Startup Maps 100 Miles of Curbs to Potentially Ease Traffic

A tech startup created a precise record of every parking spot, fire hydrant and loading zone on more than 100 miles of Philadelphia streets — data that could be a valuable tool for managing street congestion.

by Jason Laughlin, The Philadelphia Inquirer / July 9, 2019
Shutterstock

(TNS) — A tech startup company created a precise record of every parking spot, fire hydrant, and loading zone on more than 100 miles of Philadelphia streets — data on the city’s curbs that could be a valuable tool for managing street congestion in Philadelphia.

“We believe that what’s really critical for everyone is to understand the curb as a whole,” said Stephen Smyth, chief executive of the startup, Coord. “We need to manage that space productively for all the city users.”

Congestion is as much a consequence of the people stopped alongside the road as those driving on it. Ride-share vehicles picking up or dropping off, trucks making deliveries, and construction sites all contribute to clogging streets, and city officials have said properly allocating curb space is key to managing traffic.

Coord began as a project from Alphabet, Google’s parent, but was spun out as an independent company based in New York City in 2017. Alphabet remains a minority investor.

Coord’s software is essentially a digital system for surveying, gathering information on streets to create a comprehensive database for its customers. Coord isn’t designed for the typical pedestrian or cyclist. Its cloud-based data is intended to be processed through other companies’ software. These can include ride-share companies that would incorporate Coord’s data into their apps to inform drivers of the ideal place to stop, or delivery companies that could use it to direct drivers to loading zones. One of Coord’s clients is an autonomous vehicle company, Smyth said, though he declined to name any specific customers.

The information is also useful to urban planners.

“Most cities don’t have a comprehensive curb map to begin with,” he said. “Our work creates that baseline.”

Planners can manipulate the data to evaluate the efficiency of a street’s curb.

Coord presented its tool to Philadelphia officials this summer, said Mike Carroll, deputy managing director of the city’s transportation office. Whether Philadelphia will end up using the data, though, is uncertain. The city would have to first enter into a contract with Coord, which would require going through its procurement process, Carroll said.

“We intend to develop a better understanding of what the terms of such an arrangement would mean in terms of cost, data, and privacy rights,” he said.

Typically, cities don’t have a central source for information on all their street assets. Only last year did Philadelphia complete its own comprehensive parking map, and that doesn’t account for the other street-side features. The Fire Department knows where the fire hydrants are, for example, and the Parking Authority knows the location of the metered parking spots on Chestnut Street, but there’s no single resource that compiles all that information.

The city plans to compare its own parking map to Coord’s data to determine whether to enter into a contract, Carroll said.

In January, San Diego contracted with Coord to create a comprehensive inventory of that city’s curbs, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Coord, in cooperation with the engineering firm AECOM, spent seven days in June capturing data on Philadelphia’s streets. The focus was on Center City and University City due to the density of traffic there.

“The city is being challenged to think about the curb holistically because all of the usage of the curb is evolving so quickly,” Smyth said. “That’s why the term curb management has become a thing.”

Coord’s software locks onto a specific point on the street, typically a corner, and then a person holding a smartphone walks along the sidewalk, snapping pictures of every curb feature. The software measures the locations of the objects photographed and the distances between them. The process is faster than calculating distance with a measuring wheel, Smyth said, and more accurate than GPS. In that seven-day survey, the walkers captured 17,000 separate curb assets.

The mapped information is linked with regulatory data gathered by Coord that allows information like parking and loading times to also be available to customers, and the company culls public databases for changes to factors such as parking regulations or bike lanes to keep its data current.

The company has no plans to map curbs beyond the area surveyed last month. That could change, though, a spokesperson said, depending on the demands of customers.

©2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs