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Few issues are more vexing to local transportation planners and public officials than the curb management problems brought on by the proliferation of delivery services and rideshare apps.
While they provide a valuable service, and were a lifeline for many stores and restaurants during the COVID lockdowns, ridesharing and delivery apps have upset the transportation ecosystem.
They leave many people unable to find a parking spot; lead to increased blockage of bus and bike lanes; and create a major headache for road users and a quality-of-life issue besetting officials.
Fueled by a seemingly limitless amount of venture capitalist money and pandemic disruption, these apps offer people with cars a seemingly good deal to drive around, ferrying people and goods in their “spare time.”
Their popularity has spurred competition and encouraged many grocery stores to offer grocery delivery, while the success of Amazon’s Prime's same-day delivery encouraged stores like Target and WalMart to offer more delivery options.
The result is more cars and trucks carrying people, food, and goods to and from residential neighborhoods, commercial districts, and warehouses.
Commercial spaces and downtowns are often where the problem is most visible and at its worst.
People are constantly being picked up and dropped off, many restaurants are located in close proximity to each other, and curb space is scarce.
Since the pandemic began, space is at an even greater premium because many restaurants transformed parking spaces into outdoor dining space.
According to the Cleantech Group, several cities are building apps for delivery drivers where they can reserve space to do their drop offs and pickups.These apps first need every space recorded, then sensors that detect if it’s free or occupied are installed. People who take too long or use the space without reserving it can be fined.
One issue the problem highlights is how valuable on street parking spots are, and how cities traditionally undervalue them.
In many cities, on-street parking is free all day on Sundays, or during weekends. Moreover, the rates on weekdays are so low (and the fines for violators so insignificant) that people will leave their cars in spaces all day rather than pay for an expensive spot in a garage or take public transportation.
Experts like Donald Shoup have been advocating cities adopt a dynamic parking pricing strategy for years, not to maximize income but to use parking more efficiently. Shoup posits that the ideal would be for cities to price parking so that at any given time, 85% of the spaces are in use.
With rideshare or delivery services, this number may change — or perhaps the app company or restaurant could pay for a lease.
With smart city technology, this is easier than ever before.
Residential areas are also smarting from the proliferation of rideshare and delivery.
It’s especially annoying during the holiday season, when multiple trucks from the same company can be found on one street, a few houses from each other. Like rideshare and delivery services in commercial areas, they block parking and travel lanes in residential zones — yet in many cities, residential streets are narrower, with two lanes, so other vehicles can’t get by.
When companies — like Amazon, conventional parcel delivery companies, and grocery stores — deliver with trucks, the size can add a further complication by cutting down visibility, making it unsafe for cars to pass.
In some cities, residential neighborhoods also experience periodic instances of high levels of truck traffic.
For example, many leases in Boston end on August 31, meaning neighborhoods get overwhelmed by moving trucks and vans on September 1. People are supposed to get temporary permits for the trucks they hire, but there simply aren’t enough spaces for all the vehicles and people with cars who park on the street often ignore them.
One solution to the problems in residential neighborhoods is to charge market rates for on-street parking spaces.
Many cities make neighborhoods free for all, or free for residents, charging a nominal annual fee for a resident’s sticker. Unfortunately, this encourages people to treat curbs as their personal property and have cars to park in their space even if they rarely need a car.
In New York, for example, opposition from residents upset over losing “their” parking spaces has prevented the city from installing Dutch-style neighborhood dumpsters that would alleviate people having to leave their garbage on the sidewalk.
For parcel deliveries, cities could encourage businesses to centralize deliveries.
For example, Amazon provides hubs where people can pick up their packages at some locations, like their Whole Foods stores.
For moving, cities could potentially work with landlords and movers to stage things at temporary facilities on either side of a moving date, so the moving happens gradually and fewer trucks per day congest the residential streets.
Curb space is one of the most valuable resources a city has, and SMART grants can encourage innovation that will potentially solve several key quality of life issues.
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