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Seattle Partners on Curb Data Specification Project

The digital curb management project in Seattle marks one of the city’s first steps toward fully modernizing how curbs are managed, given the widening demands on these spaces by commercial fleets and conventional parking.

A delivery van parked in a loading zone.
Seattle has begun a digital curb management project to communicate the city’s parking rules to fleet operators in real time.

The move, described as a pilot project by city transportation officials, is a partnership with transportation technology firm Populus to launch the city’s first curb data specification (CDS).

“SDOT [Seattle Department of Transportation] plans to use the lessons learned from this effort with Populus to develop a larger and more regularly updated digital curb effort,” said Chris Miller, deputy press secretary for the department.

“The project with Populus is one of the first steps SDOT is taking to modernize how we record and digitally communicate curbside regulations, policy and geographic locations,” he added. “SDOT recognizes the need to meet modern problems with modern solutions, so that is why we are building the foundation for a more modern curb management system.”

The digital curb management system is girded by Populus’ Curb Data Specification API. The specification functions as the standard for defining “the structure that the data should be shared in,” explained Regina Clewlow, CEO and co-founder of Populus.

“We at Populus could theoretically build the APIs without the standard, but the standards help ensure that — for example — if Seattle and San Francisco share their APIs, they are in the same format, thus making it easier for curb operators, like Amazon or UPS, to receive and use that data in many cities,” she added.

Curb data specifications were developed by the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF), which companies like Populus are part of. The move represents a sizable step forward toward using technology to bring modern order to curbs that have become increasingly chaotic as the landing site for deliveries, parking, micromobility and other uses.

Seattle is hardly new to the idea of digitizing curbs and their many uses. All curbs with paid parking are already digitized, said Miller.

“However, this data is not presented in an easily machine-readable format that we can communicate to mobility operators,” he said, adding the project with Populus can put in place a process for developing a comprehensive “digital curb inventory” in the CDS format. The city is set to launch a federally funded project this fall as part of the Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) discretionary grant program.

The project with Populus, and the larger SMART initiative, are part of Seattle’s goal of developing new tools to better understand and manage curbside activity.

“Many cities already have existing — nonstandard — data that describes their parking regulations that can be transformed or translated into curb APIs,” said Clewlow. “Our main recommendation to cities is to start small, and work with partners that can help them launch an API quickly so that the standards take off in a more scalable way.”
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.