Master’s Project Research: Development of Curbside Management Strategy Typologies

by Tory Gibler

As a resident of downtown Raleigh, I’ve seen an increased demand of curb access for delivery trucks, bike lanes, rideshare drop-off/pick-ups, and on-street parking. Riding my bicycle around downtown, it’s not uncommon to see a delivery truck using the bike lane as a loading zone, or see a rideshare drop off a passenger at a bus stop. Automobiles cruising for limited on-street parking also adds congestion and chaos to increasingly busy downtown streets. As an aspiring transportation planner, these interactions and observations motivated me to research curbside management for my master’s project.

The curb can refer to both the curb lane, where on-street parking typically occurs, and the sidewalk curb, where parking meters, bike racks, and utility poles are housed. This blog post – and my research – is focused on the curb lane. The term “curbside management” has recently become more popular within the transportation industry. Zipcar called 2018 the year of the curb, and the Smart Cities Collaborative is focusing their 2020 program on the curb. Startups have sprung up in response to curb chaos. Take, for example, Coord and CurbFlow, launching within the last 24 months with the aim of applying real-time technology to manage curb competition in urban cores.

A rideshare vehicle waiting for its next customer at a curb in downtown Raleigh. Photo credit: Tory Gibler.

Curbside management is not new. It’s an umbrella term that describes many of the operations occurring on city streets: primarily on-street parking, but also including some loading zones and transit stops. The rise of the term “curbside management” coincides with increases in technology-based mobility such as rideshare, bicycle share, and e-scooters, and increased urban development and urban freight delivery.

As more demand is placed on curb access in large metropolitan areas, cities are thinking creatively about how to balance these demands. Curbside management attempts to find the right balance and utilization of curb access among transportation modes and functions. Good curbside management enables safer mode interaction at the curb.

Curbside Management Typologies

As part of my master’s project, I wanted to see what innovative curbside management strategies cities were actually implementing. My master’s project looks at current and aspirational curbside management work in six North Carolina cities. In order to gain context, I performed an environmental scan of grey literature for examples of cities attempting innovative curbside management strategies. Below, I outline my environmental scan of grey literature and the typologies I developed at this point.

An environmental scan of grey literature essentially scans news articles, white papers, blogs, reports and academic papers. I was primarily looking for examples of innovative curbside management in US cities. I defined innovation as any attempt to manage an increase in curbside demand beyond time limited loading zone and on-street parking signage. Using a simplified systematic review process with key terms and inclusion criteria I identified 37 US cases of innovative curbside management.

Within the 37 cases, I used coding and groupings to develop a typology matrix, which allowed me to create three innovative curbside management typologies:

Asset management at the curb

Of the 37 cases, 16 fell into this typology; it includes innovative strategies that attempt to inventory, assess demand, or guide prioritization of curb uses. A good portion of these strategies incorporated real-time data or demand data to better inform decisions. An example of this strategy is mapping and inventorying real-time curb data with the startup Coord or the open source nonprofit SharedStreets.

Influence user behavior at the curb

This typology applied to 11 of the 37 cases. This management strategy primarily works by adjusting pricing or increasing enforcement at the curb. An example in both New York and San Francisco is automated enforcement of illegal automobile stopping in a bus lane. Policies that shift interaction with the curb were also included, such as New York and Washington, DC’s, overnight freight delivery programs.

Modification of the curb

The remaining 10 cases fell under this typology. These curbside management strategies are the most traditional in that they seek to modify the physical curb for mode or time access. For example, designated curb areas in West Hollywood become rideshare passenger drop-off and pick-up sites during the evening.

A few strategies overlapped in typology type, but all cases were placed in a typology based on their primary function. One strategy that has strong ties to all three typologies is a startup called CurbFlow. CurbFlow uses curb modification to designate reservable spaces for delivery and passenger loading. Using real-time data collection, users can see if a loading zone is available. Usage data is collected to understand demand at sites and inform future loading zone decisions. Access to the space is monetized and time-limited, influencing user behavior with the loading site. CurbFlow was first piloted in DC and has a current pilot in Columbus, Ohio.

A delivery truck blocks the crosswalk as pedestrians attempt to cross a downtown Raleigh street. Photo credit: Tory Gibler.

Using these innovative curbside management typologies as context, my next task is to assess current and aspirational strategies in six North Carolina cities through qualitative analysis of interviews. As with most DCRP final semester master’s students, my master’s project is a work in progress. I’m looking forward to how the project comes together as the end of the semester approaches.

Feature photo: A freight truck blocks a bike lane in downtown Raleigh. Photo credit: Tory Gibler.

About the Author: Tory is a second-year master’s candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning with a concentration in Transportation Planning. An advocate for accessibility in transportation, she actively promotes multimodal transportation as a volunteer and former board member of the Raleigh bicycle advocacy group, Oaks & Spokes, and as a Safety and Planning Intern at VHB. Tory received her undergraduate degree in Nonprofit Management and Fundraising from Indiana University. In her free time, she enjoys bicycle camping.

“CurbFlow.” curbFlow. N.p., 2019. Web. 2 Mar. 2020.
“How to Manage the Chaotic 21st Century Curb.” Mobility Lab. Mobility Lab, 8 June 2018. Web. 2 Mar. 2020.
“Overview.” SharedStreets. N.p., 2019. Web. 2 Mar. 2020.
“Sidewalk Labs.” Announcing Coord: The integration platform for mobility providers, navigation tools, and urban infrastructure. N.p., 1 Feb. 2019. Web. 2 Mar. 2020.
“Smart Cities Collaborative.” Transportation for America Blog. Transportation for America, 2019. Web. 2 Mar. 2020.