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Columbus, Ohio, to Manage Busy Curbs With curbFlow

Columbus, Ohio, will be the location for the next pilot project from curbFlow, which is an app technology that is intended to better manage busy delivery, pickup and drop-off areas within cities.

A new app aims to thin out crowding on city curbs.

The curb management app curbFlow is being used to manage nine locations in downtown Columbus, Ohio, following the success of a similar pilot project that took place recently in Washington, D.C. The app coordinates deliveries, drop-offs and pickups from a dedicated section of curb, and it requires users — including UPS, GrubHub, Uber, FedEx and others — to register to get worked into the busy traffic flow of the curb space.

The project in Columbus will run for a year, structured as two six-month timeframes, said Robert Ferrin, assistant director of parking services in Columbus. After the first six months, plans call for evaluating the success of the program to determine if it should add or remove locations. 

“To be successful in the long run we’ll need to have many more of these to create a true network of pickup and drop-off locations,” Ferrin said.

About a year ago, Columbus unveiled a parking modernization program that includes virtual permitting, mobile payment and license plate recognition technology for enforcement. The curbFlow pilot represents another step where technology is used for assistance in managing an increasingly sought-after piece of urban real estate: the street curb.

In Washington, D.C., the three-month pilot program using curbFlow at nine locations resulted in reducing double parking by 64 percent with more than 6,300 registered drivers representing more than 900 different companies using the app, according to curbFlow statistics. Some 85 percent of drivers surveyed gave the app a rating of 9 or 10.

“Through this partnership with curbFlow, we collected critical data that will inform the next generation of policies, plans, and strategies that we employ to better manage the demand at the curbside,” said Jeff Marootian, Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation director, in a statement.

In Columbus, the curbFlow program is transitioning fewer than 40 parking spaces to curbFlow’s app-based Loading Management Zones (LMZs) across the nine locations, with each zone using three or five spaces. The ability to reserve space by delivery services and the ability to use technology to collect utilization data are some of the advantages for this type of managed loading zone compared to the traditional open-ended loading zone of the past, said Ferrin. Drivers can show up at the LMZ and check in on the curbFlow app, or reserve the space in advance.

The curbFlow system also allows the city to monetize the curb “when a fixed point-of-sale device [like a parking meter] is not present,” he added.

The idea of monetizing the much-in-demand curb is spreading among transportation and city planners as they look to approaches to both curb traffic congestion as well as to shift thinking away from the street as a purely free public asset.

“Parked cars have colonized city streets for so long that most people think that cars own the curb-parking,” said Donald Shoup, a professor in the Department of Urban Planning at the University of California Los Angeles, in comments at the CoMotion LA conference last month. “But there’s a lot of competition for that space.” 

Meanwhile, some cities are looking to delivery vehicles with a significantly reduced footprint to get packages and other items to residents and businesses. New York City is encouraging delivery providers to use cargo bikes. The city has introduced the Commercial Cargo Bike Program, which will introduce about 100 cargo bikes onto crowded streets in downtown and midtown Manhattan. More than 1.5 million packages are delivered in New York City every day.

UPS launched an e-bike delivery pilot last year in Seattle which shrunk the delivery service’s iconic brown truck onto the frame of a cargo bike, capable of holding 15 to 20 packages. 

curbFlow stakeholders say the impact of their app on delivery ecosystems has been a positive one so far.

“While we know proactive curb management leads to less double parking, which makes for safer and more productive streets, one other thing we heard a lot in D.C. from merchants was how much they appreciated knowing when their own goods would be delivered to their stores — as it helps with their operations and scheduling,” said Ali Vahabzadeh, founder and CEO of curbFlow.

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.