Wireless mesh networking is helping flustered drivers find parking places in congested cities. The New York Times reported last week on San Francisco's effort “… to make sure that there is always at least one empty parking spot available on every block that has meters.” The city employs the law of supply and demand to raise parking rates on crowded blocks, encouraging drivers to look for spots in less crowed areas.
Reports the Times, “While the new prices are still being phased in—the most expensive spots have risen to $4.50 an hour, but could reach $6—preliminary data suggests that the change may be having a positive effect in some areas.” In particular, the Times notes that raising prices from $3.50 an hour to $4.50 on a stretch of Drumm Street near the Embarcadero and Ferry Building made spaces available a little more often.
The San Francisco project employs parking-sensor technology from StreetSmart. Other firms providing similar technology to other cities include Streetline Networks, which employs radios and other components from Dust Networks in its smart parking systems, as I discuss in a feature in this month's issue of EE-Evaluation Engineering.
With regard to the San Francisco project, the Times cautions, “It is too early to tell whether the program is working over all, but an analysis of city parking data by The New York Times found signs that the new rates are having the desired effect in some areas. While only a third of the blocks in the program have hit their targeted occupancy rates in any given month since the program began, the analysis found, three-quarters of the blocks either hit their targets or moved closer to the goal. The program has been a bit more successful on weekdays.”
The project raises many concerns, the Times reports, including the fact that hiking parking rates in desirable areas makes them less accessible to poor people. Conversely, the higher rates subsidize public transportation. In addition, it's estimated that one-third of urban traffic consists of people driving around looking for parking spaces, and reducing that fraction can help speed buses on their way, thereby benefitting people who may not own cars.
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