One big problem in assessing how cities should move forward is that they have little knowledge of their own curb space — there's little understanding of the rules along specific streets and how they might fit into a cohesive larger plan.
"We have a lot of data about traffic rules and roads for vehicles, but when it comes to the curb and access to buildings, it's a digital blind spot in this hugely valuable space," says Stephen Smyth, CEO of Coord, a curb data platform that spun out of Google's Sidewalk Labs in 2016. "That is a key that unlocks the value of that last meter. Last mile is a thing, and that last meter is really fascinating to us."
Coord has launched an app called Surveyor that enables its users to map and analyze curb features, such as parking signs, fire hydrants and loading zones. Cities, logistics companies and mobility providers can access the collective data from these users via an app to find loading zones and help minimize parking tickets and delays.
Having such information might be all the more important once autonomous taxis hit city streets. Smyth said Coord is partnering with a company intent on putting autonomous vehicles on the road that's quickly learning the importance of having curb information for pickups and drop-offs.
"If they're going to operate those services, they simply must have this kind of data or else they are lost," he said.
For now, data on curb space enables cities to get a better handle on potential pitfalls for traffic flow and better designate pickup and drop-off zones. It could also lead to more flexibility, in which curbs are designated for ride-hailing pickup and drop-off during peak times, used for delivery overnight and revert to on-street parking during regular business hours.
"Curbs are no longer static, inflexible installations," the International Transport Forum paper said. "Instead, curb use will resemble dynamic, highly flexible, self-solving puzzles. The move from a "parking city" to a "pickup and drop-off city" is only one part of a broader shift to rethink and manage streets and curbs as flexible-use and self-adjusting spaces."
If curbs are indeed a reflection on what cities value, variety and versatility might be the most important traits of all.