Don’t Cut the Curb There!

By Austin Regan

Architects working on projects in the outer Boroughs or in parts of Manhattan where parking is required are normally quite pleased with themselves when they figure out how to fit all the spaces that zoning requires into their building or onto an outdoor area on the property. But they can’t get too giddy just yet. The zoning and Code books need to stay open to make sure that the parking area can legally be accessed form the street.

Zoning, as always, is the first thing to check. Just like the parking regulations, there are specific curb cut regulations located in the residential (Article II), commercial (Article III) and manufacturing (Article IV) district underlying regulations. If your property is located in a special district there may also be specific curb cut rules in that Article. In special districts whole streets may have a prohibition against placing any curb cut.

The most basic rule that appears in each of the three underlying district Articles is the minimum distance from a corner that a curb cut can be. ZR 25-63 states that the distance is 50 feet from the corner, with the distance measured from the property line, not the curb line. The same section says the Commissioner can waive that minimum distance. There are cases when they do but most times they will ask for the Department of Transportation’s input and perhaps even traffic studies. So getting such a waiver can be time consuming.

Residential districts, especially, have varying restrictions depending on the specific district. In general the lower density districts are more restrictive but not always.  ZR 25-631 allows a maximum width of curb cut of 18 feet in a R2A district but only 12 feet in R6 through R8 districts. Different regulations also apply when the districts are contextual or contain Quality housing buildings.

Community Facility buildings must have 18 feet between curb cuts on their zoning lot or adjacent zoning lots and are limited to the total amount they can have based on street frontage. When developing a residential or mixed building in a C1 or C2 district and the property fronts on two or more streets, the residential parking cannot be accessed from a wide street (> 75 ft) if the property also fronts a narrow street (ZR 36-532).

Open parking lots must meet the landscaping requirements of ZR 37-90 and the maneuverability requirements of ZR 36-58. Perimeter planting along the street frontage is required for lots containing more than 16 cars. Interior islands with plantings are required in lots of 36 or more cars.  A curb cut can only be 12 feet wide when serving a single lane of traffic. The width can increase to 24 feet if serving two lanes and increase again to 30 feet if the lot serves 100+ cars.

Thirty feet is the maximum curb cut width that the Building Code allows. BC 406.7.6 is the only section of the Code that addresses curb cuts. This is a subsection of BC 406.7 – Open parking Lots. Parking Garages are addressed in BC 406.2. It has never been clear if the curb cut location restrictions of 8’-0” from a side lot line addressed in BC 406.7.6 also apply to parking garages. Examiners and commissioners have interpreted the applicability of the section differently.

So architects, finding the square footage to fit those cars is just the beginning of the design challenge. The studying doesn’t stop at the required parking section. Keep flipping through the curb cut rules. You can feel more confident about the compliance of your parking scheme once you know access to the street can be achieved. Now all that is left to worry about is loading berths.