DC neighborhood gets creative when construction hits: mounting makeshift curbs

A Washington, D.C., neighborhood has turned to an unusual storage space for construction materials and materials the city may consider banning from “the streets”: makeshift curbs.

Racine Park residents came up with an innovative solution to clear their curbs of construction materials collected from construction sites, including cement, steel pipes, pieces of rebar and other equipment. The neighbors said some dangerous chemicals have found their way into the area during construction, including tar, which has been implicated in recent smoldering fires in Washington, D.C.

“I had never before seen curbs go like this, but being an entomologist, this is a familiar effect,” Charles Wiles, a city entomologist, told The Washington Post.

He also said the unconventional materials were damaging the island’s ecosystem, which includes salamanders, turtles and the electric look-alike snakes-like reptiles called towhees.

When neighborhood residents tried to apply for a permit to set up the curbs, which allow people to turn curbs into parking spots, they were turned down. As part of the city’s rules prohibiting excessive stockpiling, any of the construction material would have to be stored onsite.

“There were many examples of this happening outside the scope of our planning,” said a city official to The Post.

Racine Park resident Lauren Longerich said the curb collection started about six years ago when a local band named the Lost Nows needed to pick up material that had been left on the street. Since then, the community has used the curbs as an informal trash container to collect materials from construction sites.

Before the curbs were built, said the staff, residents tried putting the materials into baskets, washing them, and dipping them in calcium chloride, which preserves the material, according to the city’s code.

“We’ve been storing them in our yards,” Longerich said.

Last month, when the city heard about the curbs, they studied the issue. They eventually rejected the idea because they said it lacked any legal status and because of concerns about safety.

“It’s a safety concern because there is a sudden influx of materials, and these things change, and things blow around,” said Heather Weible, a city spokeswoman. “The black tar can burn people with burn injuries,” Weible said.

But Longerich said the materials have generally been left alone and that people don’t blow around curbs while they are collecting them.

“I just feel like it’s a Band-Aid,” Longerich said. “I don’t want any more black tar.”

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