For many people, kerbs are an afterthought. You rarely realize they're on the edge of the road unless your car happens to run them over or you accidentally step off of one on an afternoon walk, but their history and function is actually quite interesting.
If you've seen pictures or historical recreations of cobblestone roads characteristic of the 17th and 18th centuries, you may have noticed that sidewalks didn't exist and roads normally ventured to the doorsteps of shops and homes. It was commonplace at the time, but a series of Paving Acts went into effect in Great Britain in the mid to late 18th century (most notably the 1766 Paving and Lighting Act) that spurred their construction almost everywhere.
At first, kerbs were merely a result of the thick purbeck stone used to create the walkways, but later in the 19th century, macadam roads began to regulate their appearance and style around Great Britain.
In modern times, commercial kerbing contractors install their product for a variety of reasons and benefits. They not only provide a separation between car and foot paths, but provide a physical reminder to drivers to stay in their lane. Many a tire has been popped as a result of running into or driving over a tall kerb.
Other commercial kerbing contractors will tell you that their main purpose is to allow for the incorporation of storm drains into roadways. Depending on the climate and environment in urban areas, flash floods can quickly occur in areas without proper drainage. The lack of land available to absorb incoming water means that large storm drains and water systems are essential in big cities, and kerbs provide the proper means to allow this to occur.
The different materials, shapes, sizes, and heights that can be chosen also make their application flexible and applicable to any type of roadway.
Concrete kerbs can also be used as preventative safety measures in low speed areas. Their use in high speed areas is generally discouraged as they can cause accidents or major damage if hit too fast. But, when utilized as a traffic barrier to direct flow and direction, commercial kerbing contractors have experienced much success.
The next time you drive by a kerb or walk on a sidewalk, appreciate the hard work and history that has gone into the cement underneath your feet. Engineering has come a long way since the 17th century, and those storm drains might just be saving your basement from flood waters.