Curbs: A new data frontier

By Chris McCahill

State and local transportation agencies have long focused on what’s happening between the curbs—collecting data about the speed, volume, and types of vehicles moving along each road—but growing competition for curb space from parked cars, bikes, taxis, TNCs, and deliveries presents new challenges both in terms of data and policy. Fortunately, data experts are stepping up to the task.

Coord is a new project of Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs that aims to provide information about everything from bikeshares to toll roads through commercially available APIs. Curbsides are one of their major focuses and they recently launched their Curb Explorer, available for public use in San Francisco.

To get the project up and running, their team had to overcome the daunting task of mapping curbside regulations citywide. They built their platform on OpenStreetMap data, incorporating information about parking and loading regulations, which they digitized from smartphone imagery. The result is a dynamic dataset that describes parking and loading zones on every street by day and time.

Figure 1. Coord Curb Explorer. Source: https://coord.co/explorer

 

Fortunately, commercial data from groups like Coord, HERE, and Inrix won’t be the only places to go for curb-related information. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has partnered with the Open Transport Partnership to launch SharedStreets, an open data-sharing platform that could help in filling some current data voids.

Like Coord’s Curb Explorer, SharedStreets translates standard GIS network files into road segments and then lets agencies anonymize and add almost any kind of transportation data in a common format. ShareStreets promises to standardize information related to curb use, traffic safety, and traffic monitoring, much like the GTFS format has done for transit data. Demos from Washington, DC, show the platform being used to analyze pick-up and drop-off locations for taxis and TNCs.

Figure 2. SharedStreets. Source: http://sharedstreets.io

With data like these, cities will be able to take rational steps toward monitoring, managing, and regulating how curb space is used. As urban transportation evolves, this will be ever more important for ensuring it all runs smoothly.

Chris McCahill is an Associate Researcher at SSTI.