KEY TAKEAWAY: Rethinking how cities, businesses and people use the curbside has the potential to change urban mobility. Examples show how prioritizing high-value space changes cityscapes, makes them more livable and gives shared services the chance to truly change how people get around.
In a traditional image of a city, you can expect to see two key components near a curbside: a parked car on the road, and beside it, a much smaller space for pedestrians. This layout is replicated across cities large and small, even though it is not efficient for anyone, regardless if they choose to drive or walk. Add in today’s evolving mobility options, and it becomes more obvious that the curbside can be used in much better ways.
Supporters of the status quo would argue that the curb belongs to the on-street businesses and more of it is needed for more business; metered parking is a large revenue stream for cities, and that street parking is key to getting people to spend money around the city. These arguments have been ingrained in the planning of many cities, and at the surface makes sense. However, these preconceived notions do not stand up against the untapped opportunities of the curbside.
According to Josh Johnson, Advanced Mobility Manager at the City of Minneapolis:
“Continued innovation in transportation, as well as an increase in competition for curb space, has greatly increased the need to understand, evaluate, and right-size use and pricing of the curb. With the dramatic growth in shared mobility options and delivery services, there is a significant need to address how and where they access curb space. Additionally, thinking needs to shift from prioritizing cars to understanding how people want to move and use the mobility options available to them, and reallocate space accordingly.”
As shared mobility services become more prominent in cities of all shapes and sizes, the fight for curbside space contributes heavily to the success of these new transportation services. Station-based carsharing would not be feasible if cities did not allocate or offer on-street parking. Ride-hailing services could not function if they did not have access to the curb. Ride-pooling would be even more difficult to operate if pick-ups could not be done at the corner of any block. Kick scooter sharing would not be possible if they were banned from parking on sidewalks.
While successful carsharing, scooter sharing, or any type of shared mobility service could potentially negotiate themselves an ideal parking arrangement, it is up to the city to enforce guidelines that embrace forms of mobility other than just the private car. At the same time, more people need to understand the benefit of more complete streets and support the curb’s redevelopment into a space that is valuable to everyone.
Automobile dependency – This is the concept that in city planning, cars are prioritized over other forms of mobility, such as walking, biking, or even public transit. This isn’t surprising, as private vehicles have been the main form of day-to-day transportation since horse-drawn carriages. However, this has resulted in cities that address congestion with more roads, which only cause more traffic. In addition, many city infrastructures better support the movement of people who are in cars, but not transit riders or pedestrians.
Urban intensification – The ideal scenario of building a community where people can live, work, and shop within walking distance paints a picture of minimal car usage. However, if you compare the downtown core and the suburban areas of a city like Toronto, you will see that vehicle reliance is similar, resulting in congestion even in the dense neighbourhoods. Research from Wharton found that every 10% increase in density leads to a 1% decrease in travelling, which they note as an insignificant amount. Even though density is part of the solution to making multi-modal trips more feasible, it needs to work alongside other initiatives as well.
Brick and mortar businesses – Businesses with storefronts tend to incorrectly believe most of their patrons come from the private vehicle, and rely on the spots in front of their store. However, the National Association of Transportation Officials (NACTO) found that in Los Angeles, merchants thought 36% of their patrons arrived by car and none by transit. In reality, 46% arrived by transit and only 7% by car. The same scenario held true in Brooklyn and San Francisco as well.