NYC launches Smart Curb neighbourhoods

  • September 26, 2023
  • William Payne

New York has launched an effort to develop Smart Curb neighbourhoods. The “Curb Management Action Plan” comprises ten steps to improve design and management of the curb lane. The growth in home deliveries and modes of urban transportation is impacting heavily on curb space.

The action plan includes a “Smart Curbs” Pilot. Working with business improvement districts (BIDs) and other community partners, the NYC DOT will select neighbourhoods in which to reimagine curb space from scratch. In pilot neighbourhoods, DOT will evaluate current curb regulations, identify community needs at the curb, and test new uses and technologies that make access easier – mitigating traffic congestion and double parking.

Curb uses may include: microhubs and loading zones, providing dedicated space for commercial vehicles to reduce double parking; public space improvements, including street furniture, plantings, pop-up markets, community art, delivery worker relief stations, and waste containerisation; and expanded bike parking and corrals, in accordance with delivery worker needs.

The pilot will also include tests of new technologies to maximise the effectiveness of other curb management tools and most efficiently use curb space. One possible technology that will be tested is cameras, for example, which could help to monitor occupancy and rewrite curb regulations based on data showing when residents and businesses most often use curb space.

The Columbus Avenue BID in Manhattan will be the first “Smart Curbs” neighbourhood, launching this autumn. Many of the densest and busiest commercial areas of the city with the greatest need for innovation at the curb have a BID that can provide local expertise and public space management. The City will use a data-driven approach with public feedback to employ new curb uses like loading zones, bike parking, carshare, public space improvements. It will also deploy a demand-responsive approach to adjust parking meter rates to improve transportation overall in each area.

The City will develop and publish a curb management hierarchy to inform the public and aid planning decisions. The guide will help prioritise curb usage across the city based on street or neighbourhood styles in line with the city’s transportation goals and needs.

It will also aim to make home and business deliveries safer, greener and more efficient. With the growth of home deliveries, the City is identifying ways to address freight-related safety, congestion, pollution, and quality-of-life concerns. Strategies include incentivising off-hour deliveries, establishing dedicated loading zones, and creating microhubs where goods can be transferred from larger freight vehicles to smaller low- or no-emissions vehicles. The plan will pilot the East Coast’s first low-emission zone. New York City will examine ways to require and/or incentivise the use of low- and zero-emission trucks through the creation of low-emission zones in areas with the highest concentration of truck traffic and the worst public health outcomes. A pilot programme for one or more locations will be implemented in a community disproportionately impacted by climate change.

Curb space will be designated to make passenger pickups and drop-offs easier. The surge in for-hire vehicle trips has created additional competition for curb space, often resulting in parking regulation violations like improperly occupying taxi stands, double parking, and unsafe pickups and drop-offs. To delineate existing space more clearly, New York City will establish dedicated pickup/drop-off zones for for-hire vehicles in high-volume locations. The City DOT will also continue to work with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to expand loading zones for Access-A-Ride paratransit vehicles in key locations and update its parking design standards to reflect the U.S. Access Board’s Public Rights-of-Way Accessibility Guidelines.

Bike parking will be expanded to improve convenience. Each day brings roughly 550,000 bicycle trips in New York City – more than triple the number from 15 years ago. The city has also seen a rapid increase in the use of other micro-mobility devices. In addition to installing thousands of new bike racks on sidewalks, DOT is installing bike corrals in the curb lane to provide higher-capacity parking. DOT will also solicit proposals for vendors to pilot secure bike parking facilities, including in the curb lane.

Space will be provided for outdoor dining, waste containerisation, street furniture, and other public realm improvements. The City DOT will expand use of the curb lane for sidewalk widenings, curb extensions, bus boarding platforms, plantings, public art, and the Street Seats programme, which creates small-scale public spaces adjacent to the sidewalk. DOT will allocate curb space to support implementation of “Dining Out NYC” – the nation’s largest outdoor dining programme – and the New York City Department of Sanitation’s ongoing efforts to containerise waste to improve pedestrian travel and mitigate rodents. Working with the New York City Housing Authority, DOT will also provide curb space for the “Clean Curbs for All” pilot to use large, on-site waste containers at public housing developments, including in the curb lane.

New technologies will be tested for remote and flexible curb management and enforcement. The City will pilot and implement proven and emerging technologies for more efficient, data-driven, and user-friendly curb management. This includes adopting pay-by-plate parking meters, partnering with the MTA to install enforcement cameras to discourage double parking and blocking bus stops and bike lanes, and using sensors or cameras that provide data on curb usage.

On-street parking will be priced to encourage commercial activity. The City will expand the use of parking meters and develop pricing mechanisms to support policy goals such as safety and sustainability. Pricing parking closer to market rates will support small businesses by improving turnover at parking meters.

The City will also create a demand-based pricing pilot programme that will include technology that adjusts rates in real time based on demand and the time of day. Working with the New York City Department of Finance, DOT will update fine structures for curb violations to make enforcement of curb regulations more effective.

Non-transportation users of curb space will be charged. The curb lane is often occupied by private uses unrelated to mobility, safety, or public space. Pricing is an important tool to discourage unnecessary or excessive use of space while reflecting the high value of the curb lane. DOT will develop a framework to charge more generally for street occupancy, starting by advocating for state legislation that would authorise a wider ability to price occupancy of the curb. For example, the Dining Out NYC programme will allow restaurants to use the roadway for fixed per-square-foot fees, based on geography.

“Competition for the curb necessitates a transformation, a rethinking of the way we use our city’s streetscape to achieve three goals: Get people where they need to go faster; create more room to improve public spaces on our streets; and, potentially, raise revenues to enhance mobility and pay for public realm improvements,” said New York Panel Co-Chair Dan Doctoroff.

“MAS has long advocated for the elevation of the public realm in the consciousness of New Yorkers and elected officials,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president, Municipal Art Society of New York. “With so many critical aspects of city life now vying for the same increasingly limited space on our streets and sidewalks, it is time for a holistic, innovative, and collaborative effort to ensure public safety and support the new paradigm of competing uses and needs. The Department of Transportation’s Curb Management Action Plan is a needed step in that direction.”

“In New York, the vast majority of curb space is allocated to unmetered parking by default, sometimes taking up the majority of the space on the street and squeezing everyone else onto the sidewalk,” said Corey Hannigan, active transportation programme manager, Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “This represents a massive, citywide transfer of public space over to private vehicle storage, and despite the desperate need for curb-space for people on foot, bike, bus, or delivery truck, a sense pervades among the public that any other use comes at the expense of ‘losing parking.’ But during the pandemic, the need for outdoor public space, alternative transportation options, and increased home deliveries pushed us to finally reconsider the potential for this space. The city successfully repurposed curb space for outdoor dining, public ‘parklets,’ bike lanes, bus lanes (and boarding platforms), loading zones, and an in-street waste containerisation pilot. In the 2021 Streets Plan, the NYCDOT Commissioner said, ‘it is essential that we reclaim the streets of New York for its people.’ The Tri-State Transportation Campaign supports this new Curb Management Action Plan, which we see as a continuation of that effort.”