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El Monte, Calif., Leads Drivers to Parking Via Smart Tech

Citizens in El Monte, Calif., will be taking advantage of digital signage that reveals the availability of roughly 400 parking spots in the city. The system also includes an app that can help residents plan their travel.

Smart Parking, El Monte, Calif.
Digital signage in El Monte, Calif., tells motorists about available nearby parking spaces.
Image Courtesy of Cleverciti
El Monte, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles, believes the future of parking involves leading drivers to open spaces, thereby reducing circling and traffic congestion.

The city has nearly completed installing a set of smart-parking signs that will inform drivers about the availability of about 400 parking spaces located downtown and by a commuter rail station.

“Train stations are especially important to have parking occupancy detection, because it helps give commuters confidence that there will be a parking space available to ensure they won’t miss their train,” said David Parker, chief operating officer at Cleverciti, the parking and IoT technology company the city has partnered with on the project.

Cleverciti deploys optical sensors on lampposts and other existing infrastructure that harvest visual data on parking availability. The system allows drivers to learn about open parking spots via nearby digital signage or a mobile app.

A similar Cleverciti parking system was deployed in Redwood City, Calif., affecting some 4,500 parking spaces.

Other cities like Miami are using visual sensors to provide real-time parking information, which can support curb management or even the dynamic pricing of parking, said Alejandra "Alex" Argudin, CEO of the Miami Parking Authority, during a recent webinar hosted by CoMotion LIVE.

“I think using technology has allowed us to start gathering these types of information," Argudin said. "We are using some cameras … And that will allow us to gather better data and be more efficient."

“For a lot of cities, being able to monetize the curb will be another source of income,” she added.

Similarly, parking sensors can also help cities determine when a free space should become a metered space, said Jacob Wessel, public realm director in Boston.

“When we have a sensor that’s physically mounted somewhere, or a data stream … that would feed in continually, it allows us to be able to monitor that data that comes in, over time,” said Wessel during the webinar.

But more broadly, visual and other sensors monitoring parking and traffic flows can have the downstream effect of reducing traffic congestion and car use by giving drivers more information before they even start their journey, said Brandon Long, director of public-sector and smart city innovation at Nexar.

If commuters are able to see a lack of parking at their destination, perhaps they will choose another mode of transportation like transit, he added.

“So [we're] helping consumers make smarter decisions on their transit choices and their journey of choice as we continue to live in more and more congested cities and curb management becomes more and more of a priority,” Long said during the webinar in reference to crowd-sourced data.

This is part of the thinking behind the smart parking project in El Monte where digital signage and a mobile app guides motorists to available spaces.

“We are leveraging game-changing technologies like Cleverciti to create new commuting habits and lifestyle choices for people without them feeling like they are compromising convenience or safety,” said Alma Martinez, city manager of El Monte. City officials did not immediately return a request for additional comment.

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed more smart city projects like these forward as cities aim to improve safety and revive business activity, particularly in downtowns, said Parker. He added that the parking system works symbiotically with Metrolink’s “How Full Is My Train?” feature, a digital tool showing riders the level of crowdedness on trains.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.