The Curb: Gateway to the City
In a true mixed-modal mobility paradigm, the curb region is a complex shared environment — perhaps the most valuable public asset in your community.
The curb is the gateway to your city. A gateway is a transition from one mode of travel, or way of life, to another. Gateways set the tone for a traveler’s experience. People intuitively look for clues as to what their new environment will be like as they transition through gateways. First impressions from transitional experiences form lasting assumptions.
Defining User Needs and Priority
Parking professionals have known for years that the parking experience is a first and last impression and can impact a return visit. Does your city’s curb communicate a sense of welcomeness and well-being? Is it walkable?
How many mode shares do you see on a regular basis? Do people want to hang out on your sidewalks and experience community with their neighbors?
User connectivity engages healthy communities and is a welcome relief from too much technology and screen time and saves time looking for parking. Parking is critical, but the destination is the focus. Do people have direct access to your downtown curbed environment? Are they able to park on Main Street, transition to the curb, and cross the street safely?
The Message You’re Sending
At a stroad, where adjacent block faces and the curb is inaccessible, crossing the street is not safe or convenient. Parking and engagement with the curb may occur in a more remote setting, possibly an off-street parking lot or garage.
What kind of message does that send to visitors? Does your downtown provide adequate wayfinding to guide vehicles to available parking and then guide pedestrians back to their vehicles?
Prioritizing the City’s Assets
Like the land uses they serve, street and curb design should be prioritized to the best use of assets. Some state departments of transportation use vehicle miles traveled to prioritize human throughput over traditional level of service (LOS) metrics, which prioritize single-occupancy vehicles over public buses and private transit.
But what does a sensible street design allow development along those streets to do? If priority is for wide avenues with multiple lanes to move people through town, rather than to get them into town, you may have a stroad.
One way to measure this is to think: Can my grandparents cross the street in a reasonable amount of time? Do they need a pedestrian safety zone on a median in the middle of the lanes to complete a crossing?
Determine Your City’s Curbside Goals
Is priority placed on moving people through your town, rather than getting them out of their cars to linger in your town’s destinations?
By design, stroads prevent the ability for people to stop, get out of their cars, and participate with their surroundings. A people-oriented curb design, however, welcomes interaction and wonderment and is good for local business.
Management Practices to Satisfy Needs
When no one pays for access to the curb, everyone pays for access to the curb. Cities often price on-street parking to create desired access and then return parking meter revenue to block faces to improve pedestrian accessibility and increase parking availability.
Similarly, public agencies and private owners are pricing access to the curb, and control how mobility users access the curb, to improve the pedestrian environment and safety.
Delivering Transformative Transportation
San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency’s Better Market Street project delivers “transformative transportation, streetscape, and safety improvements along 2.2 miles of Market Street between Octavia Boulevard and the Embarcadero.”
With a goal of creating public space for people to linger and interact, transportation network company vehicle activity, such as Uber and Lyft, have been managed away from one of the city’s busiest arterials.
Market Street is geofenced so riders seeking service must be picked up on a side street so they don’t impede human throughput on the arterial. Similarly, drivers cannot drop passengers off in lanes that would block transit or bicycle paths of travel.
Planning Congestion Relief
The San Francisco International Airport takes geofencing one step further by pricing TNC drop off s at the terminal curb at a higher trip fee than drop off s within the terminal garage. Pick ups at the curb are also priced higher as a way to incent users to assist with congestion relief.
Universities, stadiums, and large concert events also use geofencing to control desired TNC traffic. A driver who violates the assigned pick up and drop off zones could be banned from the app per the terms of service with the venue.
Implementing New Ideas
With the pending onset of autonomous vehicles, optimizing the curb now for future use is critical. Prioritizing human throughput and access may follow some of these guidelines:
• Wide sidewalk = pedestrians and delivery bots
• Lane 1 = bike/ scooter lane
• Lane 2 = transit (HOV)
• Lane 3 = TNCs and private vehicles (SOV)
Cities are faced with increased demand for public assets while often simultaneously challenged by loss of revenues, including from parking. Looking ahead, one thing is certain: Designing for the greatest transition period facing transportation in the last 100 years will be interesting. Parking will play a critical role in the city experience.
This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of Parking Magazine
Jonathan Wicks, CAPP, is a consultant at Walker Consultants. Email him at JWicks@ walkerconsultants.com.