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Healthy Cities Practice Good Curb Management

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Healthy Cities Practice Good Curb Management

Traffic and delivery services. Pedestrian access. Cycling. Public transit. Cultural events. The rise of Transport Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft. The demands on public space in cities are substantial and growing, placing a massive burden on city and transportation planners to balance and meet every stakeholder’s needs.

And where is it that most of these needs converge?

The curb. Which is why Curb Management is one of the newest and most important specialties in urban affairs, helping cities, planners, and managers to make the most of this dynamic and sought-after civic real estate. Good curbspace management can reduce conflicts and collisions, minimize injuries between users, increase economic output, ease mobility hardships, and more—creating happier, healthier cities.

So what is curb management?

Some would call it addressing the shared transitional space between the roadway and the sidewalk. Others define it as managing the shared space on a roadway adjacent to the sidewalk, or where movement meets access, the nexus of transportation, land use, and economic development.

Curb management is the practice and methodology of effectively allocating curb use, particularly in high-demand areas, while impartially accommodating stakeholders according to the city’s priorities. And if you’re not already doing it, now is the time to start.

Why manage the curb at all?

Too often, the state of curb management is poor. On-site signage is jumbled and confusing, with little indication of which users have priority and who may access it at what times. There can be many demands on curb space that conflict with one another, creating situations that are inconvenient at best (delivery trucks lacking a place to park or load near their destination) and dangerous at worst (a TNC vehicle blocking a bike lane, forcing cyclists to swerve into motorized traffic).

Cities of all sizes rely on vibrant, healthy public spaces that drive economic growth to fund their needs. Effective curb management can be part of delivering on that goal – but only if cities have access to the information and expertise they need to understand the issue and address it in a meaningful way.

The current state of the curb is often confusing for both planners and users, resulting in inefficient curb space that doesn't support a city's goals.

What are the problems facing curb management?

Uncertainty and lack of awareness are two of the most significant obstacles to effective curb management – on the part of both planners and curb users. In general, there is confusion. Who has priority? Who should have priority? What, if anything, can be done to change how curb space is allocated at a given location?

More importantly, good curbspace management often needs to be dynamic and flexible, with clear indicators of which users can use it when – and even accommodate future, unanticipated uses as they arise.

The concept of curb equity also comes into play: considering not just different types of users, but different demographics of users. As one example, low-income citizens planning a trip downtown are impacted by the price of parking far more than those of other economic classes. Off-street parking facilities in place of on-street parking may free up space for public transit or a parkette or patio, but these facilities tend to cost users far more. As well, “destination” businesses such as entertainment venues may be able to attract customers even if parking is further away, while others, such as general retailers, may not. Is it equitable to remove street parking if it endangers some of the economic activity and businesses occupying that space and benefitting from adjacent parking?

Answering that question is a key focal point for good curb management.

Cities want to better understand the optimal use of their curb, what priorities or uses they should implement, and where and how they can systematically do this."

Developing a curb management framework

One of the first steps in curb management is building a list of stakeholders: those who need access. An inexhaustive list of categories includes:

To complicate matters even further, curbside use patterns may vary throughout the day. For instance, an office district may see heavy foot traffic during the morning and evening rush. Lunchtime may bring a demand for food trucks and cultural uses. Other business hours may see couriers and delivery trucks, with evenings occupied by TNCs and taxis if proximate to entertainment venues and cultural events.

Once you have determined the typical users in each location, it is helpful to categorize types of use. A common framework includes:

Mobility

The movement of goods and people, including sidewalks, bike lanes, transit corridors, and general-purpose traffic lanes

Access for People

Transit stops, passenger loading zones, taxi stands, short-term parking, bike storage, and curb extensions

Access for Commerce

Goods and services reaching their destinations, typically at designated loading zones

Activation

Social and cultural uses encouraging commerce and interaction, such as parklets, food trucks, cafés, art, and festivals

Storage

Temporary use to hold construction materials, film equipment, and more

Collecting data on who is using the curb and when, categorizing the nature of that use, and comparing it to city objectives for growth and public health makes it easier to develop a comprehensive curb management strategy.

The future of curb management

Now that you understand the importance of user analysis and a strategic framework for curb management, the question becomes tactical. What do the nuts and bolts look like?

There are some solutions on the market designed to help planners achieve their curb management goals. The key is creating what is known as a “digital curb inventory,” a modern version of the dusty old Excel spreadsheet that typically lives with one city department. These old-fashioned inventories involved having staff walk each block to detail the location and regulation of every sign, curb cut, and fire hydrant, resulting in a static set of data points used for rudimentary planning.

Not anymore.

Modern, technology-driven curb management solutions on the market, including CurbIQ, help planners visualize, analyze, and model new curb strategies and regulations. These solutions provide a home for all the physical data about your curbs, from physical layout to user demographics to time-of-day usage patterns, and even regulations. This robust functionality makes it easy to predict and quantify the impact of regulatory changes and plan for future use cases, empowering planning staff to effectively manage this critical aspect of urban life.

The concept of curb management has existed for well over a century, whether planners knew it or not. What was once a comparatively simple job in the era of horse-drawn transport, where streets were for all users, became more formalized and regulated as motorized vehicles took over the roadway and relegated pedestrians to the sidewalk. And with cities growing and densifying at a breakneck pace, the pressure to manage curbs effectively will only grow.

Fortunately, the data exists for planners need to meet that challenge head-on. They have access to the technology that will help them collect, analyze, and act on the data they need to effect real change at the curb. A new era of urban planning – supported by sophisticated curb management – has arrived. Are you ready?