- The city of Philadelphia is kicking off a smart loading zones pilot project, which was slated to begin Monday. It aims to improve curb safety, efficiency and reliability for delivery drivers; manage increased loading activity; and minimize unsafe and illegal parking.
- The six-month pilot focuses on 21 locations in the Center City area. The pilot is set to run through spring 2023, with plans for an evaluation report next fall.
- “Overall, the project aims to identify how loading zones play into the larger picture of Philadelphia’s traffic and streets usage,” Deputy Managing Director for Transportation, Infrastructure, and Sustainability Mike Carroll said when the project was announced.
Numerous technology-enabled tools are available today allowing cities to more closely manage congestion, emissions from idling, and parking at the curb. For example, the city of Pittsburgh launched its own smart loading zones pilot earlier this year in conjunction with curb management software company Automotus.
Philadelphia is currently focusing on commercial loading activity and is using Pebble, a parking and curb management technology from Google’s Sidewalk Labs, which in part allows drivers to reserve spots through an app and city officials to track use and violations.
One city where Pebble is currently in use is Aspen, Colorado, where trucking companies can reserve space for deliveries. Zones were used more than a thousand times in the first 100 days, according to a Google spokesperson. During that period, the city reportedly saw a 23% lower rate of illegal parking.
Like conventional loading areas, Philadelphia’s smart loading zones are also dedicated, marked spaces on the street for loading and unloading activities. However, street users don’t always read and obey signs. Smart loading zones seek to digitize the process and its regulation.
Use of a loading zone can be reserved in advance through an app. The cost is $3 per hour, but delivery companies only end up paying for the specific amount of time they use the space. Using technology, the smart loading zones can measure occupancy and demand and provide real-time availability information. Enforcement officers can track and be notified of use violations via an app.
The project is a collaboration between SmartCityPHL, the Department of Streets, the Philadelphia Police Department and the Philadelphia Parking Authority. Philadelphia is also a member of the Open Mobility Foundation, which created Curb Data Specification, a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) for cities, delivery companies, ride-hailing companies and other users to digitally share curb information.
CDS is the “magic sauce” behind the smart loading zone pilot, said Philadelphia Smart Cities Director Akshay Malik.
“When you go from point A to point B using Google Maps or any other navigation app, your user experience basically falls off a cliff as soon as you hit the curb,” Malik said. But with the creation of CDS, a city can digitize curb assets and regulations in a way that phones and apps can read and follow.
“Obviously the problems that we're facing in the mobility space that this solution addresses have been there for a while — congestion, people circling around for finding a parking spot, double parking, especially for loading activity,” Malik said. Those ongoing issues inspired the city to pursue the pilot.
Across the state, Pittsburgh is several months ahead on its own smart loading zones pilot. The city has already gotten some useful information on how certain spaces are utilized. However, it was a bit delayed in fully starting the pilot due to some legislative barriers related to ticket-by-mail enforcement, according to Gwendolyn Bolden, director of on-street parking at the Public Parking Authority of Pittsburgh.
“We're hoping now to get the pilot extended for at least another year, so we can really see what the enforcement of the loading zones will bring,” said Bolden.
Bolden said Pittsburgh officials sought to be communicative and respect which parts of the city did and didn’t want to participate but hopes that the program’s benefits will come to fruition. For neighborhoods that were against smart loading zones initially, “we're hoping that as they see it around the city, that they will come back and be more open to it moving forward,” Bolden said.