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Data, Analytics Will Reshape Chicago Curbside Management

The Chicago-based effort will launch a months-long project with private-sector partners like Bosch and HERE Technologies to explore improved approaches to managing increasingly busy city curbs.

A busy street in downtown Chicago.
A busy street in downtown Chicago.
The crowded curbside continues to get a steady stream of attention. The City Tech Collaborative in Chicago is launching a months-long project to collect data related to curb activity in an effort to offer better approaches to managing curbs in all of their varying contexts.

The project is aimed at developing a “practical, usable, scalable analytics tool to better understand the curb,” which has been described as Phase I, said Jamie Ponce, director of Strategic Partnerships at City Tech Collaborative.

“It’s really easy to overlook the curb,” Ponce added. “But it’s actually emerging as a vital public asset, and one of the hottest new urban real estate markets, when you think about how curb-space usage and demand is evolving from traditional uses like buses, taxis, freight, bike lanes, to include now, rideshare, and same-day delivery, and dockless vehicles, and just personal accessibility.”

The project will include private sector partners like Bosch and HERE Technologies to provide various levels of support and expertise. For example, HERE Technologies will analyze traffic movement, congestion and other data points to identify bottlenecks “and areas of friction,” Ponce explained. The  data gathered will enable the researchers to take a closer look at what’s causing some of the curb space management problems, all part of Phase I, which will largely be a mapping exercise to digitize the curb.

“Phase I is really about mapping the curbside demand and actual utilization,” Ponce remarked. Phase II will take on analysis and solution approaches.

City Tech Collaborative, a consortium of private sector companies looking for ways to use technology to solve public problems, is not the first effort at curbside management. Companies like curbFlow have been exploring how to use sections of curb in cities like Washington D.C. and Columbus, Ohio, more efficiently, namely through a more choreographed approach to handling deliveries.

The City Tech project aims to take a broader view, by understanding the many demands on any given section of curb across a city. The idea, said Ponce is, “to help cities better understand the breadth and the detail of curbside use, to equip them to better manage that space.”

It’s a topic that’s been raising a number of conversations across the spectrum of urban planning and transportation.

“Put simply, there is a lots of discussion about varied solutions to curb access but no real simple answers,” said Billy Riggs, a researcher and professor with expertise in transportation and smart mobility at the University of San Francisco.

Traditionally, cities have simply yielded curbs to parking — and in many cases free parking — while modern demands on the space have made curbs an increasingly valuable public asset that needs to be better managed.

Which is why leaders should be thinking more creatively about how to use technology for curbside management, said Riggs, calling attention to concepts like altering uses and pricing during different times of the day, while also working in strategies to encourage the use of newer transport modes like car-shares or e-scooters.

“It's also important to think about the curb as barrier but a continuum of the street,” said Riggs. “And given the trends in many locations to support car-free cities, many municipalities also need to take a hard look at what type of travel should be allowed on certain corridors — not just thinking about using the curb, but thinking about if it should even exist.”

The project in Chicago is aimed at “having the data to inform smarter city management,” said Ponce, which will lead to “smarter interventions.” 

“And then being able to see the results of those interventions by having baselined it so that you can tell what’s working, do more of that, and then scale within and across cities,” he added. 

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.