Podcast: Curb Management with Chrissy Mancini Nichols, Walker Consultants

Posted on August 20, 2021



Chrissy Mancini Nichols
National Director of Curb Management and New Mobility
Walker Consultants
LinkedIn | TwitterBlog

Maximizing the curb. Chrissy Mancini Nichols, National Director of Curb Management and New Mobility at Walker Consultants, joined the podcast to discuss curb management policy. She shared the difference between the analog curb and the digital curb. Chrissy talked about how local government can best determine pricing, equity, and access for curb space. She also shared how the pandemic has changed curb management.

Host: Toney Thompson

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Episode Transcript


Toney Thompson  00:11

Coming to you from Durham, North Carolina, this is Gov Love, a podcast about local government. I’m Tony Thompson, your Gov Love co host for today’s episode. Today we’re speaking with Chrissy Mancini Nichols from Walker Consultants to talk to us about the importance of curb management and local government. Chrissy Mancini Nichol is Walker’s National Director of Curb Management and New Mobility. She works in a broad range of planning, policy, and funding issues related to curb management, transit and micro transit, micromobility, parking, and access. She is leading a research and development initiative with cities across the nation to review and pass technology to collect current use data and implement curb management solutions and mobility hubs. The researcher is also evaluating policy issues including current monetization. Chrissy has worked the past transit oriented development zoning reforms bill, bus rapid transit, for five to federal transportation bills to create more sustainable funding sources and transportation policies, implement congestion pricing, and on several public and private partnerships for transportation. She also led a strategy to create a new transit funding mechanism in the city of Chicago to fund $10 billion in transit projects and reduce Chicago Union Station. You value capture financing. Christs co hosts “Mondays” at the overhead wire, a weekly podcast on planning, land use, and mobility issues. Chrissy, Welcome to Gov Love and thanks for joining us today. 

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  01:37

Hi, Tony. Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here. 

Toney Thompson  01:40

Yes, absolutely. So I like all of our guests who come on, we start with the lightning round so our listeners get to know you better. I have three questions for you, the first = who would you want to play you in a movie biopic?

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  01:53

I would go with Zoe Deschanel because she’s my fellow female actress with bangs.

Toney Thompson  01:59

Yes, I love it. That’s a great choice. What are you currently reading right now Chrissy?

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  02:05

I just started reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain, which is I don’t know if you’ve heard of the book. 

Toney Thompson  02:11

I haven’t heard of it. 

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  02:12

It’s the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking.

Toney Thompson  02:16

Oh, I need that. 

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  02:22

We’re on a podcast. So we’re talking. 

Toney Thompson  02:23

Yeah. That’s great. I’m gonna add that to my reading list for sure. And the last question I have for you, if you had to unexpectedly give a TED talk. What’s the one subject you could discuss without preparation? I think we all know the answer. But maybe it’s something different than curb management.

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  02:42

Oh, no. I lived in Hawaii for a few years. And I loved watching big wave surfing. So I probably could talk about big wave surfing in a TED talk without prep.

Toney Thompson  02:53

That’s fascinating. I don’t under really, I don’t really understand surfing, it seems very dangerous. Like those waves are multiple, like storey buildings high. How do you not get hurt?

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  03:04

Up to 100, there’s been 100 foot wave in Portugal, but, I’ve surfed you know, I surf the small ones very, very big three footers. I don’t get into big waves, I watch it, I don’t go out.

Toney Thompson  03:20

I totally respect them. I’m a big fan of watching not so safe sports. Okay, so let’s talk about your work. So, you know, I wanted to invite you on because you had a great article about curb management in local government. And it really fascinated me, because, you know, every local government manages their curbs in some way, shape or form to some degree, whether we realize it or not. And so I thought it’d be really great to just have an intentional conversation about that. And so the first question I have for us, can you tell us about the history of the curb and local government management of the curb?

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  04:00

Yeah, and I thank you so much for reading the article series. I appreciate, Toney, that you’re saying every local government, no matter the size, has some form of curb management. And that’s where we talk about curb management is really a journey based on your city’s context and needs. And the cities like San Francisco and New York have one set of needs and cities that I, and small towns that I work with have very different needs. But we all need to recognize that the curb is a very valuable asset. And one interesting thing I was doing some research and I found that the so when the first on street parking regulations were established, you might have heard of the Eno Center on Transportation. So William Phelps Eno who started the ino center. He was the father of the Parking and Transportation regulations, and he wrote these articles. called the storage of dead vehicles on the roadways and the rider and the driver. And he was talking about access to the curb and how there are these things called dead vehicles, which are parked cars, and that the dead vehicles just take up space, and how, you know, we should prioritize access for street cars and buses and taxi cabs that are available to the general public. And I thought it was interesting because even going back 100 years ago, more than 100 years ago, that there was this discussion on the value of the curb and how not to waste it and so much of what we’ve done since then, is just prioritize our curbs, which are the most prime land on the planet, in many cases for parking, parking cars, you know, parking the dead vehicles. Um, so what we started out was, you know, recently and then some of the genesis of that APA article is we just took a review of parking data and regulations in 50 US capital cities to get to your point, understand how historically cities have used their curbs. And we found not unexpectedly that they’re very undervalued, you know, most cities, you don’t pay for parking, you don’t really pay for parking, in the evenings or on weekends. Like, for example, in Honolulu, which is one of the most expensive cities in the US, paid $3 an hour to park in the most active areas. Austin, Atlanta, you know, places where everyone’s moving to right now, you know, there’s two hours for, you know, two bucks an hour to park, Nashville, same thing. It’s, you know, 2.25 to park but after six and on Sundays, parking is free, which is so common. So, you know, we were finding even in the most urban areas, curb use and curb pricing, you know, which today really means parking pricing, it really wasn’t based on demand or wasn’t used to really encourage turnover, or make things more convenient, because we also looked at Honolulu at their parking utilization. It was over 85% fll in the mornings, 100% full, parking was utilized at 100% in the evening, same with Atlanta and Austin. So they’re the pricing policies weren’t even making things more convenient, they were just making it cheap. So, you know, historically, we just haven’t done a good job with maximizing our curbs. There are a lot of reasons, mostly politics or even staff capacity at the local level. So with all the new demands hitting us, we really have to start overcoming these issues.

Toney Thompson  07:49

Wow, that’s fascinating. Um, I think it was so interesting, what you’re saying is like, we were under pricing, curb usage, and but we’re still seeing high usage of curb where cars are just sitting there, you know, dead vehicles from, you know, Eno. And so it to me, it sounds like what we’re really talking about as an opportunity cost, right. So, you know, we could be doing other things with that curb our even if we’re not going to do other things to curb the fact that maybe local governments tend to underprice curb usage, what you’re really seeing is just cars being able to sit there and use up the curb for long periods of time, which I imagined we don’t want in local government, is that correct?

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  08:37

No, and curbs are a huge piece of the publicly owned real estate that we all own. You know, it’s the public ground. It’s a real community asset. And if you think about the curb, I mean, it’s a piece of concrete but I like to look at it as it’s a, the cub is something that connects people. It’s valuable. It can promote mobility, it can, cities can use the curb to think about their access and equity and mobility goals and land use goals and really connect them all through the curb. And I mean, if I worked in Chicago for a long time, we always lead with this statistic that in Chicago, 30% of the public land was was the right of way and the curb. And, that’s a huge amount. That’s a huge value. And like we were saying demand for that space is growing, you know, all the technology from ride hailing, scooters, like the huge growth that we’ve seen in e commerce and commercial delivery, micro mobility with a pandemic parklets you know, restaurants now are clamoring for parklets So, you know, if you’re not prioritizing and in valuing it, if you’re not driving the curb, you’re just going to end up with Uber and Lyft picking up in the travel lane, which is unsafe. Commercial delivery, double parking, you can run into all kinds of accessibility and ADA issues, there’s no parking for bikes, traffic gets backed up. And that’s happened, you know, that will happen no matter the size of the city. So, you know, we just can’t get away with this lack of curb management policy anymore. It, we have to be active so that we can reduce all these conflicts, reduce congestion, and really just bring order. When I worked on bus rapid transit, we made the case that we’re creating a bus lane, just to bring order to the street, you know, we were creating a bus lane because we’re giving people on the bus their space, we’re giving people and vehicles, their space, we’re giving people in the bike lane their space, we’re reducing these conflicts. And that’s going to create more safety, and it actually will move more people and reduce congestion. So you know, how we talk about it matters. But you know, that’s the I really what it’s about is order and safety?

Toney Thompson  10:56

Well, it’s great. I think, you know, what you just said leads me to my next two questions. The first one is, you know, we’re in the 21st century now, and we have new technology, probably, you know, a lot different, the world’s a lot different than, you know, when Eno was talking about curb management for the first time. So, you know, what is the difference between and I hear this a lot the analog curb versus the digital curb? And why is that important for local governments to, to understand that difference?

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  11:26

Yes, so the analog curb and the digital curb, when we wrote about that, in the article, we were just trying to come up with some catchy way to to explain what we have historically done with curbs and what the future is. And that’s sort of that’s what we get into with the research study that I’m leading.At Walker, we have historically worked on parking studies, I joined the walker about almost four years ago or so. And, you know, my background is really in mobility and land use. Um, but we have all of this information on the curb, because we’ve been studying it for so long. And the research study really came to be because of this, what is the digital curb, you know, we were seeing all these changes in demand and in parking revenues. So we wanted to just start to collect some data. And using that data, we thought, Well, can we create some kind of typologies which for the curb, you know, so that we have it set order of this is how you prioritize your curb based on your local land use context, your densities. So that was one aspect but the other aspect is this digitalness of in the past two to three years, there’s been a huge influx of curb management vendors and technology startups. So cities were asking us about all these products and we felt we need to have an answer to this, it’s also new. So we set out to really vet all of these technology companies and there’s 10s of dozens of them that have developed products to collect curb use data and manage the curb. So where part of the research study is testing them you know, we’re spending weeks setting, figuring out how to set up cameras, you know, the some of the products are cameras so how do you set up a camera and working with local government with public works and plan- You know, every department to think about well, would you need power, like a host of challenges that we’ve overcome to collect curb use with foot camera footage if you can get into and even collecting with manual manually. And then it’s like the the research study is getting into exploring all these policy issues, figuring out how to monetize the curb, and really getting into this aspect of the digital curb. Um, you know, primarily the analog curb is used for parking, private vehicles, maybe there’s some space for loading some bus stops. It’s not regulated for all the changing demand and behaviors throughout the day. It’s not really programmed to forward your goals, you’re not collecting data, and planning based on your data and goals. The digital curbs are really the future these are thinking about curbs as this multi dimensional space, as this community space, their plan for optimal use. So that means there’s a holistic plan for your curves based on targets and metrics. Your, you have a planning flight framework in place, you have your treatment, so are you having passenger pickup and drop offs, we’ve reserved commercial loading zones, bike and scooter, parking, transit, parklets you know, all of these treatments, and it’s all based on your typology, you know, it gets a little confusing, but it’s based on this framework and your local context. You know, these are digital curbs and they’re flex throughout the day. So how does behavior change on your curbs throughout the day in the morning, do you need more space for commercial delivery in the, you know, rush hour, do you need space for transit? In the evening do you need space for Uber and Lyft pick up and drop off. So you’re flexing them throughout the day. And I mean, this is in an ideal world, you’re collecting data, you’re comparing that data on the curb use, with your city wide plans, you’re charging curb access fees based on congestion, to your fees, could also get back some revenue to support all the administration and coordination for your curbs. Because it takes a lot of effort to do all of this and to really optimize and operationalize the curb, and to make up for any lost parking revenue. So that’s the ultimate goal. But as I have been saying, This is all very incremental process to get to our digital curbs. I mean, we need to have a lot of technology and policy in place that is going to take a while to get there for many cities.

Toney Thompson  16:02

Yeah, that’s I mean, yeah, you’re right. That’s absolutely a lot of work that it would take for local governments to get there across the board. The what you’ve been saying, around, you know, some of your responses. You know, I think you and you mentioned that maybe two questions ago about a competition for curb access. And also how curb the curb is, I think you said Chicago was like, 30% of, you know, the public right away that government actually can provide and talking about, you know, the value of the curb? I mean, should should local governments be looking at the curb? Because it is something that governments control, It obviously has a lot of different people who want access to it for multiple uses, should government’s view the curb as almost a public good, like a park is like, hey, well, you know, a lot of people want access to it obviously has a benefit, we should, you know, obviously have a low barrier for for entry for people to access this thing. But it sounds like you’re also saying, because there’s so much competition, we can’t look governments can’t afford to just let you know, people like let it go as it is. And so it seems like there’s this real, this real tension here that you’re that you’re talking about. Like how valuable is the curb? Are you saying it’s so valuable that we actually need to like, Hey, no, we need to put some real, you know, regulations around this.

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  17:37

Yeah, that the way you just described it, is it pretty pretty, you know, pretty much perfect. And thinking about the tensions between what local governments responsibility is because the curb is, it’s a public asset, it belongs to all of us. It’s a community asset like a park. And it’s one of the few assets where local governments control Well, not all, you know, some state roads and county, but you know, its government controls it regulates it, can monetize it, you know, all of the things that government holds, they hold the regulations, but there’s all these demands on the curb, from mostly from the private sector. And I think what we saw, for example, look at the difference between how local governments and state governments treated TNCs or ride hailing, you know, when when they brought Uber and Lyft first came into our cities, there wasn’t a lot of regulation. And then when scooters were dropped off, he was like the opposite. We regulated them right away, you know, it was and maybe that was because we didn’t regulate ride hailing to begin with. And I think that’s where local governments taking a look and saying, This is some of the most valuable land and it’s not just local government, you know, you can think of curbs at airports at universities, hospitals, it’s the front door, and it’s worth billions of dollars. And I would just take a look at Chicago parking meter privatization. Um, I, you know, in 2008, Chicago privatized its parking meter system. And through a concession agreement they had they entered into a concession agreement with a private Consortium, they essentially leased to the parking meters from for 1.16 billion for 75 years. I spent a lot of time working on a renegotiation of that concession agreement because it was so terrible, you know, essentially the city gave away its rights to its curbs for 75 years. And with that, the private consortium did increase the parking rates. Because they were required to enter the agreement, the city could have done that on its own and just generated its own revenue, but it was, you know, politics at the time. Um, and you know, not getting into the, the political issues, but the city just didn’t consider the value of that space when it was privatized, you know, but the private sector did. And where I worked at the time Metropolitan Planning Council, which is a Regional Planning Organization in Chicago, um, every time we evaluated something building a bike lane or a bustling holding a neighborhood fair, we had to analyze the financial impact that the city had, because of that concession agreement. And so far, the city has paid 10s of millions of dollars, because it didn’t think about in 2008, just how multifaceted and valuable curbs were at the time, and were to become so you know, I worked on the renegotiation to try and gain some of those rights back, you know, at the time, there were no, this is a little over 10 years ago, there were no Uber and Lyft, there were no scooters, you know, delivery was sort of a thing, but not as much. Um, and this private company agreed, even without all those demands to pay over a billion dollars in for that asset. Now, so far, just since 2008-2009, they’ve already made back 1.6 billion, they’ve already made back 500 million more than their initial investment from the parking meter revenues, and they still have 64 years left on the contract. I mean, so just think about the dig- you know, that’s an analog curb use too that’s just parking, you know, thinking about digital curbs, and all these activities, beyond parking, there’s so much value locked up in that space, no matter the size of your city. And, you know, I just think about public private partnerships in general. And that’s one thing that we need to be aware of, for our curbs. And because I worked on a lot of public private partnerships, you know, I really looking at those risks. Because we in Chicago, we learned our lesson from the parking meters, because then we went and had an opportunity to explore privatizing midway airport, and I staffed mayoral process on that evaluation. And we really went the opposite way, we looked at every single aspect of a deal, you know, and what we did was say, well, this deal is going to be based on core principles of, you know, to ensure that the public’s residents, interests are protected things like making sure transit was still accessible, things like that. So we can get a little into this later. But you know, there’s so much coming at cities from the private sector for their curbs. There’s lots of like companies that want to have revenue, sharing agreements, and all of these things when you get to digital curb. So it’s really important to recognize the value that cities hold and their power and treat curb space that way, and really think about all the risks and long term effects of any partnerships.

Toney Thompson  23:08

Yeah, that’s really fascinating. I mean, I mean, that Chicago case study, I mean, it sounds like, you know, the curb essentially got stolen from the city. I mean, they get you like, the private sector gave Chicago like a year’s worth of revenue, and then they get control for 75 years. I mean, that’s,

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  23:27

yeah, I mean, well, it was because at the time, you know, P3s, in general, they’re not necessarily evil, but it’s because how you craft them is so important. And having people on the public side at the table, who understand the value that you’re that you hold, and making sure that I mean, the Chicago privatization, it was politics, and the Mayor Daley, at the time wanted a big upfront investment, because he didn’t want to, he needed to balance the budget. And but it’s important when we renegotiated that deal, we had someone in the CFOs office that really understood how to do you know, understood the value and how to work within that agreement to renegotiate it. So that’s why it’s important that local government, as they’re talking to technology companies, you know, and not just vendors in general of like, what’s to come for your curbs, that you’re just taking a look at what they’re offering and evaluating these long term risks. Because, you know, the private sector can definitely they can help you take on risk. They can bring more capital, you know, they can help upgrade your system so they can provide you with, you know, solutions that you need, but you just need to keep in mind your long term goals and make sure you’re not giving anything away.

Toney Thompson  24:49

Yeah. So, this gets me to my next question, and I want to ask you, like, how much should local governments be charging for curb use, but based on what we’ve been saying So far, it seems like, you know, I brought up this tension about, you know, maybe local governments don’t want to charge as much for the actual value of the curb because because then you will have residents saying, you know, I’m trying to get downtown and shop at the store downtown. But, you know, it cost me you know, $10 just to park, which is ridiculous. But maybe maybe it’s what you said is that a lot of curb use is actually may be used by the private sector and not as much as, as with our with our residents as we as we think it is. So should we be, should we be charging should local governments be charging more for curb use? And how much is the private sector actually accessing our curbs? In comparison to our perceptions?

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  25:45

So local government, what they should charge for curb use? It depends on what are the goals and prioritize, goals and priorities for your curbs. And for access and mobility in general? Do you want to prioritize access? Do you want to import and prioritize revenue or equity. And this, again, is going to be so incremental, I think there are two factors at play when you’re talking about the private sector too is, um, so everyone relies on the curbs, historically, we’ve only charged private vehicles parked, for parking, so you know, residents or visitors. But private operators rely on the curbs more than ever, you know, they need space to pick up passengers and deliver goods to seat restaurant customers to park scooters. So we need to think about what is the value of that space? And how do we charge them? And second, when you’re thinking about revenue, travel options that trend away from driving, they jeopardize parking revenues over the long term, and parking revenues in many local governments that goes to the general fund a lot of times, you know, so that’s paying for libraries like filling potholes, you know, and in some cities, parking revenues back up bonded debt. So that’s where you need to think about the trends that are happening over time as people have more travel options that are away from parking, you know, needing to devise diversify your revenue sources. So that’s where we talk about cities first should consider are they charging the right amount for parking? And then are they using their curbs in a way that maximize them. So maybe parking is not the right use for your curb, maybe it’s something else and you need to impact, you know, have fees for bus, ride out pickup and drop off commercial delivery, parklets because the pricing can help you manage the demand, it can help you provide cost recovery. It can help you with your last parking revenue, it can help you invest in more mobility improvements, but you know, like charging with for the private sector, you know, I’ll start with parking and charging for parking and most space most cities. It’s just kind of a dollar, you know, maybe it’s 50 cents, maybe it’s $1. You know, there’s not really a process for in most cities of what you charge for parking. So I think it’s important that cities get the parking pricing right first, because that’s so much of how we use our curbs today. We, for example, just finished working with the city of Boulder, Colorado on their access plan for curbs. And and we started with, you know, what are your goals for the curb? And what is your pricing strategy look like? Right now in Boulder, a lot of their curbs are used for parking. The city does have paid parking, it was relatively affordable, you know, rates were weren’t based on real time data. But there was so much demand there for parking. And they also had some underutilized capacity in their garages. So what we did was we took this first step in the process in Boulder to create these digital curbs and think about pricing. And we did a lot of outreach, which is important for any pricing change, or, you know, enacting any pricing, did a lot of outreach with the community, we digitally analyze all the parking data. And we also looked at what what are their goals for mobility and land use and how can we bring pricing in line with those goals. So what we recommended for them is demand based parking pricing. So you know, you’re looking at demand in specific areas and you’re pricing the parking according to the demand for that area and demand for those spaces. And, you know, you’re also pricing parking to incentivize people that are parking for the long term or employees you know, to park in off street lots so that you can have a lot of turnover at the curb where people want to be and that’s really the process of getting to the digital curb. Where you’re you’re setting up, showing the community, the value of the curb and then preparing for pricing other cities or other uses, like commercial delivery and like ride hailing. And then, you know, I think it’s also important that Boulder’s using some of their parking revenues to pay for things like their transit passes, it’s called their eco pass. So, you know, that’s where we talk about starting incrementally starting with parking, and then move up from there.

Toney Thompson  30:32

Yeah, those are some really great recommendations, what would you say to downtown business owners, she would, you may say, you know, if you’ve raised prices too much, you’re going to actually impact my business because less people will be more likely to, to come downtown and park and actually shop at, you know, my, my location, it sounds like, you know, the on demand pricing is really a strategy to keep as much curb space open for parking and other uses as much as possible, essentially, like generating enough turnover to get more people downtown. But it seems like there’s also a general perception like, well, if it’s too high, then no one’s gonna come?

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  31:14

Well, I think we’ve done a lot of cities, studies that show that that’s not the case. You know, what we found is that people there, there’s always, when you’re talking about parking, pricing, you know, there’s nothing more controversial, you know, I’ve sat in city council and Planning Committee, you know, all these meetings of where we have a lot of people coming in, and you know, they’re not going to pay another dollar an hour to park. But when you think about what that means, if you’re parked, if you’re charging based on the value of the asset, based on demand, your charg- and you’re charging for parking to make it more convenient, you know, that’s the ultimate goal so that people can easily Park some you know, find that space, Park get in and out, and the next person comes in and, and they can then shop or go to the restaurant. And it’s just always a hard case to make. That’s why we rely on the data. So for example, and I’ll talk about a small town because, you know, I think a lot of small towns struggle with this. So we were recently working with the city of Noblesville, Indiana, which is pretty small, you know, like less than 10,000 population, but has an active downtown commercial core. And we found that all of the you know, there’s a lot of parking the city’s considering, well, the city is building new off street parking garages, but there’s, you know, a lot of parking downtown, the city changed some of its parking to 20 minutes spaces for short term pickup and drop offs and for people to run in and you know, pick up food or take out during COVID. And when we were studying it, what we found is, all of the short term spaces, were turning over every five minutes, like people were really paying, adhering to those regulations and following them, all of the long turns spaces, people never moved, people were sitting there all day, and those cars were sitting there all day not people. Um, and that’s what we always find it you know, no matter the size of the city, if you’re not charging, if you’re not regulating and enforcing, you’re just going to end up with a lot of people that park all day long, and for the most part, its employees. And, you know, I think that’s the case that you have to make to businesses and to residents and to visitors like we’re asking you for, to pay for something but you’re going to get so much more convenience instead. But it’s it’s always becomes political. And that’s why you really need the data to show that it can happen. You know, another study, I worked in a city where there were a busy Main Street, you know 220 spaces on this one particular street, and we found of the 220 spaces 40 cars were sitting all day, and we knew they were employees. If we could just get those 40 cars to move a block or two over that would open up, you know, a big percentage of the spaces for people like paying customers. So you know, just having those bits of data that you can take to counsel is always really helpful to make your case.

Toney Thompson  34:44

So it sounds like there’s also a concurrent strategy of providing enough off street parking for those long term. You know, those people who are gonna stay there all day the employees that they can actually find some place to park you know, maybe in a parking garage, so they are freeing up those those curb spaces.

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  35:01

Yeah, and very true, you know, giving them a space so that they, you know, somewhere to park, having an employee parking plan, you know, those are all things that we can do to just prepare ourselves for your digital curb, you know, for regulating all the other users of the curb. Um, because parking, you know, local government still has a lot of control over their parking and what their pricing are regulating and implementing curb fees for all of these other users for ride hailing, and, you know, commercial delivery, that’s a lot. That’s a tougher process. And that’s why I say it’s incremental, because there are a lot of regulatory and technology hurdles to overcome in implementing fees for those users. So for example, some states restrict fees on transportation network companies like ride hailing Uber and Lyft. In California, you have to go to the to the ballot and get voter approval for a ride hailing fee. So which San Francisco recently did in Florida, you cannot implement a ride hailing drop off fee, only a pickup fee. So those the you know, there’s already been some state regulation that really limits local control. So, you know, that’s why we, when working with local government, we talk about, well, let’s have a short term plan, and then a long term strategy. So the short term, we’re talking about parking, you know, in planning for the curb, but your long term fee strategy is going to evolve as you get all of these regulations and policies and technology in place. And, you know, then you can do things like structure fees, so that they’re based on location when you talk about equity. You know, I think Chicago has a good ride hailing fee, because it’s based on location, and the number of people in your vehicle, you know, is it a shared ride or not, it’s based on time of day. So you know, you’re paying more if you’re going downtown by yourself than if you’re going to, you know, an outer neighborhood with someone else. But you know, you can start with a fee, that’s like a per ride fee for a ride hailing company, for ride hail. And then, over time, as you get technology, like geo fencing, and all these other things in place, you know, that’s where we can get to having curb congestion fees like that can almost work sort of similar to open road polling. You know, that’s a long way. We’re testing that now. Or like commercial delivery, you know, a lot of towns don’t charge for their loading zones, you know. So, we’ve thought, well, let’s start, could we simply start with a delivery permit fee for commercial delivery vehicles that’s based on some kind of Fleet size, or just having paid commercial loading zones, like we do in San Francisco, you know, that can evolve eventually, over time into commercial loading zones that are reserved with fees for access, but, you know, it’s just going to take a lot of policy to get in place to do that.

Toney Thompson  38:16

Gotcha. Gotcha. Um, we’ve been in COVID, for, you know, over a year now, and I would imagine that curb usage has changed a lot. Since then, across the country. What trends have you seen with curb use since, you know, COVID has has happened and, and people are trying to navigate how to still get people, you know, downtown to areas, despite, you know, the regulations that have that have come with, you know, trying to deal with the pandemic.

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  38:56

Yeah, so, with COVID in the pandemic, I would say, first, that parking revenues took a major hit overall, you know, we were seeing parking declined by 90%. up to and many in many towns and cities, because a lot of places places just eliminated paid parking out of safety. They didn’t want people touching meters. But you know, that’s starting to come back. But I think overall, it was really cool to see that cities took such fast action during the pandemic, you know, which is still going on, especially on parklets and streeteries. We always recommended parklets and streeteries as part of you know, like a downtown plan or, you know, a neighborhood plan and we couldn’t It was really challenging to get those through City Council’s and Planning Commission’s, um, but I was started getting calls last summer of can you we got to do this. Now. We’re ready, you know, and I was writing regulations and design standards for permanent parklet programs, so I thought that was really cool that we did that was so fast, switch local government, we always people complain, it’s always working so slow, you know, that was quick slow streets, things like that having more room for biking and walking, what that showed to a lot of people was what could be. And that, you know, obviously it took, you know, we don’t want it to take a pandemic to show people what could be with our streets, but it sort of opened the door that it’s not so scary, you know, eliminating one or two parking spaces is not the end of the world. In fact, businesses were generating more revenue because they had all this additional seating for the restaurant. So you know, I think that was a great way to show people what could be with our streets. And again, we also saw this need with COVID for a lot of short term parking, whether that’s for passenger pickup and drop off or food pickup. In our curb management study, we have seen that no matter the city size, we’re seeing big jumps in short term parking of less than 15 minutes. And, you know, commercial delivery ecommerce that was already growing. But I think with a pandemic, people that more comfortable with purchasing online or people who had never purchased online before did for the first time, and that will, you know, that really Upshot the growth we’ve seen in commercial delivery, and that will continue to grow. So, you know, we, um, removing parking spaces for all these uses, you know, I think there was a lot of beneficial change that we saw during the pandemic, that we’re now figuring out how to make that permanent. So here in San Francisco, there’s like a lot of discussion on the slow streets. And if there’ll be permanent this, the mayor just announced that she’s opening back up the great highway for cars, which was closed, part of it was closed during the pandemic for only walking and biking. But, you know, those are those are the things we’re grappling with is what do we make permanent? What do we keep? And, you know, how do we use that? How do we look at what was benefit and, and make changes based on those benefits. And that’s where, you know, it’s some of those changes will mean lost parking revenues. And that’s why it’s important to that we think about fees for other users. And like, for example, parklet fees during the pandemic, cities didn’t want to charge businesses for their parklet. You know, they didn’t want to charge a parklet fee, which made sense, but it is the public right of way. And going forward, you have to think about well, what should a business pay for a parklet? Because what we’re hearing now in some some towns is, well, people, businesses with outdoor patios are paying property taxes on that patio space, and businesses with parklets aren’t paying, you know, a fee for the parklet. So we need to think about equity there.

Toney Thompson  43:05

Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think we’ve I’ve kind of been dancing around this this question, but I think it’s hard because I, when you talk about parklets, and you know, outdoor dining, you know, growing up, I really couldn’t imagine a curb without a parking space attached to like those lines where you put your car. And when I started seeing people have alternative uses for the curb, I was like, Oh, I didn’t realize we could we could do that. And so it to me, you know, it always seemed like the curb was attached to car users like the curb was where a car. Are there? Is that the most? About let me rephrase this question. What is is there is there are a healthier balance of curb access, and usage beyond just over reliance on providing space for cars for curbs? Is that the best revenue generating access that local governments can give is primarily to cars? Or is there is there a better mix?

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  44:14

Yes, there is a better mix. Um, and, and we’re talking a lot about revenue. And it’s not just all about revenue, it’s about access and equity within that access. And not only at the curb, but equity, um, and thinking about accessibility for how people get to places that are curb hotspots, you know, are there ways that you can get to certain you know, neighborhoods that don’t neighborhood to neighborhood that don’t involve driving and parking, you know, are we creating bike lanes and, and transit accessibility and reliable transit to get people across the city, you know, not, you know, thinking beyond just, oh, there’s this one place and we need to plan for that we need to plan how people get there. Um, you know, I think that’s where we get into people turn over, um, you know, shifting spaces from private vehicles and, and thinking about what’s the best people turn over for this curb. So, for example, in Boston, there, they, the city of Boston moved some parking spaces to pick up customer passenger pickup spaces. And they designated loading loading zones for ride hailing, that resulted in a 30% drop in the number of pickup and drop offs that occurred in the travel lane, so it reduced congestion, but it also increased the utilization of their curbs by 350% in those places, because what they found was when they were collecting data, that the number of people that access those spaces increased, on average, from three parked cars, to 14, you know, TNCs, basically, per hour. So you’re really creating so much more people turnover and getting more people into those spaces over time, when you’re planning for the curb for how people actually behave. You know, and I think that there’s, you know, a lot of good learnings from Boston, you know, Columbus, Ohio, and several other cities have done commercial reservation, commercial delivery reservation pilots, where a delivery driver reserves a loading space at a specific time of day, they were reserving via the app, but you know, that there’s some issues there. But overall, in this study, they found that when you had commercial delivery reservations, it really prevented illegal and double parking. And importantly, the merchants near those loading zones had quicker delivery times. So you know, more relaxed, so the merchant knows that deliveries coming at 10, they could actually rely that yeah, this delivery is going to be her at 10, I need to be ready. So it just makes it easier, more convenient, more reliable for for people and for businesses and gets more people in when, you know, you’re not just thinking about parking. And those things, you know, in terms of revenue. You we do want to think about charging, like we thought, you know, we talked about ride hailing fees on the commercial loading zones, they, you know, there’s right now, it’s been a lot of looking at app based reservation systems, there’s a whole host of issues there. Because you don’t necessarily want drivers reserving using apps while they’re driving like UPS, you’re not even allowed to have your phone open when you’re driving, you know, so, so we need to get over some of the, you know, confront some of those issues and figure out solutions. Drivers really don’t want to pull out their phone when they’re driving. But you know, that’s where we can get into, do you have a permit fee, eventually have some sort of transmitter that would just charge automatically when the driver hits a geo fence, and they don’t need to worry about it at all r

Toney Thompson  48:10

Right. Gotcha. Okay, we’ve covered- 

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  48:13

Oh, wait, one more thing!

Toney Thompson  48:14

Yeah, yeah.

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  48:17

I also would just want to point out on parklets, and streeteries, I did a study in Chicago, when the people spots first opened, which are their parklets. And we over the summer, we interviewed businesses, we interviewed residents, or people that were in the, in the parklets. And the businesses said that when the parklets were installed, they saw a 30% increase in the revenues, because of the parklets. Because people were coming out and sitting in parklets. And we interviewed people on the parklets, we found that most people were just there because the parklet was built, because it had Wi Fi and they could hang out and people watch and then that they happen to like go buy a coffee or grab lunch. So it was something that wasn’t a huge investment on the city side. But you know, saw big returns for business.

Toney Thompson  49:07

Yeah, absolutely. I know. You know big, more business. I mean, that goes into sales tax, right. So that revenues are going to the parking fund or your parking but is maybe going back to using the increase in your sales tax because more people are buying stuff. Yeah, that’s that’s great. We’ve covered a lot and I know this is a I find it a fascinating topic but I also understand it’s a it’s a complicated topic. And it’s a lot for local governments to grapple with. And as you said, it’s a very political issue is like a hot button political issue wherever you go. But I just kind of want to go into like, Chrissy’s ideal world. You know, if if there was a local government that said, Hey, we’re willing to implement all the recommendations that you give us, you know, what would those recommendations be for how local governments can maximize their their current value?

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  49:59

Yeah, so The recommendations, you know, we’ve talked through some of them, but it’s really starting out with what is your framework? And we’re going to talk more about this in our next APA article. But what is the framework in place where you can have some goals set, and then as your demand changes and your area grows and changes, you’ll have a process to plan against. So you start with that framework, you create your goals, you identify your activity areas. So what activity is taking place where? If you have an area, that’s a lot of dense, you know, high density, a lot of office, residential retail, that’s going to be different than a, you know, a neighborhood area where there’s some light retail, maybe some office, or in a residential area, it’s going to be different than an entertainment area. So what are your activity areas? And how are people using those areas? And then how do you want people to have, you know, what are your goals for access and goods, movement, and equity? And how do you prioritize your curbs based on those goals, so that you can, you know, help forward those goals with your curves. So once you have that in place, you know, that’s where you start with these high level goals, you can then build out your treatments, you know, creating your passenger pickup zones or your reserved commercial loading zones. I like to think about taking a look at the overall area, do you have underutilized parking facilities that you can push people like long term Parkers to those facilities, but also, you know, what some places are starting to do with creating mobility hubs, which is sort of another word for curb management in a single location or parking garage. So you can take a look at your overall area, think about your prioritization, have your framework in place, and then, you know, it really gets into what are the policies or policies, you know, looking at your policies, you need to change the technology. One thing that I think is important is on the technology side, is what we’re finding around collecting data that we’ve historically collected data like point in time for the curb, you know, how have you done any parking studies or, or traffic studies in your time?

Toney Thompson  52:31

Not personally, but I have seen some if it’s not easy work, it was actually the it was a it was a question I have for you, after I asked this. I was like, like, how do you do good data collection around this and, and also around digital enforcement, so I’m glad you brought it up.

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  52:46

Yeah, so I, for curb management, you really need to think beyond just collecting data at a point in time. And this is again, ideal. Um, so for our curb management research study, which is working with six cities, and testing out all this different technology and collecting data, we’re collecting data in some places every 10 seconds, and every minute, which is a lot. Um, you know, like, in one city, over three weeks, we had 17 cameras set up, and we collected 13 point 2 million pieces of data. Um, but we capturing data by the minute really helps you provide this precise information of how curbs are being used. You know, it’s not enough to just go around and say, oh, at 10am, we saw this, at 11am, you know, our streets were 80%, full, you know, pickup and drop offs happen in less than a minute commercial deliveries happen you know, really quickly. So, um, what we’re finding is some places when we’re looking at this really precise data by the minute, there’s actually more capacity in our, at our curbs. When we look, for example, we looked at utilization of alleys. And when we looked at it, the how alleys were being used by the hour, you know, at 10, 11, 12, we were found very high utilization, it was like 80% full. But then when we actually went in and took a finer look at the minute by minute data, we found that there was actually a lot of more capacity in those alleys, it was actually only 60% full of cross the hour, but we just missed that because we were only looking at a point in time. So like at 11 it was might have been 80% utilized, but at 11:15. It wasn’t you know, it was 60%, 11:30. So, and what’s interesting is that that’s no matter the size of the city, you know, like I said, we saw big jumps in short term parking in our study of less than 15 minutes, and that is likely some sort of passenger food pickup. And we saw a lot of with cameras, a lot of that happening in no parking areas, which we don’t want, you know, areas are, are programmed and regulated for no parking or loading because of, you know, the street width, you know, there’s lots of factors in play there. But that’s what we found using this camera data is that a lot of people are using those areas, no parking areas for quick pickup and drop off, and you’re just not capturing it. Um, and also, you know, what we we also saw, you know, like I said, saw this big jump in parking of less than 15 minutes when we went and compared that our camera data with our parking meter data, like the transaction data that you get from the parking meter. It we didn’t find, have the same finding, it didn’t show up in the transaction data, because people also weren’t, you know, they were staying for less than 15 minutes.

Toney Thompson  56:00

And they weren’t paying. Yeah, absolutely.

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  56:01

Yeah. So, I mean, that’s the ideal is that you have this ability to collect this minute data, or even just more precise data, then every hour. And you can do that, you know, we did try out doing that manually, manual data collection. It was because I have gotten a lot of questions from local government folks of how do we, we don’t have money to install cameras, and you know, we’re doing a research study. So we’re helping out, you know, the cities aren’t paying for the cameras, we are. But you know, we did try out and have done a couple studies where we collected manual data, and you really need a lot of just man and woman power, yeah, at the curb, um, you know, one person monitors one block and one use throughout the day. But even if you can only go out for one day and and collect manual data, it’s really worth it because you actually see what’s going on.

Toney Thompson  56:03

Yeah, I mean, that’s great. I mean, you got to the second question about enforcement, because it seems like, as you said, it’s such a, the curb is such a valuable asset that in order to properly management, properly manage it, it would take a lot of resources to do that. And not every local government, you know, has that ability. So, you know, any, any, any, any kind of enforcement or tracking or data collection is, is helpful. 

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  57:37

Yeah, and you do have to be really careful. I know, we’re talking a lot about technology. And there are agreements, like we have a lot of agreements in place about privacy, and protections around privacy. Those, those are aspects where, you know, you have to be really careful that you’re not enforcing, you know, enforcement should be about providing convenience and customer service and not, you know, whether that’s mailing citation, you know, whatever that means for your city. Um, but you do need to have some sort of mechanism where you can enforce your regulations or else, you know, like, there’s no point in going through the process if you’re not going to follow up.

Toney Thompson  58:28

Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, the last question I have for you Chrissy is where can people check out your work? And for more about, you know, curb management?

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  58:38

So on Walker’s website, there’s a lot of resources on our curb management page. I have my own website at MyCuriousCity.com with a lot of resources too.

Toney Thompson  58:50

Awesome. I actually lied. I have one more question for you. If you could be Gov Love DJ, what song would you pick as your exit music for this episode? 

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  58:59

Oh, so thinking about that. Yeah, I you know, I’m, love the 90s. So I would say any anything from a female man, one of my favorites. 

Toney Thompson  59:14


Chrissy Mancini Nichols  59:15

Always great intro music or exit music. 

Toney Thompson  59:16

Yeah. I think we can make that happen. 

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  59:20

I don’t know. Do you actually play this? 

Toney Thompson  59:24

Yeah, we do. 

Chrissy Mancini Nichols  59:25

Oh!  Yeah. Absolutely. So yeah, it will be on the episode, if you have a specific song Let us know, but otherwise. But thank you so much, Chrissy for for joining me today. That answer episode. Thanks for coming and talking with me. For our listeners, you can reach us at ELGL.org/GovLove or on Twitter @GovLovePodcast and we’re on all your favorite podcast subscription services. Please subscribe to Gov Love through your favorite podcast service and we will review so more people know that Gov Love is the podcast for local government topics. If you have a story for Gov Love and you want to hear it, send us a message on Twitter @GovLovePodcast. Thanks for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.

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