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Three Cities to Get a Handle on Curbside Management

Transportation for America selected Bellevue, Wash.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Boston as locations to study the demands placed on curb space. The cities are part of the 2020 Transportation for America Smart Cities Collaborative.

Managing busy curbs will get a serious look in 2020 as three cities become sites for pilot projects devoted to managing the curbside.

Transportation for America, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group made of local, state and regional transportation officials, selected Bellevue, Wash.; Minneapolis, Minn.; and Boston as locations to study and meet the demands placed on urban curb space. The cities are part of the 2020 Transportation for America Smart Cities Collaborative. The collaborative will include not only the three pilot cities, but also about a dozen other “peer cities.”

As part of this collaborative, Bellevue, Minneapolis and Boston will launch pilot projects to focus on curb management. The program will stretch over the course of the year, with the pilot projects going live for at least a month.

“What this does is it gives us the really good opportunity to test some type of new curb treatment, in the ground, in some of our tricky street situations,” said Chris Iverson, senior transportation engineer in Bellevue, Wash.

“We’re still vetting ideas at this point. We haven’t landed on an idea,” he added.

Managing the safe traffic movement of the many vehicles accessing curbs has become a focus of a number of cities, given the rise of e-commerce related deliveries, the rapid growth of ride-hailing and micro-mobility devices like bikes and scooters lying about and other uses.

“As we enter this new paradigm of new mobility, Bellevue, and I would say, communities that are dealing with these situations, are going to need to figure out the right balance between encouraging commerce and mobility,” said Iverson.

Minneapolis wants its pilot to serve as an opportunity to find solutions to curb management which fit within broader goals around transportation, equity and safety so that curb solutions are part of a larger picture to improve the quality of the city.

“So how do we tie the use of the curb space into our broader city goals and have that reflect values like safety and equity and prosperity and mobility and those kind of broader overarching goals that we have as a city,” said Joshua Johnson, advanced mobility manager at the Minneapolis Public Works Department.

“We have an incredible mandate to make sure that we’re doing things with that right-of-way that reflect those goals,” he added.

The first meetings will allow the cohort cities to share some of the particular curbside issues they’d like to address, and explore ideas related to how to address those.

“We want to use those as ‘working sessions’ to kind of build to what the actual pilot is,” said Johnson. “We have things that we are trying now that certainly inform this effort.”

For example, Minneapolis has a late-night ride-hailing pickup and drop-off pilot. And several months ago the city launched another project focusing on the use of “mobility hubs,” which introduced not only new forms of micro-mobility like bikes and scooters, but also new signage and efforts to better engage residents and business owners.

“I think what was exciting about this opportunity is it allows us to bring them together, within the context of addressing the changing demands that’s put on our curb space,” Johnson explained, reflecting on those projects.

Some of the areas the city would like to tweak as it moves forward with a serious study of the curbside include re-evaluating parking pricing, or the location of loading zones and how those spaces might be re-imagined as flex zones serving different users at different times of the day.

“Could we make zones more dynamic and make them fit to the actual needs? So that maybe in early hours it’s for the delivery of goods, and it shifts to the delivery of people for the remainder of the day,” Johnson offered.

Boston has also experimented with dedicated pickup and drop-off areas for ride-hailing services as well as “performance parking,” which uses “flexible meter rates” to better manage parking in busy areas.

Both of these pilots “proved Boston’s willingness to find innovative solutions to our transportation challenges and helped to secure our participation in this joint effort,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement.  

Bellevue, a rapidly growing Seattle suburb, home to a number of tech-related workers, is the scene of a daily caravan of large numbers of shuttle buses transporting workers to large office centers at Amazon, Microsoft and other companies.

“Over the last year and a half or so we’ve been working with those companies to find locations on the curbside for them to initiate the boarding and alighting of their employees,” said Iverson. “We’re seeing close to 100 trips a day, in aggregate, of all of these company shuttles. It’s putting a unique strain on our transportation system, especially in downtown Bellevue."

“So being a part of this pilot program allows us to tap into this brain trust that will be part of this collaborative, to come up with these innovative solutions that will hopefully be kind of a case example for communities nationwide,” 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 Sacramento.

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