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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

Reports: CIA finds "Havana Syndrome" unlikely caused by foreign campaign

CIA Director William Burns testifies during a Senate hearing on Capitol Hill last April. Photo: Saul Loeb-Pool/Getty Images

A preliminary CIA report rules out a foreign global campaign as the cause of American and Canadian diplomats affected by a mysterious illness known as "Havana syndrome," per multiple reports.

Why it matters: Some lawmakers had suggested the sometimes debilitating illness was due to directed energy attacks. But CIA officials told the New York Times that most of the 1,000 cases reported to the government could be "explained by environmental causes, undiagnosed medical conditions or stress." This finding has angered some victims, per the NYT.

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas 2 far-right "America First" activists

The House panel investigating the Capitol riot, from left; Reps. Bennie Thompson, Liz Cheney, Adam Kinzinger and Jamie Raskin on Capitol Hill in December. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Capitol riot issued subpoenas Wednesday for far-right leaders Nick Fuentes and Patrick Casey, who allegedly encouraged followers to go to D.C. and challenge the 2020 election results.

Why it matters: The action underscores the panel's increasing focus on rallies held ahead of the Capitol attack and how extremists were drawn to former President Trump's baseless claims of widespread voter fraud, per the New York Times.

Democrats fail to change Senate rules to pass voting rights bill

Senate Majority Leader during a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Democrats failed Wednesday night to change Senate filibuster rules to pass the voting rights bill, with Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) voting with Republicans.

The big picture: The failed effort came after Senate Republicans blocked the voting rights measure from coming to a final vote earlier Wednesday.