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Using Curb Space Inventory Data to Implement Pilot Projects

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Using Curb Space Inventory Data to Implement Pilot Projects

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. 

One of the sites of the SCAG curb space management study in Riverside, California.

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.

CurbIQ rendering of the project site in Santa Monica, California.
CurbIQ rendering of the project site in Santa Ana, California.

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.

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Peter Richards

Peter Richards, P.Eng., is a Transportation Engineer with project experience ranging from parking strategies and policy to curbside management to traffic signal coordination and everything in-between. He is the Chair of the Parking Standing Committee at the Institute of Transportation Engineers. Pete is a co-creator of CurbIQ.