A lot happens at the kerbside. Kerbs are the critical link between what happens on the road (transport planning) and what happens within public space (urban design and land-use planning). Think – car-hailing ‘kerb kisses’ lasting less than a minute; pedestrians swiftly crossing junctions; dockless bicycles scattered around the footpaths; and delivery vehicles double-parked. Kerbs are inherently dynamic, transient, and multi-modal spaces. Unfortunately, they are not optimally managed to reflect their dynamic uses and this is largely due to the policy instruments used to control them and the lack of digitised data about parking assets.
Local highway authorities are responsible for planning and managing on-street parking. They have the power to implement Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) that limit or prohibit the movement of traffic within set geographical boundaries. The current TRO process is paper-based, which means authorities lack holistic datasets of their own parking assets. TROs are also costly: £10,000-£15,000 per implementation and time consuming, taking on average 12-18 months to implement.
Many emerging trends in the new mobility landscape are ‘smart’ and inherently seeking to connect the road ecosystem, for example, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAV), electric vehicle charging, and ridesharing – whilst the kerb remains disconnected and lacking in digital maturity. This puts local authorities in a predicament. How can they have more control in shaping these new mobility technologies and ensure their kerbside provision complements local transport strategies? We believe the answer lies, at least in part, in ‘digitising the kerb’. But what does this actually mean?
Kerbs are inherently dynamic, transient, and multi-modal places. Unfortunately, they are not optimally managed to reflect this.
The first step for authorities is to focus on digitising the basics: building a baseline dataset of the relevant kerbside rules and pricing mechanisms. The information can be fed into a Geographic Information System (GIS) tool/platform that creates and manages map-based TROs – essentially providing authorities with an interactive map showing all of the TROs, parking charges, and rules currently placed across their local geographic area. Many authorities have already partnered with technology suppliers such as Appyway or Buchanan to achieve this critical step. But not many have experimented with integrating these GIS tools with Internet of Things (IOT) parking data from a range of sources including sensors, Automatic Number Plate Recognition or existing CCTV cameras.
Digitising TROs and integrating IOT parking data are important foundations that would enable local authorities to experiment with more advanced demand management tools. This could include dynamic pricing such as charging more during peak hours to ensure a certain percentage of occupancy. Another option could be experimenting with dynamic bays that change in use throughout the day based on demand. For example, a loading bay in the early morning becomes a ride-hailing ‘kerb-kissing’ bay in the evening to support the nighttime economy. These demand management techniques would give authorities more power to prioritise certain modes of travel and to restrict/allow access based on real-time flows to manage congestion.
The benefits of digitising the kerb are clear – with access to enhanced data authorities are able to better understand and therefore manage more productively the kerbside as an asset. However, the industry can only move as fast as regulation, which we believe needs urgent review on both a national and local level. Luckily, central government has recognised that the current TRO process is onerous, costly and time-consuming and the DfT is now undertaking a review under ‘Project Alpha’. Project Alpha is tasked with identifying and developing a legislative process for making TROs that meets current and future needs.
It is vital to ensure that local authority digital maturity develops consistently across local boundaries. To facilitate this, a digital platform or numerous interoperable digital platforms will be needed to manage the kerbside. The procurement of these should be carefully considered including the possible viability of an innovation partnership. Interoperability should also be considered in relation to payment parking systems and depending on the platform procured and used additional regulation may be required.
Local authorities will need flexible powers to manage their local kerbsides and maximise the benefits available. Alongside the suggested digital TROs, authorities may also need charging powers similar to those used for the congestion charge or ultra-low emission zones (ULEZ). These powers could allow them to introduce micro-payments (or a nominal charge) for ‘kerb-kisses’.
Digital signage is also likely to be required in the future. Current regulations in relation to variable signage are both prescriptive and restricted in use and therefore to enable digital signage for dynamic kerbside management additional changes to the regulation would be needed.
The Law Commissions’ second consultation paper on autonomous vehicles has also been looking at innovative ways of using TROs. In particular it explored how TROs could assist local authorities to control the implementation of CAVs. This creates further need for digitalisation of both the process and management of TROs.
Digital kerbs can offer a range of benefits to councils and road users alike. Digital kerbs are about blending the physical and digital realms to integrate on- and off-street infrastructure – but they are not a panacea. They must be matched with visionary local transport strategies, a desire to use the kerb as a tool to manage demand, and national regulatory changes.
Nicola Kyle is an associate in the transport team at independent UK law firm Burges Salmon. She is passionate about the benefits transport technology and intelligent mobility can have on the way we move people and goods. Eliza Shaw is a strategic partnerships associate at AppyWay. She supports its mobility team in launching proof of concepts, building out existing services and forging strategic partnerships. She has an MSc in transport and city planning.
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