Oct 15, 2021

Innovator Spotlight: Curb Management in Boston

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Dawn Miller

VP, Policy & Partnerships

The City of Boston has been using the Coord platform for curb inventory management since 2020.  A lot of cities are interested in learning more about how leading-edge cities like Boston are thinking about curb management and using new technologies to support their work.  To that end, the Coord team caught up with Matt Warfield, a New Mobility Planner at the Boston Transportation Department (BTD), and Kris Carter, Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM) to learn about their work using Coord for curb inventory collection and analysis.  Let’s dive in!

 

(Responses are paraphrased and not direct quotations.)

 

For what types of projects are you using Coord?

We’ve used Coord for a few specific projects so far.  Some examples include:

 

Data-Driven Community Responses. The Boston Transportation Department (BTD) received a request from a community group in the Back Bay neighborhood for the removal of 260 parking meters, and for that space to be made available for resident uses. Some stakeholders believe these parking meters may have aligned with earlier land uses in the neighborhood, but are no longer needed given current land uses. Our team used the Coord Collector mobile app and the Coord web app to inventory the existing curb regulations and to conduct a parking study. 

 

This provided us with data on the distribution of curb regulations throughout the neighborhood, as well as the occupancy and turnover rate for these curbs. This allowed us to make informed decisions on whether to remove a given meter, and in that case, how best to regulate the curb space. Likewise, we were able to have data-driven conversations with stakeholders about the neighborhood’s curb demand needs today, and regulatory options to meet those needs. Rather than default to parking, our team was able to speak with stakeholders about additional regulatory options, including neighborhood delivery zones, contractor parking, traffic calming measures, and other regulations that support residential land uses.

Regulation data for a parking study in the Back Bay neighborhood

 

Expanding Metered Parking. Well-designed metered parking supports retail districts by making it easier and faster for people to find parking where they need it so they can patronize local businesses and institutions.  We are using Coord to collect curb regulation and occupancy information to understand whether additional mixed-use and commercial districts in the City would benefit from a parking meter program.

Curb inventory for a mixed-use area without metered parking

 

Bus Lane Impact Adaptations. The Roslindale neighborhood of Boston recently added a new bus lane, creating benefits for transit riders and significant changes at the curb.  We are using Coord to conduct a parking study to determine how best to allocate curb space (e.g., metered parking, spaces reserved for people with disabilities, pickup/drop-off zones) given competing demands for space. 

 

Beyond specific projects, we use Coord to respond to ad hoc questions and concerns.  Before we were using Coord, we didn’t have a clear map of our curb space.  Simple questions that a resident or neighborhood group might raise, such as how many spaces in their area are reserved for government vehicles, weren’t easy to answer.  Now we can use Coord to look up the answers to these questions, allowing us to have a conversation with stakeholders informed by data.  This hasn’t eliminated all pushback on curb related changes, but we now have data to help explain what we’re doing and why.

 

Push-button calculations of how much space is allocated to official parking versus other uses

 

Map of “official vehicle” parking in Downtown Boston

 

Sometimes, Coord has helped us act more quickly and strategically when responding to resident requests.  For example, if there is a request for a new use type in an area, such as additional reserved space for people with disabilities, we can use Coord to find out what our supply is like today.  We can identify what alternative scenarios we have for creating the space.  Do we have unregulated spaces we can change to space for people with disabilities?  Or do we have to choose between other uses, such as metered parking and loading space?  If we’re considering repurposing loading space, we can use occupancy data to learn which loading zones are highly utilized and which are not.   

 

Who at the City of Boston uses the Coord system? 

Our teams - the Boston Transportation Department and the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics - are the primary users of the Coord system.  The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) also used Coord for a study they did on Western Avenue.  We’ve been educating various teams around BTD and the City about the system since we think it’s a good fit for many small- to medium-sized projects that don’t require a full consultant-supported study.

 

A lot of different people end up using Coord Collector to collect the data for our projects.  These can be staff members, but often students or fellows working with the City are recruited to do collections.  It takes one of us about an hour to train new people to collect data, and staffers generally pick it up pretty quickly.  We can assign collection tasks, monitor progress, and perform quality control in the Coord Collection Management app.  

 

How would you do some of the projects you described earlier if you didn’t use Coord?

Without Coord, the time or monetary costs of doing this type of work are typically higher.  

 

In some cases, without Coord we just wouldn’t have been able to do the study or the project since, as in most cities, our team has only so many hours in the day and a lot of competing projects.  We sometimes would have had to rely on more anecdotal observations.  To conserve resources, we might have had to evaluate a smaller study area than we’re able to cover with Coord.

 

Another option would be to bring on a consultant to support the study.  There are some studies that merit consultant engagement, but in others a consultant project is more than we really need and hiring a consultant would be “overbuilding.”  Coord allows us to nimbly do parking studies in-house and without a heavy lift.  

 

Our colleagues who conducted the Western Avenue study did a similar study in another area without Coord.  That study took months and months.  With Coord, they would have saved a lot of time. 

 

What’s your long-term vision for managing curb data in the city? 

Right now there is no unified process for conducting parking and curb studies across teams and agencies.  Staff or consultants might collect data and do a study, but the data and learnings from that study live in a shapefile or PDF somewhere and are not easily discoverable or accessible across teams or over time.  The Coord platform gives us a uniform data collection process and data repository that, once we get all of the relevant teams using the system, will enable us all to benefit from one another’s work. 

 

We often find ourselves trying to understand what our curb space looked like in the past, to help us understand how it has changed over time and understand how we got to where we are today.  By using a unified system like Coord, over time we’ll build a historical record of curb use in a single, accessible location.  

 

What makes you use Coord instead of other methods or tools for curb inventory management?

One thing we like about Coord is its ease of use.  We can train people to collect data in about an hour.  The web analytics tool and Coord Collection Management have good user interfaces and are easy to learn and use.  

 

We no longer have to use clipboards and spend time synthesizing and entering data. The Coord Collector app works on standard iPhones and iPads. As soon as data have been collected, they’re in the Coord platform and ready to view and use for developing insights.  On one recent project, we were able to send a report to the Transportation Commissioner about an hour after data collection was complete.  

View of occupancy data in Coord, collected to inform the City's response to a business community request to change meter pricing and time limits

 

There are some other methods out there that are more home-grown or consultant-led, but often they require more in-house development and setup on the City side.  It isn’t always easy to get resources internally to do that type of work.  The Coord system is more turnkey, so it was easy to get started quickly.

 

Many thanks to Matt and Kris for taking the time to drop some curb knowledge on us from Beantown.  If you're interested in learning more about how Coord technology might support your work, please reach out at partners@coord.com.

Lead photo courtesy of Jorge Ramirez on Usplash

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Dawn Miller

VP, Policy & Partnerships

Dawn is Coord’s VP for Policy and Partnerships. She focuses on Coord's work with public agencies. She previously served as Chief of Staff at the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission (TLC), the City agency that oversees New York City's taxi, car service and ride-hailing industries. Dawn launched TLC’s Research and Evaluation practice, serving as its first director, and worked as a researcher at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC. She lives with her husband and son in Brooklyn and loves parks, bikes, beaches, stoop-sitting and group fitness.