Five thoughts on future-ready streetscapes

City leaders need to think beyond the parking space and activate streets for new, sustainable ways of living and moving around. Otherwise, we risk failing local places and communities

March 2021

Words by Graham Pointer and Ashleigh Cormack

1

Kerbsides need to work harder

The kerbside — the road lane and footpath area on either side of the kerb — is often overlooked by city planners. But it’s an integral part of the urban fabric. It is where the street’s two primary functions meet: the movement of cars, buses and bikes that connect our communities; and the creation of place, in terms of trees, lighting, seating and access to shops and restaurants. Too often, this space is given over to “static” uses such as car parking, rather than actively supporting local businesses and encouraging newer forms of mobility. Instead of perpetuating outdated 20th-century city models, we should be designing streetscapes to be future-ready, with governments, businesses and the community all playing a role.

2

Drop-off is the new parking

Street design should reflect how we want people to access places, by facilitating the most sustainable, efficient journeys. Likely changes over the coming decades include the rise of app-driven rideshares and zero-emission automated vehicles. City authorities can incentivize these new modes by reducing parking spaces for private cars and allocating more of the kerbside for pick-up/drop-off. This will have the knock-on effect of improving access to restaurants, cafes and shops during peak periods. Electric vehicles will become more prevalent, so charging infrastructure may be needed in certain streets and at bus-stops — although such a static use of the kerbside may be less desirable in busy civic spaces and high streets. Ideally, charging at or near home will become the norm.

Visualization: WSP in collaboration with Uber

3

Embrace the “third speed”

Micromobility offers new opportunities to connect people and places. As adoption increases, more docking and charging points will be needed in parts of town that want to draw in visitors, such as local high streets. Some areas may also need to consider segregated lanes for these “third speed” vehicles, which can be too fast to interact comfortably with pedestrians, but too slow to safely use high-speed roads. Takeaway food and online retail are also driving the growth of micromobility delivery services — a trend that has been accelerated in many places by COVID-19 restrictions. This will in turn increase demand for kerbside pick-up/drop-off zones to support access to local businesses.

4

Flexible streets need dynamic management

WSP in collaboration with Uber

Our future streets will continue to juggle complex travel, access and placemaking functions. On-demand buses may require greater flexibility at the kerbside than traditional bus-stops, while the movement of goods could be split between last-mile deliveries by micromobility or drone during the day and larger freight at night. Smart technologies can help to manage these fluctuating uses — for example, by communicating access information to in-vehicle displays in real time. Dynamic allocation of the kerbside could also help during situations such as the COVID-19 lockdowns: during peak food delivery hours, for instance, it would make sense to dynamically change restaurant kerbsides to pick-up/drop-off spaces.

5

The kerbside can become a place in its own right

Visualization: WSP in collaboration with Uber

The rise of new forms of mobility brings an opportunity to redeploy space that is currently dedicated to moving and storing vehicles. Underused road lanes could be reallocated to provide wider footpaths, attract people to local businesses, or simply create a more enjoyable place to spend time. Technological and physical measures, such as moving utility boxes and power lines underground and optimizing signage, can help to reduce clutter on sidewalks, making it easier to introduce features that encourage people to linger, such as cafe awnings, benches and trees. Green canopies also create shade and reduce the urban heat island effect — urgent considerations as the climate gets hotter.

Ashleigh Cormack is future cities lead, Australia and New Zealand at Uber. Graham Pointer is technical executive — geography at WSP in Australia

Download the Future Ready Kerbside report

Listen to the podcast: Going Kerbside — Why it’s the Next Frontier for Making Great Places

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