Infrastructure

Sacramento, Calif., Rethinks Some of Its Smart Meters

A new protected bike lane project is going to put vehicles farther away from sensor-enabled parking meters, meaning they won’t be able to detect parked cars.

by Tony Bizjak, The Sacramento Bee / March 27, 2018
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(TNS) — Three years after installing millions of dollars worth of "smart" parking meters, the city is about to remove 175 of them on four streets, including one entire side of J Street in midtown.

The reason: The meter sensors cannot handle a new task being asked of them.

The meters to be removed sit on sections of J, P, Q and 10th streets where the city intends to install a series of new-style bike lanes called "parking protected” lanes.

To create the lanes, he city will move the car parking area out further into the street, away from the sidewalk, and put a bike path in the curb area between the parked cars and the sidewalk.

That essentially turns the parked cars into a protective barrier for cyclists, keeping them away from moving vehicles in the street.

City officials want to try the new style in hopes that it will prompt more people to feel comfortable biking to work downtown, and will encourage more of them to ride in the street instead of on the sidewalk.

But it means the parked cars now will be about 8 feet away from the meters, far enough away so that the meters' sensors can no longer detect whether or not a car is pulling out of the corresponding parking spot.

That creates a problem for the city because the meters are programmed to "zero out" when each parked car leaves the spot, erasing any of the unused time the car driver had paid for. (Previously, when the city had old-style, non-electronic meters, the next driver pulling into the spot often could take advantage of any leftover time on the meter.)

City officials will replace the meters with one or two parking payment machines per block – the same green pay stations the city used to use, but removed when smart meters arrived.

The estimated installation cost is $90,000 for about 30 blocks at $3,000 per block.

The pay stations will be slightly more convenient this time around than when last in use. Parkers must get out of their car, walk to the machine and pay, but they no longer have to get a receipt sticker and put it on the inside of their windshield.

Instead, they must punch their license plate number into the machines. That way, city parking enforcement officers patrolling streets can tell, via electronic messaging, whether the car parked in a given spot is the one whose driver fed the pay kiosk.

City parking officials indicated in an email that the changes are part of an expected evolution of their street parking program over time.

"Fortunately, due to the technologies we have available, we are able to be flexible and adapt to our constantly changing environment," said an email from spokeswoman Marycon Young.

Parkers can use the Parkmobile app on their smartphones for the new stations.

The city ran into trouble last year with its smart meters and Parkmobile app, giving out an estimated 3,900 improper parking tickets and prompting an ongoing audit of the parking division operations.

City auditor Jorge Oseguera said last week he plans to issue his preliminary analysis next month of what went wrong, then continue with a more extensive analysis of the city's parking operations through much of the year.

City officials say they plan to add the new bike lanes to P, Q and 10th streets next month, and on J Street in July.

The J Street changes should be particularly notable for drivers and pedestrians, as well as cyclists.

In an effort to slow cars and make the corridor safer, the city will eliminate one of the street's three lanes, taking it down to a two-lane road, both lanes heading east.

©2018 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.