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LEARNING FROM 2020: WHY CITIES NEED BETTER CURBSIDE DATA

Problems at the Curb

Currently, curbside regulations—the rules that tell people where they can park, load, or stop—are communicated to users almost exclusively by physical signage on-street. When they’re not completely indecipherable, these curbside signs can be easily damaged, are often obstructed, and can be out-of-sync with existing plans or regulations. Even when there’s nothing wrong with a parking sign, it still doesn’t provide any information to users until they arrive at their destination, making trip planning more difficult, resulting in cruising for parking, and millions of dollars in parking fines for shippers. Curbside regulations are sometimes no better understood by cities than they are by the public. In fact, most cities have no digital record of where someone is allowed to park, load, or stop along the curbside. Instead, regulations in many cities are based directly on the signage in the field. This means that frequently, the best records cities have for how curb space is allocated is a signage inventory—which requires continuous maintenance to stay up to date with damaged or modified signs—or a set of scanned copies of work orders related to the initial installation of the signage. Neither of these sources provides a complete representation of the curbside, making it difficult to address important city planning questions such as, “How much parking are we

Changes were implemented on a location-bylocation basis, without a deeper understanding of the trade-offs they were making between allocating space for parking, social distancing for pedestrian activity, curbside pick-up, and dozens of other curbside uses.

providing?” or ‘“Are we allocating curb space according to the demands on that space?” The result is that these questions often go unasked and unanswered. While cities struggle to communicate and understand existing curbside regulations, accelerating growth in the use of curb space has resulted in the demands on curb space to exceed supply. Today, transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft complete more than 4 billion annual trips globally—the bulk of which begin and end on urban curbsides. E-commerce continues to grow, with goods delivery companies making millions of stops on city curbsides daily. Looking ahead to the not-too-distant future, the widespread adoption of connected and automated vehicles (CAVs) has the potential to reduce the need for parking, but could also dramatically increase the demand for short term pickup and drop-off spaces on the curb. The number of new uses for curb space only continued to grow over the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic changed how we collectively considered the curbside. From pedestrian-only streets, to curbside patios, and an expansion of curbside pickup and dedicated delivery zones, the evolution of curbside demands in just the past year has shown that cities need to be agile in managing how curb space is allocated to meet the needs of residents and local businesses. Though cities implemented sweeping changes to curbside regulations rapidly in the last year, changes to curb rules were largely made in an ad hoc fashion. Without readily available and reliable information on existing curbside regulations, cities needed to perform

SHUTTERSTOCK/ MOOI DESIGN

32 PARKING & MOBILITY / AUGUST 2021 / PARKING-MOBILITY.ORG