Rethinking Loading Zones as Parking Demand Resurges

August 4, 2021 Matt Darst

This is the first of a two-blog series about optimizing curb space for loading zones. Part 1 (below) focuses on steps transportation authorities can use to better manage loading zones. Part 2, here, digs deeper into the factors involved in pricing loading zone curb space.

Curbside parking availability played an important role in easing economic pain during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for local businesses and restaurants.

That’s because many city leaders repurposed curb space to promote social distancing. They added and/or expanded outdoor dining, which helped local merchants and restaurants stay in business by offering pick-up and drop-off zones, and enabled their suppliers and partners to make critical deliveries.

Now, as demand for curbside lane space returns, transportation officials are finding themselves at a crossroads. They can revert to outdated curbside policies or position themselves to better manage curb lanes for a wider variety of uses. Defaulting to historical regulations, however, won’t help cities achieve mission-critical goals, such as reducing congestion, promoting accessibility and safety, or improving efficiency. Instead, municipal leaders should rethink available curb lane space, and treat it as a limited resource that can be proactively managed for various uses.

While each city’s journey to optimize curbside management is different, there’s an available roadmap that cities can follow.  Here are a few steps to keep in mind.  

  1. Sustainably “code the curb.” Inventorying curb lane space is critical to unlocking its potential. While this prospect may seem daunting at first, capturing curbside assets and regulatory information need not be expensive or difficult. Documenting curbside inventory can be accomplished through a mix of processes, including automated digitization of existing regulatory data, mobile mapping using machine learning to capture restrictions, fixed- and vehicle-mounted cameras, and surveys using mobile software.
  1. Provide robust outreach. There are a wide variety of curbside stakeholders, including delivery and freight operators, merchants, restaurants, Transportation Network Companies (TNC), motorists, loading zone permit holders, bicyclists, and pedestrians, just to name a few. As cities seek to optimize curbside management, successful stakeholder engagement is a must. This outreach should include communicating project goals and benefits, soliciting feedback, providing status updates, and sharing data. All of these efforts will encourage buy-in for your curbside reinvention initiative.
  1. Understand demand. Existing data sources such as surveys, vehicles detected with automated license plate readers (ALPR), along with meters and mobile app transactions can help paint a picture of curbside demand. So too can the proximity of loading zones to businesses and historical citation issuance information. But to truly understand demand, these existing data sources should be augmented with stakeholder insights as well as telematics and computer vision data to determine:
  • Demand by vehicle type or mode on a space-by-space, moment-by-moment basis
  • The duration of stays
  • Competing interests for the curb, including demand for metered parking, micro-mobility use, or pedestrian activity  
  1. Optimize curb use. Although loading zones are often purchased by a business, stakeholders tend to expand well beyond the purchasing merchant. And the purchasing business may not be fully represented. This is why it’s important to perform demand studies, which can be prioritized by the number and types of businesses served by a specific loading zone. By addressing loading zone outliers first, examining demand, nearby metered parking use, illegal parking, and congestion, city officials can focus on the high-demand areas with the most problematic curb use early in their curb lane management initiative.

The Ratio of Businesses to Loading Zone Spaces

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In this sample city, some areas are underserved by loading zones. Take, for instance, the highlighted point demonstrating that thirty businesses share two loading zone spaces.

 

In the following example, two loading zones account for 150 feet of curb space, 90 feet for the western loading near a restaurant and 60 feet for an eastern loading zone located by a residential tower. These two zones represent approximately 18% of the curb space on one city block. While the western loading zone is highly used (occupancy often reaching 100%), utilization of the eastern loading zone exceeds 50% only at 7pm daily. In addition, nearby parking meter use frequently reaches 100% at lunch and during the evening. For much of the day, loading zone spaces remain empty while motorists compete for parking just a few feet away.

Sample Loading Zones and Use Patterns

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Top: Loading zone locations. Middle: Utilization for the eastern loading zone. Bottom: Utilization of the western loading zone.

 

There are several ways to improve use of the eastern loading zone. Understanding the types of parkers and the duration of their stays can help inform changes that could be made, including:

  • Reduce operable hours. By reducing the eastern loading zone’s operable hours to 6 PM to 8 PM when use exceeds 50%, the city could provide more long-term metered parking options during the remaining hours each day to help mitigate traffic congestion.
  • Reduce the loading zone’s size. Shrinking a loading zone by 50% may help ensure there is enough parking during peak demand hours, while enabling the addition of two parking meters to alleviate nearby parking demand.
  • Move the loading zone. Shifting a loading zone around the corner where there are three restaurants and converting the spaces there for alternative use may incentivize greater utilization of the loading zone, serving more facilities, while improving demand for parking.

To learn more about how you can optimize curbside management, please reach out to transportation@conduent.com or www.conduenttransportation.com.

 

About the Author

Matt Darst

Director of Curbside Management and Public Safety Solutions for Conduent

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