The enabling technology of curb cuts

24/09/2012 § 2 Comments

Let me sing the praises of curb cuts*.

These gentle ramps at street corners are a wonderful invention. Coupled with access ramps at public buildings and major structures, they provide a network of smooth, unstepped surface.

Baby buggies roll effortlessly through intersections and entryways. Motorised scooters scuttle along footpaths for miles.

Luggage has evolved wheels, like fish learning to walk on land. No longer do we heave our bags around. I can still feel the handles of my parents’ grey American Tourister suitcases compressing as they dug into my fingers. Now, our bags are trolleys and skateboards, rolling along with us like well-trained pets.

I remember the battles over curb cuts. We, the able-bodied majority, were being made to pay obscene amounts of money just so a few broken bodies could use their wheelchairs. Didn’t they get enough help already?!

But the steppists were unconvincing and the rampists won.

And everyone bought rolling luggage. They dragged their bags up and down ‘wheelchair’ ramps and along ‘disabled’ accessways. They liked the ease and convenience, the lack of strain on traveling muscle and bone.

The wheel-makers — the caster caste — flourished. They experimented — new materials, new bearings, new swivels! The luggage rolled ever-more smoothly. Friction shrank before the onslaught of innovation.

Now we glide along, oblivious to the rancorous step-change that made it all possible.

*I do realise that the NZ spelling is ‘kerb’, but using it removes the visual symmetry from the US spelling.

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§ 2 Responses to The enabling technology of curb cuts

  • Chris says:

    Nice touch Bill.

    Those learning CBA should have a read of this. It is a lesson about providing general purpose technology and the ‘dynamic efficiency’ benefits that can arise, as innovations flow, and people change reorient their behaviour to become more reliant on the improved facility. It’s also a lesson on how we can’t forecast these innovations, and so can’t forecast the benefits very well.

    If we measured the benefits only to those that were inconvenienced by the lack of curbed kerbs at the time of the decision, then it would’ve seemed much less of a good idea.

  • I’m a fan of curb cuts too. But can we tell what innovations failed to obtain because of the opportunity costs of the cuts? On average we have to do better by holding to CBA….

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