The days of circling neighborhood blocks to find an open parking spot in New York City could soon be over.

The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) is piloting a program in the Bronx that utilizes ground sensors to indicate where open parking is located on city streets. The hockey puck-sized sensors transmit data in near-real time, eventually allowing drivers to look up available spots using Web-based applications or smartphones.

Scott Gastel, deputy press secretary with the NYC DOT, said the project is a result of a Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) the agency released in 2010. Parking technology vendors gave officials an overview of various technologies and the sensors came out as one of better ideas.

“This pilot will tell us if the sensors survive a harsh NYC winter and if they give us reliable information that drivers need to find parking,” Gastel said in an email to Government Technology.

He added that DOT wanted to evaluate how the technology stands up to a variety of factors, including snow plowing, daily street sweeping, underground utilities, electromagnetic interference and general traffic. Similar technology has been tested in San Francisco, but the rougher Northeast weather conditions should provide a more thorough analysis of the sensors’ hardiness.

How it Works

For the pilot, sensors installed in a street in the Bronx will detect a parked car using infrared and/or magnetometer sensing. They transmit the data to wireless gateways mounted on street light poles which kick the information to cellular and wireless networks and ultimately, back to DOT. If the project goes full scale, that data would then be made available to citizens.

DOT crews spent time earlier this month installing the sensors. According to Gastel, the pilot is a no-cost project, with vendors providing all the equipment and their time free of charge to the city.

“The technology is still developing and we plan on reporting general parking availability that is near real time for a specific block — for example, ‘30 percent of parking is available on a specific block,’” Gastel said. “DOT will be testing the accuracy and timeliness of the data.”

According to CrownHeights.info, if the evaluation is deemed successful, DOT may expand the program to other areas in the city later this year.

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1998, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.