• Smart Parking
  • Mobility Transformation
  • Transportation Efficiencies
  • smart cities

Curbside Management Is Transforming the Overlooked Curb

Grant Samms
Jul 11, 2019

Smart Car 2

It’s 10 p.m. Do you know what is permitted at your curbside? For many of the world’s major metropolises, the answer to that question is quickly becoming, “it depends.” Long seen as simply a good place to deposit a vehicle for a while, cities are starting to look at curb space with a much more strategic eye. Perhaps parking isn’t the most efficient use of the curb 24/7. As more food trucks, micromarkets, delivery services, and mobility companies emerge, more is being demanded of limited curb space. The answer to this issue for many cities is flexibility and, with it, new opportunities for revenue.

The Curb Goes from Dull to Dynamic

Seattle plans to move away from the term “parking” altogether. Instead, it now officially views the space adjacent to the curb as a “flex zone,” which is regulated for various uses depending on the time and surroundings. For example, the flex zone of a light commercial zone may prioritize ridesharing and micromobility during business hours, then prioritize deliveries after shops close. In this way, the curb can be managed dynamically according to who requires the most access and when. After all, it does little good to charge for metered parking if a delivery truck would be blocking three spaces as it unloads during morning rush. Under a curbside management program, that delivery driver could be better guided on locations and times to unload based on local demand for curb space.

Other Cities Making Curb Changes

Seattle isn’t alone. Officials in Washington, DC picked up on the need for curbside management when they established Night Life Zones. These sections of curb are being piloted in an area known for night clubs and only allow drop-off and pick-up during late hours on the weekend. Parking, unloading, and other uses are disallowed and enforced though fines and towing.

Transportation planners in Toronto are considering an extensive rewrite of their curb use ordinances by, among other measures, developing delivery vehicle zones, establishing a courier vehicle permitting system, and automating as much of parking enforcement as possible. Through their approach, a core downtown street can be used for travel, storage, unloading, and commerce at the times that those use cases are most advantageous.

Smart City Technology: Here to Help

When it comes to delivering on this brave new world of curb use, it’s not just written regulations and interesting new signage in the transportation department’s toolbox. Several emerging smart city technologies have a role to play in enforcing these new, dynamic policies. The use of cameras and computer vision are particularly attractive for their relative low cost and high flexibility. If a camera monitoring a section of curb senses a vehicle lingering in an evening drop-off zone longer than allowable by regulation, enforcement officers can be guided to rectify the issue. As more cities generate rich data lakes, machine learning and AI have a role to play in optimizing curb use regulations. RFID readers and other sensors can help monitor and facilitate payment for even quick curbside uses.

Street Curbs Have More Revenue Potential

The humble street curb is being pulled along as our expectations of urban transportation solutions rapidly shift. Once seen as a boring place to simply plop down a parking meter, the curb is now a lively space for transportation, commerce, and even a relaxing bite of breakfast in a parklet. For cities that seize the opportunity, curbside management is poised to optimize mobility and its associated revenue. In the words of New York City’s Urban Street Design Guide, “Many city streets were created in a different era and need to be reconfigured to meet new needs.”