RP Siegel

Helping You Find This Parking Spot Would Save Energy

There has been quite a bit written lately about how cities are surprisingly energy efficient. But one area where cities don’t fare as well is with the energy consumed by cars and trucks that crawl through the streets, many of them simply looking for a parking space.

According to this study by the UCLA Department of Urban Planning, drivers in a 15-block district in Los Angeles “drove more than 950,000 miles, emitted 730 metric tons of carbon dioxide, and burned 47,000 gallons of gas, looking for parking.”

So it would appear that doing something about parking could really help save energy and reduce emissions. But what can be done?

Could Technology Provide a Solution?

Cities are already jam-packed and there is little, if any, room for additional parking structures. Is it possible that technology can help improve the utilization of the parking that is already available?

That is, in essence, the idea behind Smart Parking, a subset of the new field of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS). ITS is characterized by three I’s: instrumentation, interconnection and intelligence. All you basically need is instrumentation to detect conditions (which parking spots are available), a data infrastructure to collect and disseminate the information and a smartphone app.

Pilot programs are already in place. In Los Angeles, LA Express Park uses installed sensors for 6,000 parking spots on downtown streets. This works in conjunction with an app called Parker, by Streetline. ParkMe is more widely available, serving drivers in 1,823.cities in 32 countries.

Still Bugs to Work Out

The systems aren’t yet perfect. Like any new technology, there will be bugs to work out. In San Francisco’s SFpark, for example, parking sensors are plagued with electrical interference from overhead streetcar wires. And since, in big cities, parking spots often only stay open for less than a minute, the apps could lead to frustration at times. There’s also the possibility that law enforcement could use real-time data to write more parking tickets.

But while some cities might use this technology to increase ticket revenues, cities such as Boulder, Colo., use it to make the visitor experience more pleasant. The Rocky Mountain city has moved away from individual fixed parking meters, to a “pay and display” system similar to what Portland and Seattle use. This allows drivers to pay for a certain amount of parking time, which can be transferred to a different location within the same area.

The city also offers downtown gift cards that can be used for parking or shopping. Molly Winter, Director of Parking Services, says, “What we really try to do is manage the [parking] resource, which is an integral part of the economic success of any area.”

Broader Opportunities in Play

The broader opportunities, including navigation apps like Embark that encourage and make it easy for people to use public transportation and much more, can provide a 20-fold return on investment, according to a study in the Journal of Transportation Systems Engineering.

Airports also are beginning to use the technology, using embedded sensors to direct drivers to spaces that are available in parking structures. The technology is not cheap, at around $450 per parking spot. But according to a spokesman at Baltimore/Washington International Airport, where such a system has been installed, the lots can now be filled to 100-percent capacity. Before, the lots were closed at 75-80 percent out of fear of wasting passengers’ time when they had planes to catch.

Other applications can be placed on businesses’ websites to display where parking is available nearby. Technology also can be used to alert drivers of traffic congestion, potentially avoiding traffic jams, which also have a high energy and emissions price tag. Another application called on{x}, can, among other things, sense when you have moved from driving to walking and automatically remember, using the built-in GPS, where your car is parked.

It’s always nice to see technology that can save energy, reduce emissions, and improve quality of life at the same time.

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