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Making Sense of City Parking (Contributed)

Advances in sensor technology and analytics can improve how cities use their parking spaces, which can reduce congestion, enhance air quality and boost revenue.

Parking is a large-scale problem in cities throughout the world, contributing to a host of problems, including congestion, poor air quality and road safety issues. In Paris, drivers spend an average of three years of their lives searching for spots on streets, in lots or in garages. On average, a driver spends between 10 and 20 minutes trying to find a parking place. Drivers who have to hunt for a parking spot every day for work — assuming they work 210 days a year — could spend from 35 to 70 hours searching for that elusive space each year.

A primary problem for cities is the prevalence of public, on-street parking, as well as open-air parking lots. The data governing these spaces is non-existent, which means city leaders don’t know if spaces are being used, how they’re being used and for how long. An additional issue is a lack of real-time information and communication. In many European cities, for example, there is no data or signage to help direct drivers to available on-street parking. 

Without information on where they can find on-street parking, drivers rely on luck to find an available space. After that, they drive into garages or park further away from their destination. This kind of random searching generates traffic, which can be avoided by providing drivers with reliable, real-time data about all available spaces in a city or at a private parking area. Drivers can use this information to make an immediate decision based on actual data and avoid lengthy searches. Corporate parking companies and city officials must provide real-time data that can be visualized at crucial decision-making points for the driver in order to reduce traffic, emissions and loss of valuable time and quality of life. 

Advances in Parking Sensors

This is where traffic management through an intelligent parking platform comes into play. Parking sensors that can monitor up to 100 spaces per single device can be affixed to light poles and used to reliably and systematically gather information about available and occupied parking spaces in real time and transmit the data to both drivers and the appropriate managerial personnel. These sensors can measure the size and number of available spaces and update their status frequently, communicating their exact GPS positions via common content delivery networks. At the same time, the overhead sensors also monitor areas where parking is restricted or not allowed, such as loading zones, fire hydrants or other safety areas and immediately relay messages to authorities, increasing the overall safety in the city and other parking areas.

While it may sound like a simple process, there are challenges to consider when it comes to the effectiveness of parking sensors, such as their location. For example, in-ground sensors, a parking solution sometimes tested in the market today, present a myriad of problems, including ineffective readings that can result in unreliable data and lost revenue.

Another issue is the installation process of ground sensors in individual bays, which is expensive, disturbs traffic and results in road closures. Additionally, in-ground sensors have limited battery life, along with a high risk of damage through vandalism, roadwork, snowplows and, in the busy on-street environment, significant interference from magnetic “noise.” 

In contrast, modern parking sensors placed above the street on lampposts can be installed quickly and efficiently while generating highly reliable real-time data. This data can be processed by edge computing directly in the sensors with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning technologies. With only minimal data transmitted in the form of precise GPS coordinates, the data transfer is inexpensive and safeguards privacy. This type of parking management can be considered intelligent parking, but what really makes a solution of this nature clever is its ability to integrate that data in sophisticated data analytics cockpits and local wayfinding systems that enable both the operators as well as the drivers to have all information ‘at their fingertips’ at any time. 

What It Means for Cities

Enhancing a city's ability to manage traffic by using technology that informs drivers about the exact occupancy levels of on-street parking and other surface parking areas has the potential to significantly reduce congestion in urban environments. Going further, modern parking technologies will contribute to lower emissions based on the reduction of drivers circling in vain and ‘blindly’ cruising city streets, solely relying on luck to find a space.  

The data generated from parking management software and sensors brings highly valuable information to city leaders to manage their valuable parking real estate, determine pricing and steer traffic. The parking revenue potential can only be determined with reliable occupancy data coupled with measures to considerably increase such revenue. By offering drivers better service in the form of saved time and less stress, cities can expect to see higher compliance and payment rates for parking. More efficient intelligent parking systems have a fast return on investment while increasing parking revenue, which can be invested in other initiatives across a metropolitan area, including better public transportation and other measures improving the quality of life in cities.

Government and city leaders are tasked with making critical decisions on investments in technology and modern data services to help improve the lives of a city's residents and visitors. As part of a comprehensive plan for making a city more intelligent, it's important for these leaders to research and implement clever parking solutions that help meet emissions standards, serve the greater population and increase revenues for cities. 

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