Parking: Can Technology Tackle the Great Unsolved Urban Challenge?
New technology now exists to tackle one of a city’s most pressing issues: parking. Communities large and small including Los Angeles, New York, Indianapolis, and Fort Lauderdale are among the first users of new sensing and guidance technology that is changing the way motorists find and pay for parking. In addition to these larger metropolises, smaller suburban cities like San Carlos in Northern California are using the technology and seeing the impact it can have in many areas.
San Carlos is situated in the heart of Silicon Valley between San Francisco and San Jose. The City’s 28,615 residents make up a thriving downtown community with a variety of restaurants, cafes, and boutiques. With a motto of “The City of Good Living,” the city is aiming to also be the city of good parking.
Through a partnership with Cisco and Streetline, the City of San Carlos is now using a network of sensors and software applications to assist drivers in finding available parking, and help the city manage their parking assets more effectively.
In a city-wide survey, it was found that more than half (57%) of respondents agreed that there is not enough parking in downtown San Carlos.
This is a common sentiment in many cities across the country. However, using parking studies, and more recently real-time parking data, many cities are finding that they generally don’t have a lack of available parking; drivers instead have the perception of scarcity due to a lack of information.
So, just how does this technology work? For motorists, data from parking sensors is pushed to a smart phone application, websites – and soon in-car navigation systems – to show available parking options around a given area. In addition to on-street parking spaces, motorists can access information about nearby parking lots and garages, as well as useful parking policy information such as time limits, or special restrictions like EV charging stations, ADA spaces, or commercial loading zones.
“There is no doubt that San Carlos has a parking problem. The system alleviates that with the real-time, on-street information but also by highlighting the off-street lots. Oftentimes, spaces are available in these lots while motorists pack Laurel Street waiting for a street spot to open up” said Lisa Costa Sanders, City Planner for City of San Carlos.
Improving the City Ecosystem
For the city, the parking sensors provide a detailed look at parking activity in terms of occupancy, turnover, length of stay, etc.
In addition, the city receives bi-weekly reports that analyze key trends and activity. By looking at the historical data and real-time data, cities like San Carlos can make informed, data-driven policy decisions related to optimizing enforcement hours, extending or reducing time limits, changing rates, or re-allocating permitted spaces.
Smaller cities and universities like Reno, Ellicott City, Clemson University, and San Mateo are also using this technology in similar ways. By offering a new service like parking guidance, these cities, towns, and universities can reduce parking congestion and optimize utilization of their parking real estate. The impact of this technology on parking-related driving times and emissions is becoming clearer. A recent study by Streetline in several metro areas, for example, compared motorists using the parking guidance app Parker to motorists looking for parking without guidance for nearly 30 trips. The drivers looked for parking near the same destination at the same time of day. On average, those using a parking guidance app reduced their search time by 43%. Additionally, the total vehicle miles traveled for those using the guidance app were reduced by nearly 21%. And, motorists using Parker saved money, as well; by using the information available within the app, motorists were more likely to find less expensive parking options, still within a reasonable distance from their final destination.
Cities are competing to attract talent, and many are implementing programs to make their downtowns more desirable. However, without the ability to access these downtowns, people will not be able to enjoy all that cities have to offer. As part of a complete streets/multimodal transportation strategy, smart parking can help to optimize space usage and facilitate access to downtown commerce areas. This improved access has the potential to make a city more competitive and improve the local economy.
It’s estimated that motorists looking for parking causes up to 30% of city traffic. A study by IBM found that reducing traffic congestion by 10% could increase GDP by 2%, and the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) found that the same 10% reduction could create 132,000 jobs in their region alone! With lower congestion and better access to parking availability, more people are able to visit downtown, giving stores higher foot traffic and increasing revenue for the city.
These positive impacts can attract job seekers, entrepreneurs, tourism, and residents to spur further growth. For cities like San Carlos, this means happier residents and visitors, more prosperous merchants, and a more inviting, vibrant community.
Parking is just one aspect of city life where sensing & networking technology is having a significant impact. The Streetline network, once deployed, has the potential to enable cities to deploy other “smart city” applications such as light & temperature sensing, noise & pollution sensing, and water pressure & level sensing.
“We see the smart parking system as just the beginning in using technology to improve city efficiency. The ‘connected’ concept can carry over into street light monitoring, wastewater monitoring, and a host of other applications,” said Sanders.
While we’re just at the beginning of this journey, the technology is advancing to make the promise of a “smart city” closer to reality.
Leave your comment below, or reply to others.
Please note that this comment section is for thoughtful, on-topic discussions. Admin approval is required for all comments. Your comment may be edited if it contains grammatical errors. Low effort, self-promotional, or impolite comments will be deleted.
Read more from MeetingoftheMinds.org
Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
Since historically marginalized communities are already being disproportionally impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, I am frustrated to see these communities also negatively impacted by the lack of on-the-ground public engagement. While I realize the threat of COVID-19 and the associated restrictions make conducting on-the-ground public engagement challenging, I want to encourage fellow planners to think more creatively. I will admit that I struggled to think creatively when I first heard that Clackamas Community College (CCC) would continue having mostly online classes in Spring Term 2021. CCC has had mostly online classes since the end of Winter Term 2020 when COVID-19 first started impacting Oregon. CCC’s decision about Spring Term 2021 became more stressful when Clackamas County staff told me that public outreach for their new shuttles could not be delayed until next summer.
A new toolkit has been developed to help businesses think through strategies to decrease mobility barriers to the workplace, which reduces turnover. When workers can reliably get to work regardless of their personal circumstances, it provides employment stability and the opportunity to build wealth. It’s a win-win. Developed through a partnership between Metropolitan Planning Council and a pro bono Boston Consulting Group team, the toolkit includes slide decks, an overview report, customizable templates, a cost calculator, and instructional videos walking a company through the thought process of establishing a baseline situation, evaluating and selecting a solution, and standing up a program.
Depending on the employer’s location and employees’ needs, solutions may range from helping with last-mile transportation to the transit system, to developing on-demand vanpools, to establishing in-house carpool matching systems. The ROI calculator gives employers the ability to determine the break-even cost—the subsidy amount a company can manage without hurting the bottom line.
Housing that is affordable to low-income residents is often substandard and suffering from deferred maintenance, exposing residents to poor air quality and high energy bills. This situation can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory health issues, and siphon scarce dollars from higher value items like more nutritious food, health care, or education. Providing safe, decent, affordable, and healthy housing is one way to address historic inequities in community investment. Engaging with affordable housing and other types of community benefit projects is an important first step toward fully integrating equity into the green building process. In creating a framework for going deeper on equity, our new book, the Blueprint for Affordable Housing (Island Press 2020), starts with the Convention on Human Rights and the fundamental right to housing.