The Resilient Curb: Future Proofing Through Curb Inventory Digitization

Yuval Fogelson
April 29, 2022

To be resilient is to be able to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions and uncertain situations. It could be unexpected such as a global pandemic, or the anticipated adoption of innovation in digitization and automation. For that reason, it is necessary to adapt to emergencies or emerging ways to connect people to places in the urban realm. How does this apply to the public space of cities, and more specifically the curbside?

In this context, a resilient curb space can attend to crisis and adapt to emergent uses of the street in an agile way. A future proof curb is designed and managed with the built-in capacity to quickly adapt to these changes when and as needed. This can be supported by digitizing the curbside inventory.

Flexible curb spaces allow curb lane repurposing without heavy infrastructural changes or lengthy approvals for changes of its designated use. This form of preparedness can increase the resilience of how the curbside is managed and operated for different temporal aspects of its use. In the short-term time frame of a daily cycle, a resilient curb can benefit a wider range of uses that alternate throughout the day, instead of limiting them to a single use. In the long-term, its use can be adapted to new realities on a yearly basis, or as needed.

COVID Curbs – A Turning Point

The curb proved its resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the re-appropriation of curb space, more space was created out of seemingly nowhere. Transformed curb space allowed people to continue visiting businesses such as restaurants while eating outdoors in temporary patios or through newly designated curbside pick-up zones. For example, the CaféTO initiative deployed more than 1000 curbside patios in the city of Toronto to attend the pandemic demand in its first year.

Another quick re-utilization of the curb space was the increase in bicycle lanes. Moreover, complete street transformations, such as on Yonge Street in Midtown Toronto, incorporated not only cycle infrastructure, but also improved pedestrian crossings, curbside patios, loading zones, bike-share stations and other uses along the transformed corridor.

The wave of temporary transformation of curb space caught on during the pandemic. Cities are now considering extending programs such as temporary curbside patios which are more agile than their pre-pandemic predecessor, parklets, that required greater efforts to approve, finance, and deploy. The COVID-19 pandemic may be reflected upon as a turning point towards the role of the curbside to support a more dynamic way of city planning.

curbside pick-up zone
Temporary curb lane transformations in Vancouver, BC during the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 (image: Y. Fogelson)

A Tactical Approach to Real-Time Curb Management

Tactical Urbanism is believed to provide a transformational toolkit with resilience in mind. The methodology utilizes light and removable infrastructure and street furniture, allowing for quick deployment and set up, all with a low budget. Tactical Urbanism strategically guides through a transition from one configuration of a street or public space to another. It also allows for frequent updating of the street configuration which could be done within weeks or days, if needed.

The ability to easily and frequently change the street configuration in the front-end (the physical street face), can be enabled operationally in the back-end by a digitized real-time curb inventory. This digital curb inventory can be managed and kept up to date with tools such as Curb Manager. It can be programmed with flexibility in mind, sensitive to different time periods in the week, day, or month, as well as the durations of curbside uses and activities. Further afield, digital signage could indicate the current and scheduled use of the specific curb space.

A digital curb inventory simulates different alternatives virtually before implementation (for example, by using Curb Analyzer). This can facilitate a quicker roll out of road safety and sustainable active transportation initiatives on a wider scale. Whether it is the facilitation of a wider roll out of Complete Street and Vision Zero initiatives, or enabling real-time curbside operations, the combined benefits of a tactical approach with digital curb management and analysis increase curbside resilience.

A Mobility Option for Everyone

Resilient streets are also those that provide widely available and easily accessible mobility options that address the current sustainability and equity challenges.

There is a need to accommodate a plural way of moving around in the city.  Physical reconfigurations of public space through Complete Streets and Vision Zero initiatives ensure that everyone has access to a suitable mobility option. Progressive cities are focusing on curb management strategies that go beyond traditional parking management, regulation, and operation. These strategies include curb uses that have a wider impact on urban mobility and a positive impact on sustainability.

Cities can leverage their digital curb inventory to facilitate managing, deploying, and integrating shared mobility that utilizes the curbside. This includes shared micromobility such as bike-share docking stations or e-scooter corrals. It includes vehicular usage of pick-up and drop-off zones by TNCs, car-share fleets, as well as EV charging. The integration of transit with these uses can be done through a Mobility as a Service (MaaS) integration of modes, occurring virtually through apps or payment systems, and physically at the curbside.

Transformed curb lane in Midtown Toronto, ON.

Curbside Digitization and Resilience

Curbside resilience can be achieved with a combination of a tactical approach to streamlining on-ground changes to the varied uses of the curbside, coupled with the remote management of these uses and matching them to real-time demand with digital management tools. The hidden potential of the curb can be unearthed through dynamic programming of the curb use over time, whether in the day-to-day cycle or through scheduling future changes and temporary exceptions, such as events.

Allowing for built-in flexibility of the physical design of the curbside through tactical methods corresponds with the agility in which it can be managed remotely. The matching of the physical and virtual aspects of the curbside allow for a resilient curb that is prepared to adapt to both expected and unexpected changes.

Yuval Fogelson
Yuval is an urban designer with a passion for cities, people-first public space design, and the physical and digital transformation of the urban realm. His research on transitioning strategies into new mobility, with a focus on future curb space design, aligns with IBI Group’s efforts in curbside digitization through CurbIQ.
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