In the Media

The challenges of curbside pickup

April 11, 2018

By Patrick Sisson

Cities are already redesigning their physical realms for the expanding ride-hailing industry, from designating pickup/dropoff zones to eliminating parking garages. As the Uber app update suggests, ride-hailing will become more and more embedded in everyday transit decisions.

But that’s not the only curbside challenge confronting tech firms. Even the growing ecommerce sector is placing congestion pressure on cities. As more and more deliveries pile up, and firms continue to test new methods of delivery and drop off, freight is still rarely factored into the transit planning conversation, according to Anne Goodchild, who runs the Urban Freight Lab at the University of Washington in Seattle.

“It’s like a transit system where you didn’t plan for the bus stops,” she told Curbed. “We all know we’re bringing more and more goods into the city, but there’s no programmatic way to account for what they’re delivering and when. We need scientific, data-driven, systematic views of urban freight analysis and planning.”

Street management will only become more complicated as autonomous vehicles enter the picture, for both passengers and deliveries. The California Public Utilities Commission recently signaled that it’s considering proposed rule changes to allow companies to start curbside pickup of riders using autonomous vehicles. Waymo plans to start testing an autonomous rideshare service in Phoenix later this year.

“Curbside loading will become more and more critical,” Zabe Bent, a principal at transportation consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard, told Curbed. “We need to understand how to manage that curb, since it’ll be important for loading, unloading, cyclists, and transit. It’s an increasingly important place for cities, and we need to learn how to use it better.”