Boulder, Colorado is probably best known for the breathtaking Flatirons, the University of Colorado, and the vibrant Pearl Street pedestrian mall at the heart of its downtown. Perhaps less well known is that the city is on the leading edge of proactively and comprehensively planning for how its curb space can adapt to support the city’s overarching transportation and climate goals as well as address the challenges and opportunities new mobility options bring to the city.
This February, Jacob Baskin (Coord’s CTO and Co-Founder) and I had the opportunity to visit our partners at the City of Boulder. Our goal was to learn how we can best enhance the Coord platform to meet customer needs and to learn more about what sorts of issues the city is most interested in addressing in the future.
Come explore Boulder with us!
Curb Use, Congestion and Parking in Boulder Today
Although Boulder (thankfully!) does not have the intensity of congestion and illegal parking you’ll experience in many cities, its popular downtown gets quite busy on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. Major events at the University of Colorado and summer tourism also draw significant crowds downtown.
A snowy day on the Boulder’s Pearl St. pedestrian mall.
Based on its famously outdoorsy population and large student population, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that active transportation is a significant mode in Boulder. Ten percent of trips take place by bicycle and 11% by foot. A quick walk around town demonstrated that Boulder’s downtown has plentiful parking, particularly because of the multi-level parking garages built as a result of a partnership between the city and downtown property owners. Downtown property owners pay a special assessment to the city. As a result these businesses benefit from (1) no individualized parking requirements, and (2) plentiful customer parking in city-operated parking garages. Many businesses in Boulder also have alleys behind them, which are used for loading and parking.
Lucky Downtown Boulder has a lot of alleys behind businesses, which are good locations for loading.
Ride-hailing is popular in Boulder. Although ride-hailing can be a useful transportation option--particularly for those partaking in refreshments from a famous Rocky Mountain brewery--it has also created safety concerns. In particular, the police department has concerns about safety when drivers are making pickups and drop-offs in areas where there are crosswalks, bike lanes, loading zones, bus stops, and travel lanes.
Boulder has created short-dwell passenger loading areas to provide drivers with safe spaces to pull over.
Getting Ahead of the Curb: Proactive Curb Space Planning
The city sees its curb space as a valuable public asset. It is currently developing a citywide curbside policy for ride-hail, parking, and bike-share with a few goals in mind:
- Aligning its curb use with the goals of its Transportation Master Plan. In particular, ensuring curb use policy aligns with the city’s desired reductions in single occupancy vehicle trips and supports walking and biking.
- Promoting Vision Zero mobility safety goals. That is, reducing crashes and making the streets safe for everyone using the right of way.
- Preparing for autonomous vehicles. By developing a set of priorities for curb space and gaining experience proactively managing how drivers use curb space, the city will be a step ahead in ensuring AVs are deployed in ways that enhance quality of life in the city.
- Community engagement. The city wants to ensure stakeholders have the opportunity to shape the city’s priorities, and understanding trade-offs and how curbs relate to broader community goals is essential.
What makes Boulder’s approach unique is that rather than developing this plan to address an acute problem already significantly negatively impacting quality of life, it is working to have a comprehensive plan in place to prevent a crisis at the curb before it happens.
Boulder, Meet Coord. Coord, Meet Boulder.
Boulder knew that data would be a key component of its policymaking and planning process. Unlike many cities when they begin working with Coord, Boulder already had digital curb asset data across various files. It partnered with Coord in 2019 and enlisted our team to ingest various files and cross-reference them with the city’s municipal code to create a unified curb regulation inventory to support analysis and planning. Beyond analysis and planning purposes, the city was also interested in working with Coord because our platform supports active curb operations. That is, Coord provides the technology the city can use to actively and dynamically communicate to drivers who, how and when (and even how long and at what price) the curb may be used through the Coord API and the Coord Driver app.
Coord regulation inventory of the City of Boulder.
Jacob and I met with the staff who work on curb space issues including city planners, engineers, community engagement professionals and agency leadership in the Transportation Division. We also met with the staff of the Department of Community Vitality, which manages and operates the downtown’s parking assets and parking enforcement team to promote a vibrant, healthy and productive downtown.
Jacob and I also got to learn how city staff use other technology, such as parking enforcement and asset management technologies, to manage their curb space. We learned about additional city datasets we could integrate into the Coord platform to enhance its power for both analysis and curb space operations. Perhaps most exciting was seeing Coord in action. Our host, Transportation Planner Ryan Noles, is leading the city’s curb space planning efforts. He clearly knew his way around Coord and has earned a Certified Coord Ninja Badge! (The Coord design team will get right on that!)
City of Boulder Transportation Planner Ryan Noles and Coord Head of Policy and Planning Dawn Miller Pose to Block your View of these Beautiful Mountains
The team from Boulder told us about the city’s commitment to data-driven decision making. They see this as important not only to help them develop optimal recommendations, but also to provide members of the public with the information they need to be informed participants in the policy development process.
The team also discussed the value of piloting new technologies. Many insights about the future of mobility can best be learned by trying things out in the real world. Coord is proud to have the City of Boulder as a partner and was delighted to get to know the team and gain insights to help our products better serve them. With its proactive and comprehensive approach to curb space management, the transportation world should keep an eye out for what’s coming out of Boulder in the months and years to come.