinstate a footway with a kerb with regular dropped kerbs for wheelchair users and properly laid tactile paving.

Where to find further information

BSI, BS8300:2001. Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people - Code of Practice. London. British Standards Institute

BS EN 1340:2003. Concrete kerb units. Requirements and test methods. London. British Standards Institute.

Croft, D. 2005. Tactile and guard surfaces: safety and use of guard and warning surfaces and barriers. Neath: Croft consultants. Available online at www.herian.org/dld/1170 [kerb sketch: Pg 10]

DfT (2005), Guidance on the use of Tactile Paving Surfaces. London. Department for Transport. Available online at http://www.dft.gov.uk/transportforyou/access/peti/guidanceontheuseoftactilepav6167?page=1#a1000

DfT (2002), Inclusive Mobility: a guide to best practice on access to pedestrian and transport infrastructure. London. Department for Transport. Available online at http://www.dft.gov.uk/transportforyou/access/peti/inclusivemobility or free from Enquiry Services, DfT, Ashdown House, 123 Victoria St, London SW1E 6DE. Tel: 020 7944 8300, Fax 0207 944 6589, Email: publications@communities.gsi.gov.uk

DfT (2007) Manual for Streets, London, Thomas Telford Publishing http://www.dft.gov.uk/pgr/sustainable/manforstreets/

English Heritage (2005). Streets for All. London. English Heritage www.english-heritage.org.uk

Guide Dogs (2006). Shared Surface Street Design Research Project. Reeding: The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association. Available on line at www.guidedogs.org.uk/uploads/media/Report_of_UK_Focus_Groups_02.pdf

Highways Agency (2005). Design Manual for Roads and Bridges. London. The Stationery Office. http://www.standardsforhighways.co.uk/dmrb/index.htm

The Idiots Guide to Highways Maintenance Resources website provided by the University of Durham, UK. http://www.highwaysmaintenance.com/sublink.htm


This Design Guide is first printed in 2007 and is protected by Copyright Notice © Rita Newton and Marcus Ormerod, I’DGO Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors.

Corresponding author of this Design Guide:

Rita Newton, SURFACE Inclusive Design Research Centre, The University of Salford, Maxwell Building, The Crescent, Salford, M5 4WT, UK. Email:r.newton@salford.ac.uk

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