Moving to the Curb
Management helps cities make informed decisions
- By Michael Bradner
- Aug 02, 2021
Making good policy decisions requires data. Cities,
for example, need a clear picture of their
curbs before implementing any changes to parking
allocation, prices, or bylaws. But today gaining
this understanding can be difficult because
demand for the curb is changing.
Where once a city simply had to allocate spots to private vehicle
parking, today’s curb must have parking spots as well as
designated areas for ride hail services, loading zones, recharging
stations, flex zones, and bike-sharing stations.
With such high demand for the curb, managing this valuable
asset is critical. The fact that many cities lack the essential data
necessary to make informed policy decisions means they are missing
an opportunity to improve the lives of their citizens. Fortunately,
by working with an advanced parking management system
that collects and correlates data from multiple sources, cities
can now generate actionable information in almost real time that
can be used to implement more effective parking and mobility
Curb management, as opposed to parking management, uses
data to help cities make informed decisions about how to improve
space efficiency and compliance. This more expansive approach,
which includes parking and various forms of transportation, offers
greater flexibility and can be used in a variety of ways. It recognizes
that the curb is in high demand and that those demands
change over time. For example, the demand for a loading zone
can peak first thing in the morning and then disappear on the
weekend. A city can’t afford to waste that space.
GETTING PARKING PRICES JUST RIGHT
One way that cities can help their citizens is by improving traffic
flow. Full parking occupancy downtown leads to drivers circling
multiple blocks looking for spaces. This can have a detrimental
impact on business in a city’s center as it causes drivers to have
a negative experience driving downtown. It can also significantly
increase the risk of pedestrian and vehicular accidents as drivers
make unsafe decisions to grab any spot that becomes available.
The optimal parking occupancy in a city is 15% free space
at any given time. When a city has less than 15% free space, it
indicates that parking prices are too low. And, if prices are too
low, people choose to drive downtown rather than take public
transportation, which increases congestion and reduces pedestrian
Increasing the cost of parking can help alleviate this problem
as it encourages people to change their behavior. With the right
pricing, a city can make it cost effective for people to park downtown
for an hour but too expensive for longer when compared to
the cost of taking public transportation. As a result, some people
will decide to leave their cars at home if they intend to stay downtown
for a long time, reducing both traffic and occupancy rates
and increasing road safety.
In the past, it was difficult for cities to effectively implement pricing changes. Before making any adjustments, they first needed
to understand how the spots were being used, which involved
commissioning a study to look at parking trends. This meant setting
up various traffic counters for an extended period.
Then, they analyzed all of the data and came up with a proposal
to present to City Council. Since the entire process could
take upwards of two years, pricing modifications designed to help
change people’s behavior lagged well behind a city’s need.
Now that cities can collect and analyze data through a parking
management system, optimizing parking usage through pricing
can be achieved in an impactful and timely manner. These systems
enable cities to quickly assess current parking trends, determine
whether or not pricing should be changed, and then implement
those changes as required. They also allow cities to determine if
the changes are working to improve traffic flow and whether additional
changes are required to further modify people’s behavior.
MOVING AWAY FROM
TRADITIONAL PARKING ENFORCEMENT
Parking enforcement itself is also evolving. Cities are moving
away from a traditional enforcement model that uses physical
permits, pay and display meters, and paper tickets to a more ef-
ficient model of information-driven enforcement that uses license
plates as virtual permits.
Instead of having officers driving around looking for infractions,
cities can use the data collected in their parking management
system to direct officers where to go when enforcement is
The traditional approach has officers driving along streets and
double parking to investigate possible infractions. Officers have to get
out and walk to the vehicle in question, manually key in the information
into a handheld device, and then print and place the ticket on the
car’s windshield. In addition to exposing officers to potentially abusive
face-to-face encounters with members of the public, this approach
also disrupts traffic flow while their vehicles are double-parked.
The increasing digitization of parking now allows cities to
provide a safer work environment for their parking officers and
reduce traffic congestion. The workflow begins with the system
receiving a notification about a possible infraction from either
parking sensors on the street or patrol cars with license plate recognition
(LPR) technology performing plate reads.
Next, the system analyzes the notification to determine if an
infraction has occurred. All verified infractions are then sent to a
desk officer for review with the citation sent via mail to the parker
or dispatched to a field officer for validation and generation of
physical ticket. Because enforcement officers no longer have to
drive daily routes or double park their cars, their job is made safer
and the flow of traffic around the city is eased.
Automating the enforcement process using a parking management
system also significantly increases compliance. It makes it
easy for a city to enforce an infraction in part because, once an
infraction is verified, the system can simply send the ticket to the
driver by mail.
The resulting increase in efficiency over parking enforcement
officers walking or driving around is more than 50%. And the increase
in compliance is even greater. In the first 12 months after
implementing a parking management system, one city saw an increase
from 14% of people paying for parking to a staggering 88%.
IMPROVING PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
Curb management can also help with public transportation.
Across cities, ridership on public transportation is down. To increase
ridership, cities are using some of their curbside real estate
to create dedicated bus lanes. These lanes improve time performance,
lower fuel costs, and reduce CO2 emissions.
Unfortunately, illegal parking can be a major obstacle to realizing
the many benefits of dedicated bus lanes. Illegally parked
vehicles force buses to stop and move out into the regular flow of
traffic. This stopping and starting increases emissions creates safety
concerns and slows down both car and bus traffic. Having parking
enforcement officers issue a physical ticket for these vehicles
and place them on their windshield only compounds the problem.
Automatic License Plater Recognition (ALPR) integrated enforcement
makes it possible to enforce illegal parking in bus lanes
using the same workflow developed for curbside parking. After a
patrol car captures the vehicle’s license plate, the data is uploaded
to the central parking management system for analysis. A desk
officer then reviews the infraction and, if verified, can enforce the
traffic violation via mail.
This process minimizes any additional traffic congestion resulting
from issuing a physical ticket and also encourages drivers
to stay out of bus lanes during designated times.
VALIDATING PARKING POLICY CHANGES
For a city’s elected officials, the ability to measure the results of
a policy change is crucial. They must be able to demonstrate that
their policies are having a positive impact on their city and its
In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, many cities
have made quick policy changes around parking to support businesses
and protect people. Some cities, for example, experimented
with free parking in their downtown core to mitigate against the
challenges businesses were facing due to shutdowns and other restrictive
measures. In particular, they provided free parking during
the Christmas Holiday season to encourage shopping.
To evaluate the success of this type of policy, a city could use
its parking management system to produce weekly occupancy
surveys. The data collected in these surveys would allow a city
to accurately determine whether or not its free parking initiative
is encouraging people to visit the city’s core. In the future, city
officials could continue to use this data to make other informed
decisions around parking to support businesses and tourism with
the goal of improving access and revenue.
Making the curb real more accessible to
more users can improve the flow of traffic and
reduce congestion. Ultimately, taking parking
management digital is an important step in
moving a city in the right direction.
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2021 issue of Security Today.