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It is All About the Curb Do Ride Share Programs Cause Traffic and Safety Problems?

July 9, 2018

Astrid Ambroziak

“The humble curb is fast becoming the city’s hottest asset.” Karen Hao for Quartz Media,


Yes, the curb is valuable real-estate. In my own neighborhood of Los Angeles driving a few blocks on 3rd Street can often be a challenge. It is because either people are attempting to find parking spaces or there is an Uber or a Lyft picking someone up or dropping them off. 


Yes, there are loading zones in front of several restaurants yet, not in front of all of them. So, if someone uses the Uber app for a pick up, most likely that ride share will block off the flow of traffic because the pickup is happening in a traffic lane. 


Downtown Las Vegas doesn’t have special spaces designed for loading and unloading. It all happens at the curb side or in the traffic lanes.


 


Because of my experience with my neighborhood traffic in Los Angeles, I was excited to attend a PIE 2018 seminar presented by Kenzie Coulson, Park City Parking & Fleet Manager, Park City, Utah; Brandy Stanley, Parking Services Manager, City of Las Vegas; and Jon Walker, Head of Transportation Policy Lyft, titled “Ride Share Programs – Do they cause more Traffic and Safety Problems.” 


In her article about the curb, Karen Hao says; “In the city of the future, the ability to get people from point A to point B will be as much about the vehicle as it will be about the curb. Most experts estimate that an average of 30 percent of the traffic in busy urban areas can be accounted for by vehicles searching for places along the curb to pull over. Without a proper place for our future driverless vehicles to drop off passengers, they won’t be able to reduce congestion.”


What happens with the cities of today? Brandy spoke about striving to manage the curb in her city of Las Vegas. By the way, the City of Las Vegas is not the Las Vegas strip. It is the downtown area and it gets 23 million visitors a year. Downtown Las Vegas doesn’t have special spaces designed for loading and unloading. It all happens at the curb side or in the traffic lanes. It creates more congestion and gridlock, especially since Uber and Lyft came in. 


I was surprised to learn about so called cash rides. Uber and Lyft drivers sitting at the curb waiting to pick up passengers who don’t use the app. How does the city enforce this? Brandy stated that enforcement is ineffective because of the grace time on loading and unloading and also a lack of regulations. The regulations are done on the state level so it is very hard for the city to implement them. 


The business owners in the area and city, as well as ride share companies and taxies, are eager to implement and enforce better rules to make traffic flow and pickups and drop offs less disruptive. Brandy suggested creating a task force to bring the solutions. She talked about modeling their enforcement on airport enforcement: you don’t stop at the


smart city signage might be a part of solution, as well as strictly enforced staged loading and drop off zones and education. 


Ideas from the smart city community and transportation entities are needed to bring a solution. 


With that collaboration in mind, Brandy was thankful to have Lyft engaged in this discussion. It is the first time at PIE that I heard a representative from a ride share company speak. And in this case John Walker from Lyft reiterated his company desire to collaborate with cities, municipalities and private companies. According to John, this collaboration can bring solutions. 


He emphasized that disruptive technologies come with myriad challenges for an industry that hasn’t changed much in 100 years. He asked us to look at traffic, parking and transportation in a new way as a MaaS, Mobility as a service. In his view currently, 86 percent of vehicles on the roads are personal use vehicles. In the near future, that number will go down with more people biking, walking or using share rides. So how do we design our cities with MaaS in mind? What happens to parking? And that valuable curbside? John was excited that developers are interested in building less parking and it is cheaper for them to subsidize ride share programs. Especially when the first and last mile are involved. Lyft is adamant about moving to electric vehicle usage and is also focused on autonomous vehicles. He mentioned that everything in autonomous technology is level 4 while level 5 is only in theory and doesn’t exist. We as humans are level 4. The spectrum of level 4 is huge and partnering with companies as GM and Waymo who have impeccable safety standards is the key. 


Technology isn’t a silver bullet. Lyft prides itself with working with transit. And Park City and Kenzie Coulson are the perfect example where instead of validating parking, they validate Lyft and Uber rides. And how did John address the issue of pick off and drop offs? He said that yes, there are issues here but ride sharing companies are dropping off people who spend money thus, they are economic engine of growth. 


So, does the good outweigh the bad? Road taxation might be an option and that means taxing every vehicle on the roads. Especially since single occupancy vehicles are, in John’s words, the real culprit here of congestion. 


The most salient point of this seminar is that the curb must be addressed immediately. We need curbside fees, collaborative regulations, technology and dynamic thinking. And curbside parking revenue must be replaced with taxes or fees. Micromanagement of curbside is a must. The question is how are we going to do it? 


As Julia Thayne, the director of urban development at Siemens, Germany, says in Karen Hao’s article, digitizing curbs might be the second step. I look forward to more answers and solutions to the valuable curbside at next year PIE 2019. 


Astrid Ambroziak is editor of parknews.biz. She can be reached at astrid@parkingtoday.com.



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