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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

NRA files for bankruptcy, says it will reincorporate in Texas

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA) speaks during CPAC in 2016. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The National Rifle Association said Friday it has filed for voluntary bankruptcy as part of a restructuring plan.

Driving the news: The gun rights group said it would reincorporate in Texas, calling New York, where it is currently registered, a "toxic political environment." Last year, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit to dissolve the NRA, alleging the group committed fraud by diverting roughly $64 million in charitable donations over three years to support reckless spending by its executives.

51 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden: "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution

Joe Biden. Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden promised to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine manufacturing, as he outlined a five-point plan to administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccinations in the first months of his presidency.

Why it matters: With the Center for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a more contagious variant of the coronavirus, Biden is trying to establish how he’ll approach the pandemic differently than President Trump.

A new Washington

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Image

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said Friday that the city should expect a "new normal" for security — even after President-elect Biden's inauguration.

The state of play: Inaugurations are usually a point of celebration in D.C., but over 20,000 troops are now patrolling Washington streets in an unprecedented preparation for Biden's swearing-in on Jan. 20.