As cities continue to face issues with urban space management, companies like Lacuna Technologies is looking at ways to best utilize curb space.
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The Emerging Problem of Urban Space Management: Overcrowded Curbs
Over the past years, curbs have gradually become hotspots of urban activity serving as pivots for an increasing number of smart mobility and freight modes. While this was initially mainly limited to short time stationary parking for dropping off and picking up ridesharers and the last-mile delivery of parcels ordered via ecommerce, this now also involves leaving behind various forms of two-wheel micromobility vehicles for longer periods of time, resulting in both pedestrian safety hazards and visual urban pollution (scooters cluttering sidewalks). While COVID-19 admittedly offered some relief due to a sharp decrease in the use of smart mobility, some of the slack was picked up by exploding two- and four-wheel last mile delivery, especially of food.
As a consequence, curbs in many cities have now turned into overcrowded, cluttered, and dangerous spaces requiring urgent attention from and improved regulation and management by city governments. However, cities lack the required data and tools to inform new regulation and licensing frameworks or enforce existing ones. This is by no means just about static environments, as the pandemic showed how fast traffic patterns and modal transportation mixes can change. Cities need to stay on top of this, proactively adapting polices to short- and longer-term fluctuations in mobility and freight.
The issue of urban space management will only get more urgent as new use cases emerge. For example, charging electric vehicles at smart kiosks or smart streetlight locations (already trialed in cities like Seoul), or drone-based delivery and people transportation requiring safe landing platforms. More generally, city centers will continue transforming from essentially huge static parking lots (both in the strict sense of parking spaces and of vehicles immobilized on congested roads) to dynamic environments dominated by car sharing and driverless mobility and freight characterized by short stationary activities centered around curbs.
Lacuna Technologies coming to the Rescue
Palo Alto, California-based Lacuna Technologies was created in 2018. Its mission is to “develop open-sourced digital tools that allow cities and municipalities to create, communicate, and enforce dynamic transportation policies”. Together with its wholly owned subsidiary Ellis & Associates, it already helps cities like Los Angeles, Seattle, and Miami-Dade County to understand mobility and traffic patterns and to design enforceable policies improving vehicle flow and safety, while working with commercial operators to use fixed public road infrastructure in sustainable and mutual beneficial ways. Key benefits offered by Lacuna’s digital mobility management tools for cities, operators, and citizens include:
- Analyze and simulate curb usage to optimize the value of real estate
- Increase speed and efficiency of deliveries and reduce parking fines
- Dynamically adjust how public spaces, streets, and curbs in cities (and airports) are used including demand-response management of fluctuating mobility needs and patterns
- Dynamic and flexible policy management
- Lower cost and interoperability of open-source software
- Advanced features, like setting reservation times for pick-up/drop-off, automated enforcement, and future usage modeling
- Improved air quality, safety, and traffic flow
Lacuna is a member of the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF). Lacuna Technologies recently announced a US$16 million Series A Round led by Xplorer Capital Management, and including founding investor Playground Global, as well as JetBlue Technology Ventures, Renewal Funds, Citi, and Lauder Partners. Total investment in Lacuna now amounts to US$33.5 million (previously US$17.5 million in seed funding was collected).
Future Urban Space Transformation: Pedestrianization and 20 min Neighborhoods
While the debate around urban space management is currently mainly focused on curbs and streets, it takes on a far wider meaning and higher importance when viewed from the perspective of some of the recently proposed visionary urban design concepts, such as The Line in Saudi Arabia. Underlying these new concepts are the overarching principles of turning entire cities into largely pedestrianized and green living spaces pushing traditional mobility and freight underground, while still accommodating all forms of shared smart mobility, driverless delivery, and, of course, various forms of micro-mobility on the “ground level”. These trends are informed by key drivers related to the need for improved air quality, decarbonization and sustainability, and human-scale urban living.
This also ties in to the 20 minutes neighborhood concept where citizens have access to all goods and services within a 20-minute walk. In this context, Toyota’s e-Palette multifunctional vehicle concept perfectly fits this vision, as it can be deployed as a food truck and mobile retail and/or healthcare unit. It is currently being trialed at the Tokyo Olympics and Toyota Woven City. In these cities of the future, urban life will almost entirely evolve around these flexible ways of using public spaces as the focal points for the delivery and consumption of a very wide range of services. What is emerging today at curbs in cities across the globe simply foreshadows a ubiquitous aspect of future urban living.
However, as laudable Lacuna’s efforts in public space management are, ultimately these digital urban space management tools will be absorbed by or embedded in Urban Digital Twins, providing broader, more holistic urban space management across all verticals and segments. Nevertheless, Lacuna’s pioneering efforts will pave the way for the future digital management of urban spaces.