Paid parking can be a significant revenue source, now more important than ever, as communities begin to recover from the pandemic. Implementing smart parking software can help guide parking considerations and policies, based on real-world examples in your community. Having a clear understanding of supply (and demand) can help inform locations for hourly parking, min/max stays, pick-up/drop-off zones, or designated (and reservable!) loading and bike storage spaces, both on- and off-street. A smart parking solution provides quality decision-making analytics for business analysis and planning.
Software parking technologies are solving transportation requirements for clients of all sectors. For example, the City of Saint John, New Brunswick was facing costly hardware upgrades to meet the EMV security standards for credit card processing on parking pay stations. Instead, they opted to install Hotspot‘s Fast Tap QR code signs, meeting functionality for the new law, and saving roughly $24,000 of expensive hardware upgrades! The signs are now also being used to replace aging pay machines, further reducing ongoing operational costs.
Digital Paid Parking Solutions
At its essence, digital solutions decrease time-consuming, manual processes which in turn saves time and money. In a paid parking environment, this translates to contactless payment options to accept more digital dollars, real-time parking insights for demand-based pricing, and using modern technology like license plate recognition to enforce compliance faster. The results from implementing these types of solutions can lead to significant increases in revenue and reductions in operating costs, such as in Saint John.
This demand for parking automation, and more specifically the ability to share insights, is why HotSpot Parking and CurbIQ began working together.
HotSpot and CurbIQ
Besides the same parent company, HotSpot Parking and CurbIQ share a vision: a digital-first approach to parking. CurbIQ’s suite of products is particularly complimentary, as HotSpot Parking helps new communities come online with paid parking initiatives. The parking software is integrated, with the ability to connect to other stakeholders and parking providers to keep departments connected through technology.
By utilizing CurbIQ and HotSpot Parking together, you can gain real data insights into trending statistics driven by your community, and feedback from residents and visitors. Tools to manage this information, such as a public-facing map to showcase real-time parking availability, helps turnover rates and alleviates parking congestion. At the same time, it allows administrators flexibility to adjust parking rates based on demand, revisit zones, and permitting options.
Use Case: Jasper, Alberta
HotSpot Parking provides the highest ROI on new paid parking programs through a fully digital solution, eliminating the need for a pricey parking equipment investment. HotSpot’s wide range of payment services can save hundreds of thousands in costly parking infrastructure and ongoing maintenance costs. By shifting away from outdated and demanding hardware in favor of digital alternatives, municipalities have seen a reduction in expenditures by 90%. Digital currency over physical coin collection also provides transparency, accountability, and a seamlessly automated experience for clients and their end-users.
Jasper, a small but renowned tourist town in Alberta was in a similar circumstance in 2020. they knew that parking could be a significant revenue source and were looking for ways to increase their budget after the pandemic. They wanted to remove the parking tax burden from their small population of 5,000 and instead have the tourists pay for the infrastructure they use. Jasper, with HotSpot’s tools and guidance, successfully implemented a digital-first approach to paid parking. They reached $100,000 in 2.5 months with no capital investment!
Innovative Parking Solutions
A digital-first approach to parking with CurbIQ and HotSpot minimizes risk with benefits of an environmentally sustainable, adaptable, and economical parking program. Gather valuable parking insights, implement a lightweight digital payment solution, visualize real-time parking, flexibility on rule management, and the ability to adjust from community feedback. This approach continues to be successful in other communities introducing paid parking, as it greatly reduces upfront costs, ongoing costs, and buyer’s remorse for over-engineering a solution.
We’re seeing innovation happen in smaller municipalities where budgets are tighter, but innovation can happen anywhere in manageable pieces. If you can relate to Saint John’s expensive parking upgrades story; or Jasper’s infrastructure burden on the tax base, if you are new to parking or have problems with existing parking programs: we encourage you to connect to learn more.
You can modernize, and optimize parking in your community, without a large capital cost, especially with the qualified consultation of CurbIQ and HotSpot Parking. Let your community lead the way in economical, environmental and sustainable parking practices with the Digital First Approach to Paid Parking.
Check out the on-demand webinar from CurbIQ and HotSpot to learn more about what a digital approach to parking could mean for your city.
Curb space management or curbside management are terms that have increased in popularity in transportation articles, papers, and blogs over the past couple of years. This is further reflected in the increasing numbers of cities or regions currently developing a curbside management strategy. This begs the question – what exactly is a curbside management strategy, and what are some of its goals? In short, cities want to better understand the optimal use of their curb, what priorities or uses they should implement, and where and how can they systematically do this.
The first formal, city-wide curbside management strategies only emerged about a decade ago, with the likes of Seattle and Washington, DC leading the charge, with Toronto following shortly after (which I worked on with IBI Group). In 2021, the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), a region encompassing almost 200 cities and 20 million people, embarked on a region-wide curb space management study (the SCAG CSMS). Once again, IBI Group is leading this important curb space management strategy as part of a wider team of industry experts. While broader goals like the reduction of GHG emissions are a part of the project, the more specific and short-term goals include determining a blueprint to implement the best practices and on-street pilot projects. These best practices and pilot projects should make tangible and noticeable changes to the curb space in three to four of these cities. The final report includes more information about the key data findings, recommended strategies, and suggested next steps.
Benefits of Curbside Pilot Projects
Examples of curbside pilot projects include:
- Repurposing existing on-street parking for other uses such as parklets, patios, or new loading zones
- The technologies around the enforcement of loading zones
- Altering the duration for curbside activities, such as short-term pick up and drop off or loading zones
- The associated enforcement mechanisms to ensure it functions as intended
These are deemed pilot projects, as cities aim to limit or avoid drastic infrastructure and cost-heavy curb space implementations. Instead, they can dip their toes in the water and assess the results after 6, 12, or 24 months, which is a prudent course of action.
For example, Toronto took a unique and innovative approach to a pilot project that allowed taxis to idle at fire hydrants. This was completed by consultation and education, and in the field, it was simply new signage that was installed. This pilot project instantly created dozens of new taxi loading zones across the downtown, which was helpful given the demands on the curbside. This pilot project was also highlighted by the Institute of Transportation Engineers in their Curbside Management Practitioners Guide Case Study.
Understanding the Curb Inventory
However, in order to identify where to make changes and what changes are possible, it is necessary to understand the curb inventory – what gets measured, gets managed. It is difficult to remove parking for loading zones or ignore the proposal for a protected bike lane if the number of parking or loading spaces in the area of interest is unknown to begin with. With this curb inventory information, data-driven decisions can be made. For example, outlining to business owners and other curbside stakeholders that while three parking spaces may be removed, there are 250 parking spaces within a 5-minute walk, but no loading zones where the demands are for deliveries.
As the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in 2020, and parking demands greatly dropped in downtown areas across the world, cities responded with unprecedented speeds. New bike lanes were implemented, as were slow or quiet streets, as well as on-street parklets or patios for dining (such as CaféTO in Toronto).
Unfortunately, many of these decisions were ad hoc, and not always driven by an understanding of the trade-offs. If digital curb inventories were ubiquitous, it is likely that these curb projects could have been implemented quicker, and documented digitally to be easily shared and updated moving forward. Instead, bulleted lists of text or one-off maps in GIS were created and separated from the larger curb inventories, only telling a piece of the puzzle.
The SCAG Pilot Projects
As part of the SCAG CSMS, cities are being afforded the opportunity to better understand their curb space to have informed implementation strategies, including pilot project developments. Four SCAG cities worked with the project team and identified a total of 12 sites. These sites ranged in one to four blocks in size and were in a cross-section of land uses and corridor types in these cities. The focus of the data collection at these sites was to collect curb demand data, including dwell times, turnover or duration data, and occupancy data, in addition to the curb inventory. The curbside inventory was captured for one additional block surrounding the site in every direction, in order to provide a robust understanding of the curbside in the area of influence. For example, it is occasionally necessary to have loading zones on a major corridor, but it is possible to shift parking to the side street or local road (or vice versa). Only focusing the curb inventory on the immediate study area would miss the surrounding, essential components of the broader network that is an all-important part of curbside management.
The curb inventory data was collected and then uploaded into CurbIQ. You can see some CurbIQ screenshots of the sites in Santa Monica, Riverside, Santa Ana, and Anaheim below.
With this curb space inventory, data surrounding the number of parking spaces, loading spaces, accessible spaces, and all other uses is now known on an hourly, daily, and weekly basis. This means that the study does not need to rely on anecdotal comments or estimates. Curb space trade-offs can now be analyzed alongside the demand data to identify the optimal solution. For example, to understand the walking distance from any existing on-street accessible parking spaces to key destinations, to help reduce this distance through the introduction of new spaces as part of a pilot program. Or, determine how many curb spaces are revenue-generating and how many people are served per curb space (or per 6 feet), to help cities maximize and prioritize these values to align with their goals and vision.
Applying the Findings of a Pilot Project
With an understanding of curb inventory, and augmented by curb demand data, SCAG cities can take comfort in the next steps of implementing pilot projects or other identified opportunities. These projects can change their curb space for the better, to maximize the efficiency, and perhaps try bold, new things they otherwise may not have before this project. In general, the more cities digitize and create their curb inventory, the better they can track their progress year after year. If changes are kept up to date, which can be done with Curb Manager, cities can set goals and report on the success of projects, particularly if metrics are established against existing or desired curb inventories. This information can feed the basis of the pilot projects. The nature of pilot projects is that they are adaptable, not necessarily permanent, and they have clear test or trial objectives that can be refined over time.
As more cities collect curb inventory data, expect more pilot projects and innovation solutions to start showing up on streets near you.
Curbside management is an emerging practice and terminology used for what was often considered by cities as “parking management.” The update in terminology reflects the changing priorities to shift the focus from private vehicles to other modes of transport. It infers a more holistic approach by looking at a wide array of curbside uses, as well as considering the curbside as a citywide network that can be activated. For example, creating bus or cycle corridors by repurposing the curb lane. The traditional management of the curbside is location-specific, and curbside regulations often correlate with its immediate adjacent building use. For instance, paid parking in front of shops, or free parking in a quiet residential area.
The demand for curbside use is increasing with the adoption of innovative solutions, including bike-share and e-scooters, car-share services, ride-hailing services, the growth of online shopping and associated freight deliveries, accessibility, and vehicle storage. Curbside management ensures that space is allocated to these uses in a way that benefits the sustainability goals of cities. However, with such an array of different users and uses, a larger margin of flexibility is needed for day-to-day operations to adapt to changing demands.
The traditional curb management approach is oriented around private vehicle parking and usage. It is static and changing the curb use requires going through a tedious built-in bureaucratic process. In contrast, the flexible curb is dynamic and can serve multiple uses. It is time based, agile, and can change its use according to demand.
Flexible Curb Management
Flexible curb management refers to ways that cities can optimize curb space that is in high demand in desirable areas. The flexibility allows cities to allocate the most suitable curb use to a specific location at a specific time. It implies different curb uses for different times, whether that is in the same day (for example peak and off-peak hours), or different periods of the year (for example, summer patios and winter snow clearing zones).
The curbside can be designed for seasonal flexibility, accommodating different activities in different seasons. For example, restaurant outdoor seating can be more prevalent in the warmer parts of the year. In this context, the curb lane can be repurposed for curbside patios (as implemented on a wider scale during the COVID-19 pandemic). Alternatively, the sidewalk can be used as an outdoor extension of restaurants, and consequently the curb lane can be repurposed as an extension of the sidewalk. This can be done through a raised platform to match the sidewalk level, or through built-in design features such as on Market Street in Toronto, where the street and sidewalk are leveled, and bollards can be reconfigured easily to summer mode (restaurant patio + sidewalk) or winter mode (no patios + parking lane).
New uses of the curbside have emerged that not only utilize the curb space in a different way, but also make better use of the curb over time. For example, a pick-up drop-off (PU-DO) zone can serve more people in a typical hour, with vehicles utilizing it typically for a minute or two over a space of 4-5 parking spots, compared with 5 parking spots that allow for very low utilization of the same space. Even the use of the PU-DO zone may be highly utilized in specific hours, depending on the location (in front of a theatre, sports arena, office complex, or hotel). During the times of day when there is low activity, the space can be utilized in other ways, such as for deliveries or loading.
Scheduling curb space can be facilitated through digital tools, such as CurbIQ’s Curb Manager. Scheduling implies ongoing regulations, temporal regulations during weekdays/weekends, daytime/nighttime, a one-off event, or a recurring activity.
When digitized, the flexible curb can be managed and controlled remotely and respond to real-time usage. This can attend to real time increase in demand, such as pick up or drop off activity at the end of large events. Or, it can quickly slot in loading zones during the times when there is less demand for parking. Another more direct way to implement flexible curb space is by the usage of digital curbside signage that can communicate the current regulation and change according to real-time demand.
Enabling an Optimized Curb Through Digitization
The combination of flexible curb management with a digital curbside inventory and remote management tools allows for a greater optimization of curbside usage. The curb can serve more people with more mobility options at the times of day when there is more activity and demand. At the same time, it safe-guards time slots for cities’ important logistical activities such as the movement of goods, and allows more effective management and scheduling of places of permanence, such as patios and street closures.
A network of remotely managed and connected designated flexible curb space locations in the city can form the initial structure for a multi-modal mobility network. This network of curb space real estate allows for prioritization of shared-mobility, cycling infrastructure and transit throughout the city.
The importance of the flexible digitized curb space management is both in the spatial and temporal aspects of the curbside. As flexible and digitized curbside initiatives are adopted on a wider scale, a fundamental change in the way we use our streets can begin. We can imagine the future curbside as part of a responsive network of public spaces that are programmed to serve the cities’ demands and needs.
Cities have historically tackled parking problems by providing off-street solutions, such as parking minimums or multi-level car parking. However, the core of the problem lies with free, haphazard, and unmanaged on-street parking that undermines these off-street solutions. Off-street facilities remain highly under-utilized if parking in the nearby streets is free. The saturated streets falsely indicate a parking shortage as a problem to which cities responded with increased parking supply. The long-term effect was designing streets that accommodate vehicles and aren’t people-friendly. Authorities have realized this and updated parking policies that bring optimal solutions to both on-street and off-street parking issues. Technological intervention is imperative as cities continue to resolve parking woes with various improvements.
A curb management solution can address these parking problems by creating, managing, and sharing parking regulations in a visual and easy-to-navigate way. Solutions such as CurbIQ can end on-street parking chaos and can help improve the off-street parking systems.
1. Create a Parking Inventory
Measuring the existing parking supply is the first step to alleviate any parking issues and understand the function of each space (for example, vehicle type or users allocated). It is crucial to have a digitized map and tools that generate data sets to understand the available parking infrastructure. Data standardization of digital data sets streamlines sharing of information among various stakeholders.
Digital data sets of curb regulations improve parking situations and assist in faster planning and management. CurbIQ’s Curb Converter provides a solution to digitize data based on the type of available data in the city.
2. Know Your Vendors
Curb Viewer can act as a vendor aggregator portal to help civic agencies keep track of all the privately owned lots and multi-level car parking (MLCP). The application can gather data from these vendors and display parking profiles in terms of supply, demand, and fees, enabling constant monitoring of off-street privately-owned parking lots or MLCP.
3. Inspect On-Street Regulations Around Off-Street Parking
Due to a skewed demand for free on-street parking, MLCPs remain under-utilized. It is essential to have knowledge of parking supply near MLCPs to increase the turnover ratio. Curb Viewer gives a holistic view of the parking supply in the city that allows municipalities to understand the on-street parking supply around these MLCPs. The solution also allows the user to understand supply based on dates and times, restrictions, and user type. With insights into spaces and parking times, cities can restrict on-street parking to accommodate for the efficient use of MLCPs.
4. Make Data-Driven Decisions
Parking fees can help as a parking management tool to off-load high demand from on-street to off-street. Parking prices of on-street that surround off-street facilities are loosely set and are not demand-responsive/market-driven. CurbIQ can help to set demand-responsive prices.
Optimize the Curbside
With Curb Manager, cities can make decisions about curbside regulations and their attributes. They can actively plan and designate parking laws such that the spaces are distributed between various users at various times of the day based on demand and optimize the curbside. Use Curb Manager to edit existing regulations around the off-street facilities or create new ones as needed.
Curb Analyzer can help understand the demand and supply side of the parking. It is a data-enriched tool that can analyze parking in zones created by users of varying sizes. Use data-supported insights to adjust parking prices, times, and enforcement. The tool can also measure and compare the performance of two different scenarios.
Once the optimal scenario is selected, a user can publish these changes to reflect across all other modules that can also be public facing. Proposed changes can be pushed into Variable Message Signs (VMS) boards across a city to disseminate information to the public. Users can export proposed regulations in GeoJSON, PDF, and Excel format for further evaluation.
Parking price can be used as a parking management tool. Setting it loosely undermines its value. When cities convey parking price as a tax/cost recovery approach, it receives resentment from the public. The market-driven and frequently changing parking prices can create a perspective of parking price as a management tool.
5. Disseminate Parking Regulations
The absence of tools to disseminate parking regulations results in a lack of knowledge on what or where a violation is and the expected penalty. Confusing signage leads to a lack of organization around parking vehicles and will not effectively communicate the penalties to the public.
Public Facing Curb Viewer (PFCV) can display real-time data for both on-street and off-street parking facilities. The drivers can gauge occupancy levels and make better trip decisions, which reduces cruising and other externalities such as vehicle emissions, driver frustration, and congestion.
6. Enforcement and Monitoring
Effective enforcement can reduce the chaos and bring in order. It reduces ill effects such as illegal parking and double parking. Currently, monitoring and enforcement require deploying a vast number of people on-site where parking is prohibited. Enforcement causes greater deterrence to park in prohibited/saturated streets and re-directs to off-street facilities.
CurbIQ can help bridge the gap in data communication between the enforcement and the supply side. CurbRules API provides third parties with regulation information such as parking rates and rules on-street to detect a violation in real-time.
Effective Parking Management is the Key
Cities have started to note that saturated on-street parking despite the infrastructure is not because of parking shortage but often because the nearby off-street facilities are almost empty. On-street parking management helps cities understand the investment required on off-street facilities and increases the willingness for its usage.
CurbIQ helps to resolve the miscellaneous challenges cities face with on-street management with enough consideration to off-street solutions. While parking control and management can be used as a Traffic Demand Management (TDM) measure, it also has a huge revenue potential for the cities. CurbIQ can help cities see value in their assets and resolve some of the pressing issues they face. Get in touch if you’d like to find out more.
To be resilient is to be able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions and uncertain situations. It could be unexpected such as a global pandemic, or the anticipated adoption of innovation in digitization and automation. For that reason, it is necessary to adapt to emergencies or emerging ways to connect people to places in the urban realm. How does this apply to the public space of cities, and more specifically the curbside?
In this context, a resilient curb can attend to crisis and adapt to emergent uses of the street in an agile way. A future proof curb is designed and managed with the built-in capacity to quickly adapt to these changes when and as needed. This can be supported by digitizing the curbside inventory.
Flexible curbsides allow curb lane repurposing without heavy infrastructural changes or lengthy approvals for changes of its designated use. This form of preparedness can increase the resilience of how the curbside is managed and operated for different temporal aspects of its use. In the short-term time frame of a daily cycle, a resilient curb can benefit a wider range of uses that alternate throughout the day, instead of limiting them to a single use. In the long-term, its use can be adapted to new realities on a yearly basis, or as needed.
COVID Curbs – A Turning Point
The curb proved its resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the re-appropriation of curb space, more space was created out of seemingly nowhere. Transformed curb space allowed people to continue visiting businesses such as restaurants while eating outdoors in temporary patios or through newly designated curbside pick-up zones. For example, the CaféTO initiative deployed more than 1000 curbside patios in the city of Toronto to attend the pandemic demand in its first year.
Another quick re-utilization of the curb lane was the increase in bicycle lanes. Moreover, complete street transformations, such as on Yonge Street in Midtown Toronto, incorporated not only cycle infrastructure, but also improved pedestrian crossings, curbside patios, loading zones, bike-share stations and other uses along the transformed corridor.
The wave of temporary transformation of curb space caught on during the pandemic. Cities are now considering extending programs such as temporary curbside patios which are more agile than their pre-pandemic predecessor, parklets, that required greater efforts to approve, finance, and deploy. The COVID-19 pandemic may be reflected upon as a turning point towards the role of the curbside to support a more dynamic way of city planning.
A Tactical Approach to Real-Time Curb Management
Tactical Urbanism is believed to provide a transformational toolkit with resilience in mind. The methodology utilizes light and removable infrastructure and street furniture, allowing for quick deployment and set up, all with a low budget. Tactical Urbanism strategically guides through a transition from one configuration of a street or public space to another. It also allows for frequent updating of the street configuration which could be done within weeks or days, if needed.
The ability to easily and frequently change the street configuration in the front-end (the physical street face), can be enabled operationally in the back-end by a digitized real-time curb inventory. This digital curb inventory can be managed and kept up to date with tools such as Curb Manager. It can be programmed with flexibility in mind, sensitive to different time periods in the week, day, or month, as well as the durations of curbside uses and activities. Further afield, digital signage could indicate the current and scheduled use of the specific curb space.
A digital curb inventory simulates different alternatives virtually before implementation (for example, by using Curb Analyzer). This can facilitate a quicker roll out of road safety and sustainable active transportation initiatives on a wider scale. Whether it is the facilitation of a wider roll out of Complete Street and Vision Zero initiatives, or enabling real-time curbside operations, the combined benefits of a tactical approach with digital curb management and analysis increase curbside resilience.
A Mobility Option for Everyone
Resilient streets are also those that provide widely available and easily accessible mobility options that address the current sustainability and equity challenges.
There is a need to accommodate a plural way of moving around in the city. Physical reconfigurations of public space through Complete Streets and Vision Zero initiatives ensure that everyone has access to a suitable mobility option. Progressive cities are focusing on curb management strategies that go beyond traditional parking management, regulation, and operation. These strategies include curb uses that have a wider impact on urban mobility and a positive impact on sustainability.
Cities can leverage their digitized curb inventory to facilitate managing, deploying, and integrating shared mobility that utilizes the curbside. This includes shared micromobility such as bike-share docking stations or e-scooter corrals. It includes vehicular usage of pick-up and drop-off zones by TNCs, car-share fleets, as well as EV charging. The integration of transit with these uses can be done through a Mobility as a Service (MaaS) integration of modes, occurring virtually through apps or payment systems, and physically at the curbside.
Curbside Digitization and Resilience
Curbside resilience can be achieved with a combination of a tactical approach to streamlining on-ground changes to the varied uses of the curbside, coupled with the remote management of these uses and matching them to real-time demand with digital management tools. The hidden potential of the curb can be unearthed through dynamic programming of the curb use over time, whether in the day-to-day cycle or through scheduling future changes and temporary exceptions, such as events.
Allowing for built-in flexibility of the physical design of the curbside through tactical methods corresponds with the agility in which it can be managed remotely. The matching of the physical and virtual aspects of the curbside allow for a resilient curb that is prepared to adapt to both expected and unexpected changes.
Why Have Data Standards?
Whenever there is a conversation about data, it doesn’t take long for data standards to come up. Almost every commonly shared data source has an accompanying standard, from basic information like timestamps and camera film speed, to fully detailed specifications for food safety and IT security. Mobility data is no different. Standards like the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) and Mobility Data Specification (MDS) provide formats to create and share mobility information, such as trip generation and scheduling with municipalities, users, and other mobility companies. These universal standards make data sharing much easier and allow companies to design programs and software based on these standards that benefit end users.
The curbside and corresponding regulations are no different – having a digital standard to convey restrictions to curbside users will help streamline the curbside and make it more accessible. Courier vehicles could be directed to nearby loading zones, as opposed to double parking, or a tourist could clearly understand whether they can or can’t park in front of a stack of various parking signs, to name a few examples.
I touched on the value of a curb standard last year and cited the latest specifications being used at the time. Now, the focus is on CurbIQ’s use of curb standards and our best practices moving forward.
CurbLR: A Robust Data Specification for Curbside Supply
CurbLR, a specification developed by SharedStreets, was the first curb standard to be released. It was designed to capture the complex structure of curb regulations in a robust, priority driven design with locations based off of the SharedStreets referencing system. The CurbIQ team was part of the initial testing of this specification and provided feedback on its design. We now use CurbLR as our data structure for all our digital curb inventories as well as the back end of our platform. As it’s evolved, CurbLR now focuses specifically on the supply side of the curb and is often the initial data source in digital curbside management. As the CurbIQ team looks to ingest and utilize curbside demand data to supplement supply information, another spec is needed to accommodate this new data source.
CDS: A Complete Specification to Cover Curbside Supply, Demand, and Metrics
Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) also recognized this need, and began work on a new specification called the Curb Data Specification (CDS). This spec not only covers the supply component of the curb but incorporates a demand component by having both an events and metrics API. The standard originated from companies and cities wanting to pilot dynamic curb zones, so a large focus of the design has been on curbside demand. This includes explicitly defining unique events and what specific metrics should be aggregated. To avoid reinventing the wheel, much of the supply structure, including the option of using the SharedStreets Referencing System, was copied directly from CurbLR.
The CurbIQ team is part of the CDS working group to refine the design and works with other members to apply this standard in real world scenarios. In fact, our Curb Rules API (to disseminate both curbside supply and demand data) was updated to run off of CDS. This was a clear choice as CDS is designed with a focus on sharing the data, hence referring to all components of their spec as APIs. With the recent release of version 1.0, there will be more applications of CDS, and in turn, more feedback and improvements made to the spec.
The Future of Curb Data Standards
CurbLR and CDS are the two main specifications that the CurbIQ team believes will be most commonplace moving forward. However, as with any new specifications, the industry is still in flux with which one to use. There are still other specifications such as Work Zone Data Exchange (WZDx), Alliance for Parking Data Standards (APDS), or ISO 4448 Sidewalk Standard that all relate to the curb and could become more prominent in the coming years.
At CurbIQ, we are focused on using standards that are most beneficial to our end users. We track what is being asked for, what new standards are emerging, and involve ourselves in the formulation of these standards where possible (as we did with both CurbLR and CDS). Another goal of ours is to ensure we can accommodate all common standards. We’re currently working on updating our back end to also accommodate CDS and generating automated processes that can easily convert data between specifications. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions on these various standards, as it can often be overwhelming choosing which to go with and why.
Looking to the future, we see a world where curb data is standardized and as commonplace as GTFS feeds for transit information or YYYY-MM-DD for date format are today. Like companies that help municipalities maintain and update their GTFS and GBFS feeds, we hope to continue to provide and expand those same services to cities all with their curb data via our CurbIQ platform, resulting in more curb data and access for all.
The size of Los Angeles County is truly mind-boggling. At just over 4,000 square miles, it is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined and home to more than ten million people. As for streets, Los Angeles proper has about 14,000 miles of roadway.
In 2016, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) launched Code the Curb, an initiative to create a digital inventory of the county’s curb regulations. This would require surveying the curb regulations on the ground: like most cities in North America, Los Angeles’ curb regulations are not documented. There are tools to make this surveying easier, but all of them are for surveying by foot.
Let’s do some quick math. We’ve found that surveyors can cover about one mile of curb by foot per hour. Each mile of street equals two miles of curb, so covering Los Angeles’ 14,000 miles of street by foot would take the average person 28,000 hours. For ten surveyors working 40 hours a week, 48 weeks a year, this would take about a year and a half – and probably cost close to a million in salaries.
Put simply, this is not a scalable solution.
A Faster Method for Curb Inventories?
What’s faster than walking?
Cycling Driving, of course.
Surveying while driving has a name: mobile mapping. It’s when you use a camera mounted on a car to map streets, assets, etc. while driving. We took this process a step further by building Curb Converter, a machine vision architecture that augments the mobile mapping process by finding curb signs in each image and converting them into digital curb data. We call it augmented mobile mapping.
Augmented mobile mapping has the benefit of being a very efficient way to collect data, but there are some tradeoffs: GPS signals can be blocked by tall buildings, signs might be obstructed when you drive past them, and image quality varies. Over at CurbIQ headquarters, we wanted to find out if we could overcome these issues without breaking the bank. So we partnered up with Urban Movement Labs (UML) in Los Angeles to test it out.
First, we picked four neighbourhoods in Los Angeles that differed in terms of their use patterns and density. Then, using only smart phone cameras and GPSs, we got to work driving the streets and collecting data.
The detailed results of this pilot, and our takeaways, can be found in our final report Digitizing the Curb: Curb Inventory Pilot Project .
How Well Does Augmented Mobile Mapping Work
When all the images were uploaded, Curb Converter had done its magic, and all the regulation data was processed, we got our answer.
In high-density areas, augmented mobile mapping works quite poorly. Here are the results for the highest-density neighbourhood we surveyed, South Park in DTLA.
High Density Neighbourhood Survey Results:
- Detection: 93% of curb regulation signs were detected
- Comprehension: 73% of detected signs were perfectly read and understood
- Geolocation: 91% of detected signs were mapped by our system within two car lengths of their actual locations, and only 57% were mapped within one car length
These results may not look too bad, but nearly 1 in 10 signs missing from a curb inventory is abysmal considering the impact on the data’s end-users. And less than three quarters of the signs that were detected were even accurately interpreted by Curb Converter. Overall, that means that only 68% of signs were detected and comprehended perfectly.
The other side of the coin is that augmented mobile mapping is very effective in other parts of the city. In low- to mid-density neighbourhoods, including practically all residential areas, augmented mobile mapping works just about as well as surveying by foot and is up to eight times faster. Here are the results in Maywood, a moderately dense residential neighbourhood and the lowest-density area we surveyed:
Low/Moderate Density Neighbourhood Survey Results:
- Detection: 98% of curb regulation signs were detected
- Comprehension: 100% of detected signs were fully comprehended
- Geolocation: 98% of detected signs were positioned within two car lengths of their actual locations, and 82% were positioned within one car length
That’s pretty good! Nearly 100% of signs were detected and perfectly comprehended.
CurbIQ’s Secret Formula for Scalable Curb Inventories
Okay, so augmented mobile mapping is great in low- and moderate-density neighbourhoods and not viable in high-density neighbourhoods.
Fortunately, low- and medium-density neighbourhoods like Maywood make up a huge proportion of North American cities. In Los Angeles, we estimate that around 90% of the curb miles in the county are use-types very similar to Maywood, where augmented mobile mapping works extremely well. If we can survey 90% of Los Angeles eight times faster than we ordinarily could have, we’re still surveying the entire city in just over a fifth the time it would take to survey it by foot alone.
So here’s the secret formula for scalable curb inventory:
- Mobile map in low- and medium-density areas; use computer vision to do the heavy lifting
- Survey by foot in high-density areas, like dense commercial corridors
What Does This Mean?
Curbside data is super valuable for cities and the folks who run them. Here are just a few things cities can do with citywide curbside data:
- Share an interactive parking map with citizens so drivers can head directly to legal parking zones rather than meandering around (all the while creating congestion and emissions!)
- Recover new revenue by identifying neighbourhoods with an excess of free parking and making some of it paid
- Evaluate the impact of large-scale street redesign projects on parking revenue, delivery access, and accessible parking with real data
- Identify candidate segments for new curb uses, like micromobility docking stations, pick-up/drop-off zones, and electric vehicle charging stations
- Empower entrepreneurs in your city to develop apps and software that help drivers, cyclists, delivery companies, etc. to make the most of the curb
(By the way, curbside data has a lot of benefits for engaged citizens too.)
Maybe you’ve been eyeing a new BRT line in your city but are having a hard time financially justifying it. Maybe you’ve been tasked with helping your city to meet its sustainability goals. Or maybe your constituents are telling you that parking is too expensive in your district, and you want to look at the data yourself.
Whatever your challenge, if you think that citywide curbside data could help you or want to find out if it can, give us a shout. We’d be glad to help you through it.
If you’re interesting in learning more about citywide curbside data, watch the recording of our recent Digitizing the Curb webinar.
With the densification of cities causing greater use of curb space for pick-ups, drop-offs, and deliveries, as well as a push from people demanding more space in the public realm, the usage of the curbside has been more important and in demand than ever. Because of this, cities have to make difficult decisions when managing the best use of their curbside. Fortunately, there is an emerging trend in digitizing curbside inventories, providing cities with information in an easy-to-read format, so they can make data-driven decisions to accommodate different needs.
So, what exactly are these decisions and how can curbside supply be helpful? Well firstly, what exactly is curbside supply? Similar to how a building has a specific number of units available, or a parking lot has a set limit of parking spaces, curbside supply is the capacity at the curbside and encompasses the number of spaces for each type of regulation. In this article, we’ll cover how municipalities can use this supply to understand the potential of the curbside to generate revenue, allocate spaces for different uses more efficiently, and communicate better with the public, all components resulting in a better city space.
Maximize Potential Value of The Curb
How many parking spaces do we have around a tourist attraction at 3pm on Wednesday? How much would be the expected revenue in that location? These might be some of the more common questions that municipalities have. With curbside information displayed in a more understandable format, city staff can quickly identify parking supply available at a selected location on a specific date, day of the week, and time period. Since peak demand in City A might be different from City B, filtering by time and date can help best reflect the needs required by municipalities.
By using CurbIQ’s Curb Analyzer, in just a few clicks users are able to see the full picture of curbside supply on any zone generated by them. In one glance, users would be able to know the number of spaces for different regulation types for any time range selected. The dropdowns also let a user see the curbside’s potential revenue, GHG emissions, and number of users. With this information, a municipal staff can make regulation changes that maximize potential of the curbside. Maximizing revenue around a tourist attraction, minimizing emissions in a carbon neutral zone, or increasing users on a busy street are all examples of what can be done when curbside supply is available. In the example below, users can quickly see the supply of paid parking around an analysis zone, and can determine ways to maximize different metrics of the curb.
In addition, if the city also had revenue data, they could see the direct impact of changes they made on the various metrics noted above. The revenue data falls under the demand side of things and will be discussed at a greater length in another article. =)
Allocate Curb Space More Equitably
Accessibility and equity are two important aspects that many cities are trying to achieve. But how can they do it in terms of curbside usage? Is there at least one accessible parking every 500 meters in this location? Is there enough on street parking dedicated to residents with permits in a neighbourhood or is it all paid parking? Do delivery personnel have a place to park when delivering parcels to a high-density residential area?
With better understanding of existing supply, users would be able to quickly identify who has access to the curb and who does not. Having such knowledge as well as understanding the needs of the people in that area, municipalities are then able to identify the gaps between supply and demand. This would allow them to allocate curb space more equitably to serve all different curb space users, be it food delivery personnel, cyclists, TNC passengers, or delivery trucks. Analytics tools can provide a solution, by letting users quickly see the amount or percentage of a certain regulation type within a certain distance.
There will always be tradeoffs when implementing changes in a city, and the curbside is no exception. We have already discussed ways to effectively create these regulation changes, but cities often struggle to win over the public who are affected by these changes, regardless if they are permanent or temporary. For example, shops and restaurants typically don’t like when they lose parking nearby, and residents usually are against free parking outside their house converting to paid parking. However, if the city can provide logical workarounds for parking alternatives, this can help make the transition easier and smoother. By showing proof of sufficient curbside space in an area to relevant stakeholders, they can confidently make statements like “even though we are removing 5 parking spaces here, you still have 20 spaces within 100 meters from your restaurant. “
When this information is communicated effectively, the public is more likely to believe that they do, in fact, still have other options around them – a simple map or chart can speak a thousand words.
The power of curbside data is enormous but putting this information to use is what brings out its value. Many municipalities already have curbside data in useful formats that can help generate a full curbside supply for a city. Never underestimate what a little data can do. Even supply data for just a few blocks or a particular location can help draw meaningful insights.
CurbIQ has the tools to complete these analyses, draw useful conclusions and visualize them on a user-friendly dashboard to help with recommendations! We are eager to help cities to analyze their data but feel like they do not have the tools to do it. Together, we can help make the curbside more efficient, accessible and equitable for all users!
Every third Friday of September, people across the world temporarily repurpose selected street parking spaces and convert them to small parks as part of PARK(ing) Day. DIY means are used to make these places for art, play, and activism. Although it is a simple occupation of a single parking space, it is a powerful idea advocating for a ‘City for People’ approach to public space use. Park(ing) Day started in 2005 by Rebar group in San Francisco. Their idea was to transform a parking space with some grass, a bench, and a small tree in a pot. There was an additional ‘hack’ that enabled the use of this public real estate — slotting a few coins in the parking meter.
Temporary urban interventions like Park(ing) Day, whether initiated by ordinary citizens or by elected representatives, fall within tactical urbanism. This is a methodology used for incremental redesigning of public space through testing solutions (from testing a one-day event, to a yearlong temporary urban intervention). The physical testing leads to a confident approval of a more permanent design. Some cities have been using this methodology more than others, like New York with its tactical plazas and bike lanes in the late 2000’s and beyond.
Curbside activation has since become an expected component of curb management strategies. It offers vibrant social spaces with uses such as: food trucks, parklets, patios and ‘streateries’, public art, seating, and street festivals.
However, considering the changes brought on by a global pandemic, informal and temporal use of space has gone ‘mainstream’ and has expanded substantially, it can be seen on every main street in many cities.
The global pandemic has redefined the way cities value their curb space. Through the re-appropriation of curb space, ‘space’ was ‘created’ out of seemingly ‘nowhere’—a new real-estate to address emergent issues in the city. These spaces allowed people to continue visiting businesses such as restaurants while eating outdoors in temporary patios or through newly designated curbside pick-up zone.
During the pandemic, CurbIQ was used to help support the CaféTO program in Toronto, which included more than 1000 on-street patios. As a pandemic response tool, CurbIQ’s curb management solution allows for efficient methods to implement and communicate these changes to citizens so they can feel safe while engaging the public realm.
Dealing with the Ever-Changing Curb Use
Curb space can be found ubiquitously throughout the city. The curbside provides access to locations on a per use / time basis. The dynamic nature of the curb means that it can change from one use to another, although the change in restrictions of use needs to be documented on physical signposts. Nevertheless, this flexibility presents an opportunity to address emerging and temporal demands, such as the pandemic patios or shared mobility. The challenge is to find solutions that allow the curb to adapt and change its use according to current demand or needs of the population or its location and road type.
Cities are rethinking the way they manage their curbside activities as the need to make frequent decisions about changing the use of the space increases. The challenges around curb usage and (re)allocation can be addressed in two steps: first, by digitizing the curb inventory, and second, by providing real-time access to this inventory.
An ever-growing list of traditional and emerging curb uses and users could benefit from access to a digitized curb inventory. Controversially, the allocation of emerging curb uses requires the elimination of traditional parking spaces. Having a curb inventory allows cities to better understand the impact on parking in a region and assess additional impacts such as reduction in emissions resulting from dedication of space towards sustainable mobility uses, rain gardens, greenery, road safety or communal uses.
Currently, each curb use must go through different hoops of regulations when changing from one use to another. The digitization of curb inventory could help in streamlining the reallocation process. This would make approval of transformations quicker and easier to manage, enforce and document. Shared with the public, the digitized curb inventory could also be used for online engagement for local municipalities to consult with residents and businesses about their needs and desires for a specific street section.
Once the curb inventory is digitized and can be accessed in real-time, we can start thinking about curb space booking permission for predefined uses regulated through up-to-date e-permits. Admittedly, the first thought that comes to mind when we think of the possibility of “curb space booking” is ‘parking’. However, booking the space could be used for any number of things: Zero Emission Delivery zones, flexible loading zones, street vendor or food truck e-permits, micromobility booking, on-street EV charging station, or Mobility Hubs.
Or… how about enabling activities with the same intentions expressed by the organizers of Park(ing) Day events yearly. How about a bookable temporary use of space to provide opportunities for gathering and real-life social encounters.
Civic Use of Public Space, Virtual Presence
Following the same logic, we can look beyond the curb space and on to the public space. The virtual presence of streets, plazas and parks could provide access to real-time information about temporary events and activities. The ‘programming’ of such spaces for communal and civic use could be done through digital placemaking initiatives.
As part of the Pavement to Plazas program, streets are transformed into plazas. For example, the Jim Deva Plaza, in Vancouver’s West End, once a street, now a small plaza with funky lights, and a space for performances and gatherings. The plaza also has a virtual presence (website and social media) where it is possible to look up, propose an event, or in other words help ‘program’ the space. This is a low barrier, low tech way to provide access to the programming of public space through the virtual public domain.
Looping back to Park(ing) Day, what if we could book curb spaces, traditionally used for parking, for civic activities and community events? Connecting placemaking initiatives with the digitized curb could allow this idea to become a reality. Then Park(ing) Day could be any day, every day, and eventually become an everyday urban activity.
We’ve all seen the movies, but technology taking over cities is happening in the real world too! As more devices and technology become connected throughout urban areas, cities are generating more data sources. Much of this information is posted on Open Data Portals where anyone can access, download, and use it for whatever purposes they may have. Unfortunately, cities are often not taking advantage of all this data they are creating, but with the right tools and the right motivation that can change. The curbside is one such incentive, with curbside management and digital inventories in increasing demand. Because of this, cities are looking at a variety of ways to collect this information without realizing they may already have the data they need (don’t worry, CurbIQ’s Curb Converter processes can still help you out if you don’t). This article reviews three types of datasets that can be used to create a digital curbside inventory: transportation asset data, real-time occupancy data, and signage data.
The first dataset category that should not be overlooked is transportation asset data. This can come in all forms – fire hydrant locations, transit stops, on-street bike storage, parking meters or even food trucks. Although this information doesn’t directly tell you what is happening at the curbside, it can often be inferred. There is no stopping in front of fire hydrants, a parking meter represents a parking space, a transit stop represents a no standing transit zone, the list goes on. By representing these assets as curb segments, a city can start to fill in their curbside inventory. There are several tools to convert this data, such as Curb Converter’s Open Data Automation processes, that can standardize and make the data user friendly. The gaps in the data can then be filled via surveying using Curb Converter processes or through the Curb Manager tool. An example of this can be seen below.
This is not just limited to asset data. Linear assets like bicycle or transit priority lanes translate to no stopping zones that can also contribute to the digital curb inventory.
Another data source that many cities have, but don’t often use, is parking occupancy data. Several cities have installed these sensors in on-street parking spaces and provide the data via an open API. Not only do these sensors inform where there are parking spaces at the curbside, but the corresponding occupancy data can also help inform curbside management decisions such as whether to expand parking or raise rates based on demand.
The final type of dataset, and arguably the best data for completing a curbside inventory, is curbside signage data. Unlike other assets, street signs can be related to create regulation segments; each sign represents the start, middle, end, or singular location of a regulation. Given enough info of what is on the sign such as directional arrows and time spans, a city has all the information they need to generate a complete curb layer.
As valuable as these datasets are, the content available is often messy and difficult to wrangle, manipulate, and generate a final output. We have all heard the saying before – garbage data in, garbage data out. Fortunately, the CurbIQ team has dealt with these issues before and developed solutions as part of the Curb Converter processes to help cities generate curb inventories from open data. We recently worked through this process with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) Curbside Management Team. They have lots of valuable datasets, including street signs, block faces, and a variety of assets, but had not yet pieced all the information together to generate a finalized curb inventory. The CurbIQ team manipulated this data using our Curb Converter processes to generate a complete curb inventory for the Belltown area.
As evident from the above screenshot of Curb Viewer, street sign data was used to populate the relevant information and geometries required for visualization. Additionally, asset data such as pay stations and bus stops was used to fill in gaps in the curb and additional curbside properties like parking rates and durations. As a result, our Curb Converter process was able to take several different data sources with unique attributes to a complete curbside inventory with all relevant information in a centralized location. This data for the Belltown area was also uploaded to the CurbIQ platform so that SDOT could try out our suite of tools. With CurbIQ, this data can be used internally for better curbside management as well as externally via an API to help mobility companies navigate the curbside.
As the example with Seattle highlights, cities often have some or all the components they need to create a curbside inventory, they just need someone to sort through all the data to generate it. Whether it be asset, real-time, or street sign data, our team at CurbIQ has the tools and processes to help cities take the first step in making the most of the curbside by creating a digitized curbside inventory. Please reach out for a free overview of your existing datasets, oftentimes the data is very similar to something we have seen before and we can work with you to generate a solution. With cities generating more information than ever, now is the time to take advantage and modernize the curbside.
What Good Is Open Data?
In 2005, Google joined forces with public transit agency TriMet to create the first-ever open-source transit dataset. Their data, packaged in a lightweight format we now call General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS), comprehensively described the transit system’s schedule and service. Since then, hundreds of transit agencies on six continents have released open-source GTFS feeds. Folks around the world have used GTFS to build better transit direction apps like Transit App and Citymapper, design tools to help transit agencies communicate better with passengers, track subway cars in real time, and demonstrate racial inequities in high-frequency transit service. Not only does GTFS allow transit users to ride smarter— it also gives regular citizens a say in how their transit system looks. None of this would be possible without open data.
Curb Lane Regulations: What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us
If GTFS acts as a detailed map of Transitland, Curbland is a vast, uncharted wilderness. True, it’s not too hard to figure out what rules apply to a curb space when you’re standing next to it. After all, there are signs. But all these signs are spread far apart from one another, and you can’t take them in all at once. In other words, there’s no map. A map allows you to plan, to measure, to understand and improve. Parking, loading and no stopping signs scattered across your town only allow users to answer one question: Can I park right here, right now?
You might think that most cities maintain a comprehensive dataset of their curb lane rules. You might think they update that dataset every time they change the rules. That isn’t the case at all. Here’s how most North American cities update their curb rules:
- A municipal staff member files a change order to change a curb sign
- A worker drives to the location on the change order and replaces the sign
- That’s it.
No digital documentation. Maybe no paper record, even. In most cities, the sign’s rule rules. If you put up a convincing enough No Parking sign on your street, your city probably wouldn’t be able to tell if it was one of theirs (do not attempt). In other words: your city probably doesn’t have comprehensive, up-to-date data about its curbside regulations.
Maybe this is all well and good with you if you’re happy with the way streets are managed where you live. Or maybe you aren’t, and you’d really like to have a say in how curb space is designated. In that case, you might want some data on existing curbside regulations. That curb data doesn’t exist… yet.
Curb + Your Enthusiasm = Curb Data
We could wait forever for municipal agencies to collect and share curb regulation data, or we could do it ourselves. It’s not hard, and we already have all the tools we need to do it.
A Standard Data Format
Transit has GTFS – and curb lanes have CurbLR. Created by SharedStreets, a project of the non-profit organization Open Transport Partnership, CurbLR is written in a simple, lightweight format that is still comprehensive enough to represent every specific type of curb regulation, like “No Parking, Mondays and Thursdays 4-6PM, due to parking space yoga class” or “Free Parking for Scooters with Dogs Only”.
Mapping The Curb
CurbLR describes the location of a curb rule as the distance from the start of the block – so to collect CurbLR formatted regulation data you’ll need a linear referencing survey tool. SharedStreets provides these in the form of little measuring wheels called CurbWheels. They also have iOS and Android apps to automaticaly convert the regulations you find to CurbLR here.
Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could create CurbLR data without any of these tools— just head out with a pal and a measuring tape, and get friendly with the CurbLR data format.
Sharing Your Data
Once you’ve collected some curb regulations for your block, your street, or your neighbourhood, you can upload your CurbLR data to a public repository via GitHub. That way, other people in your city can use your work to study the curb, lobby the city for better curb regulations, and make cool apps.
What Could We Do With Open Curb Data?
What, indeed. So far, we don’t know of any cities that have open curb data. But here are some ideas we have, based in part on what folks have done with GTFS:
1. Identify Curb Inequities
Just like the racial disparities in access to high-frequency transit, there are likely to be curb access disparities, too. Do wealthier areas have disproportionately more free parking? Are parking prices higher in more racialized communities? Researchers and concerned citizens can dig into the data to find out.
2. Justify Repurposing Parking Spaces
Open curb regulation data could allow users to identify long strips of under-utilized free parking that could be replaced with something better — like a bike lane. Or a row of restaurant patios, so customers can social distance and restaurants can stay open. With open data, folks can prove that these changes won’t hurt the city’s bottom line.
3. Build an App to Reduce Cruising for Parking
Drivers spend a lot of time going in circles looking for parking. In the meantime, they create noise, congestion, and burn fuel. And when they’re distracted looking for an available spot, they’re less likely to notice a cyclist passing by. An app based on open CurbLR data could direct drivers to the nearest stretch of legal parking, and make everyone safer and happier.
4. Plan our Curbs Openly and Collaboratively
Together, we can develop an open, community-driven, chaotic-but-smart process for suggesting new curb lane rules to our cities. Once a city’s curb regulations are all uploaded to GitHub, folks can suggest changes directly on the document for their city to review. Whether or not your city takes you up on your suggestions, having an open forum to raise complaints about curb regulations and propose improvements will put pressure on them to act. And with software like CurbIQ that allows city planners to seamlessly create and update CurbLR curb regulations, your city has no excuse not to.
In short, we could use open curb data to improve the way we use the curb and hold our elected officials accountable when the curb doesn’t meet our needs. Through collective awareness and action, we could accelerate improvements to our city streets and create the curbs we want.
There’s no question that this is a lot of work. There are a whole lot of signs to map. But we’ve improved our cities before, and we have the collective power and gumption to do it again. Here’s to mapping the concrete wilderness. Happy Curbing!
The restaurant industry has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those remaining in business have had to adapt their model and find creative ways to operate. One solution has been the expansion of dining areas onto the public right-of-way. While on-street patios existed before COVID-19, the implementation of hundreds, if not thousands, in such a short amount of time is unprecedented.
In the summer of 2020, The City of Toronto implemented CaféTO, its pandemic response program designed to help the restaurant industry expand its outdoor dining capacity through patios. The city retained IBI Group for this initiative which supported 800 restaurants.
As Toronto prepared for another season of CaféTO, I sat down with Trevor McIntyre, Global Director, Placemaking and International at IBI Group, to discuss the project, how CurbIQ helped his team save time, and what the future holds for the curbside.
The IBI team needed to help answer questions such as: how many on-street parking spaces are being repurposed for patios? What other curbside regulations are in place at this location? Are the patios too close to fire hydrants or transit stops? Is the adjacent speed limit acceptable? However, due to stay-at-home orders, the team had challenges conducting typical site visits to confirm existing conditions. Current online mapping services that provide panoramic street views lacked consistent, clear images of traffic signs and didn’t capture information such as speed limits, parking bylaws, and loading zones.
The IBI team needed a single reliable source of curbside regulation and asset information. Enter CurbIQ. Made by the parking and curbside management experts at IBI Group, CurbIQ is a curbside management software solution that digitizes curbside regulations and transportation assets, and displays them on a web-based map, for instant access. These regulations and assets can be managed and analyzed, to quickly surface insights such as the number of on-street parking spaces on a given street or the specific parking restriction in place at 5:00 pm on a Friday.
Using an interactive map, the IBI team identified parking and loading restrictions, speed limits, fire hydrants, and more in real-time.
A built-in measurement tool helped verify that the patios would be an appropriate distance from intersections, transit stops, and fire hydrants according to city criteria. This information was then cross-referenced on detailed design drawings — providing the IBI team with a desktop tool to complete these essential tasks. Lastly, they could calculate the number of on-street parking spaces converting to patios using CurbIQ, minimizing field visits and guesswork, providing a quick and accurate solution.
The curbside is both a critical and flexible municipal asset to our urban transportation systems — parking, commercial loading, ride sharing, and transit are just some of its many uses. Yet, despite the increasing demand for curb space, how cities regulate and communicate curbside information is outdated, inefficient, and confusing.
One type of solution that can help cities overcome these challenges are digital traffic signs.
What Are Digital Traffic Signs?
Digital traffic signs are remotely managed electronic displays that can communicate traffic regulations. They use LED or electronic paper (e-paper) technology similar to an e-reader.
Today, cities primarily use digital signage to communicate critical information to drivers on roadways. For example, Variable Message Signs (VMS) with temporary restrictions (such as no left turns during a specific time of day) can be found on highways or at intersections. Similar technology can also be applied to replace static traffic signage for sharing restrictions at the curbside.
Current Curbside Management
Effective and efficient curbside management starts with digital data. Unfortunately, most cities still rely on physical signage in the field or archived copies of signage-installation work-orders to understand their existing curbside regulations. This limited access to information makes it more difficult than necessary to plan for new curbside uses like patios or designated delivery zones.
Changing a restriction on a street also takes a significant amount of time, effort, and resources as it requires manually locating and updating a restriction (if it’s even recorded), specifying and manufacturing a new sign, and finally having the new sign installed in the field.
Reasons to Consider Digital Traffic Signs
Digital traffic signs can help cities simplify the process to change a restriction on a street and modernize their curbside management practices.
There are several reasons to consider digital traffic signs, including the following:
Greater Efficiency and Flexibility
Replacing static traffic signage with digital versions can considerably streamline the regulation updating process. By reprogramming digital signs to display updated regulations when they apply, municipalities can eliminate the need to purchase and install new signs. Some electronic signage solutions can also integrate with curbside management software to keep signage in the field up to date with a click of a button.
Temporary Signage is Expensive
A curb segment can allow parking on one day and then be closed off temporarily for construction or event parking for a festival the next day. However, the corresponding signage and communication practices are not nearly as dynamic. They can be expensive and time consuming to implement. For example, the LA Department of Transportation spent $9.5 Million USD to put up 558,000 temporary parking signs in 2014, an investment required to communicate new temporary regulations, but one without long-term benefits.
A more efficient solution is to install digital traffic signs in areas that frequently have temporary events — such as entertainment districts or areas around stadiums. This approach has already been adopted and well-received in Australia, with implementations of e-paper digital traffic signs in Sydney’s entertainment district in 2015 and around Perth’s Optus Stadium in 2019.
A Cluttered Curbside
Competing demands for curb space have led to an overwhelming display of confusing traffic signage. Deciphering what regulation applies to the curb has become increasingly difficult for the average user. Throw in temporary changes, and further chaos at the curb ensues.
Communicating curbside information to the public can be simplified by leveraging the flexibility of digital traffic signage, as signs can be programmed to display applicable regulations for the times that they apply. As a digital sign can display different regulations throughout the day, the total number of traffic signs in the area can be minimized, which would also reduce signage clutter. The result is a system that reduces costs, increases flexibility, and makes curbside regulations simple to understand for everyone.
E-paper and LED signs have previously been limited by narrow operating temperature requirements and small colour ranges. However, low temperature e-paper solutions and coloured e-ink technologies are becoming readily available. Several LED solutions that are not limited by colour or temperature are also available.
Digital signs do carry higher initial capital costs than their static counterparts. A typical LED sign about the size of a ‘no parking’ sign costs between $2000 and $3000 USD, plus installation costs. However, by eliminating the need to replace these signs as regulations change, bag them for events, or add new signage for temporary conditions, the total costs can be reduced over a period of seven years.
Curbside management and communication practices need to keep up with growing demand. Innovative tools like digital signage can help bridge the gap between outdated practices and modern curb uses. This technology can also help cities minimize costs while maximizing the efficiency of their curb space.
With the rising importance of CAVs, and smart city technology moving so fast, a future where traffic signage is reconceptualized does not seem far away. Who knows? Maybe we’ll eventually arrive at a future where our urban transportation systems become connected enough to eliminate all traffic signage?
Nearly a year ago, surges in COVID-19 cases prompted mass shutdowns worldwide and set the scene for what would become our new shared reality. Since then, a lot has changed about our cities – the number of cars on the roads, the amount of energy we use, and whether people choose to live in cities at all.
One dimension of our cities undergoing significant changes is the curb — the transitional space where street meets sidewalk.
The role of the curb has expanded, in large part due to advances in technology and user preferences. Today, curb access is highly coveted by an array of competing users, like delivery and rideshare vehicles. Both of these curb users have become ubiquitous in a relatively short time: annual trips for Amazon delivery vehicles and TNCs like Uber and Lyft are in the billions.
While curb demand from TNCs dropped last year, demand from curbside pickup and courier deliveries soared. According to Google Trends, online searches for “curbside pickup” increased 50-fold worldwide between the beginning of March 2020 and the second week of April. Towards the end of April, CNBC reported that curbside pickups had more than tripled compared to a year earlier. Small- and medium-sized businesses also joined the wave of delivery and curbside pickup, adding to the existing demands placed on the curb by big-box retailers.
As curbside pickup has surged during the pandemic, parking has plummeted. Last March, SpotHero saw parking demand decrease by up to 90% in six major US cities. The staggering drop in parking revenue has added to a large budget shortfall for many cities. Toronto made $4.1 million in parking revenue last year, compared to the $60M expected.
The decrease in traffic and parking has opened the curbside to other uses, and many cities have adjusted street regulations accordingly. With confined spaces suddenly hazardous, indoor activities have spilled out into the street. Stores and restaurants have set up racks and patios on sidewalks and in vacated parking spaces.
Also taking advantage of emptier curbs: pedestrians and cyclists. As the WHO advocated for cycling over traveling in enclosed vehicles, cities across the world expanded bike lanes. Some have built temporary bike lanes, like Bogotá and Milan. Others, like Toronto, have moved to expand and/or accelerate plans for permanent lanes. Alongside the influx of temporary and permanent bike infrastructure, many municipalities have created car-free Slow Street zones for pedestrians, cyclists, businesspeople, and restauranteurs alike.
The big question for cities is this: will the curb revert to business-as-usual in the post-pandemic era, or are these changes here to stay?
Experts are weighing in. On curbside pickup, McKinsey senior partner Sajal Kohli votes “stay”, saying, “we think curbside [pickup] is going to be exceptionally sticky… consumers discovered this newfound convenience and they will actually stick to the curbside, which has massive implications.” Market research guru Lisa van Kesteren agrees. “Some customers that never had curbside before have now tried it because of COVID and found that they quite like the convenience,” she said in a conversation with Forbes last fall. “I believe it will stick around.” She should know – her company, SeeLevel HX, has been publishing an annual drive-through market report for decades.
This dynamic is true broadly: while changes to the curb arose out of necessity, the evidence suggests that they are broadly popular and will be challenging to reverse.
The expansion of pedestrian and cycling spaces, for example, have been widely adopted by the public. Bike usage has surged across the US, and cities like Paris and Rome are subsidizing new bike purchases or repairs in an effort to encourage their use. Advances in pedestrianization look like they may stick around as well. Take Banff’s new pedestrian zone, for example: in a recent survey, 97% of visitors said they’d like to see the pedestrian zone become a permanent summer fixture, and more than half wanted it to be permanent year-round. And in a survey this past summer by Politico and YouGov of European citizens, the vast majority agreed that cities should reserve more public spaces for walking, cycling, and public transport.
One thing is for certain, at least: the curbside is an increasingly dynamic and valuable space – and it’s becoming more challenging to manage. With competing claims on the curbside that vary by season, like restaurant patios and bike lanes – or by time of day, like curbside pickup and TNC drop-offs – cities will have to modernize the ways they manage their curbs and communicate regulations to the public.
Cities will also need to address the budgetary deficit that comes from an increase in transient curbside usage (loading, delivering, and curbside pickups) and a corresponding decrease in long-term parking. Cities looking to monetizing transient curbside occupancy should think about investing in automatic sensors and license plate readers – and creating a digital representation of their curb regulations to enable automatic payment.
COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for a curbside renaissance, and a lot is changing. As we move into the summer, there’s no better time for cities to reimagine the curb.