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Omaha, Neb., Turns to ‘Smart Zones’ to Better Manage Curbs

As part of a pilot project with transportation technology firm Coord, the city has set up five “smart zones” as locations to test technology to better manage the flow of delivery and other traffic on busy curbs.

by / September 22, 2020
An intersection in Omaha, Neb., is now one of the city’s new “smart zones,” where curb management technology provided by Coord is being used to better choreograph delivery and other vehicles serving the area. Courtesy: Coord

Tech is finding its way into curb management in Nebraska with the establishment of next-generation loading zones aimed at reducing friction between delivery operators, parked cars and moving traffic.

To this end, Omaha has launched five “smart zones” at key downtown intersections that are frequent stops for deliveries, as part of a three-month pilot project with transportation technology firm Coord. 

Delivery and other drivers using the zones will access them via a mobile app, which will bring improved coordination among delivery services, the city and the businesses being served. 

“The current delivery situation in downtown Omaha is a little bit chaotic,” said Holly Barrett, executive director of the Omaha Downtown Improvement District, in comments explaining the pilot program in a video posted to YouTube. “What we’ve got going on is we’ve got all sorts of different kinds of trucks coming in, at all sorts of different times of day, and they are blocking cars that are already parked. They are blocking access to open spots, and they’re creating safety hazards for pedestrians and for automobile traffic.”

Adding the smart zone application “allows drivers the convenience to view availability and it also creates more awareness around the use of zones versus blocking traffic ways,” said Kenneth D. Smith, parking and mobility manager for Omaha, in comments to Government Technology

The pilot project in Omaha is one of four similar curb management projects Coord is involved in. They were selected as part of Coord’s Digital Curb Challenge. The other cities selected include Aspen, Colo.; Nashville, Tenn.; and West Palm Beach, Fla.

The five intersections in Omaha were selected because they presented a range of curb management issues. Even before the COVID-19 crisis introduced an expansion of on-demand services in the form GrubHub or Postmates, curbs in a number of cities were becoming increasingly chaotic as a result of ride-hailing and other drivers jockeying for limited space.

“For the pilot, we really needed to incorporate a variety of issues and concerns that we were looking to address during the period,” said Smith. “Therefore, the Smart Zone locations were chosen throughout the downtown area that came with multiple issues.”

Intelligent curb management introduces an opportunity to not only improve the choreography of the delivery and parking system, but to open up more opportunities to monetize the curb, priced for various uses and times of use.

The pilot in Omaha is being set up largely as an information gathering operation and will not collect revenue, said Smith.

“I think it's important to evaluate the information and feedback we'll receive from the pilot, and then apply the appropriate measures to modify behaviors,” he noted.

Pilot projects like this one often function as testbeds to not only kick the tires on technology solutions like the one offered by Coord, but to try out new policy ideas, say observers.

“The point of doing the pilot in the plan is to actually help build that muscle and create those standard operating procedures with the full team,” said Kris Carter, co-chair of the Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, during a recent panel discussion around curb management, hosted by Populus, another digital platform to better manage curbs and streets.

“It's imperative for cities to look at the changing use of the curb from vehicular parking to a more dynamic relationship between the street and the property owner,” said Smith in an email. “As such, cities will need to rethink how to manage the curb through monetization and allow those who need curb access the ability to get it.”

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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