DOTs “Smart Curbs” Test on UWS Will Pit Car Owners Against Bikes and Pedestrians

The Department of Transportation is going to conduct a pilot program on how to use curb space and is going to use the Upper West Side to test its ideas. It is likely to pit car owners who are already hard pressed to find street parking against users of Citi bikes and pedestrians who crave less polluting forms of transport. And where can EVs plug in?

| 09 Jan 2024 | 12:19

It’s been a long time since the Upper West Side was on the cutting edge of much of anything. The Neoconservative movement, maybe?

That was then, but now there is this: The Upper West Side has been chosen as the pilot–the lab rat, if you like–for innovations that could dramatically affect street life for all New Yorkers for decades to come.

The Adams administration has picked the West Side to experiment with different ways to use one of the most valuable, most contested and most stepped over pieces of real estate in the city: the street just along the sidewalk curb.

“As our city evolves, it’s clear our curb space no longer reflects New Yorkers’ needs,” said the Deputy Mayor for Operations, Meera Joshi.

To get a better handle on those evolving needs, the city’s Transportation Department kicked off its Upper West Side ‘Smart Curbs’ pilot with two community workshops to hear from the neighborhood, an in person meeting Monday, January 8 at P.S. 9, at 100 west 84th street and a virtual gathering Wednesday January 10, at 6:30. You can register for the virtual meeting at

“The Upper West Side is one of the densest residential neighborhoods in the United States and has several major commercial streets,” the city’s Transportation Commissioner, Ydanis Rodriguez said in announcing the pilot. “This high density and the significant increase in demand for different curb uses make it an ideal location to pilot the Smart Curbs comprehensive curb planning approach.”

He also noted that the neighborhood has one of the lowest vehicle ownership rates in the country, with only about a quarter of households having a car.

“The neighborhood’s limited curb space must accommodate a diverse range of needs, beyond just vehicle storage,” he said.

The pilot study area will cover 41 blocks bounded by Central Park West, West 86thStreet, Broadway and West 72d street.

In a report last fall on the proliferating demand for space at New York City’s curbs, the Department of Transportation said the Upper West Side pilot project “will provide a model for how the experience at the curb could be improved in other neighborhoods through comprehensive curb planning.”

The curb use project is the most radical rethinking of who should use city streets and for what since the city in the 1950’s first authorized motorists to park their cars on the street overnight.

Competing uses have proliferated since. Bike lanes and racks for Citibikes, for example, and of course the outdoor dining that became ubiquitous during the pandemic. City planners have also been trying to figure out how to accommodate the huge increase in demand for street space from delivery services and app dispatched car services. The Sanitation Department has been conducting its own pilot further up town in using curb space for rat-proof trash containers to replace those ubiquitous black plastic bags.

The only reduction in demand for curb use that can readily be identified over the last half century is that dog owners are no longer required to curb their pets, but rather clean up after them.

A walk down one street in the study area, 76th street between Columbus and Amsterdam, illustrated the multiple demands, finding that curbside bike racks, electric vehicle charging stations, a Temple’s no parking zone and a construction site were all competing with passenger cars for space.

“New York City desperately needs a smart and modern curb management program,” said Carl Mahaney, an architect and director of an advocacy group, Streetopia Upper West Side. “In every corner of the city, this incredibly valuable real estate is languishing as free, long-term storage for private vehicles.

Not everyone welcomed the city’s experiment. “Their ‘plan’ is stupid and ill-informed,” said Renee Baruch, a retired attorney who leads a group arguing that residents should be granted permits for parking.

“They don’t seem even to consider the residents who need parking permits.”

Even as the pilot project looks to reduce parking to make space for other uses, the demand for parking will likely increase as motorists from out-of-town and outer boroughs look for places to leave their cars north of the 60th street boundary for the congestion pricing fee that is expected to go into effect this spring.

“If you read their outline, they don’t think there should be any free parking,” Baruch said, “possibly some metered parking available to all and sundry.”

She urged West Siders to attend the workshops and demand parking permits.

Commissioner Rodriquez said the city will be “taking a blank-slate approach to how we allocate our curb space to better meet the demands of today and tomorrow.”

New curb uses, he said, could include “loading zones, bike parking, carshare, public space and other innovations.”

The workshops will be the city’s first step to build a pilot plan from the neighborhood up, Rodriquez said.

In addition to the workshops, the city has also created an online feedback map for west siders in the study zone to report “curb-management related problems.”

The map can be found at:

The map had already received 269 comments as of Monday, January 8th.

“Not only do the police park their cars on the curb in front of the police station [on West 82d Street],” one resident complained, “but they also occasionally fence the curb off where they want to park so that even when cars aren’t parked there, you can’t use the sidewalk.”

From West 74th street came the complaint of “not enough residential parking due to endless construction, bulk garbage removal, and “no park” zones that don’t seem to serve any meaningful regular purpose. Removal of parking on other adjacent blocks in support of bike lanes and post-COVID restaurant outdoor footprint has resulted in difficult transportation for those that do not have easy public transport options for their regular commute.”

But a resident on West 77th street had more or less the opposite view:

“The parking on this street is only used by a tiny fraction of residents. We should replace it with other street uses, such as wider sidewalks for better accessibility, plantings, community gardens, theft-proof bike parking, or art.”

From 85th Street another resident wrote: “Asking us to pay reasonable fees for on-street parking is rational and ethical. Taking away parking when middle-class residents have no alternative is another way of alienating those who can’t afford two-million-dollar condos with on-site parking. “