Curb Access in the Rideshare Era

December 3, 2018 by Jackson Archer

The rise in popularity of TNCs and rideshare services has led to some tricky curbside problems. Drivers of rideshare vehicles are receiving citations for blocking traffic and bike lanes more and more as passengers seek to be dropped off directly outside their destinations. Rideshare vehicles often pull over and stop in a travel lane to drop off passengers directly at the curb, which can lead to problems with both safety and congestion. If a vehicle is stopped in a bike lane, cyclists are forced out of the bike lane and into the traffic lane, which can be dangerous. Even without a bike lane, a car stopped in a travel lane, even partially, can slow traffic and cause additional traffic delay.

Source: SFStreetsBlog/SFPD
Source: SFStreetsBlog/SFPD

Just how prevalent is this issue? A 2017 survey of traffic violations in downtown San Francisco (see table above) found that 77% of infractions involving the impediment of bike lanes were caused by rideshare drivers. Further, rideshare drivers caused 68% of infractions related to obstructing a lane or generally driving in non-car lanes.

A lack of understanding

Part of the reason may be a lack of understanding – taxi drivers have long been subject to regulations about when and how passengers can be picked up and dropped off – but understanding those same regulations is not a prerequisite to operating a rideshare vehicle. In fact, a majority of rideshare drivers today are driving professionally for the first time. But the problem is not solely a lack of understanding on the part of the drivers – the data above was collected nearly a year after Uber began to include bicycle safety as part of its mandatory training for drivers in San Francisco.

Changes we can make to address the issue

To address the issue, change needs to start at the curb. To give an example of curbs done right, look at airports. Airports have long been designed to accommodate passengers being picked up and dropped off in Passenger Loading Zones – dedicated spaces outside of the travel lane for vehicles to stop momentarily and unload or pick up passengers. With the recent rise in popularity of rideshare as a service, some areas are considering a similar design for city streets.

Lyft Rideshare
photo credit: Elvert Barnes (cc)

In 2018, a pilot was launched in Austin, Texas intending to tackle some of the issues with curbside pick-up and drop-off. The pilot removed parallel parking on a street within a busy bar district and replaced it with dedicated space for rideshare vehicles to pick up and drop off passengers. Much like an airport, this design pulled drop-off vehicles out of all travel lanes and gave them a temporary zone to interact with the curb. On the side of the street where the pilot was held, researchers in the study reported that rideshare passengers were picked up directly at the curb, whereas passengers on the opposite side of the street were seen to be running across or being picked up in the middle of the street.

As a part of the Rainey Neighborhood Mobility Study, BIG RED DOG recommended a similar approach in the Rainey Neighborhood. Passenger loading in travel lanes had been observed to cause congestion in the area, especially on some of the narrower roads. To provide designated loading areas would decrease congestion and provide passengers with a safer interaction with the curb. The study specifically recommended establishing Passenger Loading Zones in some of the 58 existing parking spaces on Rainey Street, Davis Street, River Street, and/or Driskill Street.

With rideshare services becoming the new norm, it might be time to rethink the curb.

Written by Jackson Archer

Jackson Archer

Jackson Archer is a Transportation Planner in our Austin office. He attended the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a Masters degree in Community and Regional Planning, with a focus in transportation.