The curbs on the Upper West Side are about to get a lot smarter…from approximately 72nd to 86th street between Broadway and Central Park West.
The Department of Transportation is partnering with the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, which represents local business and property owners, to study ways to better manage the neighborhood’s curbs. They’ve honed in on that section of the neighborhood for a “Smart Curbs” pilot.
The goal of the initiative (first reported by Bloomberg) is to find ways to alleviate the problems of traffic and congestion on the city streets, counterintuitively perhaps, by focusing not the streets themselves, but the curbs that abut them.
It’s a problem that anyone who has tried to drive in the city with any degree of regularity is deeply familiar with. Between the Ubers, Doordashers, bike lanes, outdoor dining spaces and delivery trucks, to say nothing of all the other cars, things are getting CROWDED.
The Smart Curbs pilot aims to fix this by making better use of the city’s curb-space, which, right now, is largely devoted to 3 million parking spots, mostly unmetered. As any Upper West Sider with a car can attest, these spots are usually full, making finding parking a nightmare. But it’s not just parking. All those full spots make traffic a nightmare too. A full spot means that instead of pulling up to the curb, more vehicles, particularly delivery vehicles, which are on the rise as online delivery orders skyrocket, are forced to double park when they drop off their goods. And nothing snarls traffic like a blocked off lane.
It’s a big problem, and not the easiest fix. One thing’s for certain, just adding more space to the roads won’t necessarily do the trick. More mathematically inclined Upper West Siders may be familiar with Braess’s paradox, which found that adding more roads and lanes to a road network can actually slow down traffic, as more cars start using those roads, creating even more traffic. Seeing this paradox in action, and attempting to reverse its effects, is what caused the city to shut down certain roads in 2009, replacing them with the plazas in Times and Herald Squares (it worked by the way).
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So, is there a better way? If there is, this pilot plans to find it. Right now, Smart Curb is considering options including instituting parking fees via pay-by-plate meters, creating designated spaces for commercial vehicles, adding delivery microhubs, and adopting more “last-mile” package deliveries on scooters or bikes rather than trucks.
What do you think? Seriously, they want to know. The pilot wants to hear from community boards, residents and anyone from the neighborhood with ideas on how to better utilize our curbs. After the analysis and outreach this fall, NYC DOT expects to share recommendations in the spring of 2024, with implementation to follow in the summer.
The Smart Curbs program is just focusing on a few blocks for now, but if successful, it may join other major citywide efforts, such as the upcoming rollout of congestion pricing, to become an integral part of NYC’s larger program to reduce traffic and pollution. So if you have a good idea for smart curb use, don’t hesitate to speak up. You could end up defining the streets of the city for years to come.