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Flex Zones: Reclaiming the Curb

Build a flexible curbspace management system to allow real-time changes in use and price, improving safety/efficiency for all travel modes.

Photo of Ryan Winn
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Curbside management demands are rapidly changing. Traditional metered parking systems are not equipped to manage the growing demand for conventional and emerging roadway uses. Simultaneously, the widespread adoption of Transportation Network Company (TNC) services such as Uber and Lyft has induced excess demand for short-term access to the curb for loading and unloading. Passenger loading zones in existence today are not abundant enough to manage these increasing curbside access demands. Alternative mobility options such as e-scooters are flooding the market giving users more transportation choices than ever and forcing cities across the US to react with the proper regulations to ensure broader goals of safety, equity, and mobility.  Cities need to simultaneously think of the best solutions for today while also remaining flexible to technologies of tomorrow such as Microtransit services and Connected and Automated Vehicles (CAVs) adoption.

Curbs act as the interface between mobility and accessibility. With so many diverse demands in such a constrained space, it’s no surprise that the current industry standards for curbside management are outdated and underperforming.  Numerous problems exist today, including: excess demand for curbspace leading to increased congestion from vehicles circling for available parking, inefficiencies of rigid curbside zoning, and safety concerns due to improper use.

AECOM is building Flex Zones: a digital curbside management system enabling municipalities streamlined control over their most in-demand asset and align curb use with the particular priorities and needs of the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure (DOMI).

Dynamic signage/embedded lights will inform drivers of available spaces/current prices. Drivers will be informed of available parking locations and real-time pricing when entering a street segment through signage and LED lights along the curb and between travel lanes. Payment would be processed through either a mobile application or through license plate recognition hardware. Drivers could preregister their vehicles for a seamless experience.

Sensors collect occupancy and usage data to optimize the streetscape in real-time to meet current mobility demands. Ride-sharing passenger loading would occur in designated areas, safely clearing the way for pedestrians, cyclists, and scooters while reducing traffic congestion; these zones can be expanded during peak hours when curbside demand is highest and person throughput should be prioritized.

Demand-based pricing could be implemented to “right-price” the curb in high density areas and facilitate a desired average occupancy rate, which could be adjusted regularly by individual block (or whatever granularity the operator desires). This would also allow the ability to generate new short-term loading space revenue (both by potentially charging for commercial loading spaces and adding passenger loading zones to improve traffic flow and safety).

Fixed-use curbside zones would be eliminated to allow for the highest and best use for that space (which can vary in real-time). Automated enforcement could be implemented to help reduce enforcement costs while increasing curbside revenue. A major component of this digital curbspace system would be designating space for passenger loading zones to be used by TNC vehicles for safely and efficiently loading/unloading passengers. A TNC driver would be directed to a specific curb-side zone (typically at the beginning/end of streets) in order to not block traffic behind it, and the passenger would also be notified to walk to their pickup zone (similar to existing implementation of TNC zones at most airports).

Flex Zones: A solution for today, with tomorrow in mind.

Describe who will use your solution (1,000 characters)

Municipalities/local DOTs would be the primary operators, but end users would be any roadway users (e.g., automobile drivers, commercial delivery trucks, TNCs, active transportation users). Operators would have the ability to change the use and price of any curb through the combined software/hardware management system. If automated enforcement is pursued, operators could administer violations digitally through license plate recognition software. Driver would see real-time parking availability/pricing when entering a street segment through dynamic signage and LED lights lining the curb and travel lane(s). Commercial drivers (and local business owners) would be able to reserve nearby loading during designated times for expected deliveries. TNCs would have designated curbspace for the safe and efficient loading/unloading of passengers (similar to current airport TNC zones). Space could be dedicated to bikeshare or e-scooter storage areas to help encourage active transportation.

Describe your solution's stage of development

  • Initial Design - you are still exploring the idea and have not tested it with users

Tell us about your team or organization (500 characters)

AECOM is a global network of experts working with clients, communities and colleagues to develop/implement innovative solutions to the world’s most complex challenges. We connect expertise across services, markets and geographies to deliver transformative outcomes. Worldwide, we DBFOM projects to unlock opportunities, protect our environment and improve lives. We are committed to designing/implementing solutions to improve transportation safety, efficiency, and equity across all modes.

Size of your team or organization

  • 501+

Funding Request

  • $75,000

Describe how you would pilot your idea (1000 characters)

We would work with DOMI and the Pittsburgh Parking Authority to identify a commercial corridor or other area with high daily on-street parking and passenger-loading demand (e.g., CBD, Strip District, or North Shore neighborhoods) to pilot this system. The pilot would collect revenue on day 1 and enable the Pittsburgh Parking Authority to activate new long term revenue streams (e.g., passenger/commercial loading, advanced reservations). The demand-based pricing mechanism provides long-term viability through right-pricing the curb. AECOM will use internal resources within its transportation business line and work with local city representatives to design the pilot to the specific needs of Pittsburgh. We will also work with the Challenge Partners both during development and scaling, especially with Ford’s Smart Mobility group. Dell and Microsoft could supply many of the hardware components (computers and sensors) where AT&T has the network required for the software/hardware integration.

Describe how you would measure the success of your pilot (1000 characters)

Key performance metrics would be established to gauge success and collect as much quantitative data as possible. Ample data will enable The Pittsburgh Parking Authority/DOMI to measure/adapt the system to usage patterns through data-driven decisions. Metrics related to safety, equity, traffic throughput, TNC loading, compliance/violation rates, parking turnover, package/freight movement, active transportation usage (bikeshare, e-scooters) and economic impacts would be analyzed to align the system with the operator’s policy goals. Additionally, behavioral data would be collected to identify/classify how various users (i.e., drivers, TNC drivers, commercial delivery drivers, active transportation) access/utilize curbspace. This data would be analyzed to help recommend lessons learned from a pilot to inform full implementation, as well as drive quantitative data decision-making and advise future planning/modeling efforts on how curbspace is actually used in each specific, local setting


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Photo of Diana Avart

Hi Ryan,

Congrats on being a Semi-Finalist! Don't forget to continue using the Share buttons found at the end of the post as you make updates during the Refine phase. This will encourage the community to continue to vote and engage with your submission, helping reviewers to get an understanding of which ideas have the greatest public support and also prompting you to consider different aspects of your proposal in new ways.

- Diana, Facilitator

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