Photo by Adam Le Sommer on Unsplash

The kerbside, that humble bit of concrete between buildings and the road, is “failing our local places” according to a new report by WSP and Uber.

According to the report, kerbsides are usually reserved for private cars, squandering a massive opportunity to decarbonise transport and improve liveability by freeing up more space for seating and alternative mobility and freight options [the message Uber is no doubt most interested in spreading].

Changes in the way we live and get around are also influencing how we use these public spaces, with personal car ownership to potentially decline as shared services such as ridesharing, car sharing, bike sharing and carpooling become more common, and micromobility options improve.

Covid has supercharged Australia’s already healthy appetite for online shopping and food delivery, with drivers also competing for space on the kerbside, and their safety a growing concern.

As such, the report calls for a more dynamic approach to kerbside management, where moving people – not cars – is the priority.

Other principles espoused in the report include achieving zero emissions, seeking fair user fees for kerbsides, sharing automatic vehicles (when they happen), encouraging efficient use of space and assets, and equitability of use.

The report splits the analysis into different street types, recognising some streets are largely for moving people and goods around (main roads), some are local streets for residents and others are for a mix of mobility and living (main streets), with retail strips and workplaces.

Some streets are dedicated to civic use.“They create places people enjoy, attract visitors and are places that communities value.”

There are a couple of tools at hand to increase the productivity of kerbs – that is, the comings and goings each day – including converting kerbs to flexible time of day zones to meet demand-based uses throughout the day.

This is already a common strategy – through sometimes complicated parking signs – but an investigation of lively Crown Street in Sydney’s Surry Hills show that these allocations are still private car-centric.

“The kerb could work harder to support increased access through: more pick-up/drop-off locations potentially at the expense of general parking; enabling freight deliveries overnight; enabling the parking and access of cyclist couriers; and dynamic kerb management to shift uses quickly to respond to local conditions such as increasing pick-up/drop-off to supply cafes and restaurants during the COVID-19 restrictions.”

Despite being labelled a “civic space”, the analysis found minimal effort to encourage pedestrian activity, and a focus on storing cars and the delivery of goods.

The report suggests using technology to manage kerbsides better, such as digital signs that can be altered. New technologies can even communicate to in-vehicle displays in real time and to apps.

Walking and cycling should also be prioritised to access local places, with infrastructure changes such as wider footpaths and bike lanes suggested. More spots to sit comfortably and linger will also help attract people to local businesses.

Another recommendation for most streets is scrapping some general parking – those two- and four-hour parking zones – and replacing it with pick-up and drop-off zones.