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Downtown San Francisco. Photo: Gili Yaari/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With more and more people turning to ride-hailing options, shared bike systems or motorized scooters — and with the advent of autonomous vehicles looming — urban planners and policymakers have started to rethink the curb.

The big picture: Historically, the curb has been the meeting spot for most buses and taxis, but curb space has increased in value. To take full advantage of this prime real estate, the use of curbs will have to be modified to make entries and exits easier, more efficient and better for the environment.

What's happening now: There are no fees imposed on riders keeping their drivers waiting unless they exceed a 5-minute wait time (in which case Uber, for example, charges riders a $10 cancellation fee), nor are there penalties for drivers holding prime waiting spots. But often, other drivers block the flow of traffic while lining up to pick up their passengers, creating backups, pollution and frustration for surrounding drivers.

What can be done: Monetizing curb time — one possible solution — would create a financial incentive for ride-hailing drivers to use designated pickup spots (like a driveway or parking lot) and impose penalties if they don’t. It would likewise encourage delivery trucks to make their drop-offs during off-peak hours, under penalty of per-minute fines.

Some solutions will be more site-specific:

  • Airports in San Jose and elsewhere are designating locations outside the flow of traffic for ride-hailing pickups.
  • The Forbes Avenue Betterment Project in front of Carnegie Mellon includes bump-outs in the street to accommodate pick-ups and drop-offs as well as a bike line to share curb space.

What's next: In an autonomous vehicle-laden world, the curb will not mainly be used for parking cars. Instead, it will act more as a revolving door, moving people and goods from the street to their destinations in a constant and seamless flow. To ensure a safe and secure curb, we’ll need sensors and advanced wireless connectivity, paired with edge and cloud computing networks.

Karen Lightman is executive director of Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

Go deeper

Scoop: Biden weighs retired general Lloyd Austin for Pentagon chief

Lloyd Austin testifying before Congress in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Joe Biden is considering retired four-star general Lloyd Austin as his nominee for Defense secretary, adding him to a shortlist that includes Jeh Johnson, Tammy Duckworth and Michele Flournoy, two sources with direct knowledge of the decision-making tell Axios.

Why it matters: A nominee for Pentagon chief was noticeably absent when the president-elect rolled out his national security team Tuesday. Flournoy had been widely seen as the likely pick, but Axios is told other factors — race, experience, Biden's comfort level — have come into play.

Updated 24 mins ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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1 hour ago - Health

WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release"

A medical syringe and vial with fake coronavirus vaccine in front of the World Health Organization (WHO) logo. Photo Illustration: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Top scientists at the World Health Organization on Friday called for more detailed information on a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.

Why it matters: Oxford and AstraZeneca have said the vaccine was 90% effective in people who got a half dose followed by a full dose, and 62% effective in people who got two full doses. AstraZeneca has since acknowledged that the smaller dose received by some participants was the result of an error by a contractor, per the New York Times.