“Reimagining the curb” has become a hot topic for cities. Bikes, scooters, food delivery, e-commerce, TNCs and automated vehicles all relying heavily on a finite amount of curb to function effectively. City officials, local businesses, mobility advocates and consumers are starting to recognize the curb is the key to unlocking all sorts of new modes, products and services that connected consumers demand. With demand and a finite resource, it’s no surprise many are urging we take a look at how curb space is allocated and managed.

Dedicated or variable use of the curb is not a radical new idea, in fact cities have been doing this for decades. Cities have bus stops, loading zones, taxi stands, fire lanes, motorcycle parking and, of course, lots and lots of parking for cars. This approach has worked pretty well for a long time, but with all sorts of new mobility modes jockeying to use limited open curb space, cites have been forced to reevaluate how curbs are purposed.

Curbside management has forced a conversation about the high cost of free (and/or cheap) parking. That is, in many instances, curb space is used as a spot for people to use public real estate to leave their car. Sometimes there is a charge for this, but even where there the price is usually far below what the market rate would dictate for use of that real estate.

The demand for cheap parking forces drivers to circle the block looking for parking, wasting time and money, while increasing congestion and emissions. In addition, rideshare and delivery vehicles jockey for limited open spots. Instead of circling until there’s an open spot, they often opt to double park, backing up traffic and further contributing to record congestion in cities around the world.

In response to this misallocation and suboptimization of curbs, mobility stakeholders are seeing an opportunity to reclaim, refashion and reimagine what happens at the curb. Most cities have centered these efforts on how to better use curb real estate to service vehicles, but some innovative metros are thinking outside the box. How can the real estate at the curb be put to different, interesting and often surprising new uses that bring new benefits to constituents?

In Portland, Maine this meant reclaiming (and monetizing) curb space by allowing restaurants to turn the parking space outside of their business into seating for al fresco dining. Others cities have turned parking spaces into parks or even workspaces.

Last Friday, INRIX hosted a mobility happy hour in Washington DC to highlight the latest example of a city using curb space for something innovative. For several weeks, in partnership with CulturalDC, parking spaces near 14th Street in NW DC served as the foundation for a mobile art gallery bringing awesome (and free) art to residents of the 14th Street corridor.