No stopping for curbside management

September 29, 2020 Arif K. Rafiq

From parking and transit stops to restaurant patios and outdoor retail, the demand for curbside space is high. Cities are increasingly challenged to manage their curbsides in ways that address this demand, allowing different uses for different needs. However, while challenging, technology that makes it work is available and many cities are already implementing their own initiatives. 

The humidity was stifling on that summer day back in 2007. I was working at the time as a courier and was making a delivery to a low-rise office complex on the west side of downtown Toronto. Having done this delivery before, I knew could make the drop in less than 3 minutes. All the metered parking spots were full and were flanked by two No Parking zones each of which was occupied by a delivery a truck.

Various municipal bylaws around Canada state that while courier drivers may park in a No Parking zone temporarily while making a delivery, they cannot stop in a No Stopping or No Standing zone. However, I knew it would only be three minutes...

I was lucky that day. I returned to my car, which was where I left it in front of one of the delivery trucks in the No Stopping zone and continued with the rest of my day. Nonetheless, those three minutes in the office complex were stressful and rushed.

The demand for curb space since 2007 has risen dramatically. Its not just the traditional couriers using those spaces anymore either. Personal goods and meals on demand delivery services are operating in every city around the world, and many of the delivery people are not just using cars; motorcycles, e-bikes and scooters are becoming common. An increase in mobility options above and beyond public transit has increased as well. Finally, there is also the looming future of driverless vehicles requiring curb space to stop and exchange passengers.

In parallel to the increased demand, there is a global movement to reduce the available curb space by incorporating protected bicycle lanes and in some cases, extending storefronts and patios into the street. (https://www.bradbradford.ca/destinationdanforth) I believe all these changes, combined with a lower urban speed limit for vehicle traffic, leads to more human cities and ultimately is good for all. However, to evolve to more human urban streets, we need to be smarter when allocating curb space for various uses.

Consider the City of Edmonton’s recent change to their zoning bylaw which removes the minimum parking requirement. This opens the door for businesses to make more intelligent decisions regarding their parking capacity. It also allows the city to incorporate more mobility options and active transportation infrastructure to further enhance mobility to the area.

Granular demographic data that suggests how, when and where people tend to travel is available from numerous sources and data providers. Tools that accurately visualize how far people are willing to go using various modes of transport are also widely available. Putting these ingredients together yields a powerful solution for city planners to make intelligent decisions on where to locate alternative transportation infrastructure. 

Transportation networks in Kitchener, Ontario illustrating the interaction of cycling accessibility to the local transit system overlaid with the evening population within 100 metres of all transit stops.

Which brings us back to the high demand curb space. If city planners have access to spatial data that supports their expectations of how people and goods change modes at the curb and where along the curb those changes may take place, we have then gained the ability to allocate the appropriate amount of curb space to different functions like parking, deliveries, bus stops, emergency response zones, cycling pads, and restaurant patios.

We can take it even further.

Most of us have likely seen digital turn restriction signs in urban centres which turn on or off depending on the time of day. The same principle can be applied to curb zones. Perhaps the data for a 150m stretch of urban street suggests that there is a need for increased drop off and pick up zones just before the afternoon rush. Let’s say the data also suggests that there are lots of transit passengers disembarking during the morning rush and most of the deliveries occur at lunchtime. Based on this, cities could introduce dynamic curb zones which adjust their allocation based on planned demand.

We might even be able to imagine a scenario where delivery drivers can advance book curb space in 5-minute blocks on their smartphone to ensure they have a spot when they arrive. If no spot is available, the app could recommend a nearby available spot and reserve it as an alternative. Reservations could be enforced using NFC (near-field-communication) or Bluetooth sensors on smartphones, like how one unlocks shared bicycles or scooters.

Sample cycling route to a reserved bike rack in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia.

None of this requires that the curb be monetized, however, it does open the opportunity for the city to offer premium reservation service for a fee.

The technology to make all this work is available today. Many cities are already designing and deploying the unified transportation management infrastructure that underpins all this capability. We simply need to make a few changes to bylaw codes, following the lead of the City of Edmonton. Given how quickly our urban streetscape is changing, it may be time for cities to begin managing the curb space smarter. Courier drivers across the county will breathe a sigh of collective relief.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

About the Author

Arif K. Rafiq

Arif K. Rafiq is the Transportation Industry Manager for Esri Canada. His efforts are focused on advising customers how to use GIS technology to improve all areas of transportation management, specifically highways, public transit, aviation, marine, rail, freight and logistics. As a global transportation management systems specialist, Arif has significant experience managing highway infrastructure around the world. Exploring our vast planet with all its cultures and beauty has a been a major part of his life; he believes that the only thing you can buy that will make you richer is travel.

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