How to rethink the way we manage, use and value our curb, a long unrecognized and ignored space at the junction of our streets and sidewalks that is mostly seen as a parking zone?

Par Sébastien Turbot, project leader.

This question is at the heart of our discussions at La Fabrique des Mobilités Québec , within the Montréal en Commun project in the frame of the Government of Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge.

For almost two years now, with our ecosystem, we have been questioning the multiple aspects of the curb (only in French): what space should we give to street parking in Montreal? Are street parking regulations clear and understandable to everybody? Can we rethink the way we use the curb to make it more dynamic? Can we rethink the monetization of this space? Last but not least, how can we reimagine our curb in order to put it at the service of a more sustainable mobility and a better quality of life for all Montrealers?

These fascinating questions and debates have led us, at La Fabrique des Mobilités Québec (Fabmob Québec), to develop field experiments in order to prototype and test solutions on the curb.

Two main ideation tracks have emerged. The first one aims at helping the City of Montreal and its boroughs to develop new tools to manage the curb. The second one strives at helping citizens by developing trip and parking planning tools. The idea behind this second track is to allow motorists to spend less time looking for a parking space by better planning their trip, and to even eventually choosing another transportation mode, thus reducing the environmental footprint of their trip.

Quality open data, a key element to experiment and better manage the curb

To carry out these reflections, one element is key: the possibility for us and our ecosystem to have access to street parking data that are reliable, in sufficient quantity and in real time. Yet, when working on this aspect, we met obstacles and limitations. If the City of Montreal and its boroughs have tools generating digital data about the curb and street parking, these data are not necessarily centralised or totally reliable.

Among the existing software, the most exhaustive is Signalec. This management tool, run borough by borough, is a data source that is supposed to list all street parking signs and their associated regulations. But even though these data are now part of the open data pool made available by the City of Montreal, they are not always exhaustive or reliable, as the boroughs themselves confess. Therefore, some boroughs have preferred to use other tools, some explain they do not necessarily have the resources to update the data on a regular basis; others mention the impossibility to generate new signs – and thus new regulations – because these signs are not recognized and listed by the software. Therefore, it appeared crucial to us to open a discussion in order to improve the way data are collected, stocked, visualized and shared.

In order to do so, we have placed three questions at the heart of our reflection:

  • First of all, how to simply and efficiently evaluate the quality of the existing data? If we know that these data are not perfect, we are not able yet to evaluate the inconsistencies and discrepancies.
  • Then, regarding data collection, can we imagine new methods that would complete the existing collection, and even, in the long term, a new way to collect these data that would satisfy all involved parties?
  • Finally, could we improve data collection and city management by following urban crowdsourcing approaches, used by a growing number of cities? Would Montreal citizens be interested in participating in improving street parking data collection?

MobiClic, an app to optimize the collection of curb parking open data

With these three questions in mind, we have launched an experiment with our partners Jalon Montréal and CRE Montréal (Centre régional de l’Environnement) to develop, prototype and test a street parking data collection civic app. This app, MobiClic, currently under development, will be tested early 2022 around the main commercial streets in the borough of Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie, with the objective of a public launch in the spring of 2022.

With MobiClic, any citizen, after downloading the app, will be able to participate in the experiment. They will just have to geolocalize a pole with street parking signs on it and take a photo of each street parking sign attached to this pole. The analysis of the collected data will then be done by our teams at La Fabrique des Mobilités Québec, with, in the long term, the objective to be supported by an artificial intelligence system that will read the signs and convert the associated street parking regulations information (“am I authorized to park in this area? from where to where? when?”).

Of course, thanks to our agile and experimental approach, we wish, by relying on existing commons, to be able to test, confirm or infirm our first hypothesis. For instance, does an app like MobiClic allow us to rapidly verify the reliability of the existing data? Does it really allow us to collect street parking data in a faster, more exhaustive and more qualitative manner than what the boroughs are able to do today? Finally, are Montreal citizens eager to participate in this data harvest?

If you wish to participate in this experiment, which will start in a few weeks, we invite you to contact us directly via email and to join us at the start of this promising 2022 for a first test phase. And we invite you to stay tuned, as the results and learning from this experiment will be revealed later this year.

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