FEATURE: Curb enthusiasm – how to make money from the side of the road – Traffic Technology Today

Wes Guckert, PTP, president & CEO of The Traffic Group (pictured left), explains why accurately mapping and measuring city curb space is the first step towards managing it effectively – and optimising its revenue generation

While on-demand rides, on-demand deliveries, and an abundance of shared vehicles have made many of our lives easier and more convenient, they are also responsible for creating the latest wave of curb-side chaos in our urban areas. This multiple use of curbs has resulted in cities becoming more congested than ever as delivery trucks, ride hailing services, transit vehicles, scooters, bikes, and private cars fight for limited curb space.

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Further complicating this picture is the fact that cities all over the world depend on curb-side parking as a way to generate revenue. But while the curb has value – Chicago, for example, collected nearly US$133 million from its parking meters in 2018 – that value is not always collected due to a lack of using today’s technology. Currently, not all curb uses are regulated, and authorised versus non-authorised access to the curb is a challenge.

Curb space in Chicago is at a premium

Clearly, today’s cities are facing an incredibly complex issue dealing with curb use. A recent article by Charley DeBow and Mike Drow in Parking Professional Magazine indicates the curb has been managed long before the concept of curb management even existed. Seventy years ago, though, the competition for curb access was limited to taxi stands, parking, and no parking zones along with bus stops.

Today’s curb
Where does that leave today’s urban planners? According to SmartCities Dive, dynamically managing the modern mobility landscape at the curb boils down to three key factors:

  • Having complete insight into traffic on the street and at the curb, broken down by modes of mobility;
  • Automating flexible enforcement processes (dynamic pricing) that currently are too labour intensive to scale to the short-term parking patterns of commercial drivers; and
  • Providing automated payment processes for commercial drivers to prevent significant revenue losses from growing commercial parking.

There is a well-known management axiom, “what gets measured gets managed,” and indeed, that holds true for curb management programmes. If communities are going to be able to satisfactorily manage their curbs’ use, they first need to figure out how their curbs are being used. If they can do so, they will be well-positioned to reduce traffic, increase parking turnover, capture unrealised parking revenue, and longer term, prepare for the emergence of autonomous vehicles.

To that end, curb management technology holds the key because it allows cities to optimise planning and operations for all forms of mobility, helping them not only to adapt to their shifting mobility landscapes, but also to flourish because of them. Those municipalities which seize on the opportunity to develop and implement dynamic and flexible curb management strategies will have the ability to harness powerful analytics and AI tools to inform policy, reduce congestion, and streamline revenue capture.

Technological solutions
Urban mobility company Passport, for example, has a mobility platform which provides a machine-readable representation of the physical curb. This can then be configured to meet the goals of the city, whether those goals are equality, access, revenue, or other specifications for the area. By connecting data flows from multiple transportation applications and services, this platform can help cities to adopt a flexible approach to managing curb space, depending on the most valuable use of space at a particular time. Thus, curb space best used as a parking space during the day could be converted to a ride-hail pickup zone in an area with an active nightlife.

Another company focused on curb management, Coord, recently launched an open-access platform that maps points of interest where the sidewalk meets the street. Open Curbs pins the locations of wheelchair cuts, fire hydrants, bus stops, and other physical assets that define the curb to digital maps, and makes that information available to anyone interested in using them. This includes the same local officials and urban planners who find themselves developing curb management strategies that need effective and equitable regulation.

Yet another curb tech player, Allvision, has developed a technology which captures data in real time with the use of autonomous vehicles and robotics equipped with lidar equipment. In its curb platform, Allvision Parkview, that 3D data is aggregated with other sources and analysed using machine learning and cloud computing to deliver data to inventory, track, and monitor curb real estate and its assets.

Despite these and numerous other technological advances, such as utilisation of time-lapse cameras to gather data and deal with curb management activity, the fact that bus, train, and other services tend to be run by different municipal departments leaves most cities unable to optimise efforts across different modes of transportation. This is in stark contrast to users’ other day-to-day experiences which, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) and other technologies, have been digitalised and streamlined.

Despite most municipalities’ siloed approach to curb/transportation management, public transportation agencies are in a position to facilitate mobility. By making a single technology platform available to private mobility providers, for example, cities can enable riders to sync a Lyft ride with the arrival of their commuter train or purchase a transit ticket through a ride-hailing app.

Bottom line? Rome was not built in a day and neither will effective curb management programmes. But by determining how best to measure curbside performance, how to identify and resolve trade-off considerations, and how to explain the value of curbs to stakeholders, cities can take an important step toward making curbside management a vital component of their multimodal infrastructure.

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.

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