In the last post of our Curbside Management series, we explored how municipal governments can use curb data to improve the efficiency of their streets. But curb data can be just as useful to private companies and individuals, whether they drive or not.
Offering more efficient loading/unloading, lowering overall ticket expenses and improving safety:
For companies that need an extended period of time to load and unload (think delivery companies like UPS and FedEx, or food servicers like Sysco), fines for municipal parking violations are just the cost of doing business.
Especially when paired with New York’s recent adoption of congestion pricing, the city’s push toward increased enforcement of commercial parking violations could be taken as an indication that these good old days might soon be coming to an end. As fees rise and enforcement becomes more stringent, access to curb data, particularly the locations and availability of legal loading zones, will become more valuable.
In 2018, New York City traffic officers issued fines amounting to $181.5 million on commercial vehicles. UPS alone racked up $14.4 million in fines for more than 250,000 violations—and that’s after a $6.6 million discount, courtesy of a controversial city program that allows large companies to waive their right to challenge parking tickets in return for lower pre-set penalties (in some cases down to $0).
Access to curb data can give drivers more information about potential loading zones, reducing their likelihood of receiving a fine. Unfortunately, the “tickets are the cost of business” mindset is so ingrained that a recent campaign by Washington, D.C., to crack down on illegal double parking by commercial vehicles—including increased enforcement and higher fines—did little to stem the issue. And in a tweet last year, a rep from the U.S. Postal Service defended parking in bike lanes, claiming that, in New York at least, drivers “could never deliver the mail timely and efficiently” if they tried to find a legal spot.
No matter what kind of vehicle is involved, double-parking entails safety risks, particularly when a user has to leave the vehicle. Access to curb data allows rideshare and taxi drivers to identify safe locations, like fire hydrants, “no standing” zones or, in some cities, dedicated drop-off points, to pull over to the curb. This can not only reduce liability for drivers and their employers, it can also make it easier for passengers to locate their rides and ensure they’re legitimate.
Optimizing fleet routing and avoiding predictable delays:
While there’s no way to avoid double-parking on main routes, there are other hassles that curb data can help commercial drivers to avoid. Here’s an illustrative example—one that not only adversely affected a commercial driver, but had wider repercussions as well.
In New York, curbs on most side streets get swept once or twice a week on a staggered schedule. During that period, usually 90 minutes in length, vehicles are supposed to remain clear of the curb so that the sweeping machine can do its job unimpeded. It’s a tradition—one that’s illegal, but routinely overlooked by traffic enforcement—to double park on the other side of the street, then move one’s car back toward the end of that period.
Out of this pattern arises a question suited for a game theoretician: when, exactly, should one move one’s car back to the freshly-cleaned side of the street? If everyone followed the rules, drivers would move their cars back promptly at the end of the no-parking period. But, of course, real life isn’t like that: people often start moving their cars back 45 minutes early—lest some outsider swing through and “steal” their spot—then sit in them or nearby to stave off a ticket.
Last week, a colleague was walking down a quiet side street a few minutes before the parking ban was set to expire on the curb on the right side. Most of those spots had already been retaken, leaving a few stragglers double-parked on the left side of the through lane. On a street that is 34 feet wide, there is usually enough space for cars to slide by.
The same is not always true for wider vehicles, however—and such was the case on this particular afternoon. Even with a gap in the parked cars on the right curb, a delivery truck was unable to maneuver around one double-parked car.
Needless to say, the driver was incensed. And soon, so too were the drivers of the cars who had begun to pile up behind him. They began to lay on their horns—first one, then a few others, until a cacophony of klaxons broke the street’s former tranquility. After about ten minutes, the car drivers began to back out, but the truck driver had to stay until the double-parker returned nearly half an hour later.
The moral of this story: access to curb data would have allowed the truck driver to avoid streets with street cleaning. Unfortunately, not having data cost him 30 minutes—an eternity in delivery terms—a loss that almost certainly had knock-on effects on the remainder of his schedule, not to mention his blood pressure (and that of the drivers who were stuck behind him).
Improving targeted deployment of shared mobility services:
Across the country, scooter-share systems like Lime and Bird have been the targets of criticism. One frequent complaint is that many users, once they’ve finished their ride, leave the scooters in inappropriate locations, such as the middle of sidewalks. As such, some cities have restricted the presence of scooters—or even banned them outright.
The danger for scooter-share companies goes beyond lost revenue potential. There can be legal repercussions, too: in one high-profile case, Bird was sued by the family of a man who fractured his knee in four places after he tripped over a misplaced scooter.
Access to curb data can help to mitigate these issues. Using curb data collected through Coord, the City of Santa Monica installed special scooter parking zones, some of which replaced on-street parking spaces. While the occasional inconsiderate rider might still leave a scooter in the path of sidewalk foot traffic, scooters have woven their way into the fabric of the city. These changes have also made life easier for the city’s scooter operators, who know exactly where to place freshly charged scooters, as well as for users, who now know exactly where to look for their next ride.
Assisting advocates in making their cases for policy changes:
Even when cities have curb data at their fingertips, they aren’t necessarily going to take the initiative unless they have a nudge. That’s where the advocacy community comes in.
Curb data can help advocates in a number of areas make a stronger case for the changes they’d like to see. Advocates for improved bike infrastructure can point to spots that are particularly dangerous for cyclists. Advocates for accessibility can show exactly where ADA compliance is lacking. Advocates for on-street parking can quickly prove that a brand-new curb cut or “reserved” parking area (looking at you, Madonna) is illegitimate.