SUM Zones: an Autonomer Original Thought

Greg's been driving for Uber and Lyft for the last several months, at first as a primary income source while he was between jobs, and now for a little side-cash. All told, it's been a rather positive experience: it's flexible, it's inherently social, it makes money off of a resource he already has, and it's a non-negligible bump to his regular income.

But it hasn't been perfect. In fact, at times it's been really, really stressful. At times risky, if not outright dangerous. On one occasion, it also became very expensive. In every case, this was caused by a frustration shared among the roughly 500,000 mostly-urban rideshare drivers in the US: while their platform and user base is rapidly expanding, the amount of space available at the curb is not.  When they can't find a legal space to pull into for a couple minutes—often, perhaps even typically, the case—they have to flip on their hazards and block a lane of traffic. Here, they cause significant congestion, and put approaching passengers, cyclists and themselves at risk. Or they can gamble, pulling aside to a bus stop, commercial loading zone, or a fire hydrant, and praying their passenger emerges before they're slapped with a hefty moving violation. Clearly, there's an issue to be addressed here.

This is the type of problem Greg and I like to think about; and in this case, we think we've come up with an answer. We’ve crafted a solution that finally gives rideshare the home on our streets that it deserves, preparing our transportation system for the shift toward shared, more-sustainable, and more-affordable transit. We call them Shared-Use Mobility (SUM) Zones.

You’re a rideshare driver? SUM Zones will keep you safe as you wait for your millennial to finish his cappucino. You’re a passenger with a physical disability? They’ll make the process of getting from the curb into your ride way, way easier. You’re a passenger without a physical disability? They’ll make finding your rideshare car more intuitive, decrease the time spent picking up the person splitting your ride, and ensure you aren’t hit by a cyclist as you enter the vehicle. You’re a cyclist? Everyone else will still suck, but SUM Zones will keep them out of your way. You’re a motorist who has nothing to do with the sharing economy? Support for SUM Zones is support for more-efficient, less-congested roadways. You’re a city? SUM Zones will show you’re dedicated to transportation efficiency, accessibility and emission reduction.

SUM Zones are a new vision for how we allocate space at the curb—where every ride begins and ends. Even as we see incredible increases in technology-based mobility and ridesharing, we haven’t yet seen a parallel reevaluation of how parking regulations help or hinder them.

Until now. A Shared-Use Mobility Zone is a use switch from long-term or metered parking to a space for rideshare of all types to wait for and drop off passengers. By converting a few on-street parking spaces, cities can ensure a safer and more efficient future for on-demand transportation.

Example: Here's a look at a one way street in Gramercy Park in Manhattan with a single lane of traffic, a bike lane, and a fully-occupied set of parking lanes. You're looking at a rideshare driver's nightmare. And it only takes one of them to shut down this entire street.

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But if we change seven parking spaces into five SUM Zones, we can virtually guarantee them a safe place to pull aside and wait for passengers or drop them off while closing out the ride, all while maintaining vehicle movement and bike-lane usability. 

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There's a ton of room for customization and creative use: signature painting schemes and signage, furnishings and technological tie-ins. Smart sensors or parking meters could monitor available spaces and direct cars to them. During off-peak hours, SUM Zones could accommodate package truck deliveries, preventing unnecessary double parking and reducing another major cause of urban congestion. 

And, of course, they'd be great for autonomous vehicle integration. 

If we've piqued your interest, check out our full write-up. The idea continues to develop, so there may be more to come.