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How Technology Is Shaping Parking Policy, Pricing and Enforcement

A digital parking technology pilot in Arlington County, Va., is providing fresh, real-time data related to which areas of the city experience the highest parking demand and how to better manage those spaces.

Ryan Hickey, co-founder and chief operating officer of eleven-x, a digital parking technology company, leads a walking tour of the technology in Arlington County, Va.
Ryan Hickey, co-founder and chief operating officer of eleven-x, a digital parking technology company, leads a walking tour of the technology in Arlington County, Va.
Skip Descant/ Government Technology
ARLINGTON, Va. — On a cold, blustery afternoon last week, Ryan Hickey pointed to a small shoebox-sized piece of equipment on a utility pole above a busy intersection in Arlington County, Va.

“You can barely see it, it’s so small,” Hickey, co-founder and chief operating officer for parking technology company eleven-x, told a small crowd of technologists and others on the corner 23rd and S. Fern streets. The brief walking tour showcased a pilot project that uses tiny sensors in the pavement beneath some 4,500 parking spaces in the bustling neighborhood near Ronald Reagan Washington International Airport.

The device Hickey was pointing to is one of more than 50 “gateway” devices, which collect and transmit the data from the sensors. The eleven-x technology provides real-time information related to whether a space is occupied. That data is used both within county government for planning purposes, and by the driving public to locate an available parking space.

This three-year project in the dense urban area just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is one year in and will offer insight into which neighborhoods are experiencing the highest parking demand, and how — through pricing — the county can encourage drivers to select a parking spot in another area.

“For the first time, ever, being able to think in advance about where they’re going to successfully and easily be able to park, instead of just aiming for the neighborhood, finding the blocks they’re used to circling, and hoping for the best,” said Melissa McMahon, parking and curbspace manager with the Department of Environmental Services with Arlington County. McMahon was speaking on a panel at the recent Smart Cities Connect Conference and Expo in nearby National Harbor, Md.

The project will introduce a public-facing app showing drivers — in real time — where the available spaces are located and how much they cost.

Nearly 1,500 sensors are already installed, which involves embedding the device into the pavement with an epoxy adhesive. They don’t require a power supply connection, and the batteries last about 10 years. Already, transportation officials are learning a lot about how parking is used. For one, only about of 30 percent to 50 percent of parkers are actually paying for the parking space they are using.

Parking and traffic officials will use this compliance data to identify “hot spots,” those areas where compliance with parking payment regulations is unusually low, said McMahon.

The data will also be used for “duration of stay analyses,” to get a better sense of “when our metered hours are operational, versus when they could be operational,” she explained.

“Some of our neighborhoods have evening peaks of activity that go well beyond when the meters stop at 8 p.m.,” McMahon continued. “So it might make sense for us to have meters in some of those areas run longer in the evening in order to help manage the demand.”

Using technology to improve the parking experience is also a piece of the county’s larger plan to improve transportation and reduce carbon emissions, by reducing the circle-the-block phenomenon, common to anyone looking for a parking space.

“The sort of cake-and-eat-it-too challenge is everyone wants parking to be convenient and easy, and they want it to be free. But, the curb is one of our most valuable assets,” said McMahon. “We’ve got to help them achieve most of what they want.”
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.