By Kyle Schlosser
Keeping traffic flowing in Seattle is not an easy feat, especially when you factor in the stop-and-go maneuvering of ride-hailing vehicles such as those run by Uber and Lyft. A new pilot study from the University of Washington tested a way to ease the congestion.
The UW’s Urban Freight Lab has released the results of its Curb Allocation Change Project, which tested the traffic impacts of providing more passenger load zones for transportation network companies (TNCs), as the study refers to those cars we call with an app. In-app geofencing technology was also used to guide drivers and riders to those designated locations for loading and unloading — all to encourage drivers not to stop dead in a travel lane.
The study references a 2018 analysis by The Seattle Times, which said TNC ridership around Seattle has grown to five times what it was at the beginning of 2015. On average, there were more than 91,000 rides a day in 2018 and the majority of those are in Seattle’s densest neighborhoods. The UW’s study was conducted around Amazon’s campus in the South lake Union neighborhood, a site known to generate a large number of ride-hailing trips.
Key findings include:
- Load zones and geofencing reduced the number of driver stops in the travel lane. But even when curb load zones were empty, between 7 percent and 10 percent of drivers still stopped in-lane.
- Combining load zones and geofencing reduced the average amount of time drivers stopped. For example, 90 percent of drop-offs took less than 1 minute 12 seconds, which is 42 seconds faster than the average time with the added load zones alone.
- Passenger satisfaction increased when curb space was designated for pick-ups and drop-offs. In the study, the percentage of riders rating their curb experience as very good or excellent went up by 5 percent for pickups and 34 percent for drop-offs.
“This study provides data to help us make informed decisions about managing space and reducing conflicts on crowded Seattle streets,” said Mike Estey, Seattle Department of Transportation manager of Curbside Management. “Ride-hail apps are still a new and evolving industry with a very big impact on our transportation system. We’ll consider how this approach could reduce conflicts, especially around stadiums and popular nightlife hotspots.”
The data was collected over six weeks on three block faces along Boren Avenue in South Lake Union. Urban Freight Lab collaborated with the Sustainable Transportation Lab and SDOT to design a data-driven research methodology that combined video analytics, ground observations, user surveys and existing city data to assess a new approach to curbside management in a congested urban environment. SDOT installed additional passenger load zones and coordinated with Uber and Lyft to institute a geofence in the area.
A second phase of the study has been proposed to test the geofence and load-zone strategies in a high traffic, transit corridor to learn and compare between the two environments.