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3 ways to improve curbside space
Julia Johnston

Julia Johnston

When it comes to the curb, demand is growing but supply is fixed. How do we bring calm to this chaotic space?

The curb is a valuable and limited resource, and everybody wants a piece of it. From food deliveries to e-commerce deliveries, from ride-hailing services to parking, from bike-sharing to e-scooters, the curb is struggling to keep up with rising demand.

The current “management” of the curb is unclear. Beyond parking meters, signs for loading zones, bike sharing docks and the occasional ride-hailing pickup zone, curb space is more or less a free for all.

Demand is growing, but supply is fixed, so how can we bring structure to this chaotic space? Here are three approaches:

Flexibility

There’s always that feeling of excitement you experience when you snag a great free parking spot, but unfortunately free parking is not doing much to help the crowded curb. Donald Shoup, a research professor of urban planning at UCLA and unofficial "curb expert", maintains that free or cheap street parking does more harm than good. He literally wrote the book on curbside space called The High Cost of Free Parking. He and other experts believe cities should charge an appropriate price for parking that fluctuates throughout the course of the day depending on demand, known as dynamic parking pricing.  

In Making the Most of the Curb, Bruce Schaller, principal of Schaller Consulting, discusses another approach that puts the focus on adaptation: “Buses may need dedicated curb space during congested peak periods; delivery vehicles midday; taxi and ride service vehicles during nightlife hours, and so forth.” In their report Schaller also states the number one priority should be pick-up and drop-off activity over other activities like parking, which it views as less productive.

Public and private collaboration

Startups are actively fighting for a slice of the curb and cities are left reacting to the change instead of being a part of it (and these changes are happening at a rapid pace). E-scooters showed up in some cities literally overnight and ride-hailing and online food delivery are only growing in popularity.

There is a lack of collaboration and communication for curbside space. Most cities don’t have a centralized system for annual curbside reports and these reports are not happening regularly enough.

UPS and FedEx incurred $33.8 million and $14.9 million in New York City parking fines, respectively, but where should they go when they are actively trying to keep up with the rising demand of next day and same day shipping? Do e-scooters belong on the sidewalks? Can food delivery drivers double park to drop off an order? Can ride share drivers use the bike lane to drop off a passenger? Many are left with unclear rules surrounding the curb.

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Proactive public and private partnership will be key to addressing these questions and helping cities, transportation providers and local citizens all enjoy the curb.

Put people first

When it comes to curbside space, the main priority for cities and planners should be the safety and mobility of all pedestrians.

Curbs weren't originally designed to handle food deliveries, ride-hailing services, bike-sharing, e-scooters, e-commerce delivery and personal vehicle parking (or some combination of all of the above), but it needs to rise to the requirements and demands of today. Shoup recommends that with better priced on-street parking, the revenue generated could then be spent on public services to further benefit citizens including increased curb and sidewalk space. 

Calming chaos at the curb and implementing universal standards will better serve all of those who rely on curbside space in its many forms and improve overall urban mobility and effective transportation. From pizza delivery, to ride hail pickups and everything in between, better use of curbside space makes for happier citizens and safer cities.