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This Alphabet-Backed Startup Wants To Innovate Curbs

Coord mapped every inch of San Francisco’s curbs–on foot–to create a citywide API for curbside space.

This Alphabet-Backed Startup Wants To Innovate Curbs
[Photo: Flick user Eric Fischer]

Curbs are an increasingly hot commodity in cities. That’s because they’re not just a spot to park anymore–they’re also home to ride-share pick-ups and drop-offs, deliveries, bike lanes, buses, and the host of private vehicles still looking to find a spot.

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But curbs are also hard to map. Even as a driver parking your car, the poorly worded signs that dictate whether you’re parked legally are confusing and usually involve nerve-racking guesswork. So the Alphabet-backed, Sidewalk Labs-funded startup Coord is mapping them, providing an API for transportation companies and cities, with the idea that the data it’s collected can reduce congestion and help local governments reassess how their curbs are used.

[Screenshot: Coord]
This week, the company publicly launched an interactive map revealing its data on San Francisco’s curbs.

The map, which is only accessible if you create an account through the company, is essentially a color-coded guide to all the curbs in the city, from no stopping and no parking zones to areas of paid and free parking. You can choose a date and time, and toggle between different types of vehicles and different uses. In essence, it shows you how a vehicle is able to use any stretch of curb in the city at any point in time.

[Screenshot: Coord]

The maps reveal how San Francisco’s residential neighborhoods are full of free parking, with paid parking only along busy commercial stretches. In areas of the city where ride-share vehicles tend to pick up and drop off passengers, however, many of the curbs are “no stopping zones.” This kind of data might convince the city government to rethink its curb policies.

Coord created the curb map by literally canvassing the streets of San Francisco on foot. The startup’s CEO Stephen Smyth writes on Medium that the company explored higher tech ways of collecting data about curb use rules, like using machine learning to sort through Street View images, but found that many signs were obscured. Once all the surveyors had completed their canvassing, the company translate their data into a digital map.

[Screenshot: Coord]
You can play around with the map here. As of now, the API is available for software developers to integrate into their applications, and so far Google Maps, Zipcar, and the highway development company Cintra have used the company’s data. It’s easy to imagine how Coord’s data could help ensure Uber drivers only stop in legal passenger loading zones, or give Google Maps users information about where they should park. And if they succeed, perhaps the curb will be shared more equally among everyone on the road–and fade once more into the background of the city.
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About the author

Katharine Schwab is an associate editor based in New York who covers technology, design, and culture. Email her at kschwab@fastcompany.com and sign up for her newsletter here: https://tinyletter.com/schwabability

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