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Forget Smart Cities Think Simple, Especially When it Involves the Curb

September 9, 2018

Neil Herron

No matter how smart you want your city to be, if you don’t concentrate on what people care about, you won’t be able to move forward. In today’s society, there are plenty of incredible “smart” technologies on the horizon that feel like they have been lifted straight from a science fiction novel.


But at Grid Smarter Cities, we think that before embracing the technology of the future, we need to get the smaller stuff right first. If we focus on getting the things citizens actually need working harmoniously, that will provide the perfect foundation for thinking that all this might really be on the horizon.


Recently, I watched a fantastic presentation of a drone delivering an iPad to a farmer in a field. Impressive? Yes. Commercially practical? Absolutely not.


Cities across the globe are crying out for practical, common-sense solutions to real-world problems, so let’s come back to how we can make improvements with carrots rather than sticks, and how commerce and interactions take place that can benefit all the stakeholders.


The curb space is the gateway to most commercial activity that takes place in any city. It is the home of taxi pick-ups and set-downs, car share and cycle hire schemes, bus stops, car parking, places where commercial vehicles load and unload and service and maintenance vehicles park up.


With the world’s urban population set to grow by 2.5 billion by 2050, the way cities are managed from a delivery and servicing perspective, as well as a people movement perspective, will need addressing sooner rather than later.


In short, Kerb, Grid’s new system, is set to change how cities manage their curb space, allowing freight and commercial operators to book slots to load and unload rather than circling and causing entirely avoidable congestion. It will allow preferential pricing based on vehicle type and need. It will allow construction traffic to be held in “holding areas” away from congested areas before being called to site.


Even though the amount of curb space is finite, permission doesn’t have to be.


We wouldn’t consider building an airport and allowing planes to land without a slot. We should therefore look at congested areas of cities in the same way. Make cities places where the curb space is dynamically managed through the use of a booking platform, enabling the authorities to offer permissions for commercial activities at times that least impact the network, helping to seamlessly transition from a chaotic free-for-all to a better managed approach.


This curb space is a massive but finite piece of real estate that is often badly managed – if it’s managed at all – but the management needs to be done in a holistic way. Chaos creates congestion, leading to pollution and air quality issues, reduced traffic speeds and frustration. Get it right and all the stakeholders win.


 


If We Want to Realize the Potential of Smart Cities We Need to Watch the Curb.


Currently, smart city and traffic management solutions seem to be “siloed” approaches rather than holistic ones. There seems to be a lack of understanding that the curb is one of the most under-used pieces of real-estate we have in our cities. If we can create a “digital wrapper” that is permissions based that sits above the physical layer then all actors and stakeholders can be managed.


The commercial actors in any city circle the curb, risking and accepting fines, ducking and diving to avoid penalties, and all competing for space that is restricted and limited. 


The congestion creates extra emissions that lead to poor air quality. Everyone is now quite rightly focusing on improving air quality and reducing congestion, and yet with simple technology and practical, intelligent management of the curb space we can make serious inroads into achieving the marginal gains required by using the aforementioned carrot approach.


The authorities make available their curb space at specific “hotspot” locations at times where permissions will have the least impact on traffic. Even though the amount of curb space is finite, permission doesn’t have to be. Kerb enables the allowing of “permissions” when they are most acutely needed (in advance or in real-time) with previously approved protocols.


City authorities are able to nudge behavior through incentivization and charging. A clean-air zone, for example, would be able to create differential charging with pricing preference for zero-carbon or low-carbon vehicles without having to resort to massive infrastructure costs.


By dynamically using the curb space, what is used as a loading bay in the morning might be a courier bay in the afternoon and could become a taxi rank in the evening. Add in a rapid charger and there is an incentive for operators to utilize an electric vehicle.


Kerb is ready to go live in a number of UK locations and provincial cities with different actors ready to engage from those delivering beer to pubs, food to restaurants, parcels and packages to offices and is looking to U.S. cities to replicate the model and scale.


Once we start to look at the wider landscape of the ever growing on-demand taxi services then we can start to create areas for virtual taxi ranks and cities can even look at charging a nominal charge for “kissing the curb.” 


In conclusion and to reiterate, if you want to see how cities become smart, watch the curb. The world’s biggest platform providers are already circling the curb looking for a differentiator and city authorities need to understand how to realize their biggest asset ensuring that residents, workers and businesses are also the ones to benefit.


Neil Herron is CEO and Founder, Grid Smarter Cities. He can be reached at neil.herron@gridsmartercities.com



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