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Curb-Management Pilots Smooth the Flow of Traffic, Deliveries

Projects to better manage curbsides in several cities continue to mine data used to transform curbsides from a place of uncontrolled parking to a more dynamic flow of delivery and other vehicles.

by / January 13, 2021
Shutterstock/Massan

Data-centered curbside-management is leading to a more organized flow of goods and services across public sidewalks and streets in several states. 

Technology-enabled pilot projects started last year in several cities in Colorado, Nebraska and Washington and unfolded during a time of unexpected increases in e-commerce and delivery activity as Americans were forced to change the way they shop amid the COVID-19 crisis. 

A project in Aspen, Colo. — led by digital curb software company Coord — established “smart” loading zones where delivery services could reserve a specific time. The process has led to a deeper understanding of when delivery demand is high, by which services and for how long the space is needed. The pilot began in early November, starting with only about 20 bookings from package delivery companies like UPS or FedEx. Under the project, drivers were able to download a curb-management app developed by Coord to get placed into the reservation system. In the week before Christmas the smart zones had seen more than 125 bookings, said Mitch Osur, director of parking and downtown services. 

“I consider that to be a huge success,” said Osur, speaking with Government Technology the week before Christmas. “And this week will be better, and next week will be better.” 

Coord is leading a similar pilot project in Omaha, Neb., with plans to launch projects in West Palm Beach, Fla., and Nashville, Tenn. 

A project in Bellevue, Wash., began in May 2020 and is continuing into this year. Bellevue joined other cities like Minneapolis, Minn., and Boston to be part of the 2020 Transportation for America Smart Cities Collaborative. The test-project corridor in Bellevue is popular largely among on-demand users like ride-hailing and micro-mobility transportation vehicles. Officials deployed “video-based curbside monitoring systems to track traffic behaviors,” said Chris Iverson, project manager for the project and a senior transportation engineer in Bellevue. 

The project largely involved the testng and fine-tuning of the curb-management systems by transportation officials. With the near overnight delivery and other needs brought by COVID, two-hour parking spaces were converted to three-minute loading zones. 

“This change helped facilitate pick-ups and deliveries at restaurants and retail businesses,” Iverson explained. “We anticipate interest in e-commerce and curbside services to continue growing in 2021 and beyond. Therefore, more dynamic and data-driven curb management practices will be needed to ensure the roadway network is efficient and equitable."

“We hope our findings can advance best practices for curb-related smart city applications,” he added.

In Aspen, city officials learned that the busiest delivery days were Tuesdays, followed by Fridays. Wednesdays are the slowest, with delivery and pickup activity down nearly 60 percent, compared to Tuesdays and Fridays, said Osur. 

“It shocked me that it’s that low,” he remarked. 

Data like this will likely prompt the city to open up more loading zones on Tuesday and Friday, and scale back those areas for other uses on Wednesday. 

“That could allow us to free up parking space, particularly in the winter and the middle of the summer when we’re super busy. And again, without the data, I never would have known that,” said Osur. 

Dynamic pricing of the delivery zones could help to guide delivery trucks to dates and time slots more agreeable with city traffic and tourism. 

“I have a small town, and if I could get these tractor-trailers out of here by 11 [a.m.], I would feel much safer, my engineering team would be safer, and I think our guests would have a better experience,” said Osur.  

Coord has launched a second annual Digital Curb Challenge, where up to three North American cities will be selected for curb-management pilots. The challenge is open to cities, universities, airports and other organizations. Applications can be submitted at coord.com/digital-curb-challenge and are open until Feb. 15.

Editor's note: Information about upcoming pilot opportunities was added after this article was published.

Skip Descant Staff Writer

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 Sacramento.

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