Curb Management’s Role in Building a Smart City
Published: 25 April, 2023
What Makes a City “Smart”?
The concept of smart cities has been around for a few decades. As smart technology innovations like sensors and AI-driven cameras accelerate, municipalities are figuring out how to build a truly smart city ecosystem.
In a smart city, data is collected, shared, and analyzed from a network of information sources to improve departmental efficiencies and optimize operations. By connecting siloed operations using the latest technology and systems, smart cities foster collaboration, information sharing, and innovation to improve residents, businesses, and visitors’ experiences.
The definition of a smart city raises the question: Can a city be smart without addressing an increasingly critical issue cities of all sizes face–curb usage and management?
A Tale of One Not-So-Smart City
Imagine a typical day in the life of a curb in a big city. In the early morning hours, delivery trucks from Walmart, Hello Fresh, and Amazon compete for curb parking space with traditional business supply trucks delivering inventory and supplies to small businesses. Meanwhile, Uber and Lyft drivers are circling the same blocks, looking for a spot to pull over and pick up their airport-bound passengers safely without blocking rush hour traffic.
Environmentally conscious workers who have chosen to forgo a car impatiently sit on city buses crawling their way down the road, honking at double-parked cars and scooters to move out of the bus lane. Fed-up scooter drivers and cyclists hop onto the sidewalk, endangering hurried pedestrians, including children on their way to school.
This chaotic curbside scene continues throughout the day with slightly different curb users. Business couriers park in handicapped spots while low-on-fuel electric vehicles frantically search for an E.V. charging spot. Tourists overpay for parking far from the museums and sights they wish to visit, making them second-guess their vacation budget and their fancy restaurant dinner reservation that evening. Small business customers give up on their planned shopping trips due to time wasted trying to find a parking spot.
In the evening hard working Doordashers, Grub Hubbers, and ride-share drivers get dinged on their customer ratings for taking too long to deliver. There is simply nowhere to park, and a parking ticket will undo an evening’s worth of shuttling food and passengers across town.
To add insult to injury, all that traffic congestion is driving up pollution and noise levels making climate change activists and residents very unhappy with the city government.
Cities Are Demanding More From Their Curbs
City curbs have never been busier. In the wake of the pandemic, urban areas have seen the number of home deliveries and associated transportation vehicles skyrocket. As people have started traveling and engaging face-to-face again, more people are on the roads and out and about. More vehicles, from last-mile delivery trucks to e-scooters, are fighting for curb space.
Things have gotten so bad that in 2022, major delivery companies like UPS and DoorDash sent a letter to New York City Mayor’s Office urging City Hall to “lead the charge on making curb space more productive, diverse, and recreational” and to provide the greatest amount of access to serve the highest number of people. Across the U.S. in dense urban areas, these kinds of companies are trying to do business, but they are struggling because curb space is in such high demand and largely unmanaged.
Such high demand means that municipal curb space is fast becoming one of cities’ most valuable real estate assets. To maximize the curb’s financial and public value, cities must catch up on curb usage trends by using technology, data collection and sharing, analytics, and data-driven decision-making. Think of this approach as “smart curb management”.
A Three-Step Framework for Smart Curb Management
How can cities go about implementing smart curb management?
Based on our extensive experience working with municipal parking administrations, Umojo proposes a three-step framework for understanding and addressing curb management challenges: measure, analyze, and execute.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Thousands of touchpoints that comprise city curb activity, demand, and parking problems must be inventoried and measured. The key to measuring city curb activity is having visibility into the entire curb infrastructure. Using technologies such as a digital mapping via Lidar, or laser imaging and dynamic digital twinning of city curb infrastructure, city managers can gain a holistic view of the entire curb inventory, identifying what issues arise and where.
Armed with complete, real-time visibility into curb usage and traffic patterns, using data collected from parking meters, third-party apps, cameras, and other technology, cities can track and measure factors such as the stationary parking time of ridesharing, passenger and delivery vehicles or the timing of commercial vehicles (and non-commercial offenders) parking in different loading and parking zones throughout the day.
These metrics and associated data provide intel to help city administrators determine curb management priorities and optimization opportunities. The data can be used to inform dynamic parking policies and regulations, pricing, street furniture, and other investment and operational decisions. In keeping with the requirements of building a smart city, administrators across siloed city departments such as Police, Medical Services, or Emergency Management can access and share the same data and metrics to inform and align departmental decisions and operations.
Data is only as valuable as the decisions and outcomes it supports. When analyzed, data tells the story of what is going on at the curb. Real-time data collected around the curb infrastructure needs to be analyzed to identify improvement areas and develop problem-solving approaches. Municipalities can analyze their collected curb data to ensure curb parking operations are efficient and to mitigate any negative impact of policies on curb equity, utility, and safety. Lastly when residents and businesses get upset and demand answers to changes in parking policies, pricing or curb restrictions, city management will have the data and analysis to back up its decisions and policies.
The “smart” part of curb management becomes evident in the execution phase. Using all that data collection and analysis, cities can implement and track the impact of better policies and regulations, parking price changes, and other curb management plans. They can make decisions that optimize end to end city mobility and curb usage, improving overall monetization of the curb.
For instance, city managers can use real-time camera views of the curb ecosystem to better manage loading zones and to track vehicles in those areas, changing curb use to meet demand. City managers can make collaborative decisions with the Police Department or special events teams and plan responses to a variety of events using digital twins of the curb.
Using a command center approach, cities can execute on curb data, providing services such as non-emergency call routing and or intercom interactions in city parking lots.
5 Key Benefits of Digital Curb Management
By implementing digital curb management solutions like Umojo’s NexCity Solution, cities can see improvements in five critical areas that truly reflect the benefits of a smart city approach:
1. Total parking revenue – Parking revenues increase through better monetization of curbs by implementing dynamic pricing for underutilized and undervalued curb space to capitalize on demand in certain curb zones. Revenue can also be optimized by dynamically shifting loading zones and parking zones throughout the city as demand warrants.
2.Parking capacity – By gaining better visibility into where vacant areas are or curb inequity exist, cities can create additional parking availability and increase capacity.
3.Traffic congestion – A large percentage of urban congestion is due to delivery or rideshare vehicle double parking and blocking traffic lanes, as well as drivers circling blocks looking for parking. Better utilized curbs increase traffic efficiency throughout the urban core, unclogging surrounding streets and improving overall traffic flows.
4.Lower emissions – Greater efficiency in traffic flows decreases harmful emissions as vehicles spend less time on the road and idling in traffic or at the curb.
5.Safety – By decreasing chaotic traffic flows and parking patterns and increasing city management’s visibility across the infrastructure, the curb and roads become safer for residents and businesses.
Smart Mobility Management Starts at the Curb
For a smart city to work, city managers need an integrated information ecosystem, starting at the curb. By digitizing the curb, cities will have better information and data insights that allow them to manage the mobility landscape with a modern approach.
Modern smart curb management technology enables collaborative city management, the hallmark of smart cities that aim to meet residential and economic needs. It enables dynamic, flexible strategies and more efficient, effective processes that contribute to better management of the curb to serve drivers, passengers, pedestrians, businesses, and tourists alike.