The curbside may be the hottest commodity most municipalities currently have at their disposal. Once limited solely to vehicle parking, freight delivery, surface transit, and trash collection, curbside management now must accommodate bikes, motorized e-scooters, e-commerce package deliveries, rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft, and more. And that’s before COVID-19 hit, forcing commercial businesses nationwide to improvise with curbside pickup and outdoor dining on sidewalks and streets.
All of this activity has resulted in many cities recognizing the value of their curbs, and reevaluating the use of curb space for one primary reason. Once a vehicle – any vehicle – parks curbside for an indefinite period of time, no other users can occupy that space. That means that a bike or scooter left on the street side of the curb, for example, can inhibit other curbside uses such parking vehicles, making deliveries, or picking up riders. That, in turn, leads to traffic back-ups as vehicles double-park to drop off passengers or make deliveries.
It also means that the city may be losing out on the revenue curbside parking turnover is capable of generating. By no means should this be ignored. Large cities like New York collect more than $200 million each year from parking meters, while these same cities can make substantially more than that annually from parking tickets. As an example, New York City made $565 million in parking violations in 2015 alone!
Where does this leave transportation professionals? While physically moving curbs typically requires a capital outlay – something that is in short supply given the current pandemic – there are multiple options that can be employed to transform curb use from a problem into a profitable asset that works for all users.
While there are a wide range of curb options for consideration, improvements tend to fall into five major categories:
None of these options are viable, however, without first determining how the curbside is currently being used and then developing a comprehensive plan that prioritizes and optimizes curb space allocation to improve mobility and safety for all users. Properly executed, a curb management strategy will balance proper traffic flow with continued productivity for public transit, ride-hailing, and delivery services, and other users, while simultaneously generating revenue for the municipality through dynamic metered parking.
The good news here is that numerous technology tools are available to measure how curbs are being used. Time-lapse video cameras mounted to vertical streetlights or other utility poles, for example, provide an easy way to study how curbs are being used at different times of the day and on different days of the week.
Similarly, robotics technology, such as that developed by tech company Allvision, can capture curb usage data in real time. This data can then be aggregated with other sources and analyzed using machine learning and cloud computing to inventory, track, and monitor curbside real estate.
Other technology solutions, such as an open-access platforms map areas of interest where the sidewalk meets the street. Open Curbs, one example developed by Coord, allows transportation professionals to pin locations of wheelchair cuts, fire hydrants, bus stops, and other physical assets that define the curb to digital maps, and then makes that information available to anyone interested in using them (including those same local officials charged with developing curb management strategies). This is done through establishing a common standards across agencies using the Open Curb Assets Data specification.
With inventory and current usage data at their disposal, public agencies will be in a significantly improved position to prioritize travel modes and right-of-way functions, and ultimately develop a holistic curb management strategy that meets five key objectives. Specifically, that strategy should:
It is equally important for this entire process to be transparent and collaborative. Without public buy-in, even the best curb management strategy will face greater scrutiny and, as a result, the likelihood of increased challenges if there is a public perception that it was created behind closed doors with little or no input from the people whom it directly will impact may impact compliance and optimal use.
Knowing of this public sensitivity to any planned changes in roadway, parking, and curb treatments, it is essential for an advisory body of diverse stakeholders assist the agency in collaboration and an open, productive dialogue throughout each step in the planning process.
For the same reasons, it is important to advance public awareness and stakeholder feedback is an important data set in curbside management. Social media, surveys, mailers, community meetings, and even pilot projects can be employed to increase community understanding of projects being considered and garner input. Once input from both public and private stakeholders has been received and evaluated, planned improvements should be refined to reflect any concerns and again subjected to public scrutiny. This is particularly important for large projects where phases of plan implementation, such as timing and construction requirements, will be needed.
The bottom line here is that with people, services, and businesses all vying for curb space, cities need to reimagine how this valuable space is allocated and managed. By studying how curbs are being used and then developing an effective management strategy, public agencies can take a major step toward optimizing their curb space, maximizing public safety, and advancing the values of everyone in the community.
Wes Guckert, PTP, is President & CEO of The Traffic Group, a leading Service Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business traffic engineering and transportation planning firm serving clients nationally and internationally. He is also a Fellow of ITE and Instructor at Harvard University. For more information: www.trafficgroup.com or follow them on Twitter @TheTrafficGroup.