SFpark may make San Francisco parking a breeze

July 12, 2008

SFpark may make San Fransisco parking a breeze Sensor technology may make parking a little bit easier in San Francisco. The city is going install small sensors in 6,000 of its 24,000 metered parking spaces that will inform drivers when these spots are available. These alerts can be displayed on special street signs or on smart-phones. They could also potentially offer other services as well.

According to the NYTimes, the sensor, called a “bump,” is a small 4-by-4 rectangular device that’s glued onto the pavement. It has a small battery that’s capable of lasting 5 to 10 years without being serviced. Furthermore, the technology was developed by a group of researchers at the University of California, Berkley, and later on adapted by a company called Streetline.

All of the bumps form a wireless mesh network that feeds parking availability as well as traffic congestion information to people. It’s controlled by a central management office near the San Francisco city hall.

Tod Dykstra, chief executive of Streetline, believes that this program will be expanded to all of the city’s on-street and parking garage spaces in 2010. He had this to say about the project.

“The broader picture is what we’re building is an operating system for the city that allows you to talk to or control all the inanimate objects out there to reduce the cost and improve quality of city services.”

This program could be expanded to incorporate other useful features as well. If further integration with cell phones was made, people could pay for parking or add to their parking meter from their phone and never have to return to their cars.

What brought on this initiative was a tragedy that happened two years ago. 19-year-old, Boris Albinder, was stabbed to death during a petty fight over a parking space. “If the San Francisco experiment works, no one will have to murder anyone over a parking space,” says Donald Shoup, a professor at the University of California who studies urban planning.

Dr. Shoup has conducted many studies in traffic congestion. He studied the Los Angeles business district for over a year and discovered that the number of cars cruising for parking is equivalent to 38 trips around the world, burning 47,000 gallons of gasoline and producing 730 tons of carbon dioxide.

Some of the guidelines that went into the SFpark project came from this man. He believes that this program will be a huge benefit for transportation, the economy, and the environment.

Many other major cities are beginning to discuss using smart parking systems to relieve traffic congestion. However, New York City is not one of them. Although, given the recent failure in getting state legislation to pass congestion pricing plans this spring, they may want to consider this alternative. Plus, in a recent study by the Transportation Alternatives, a public transit advocacy group, it was said that 28-45 percent of traffic in NYC is generated by people just circling blocks.

The SFpark project is apart of a much larger 2-yr $95.5 million program designed to clean up San Francisco’s road ways. If it works, hopefully we’ll be able to see available parking spaces pop-up on our blackberries, iPhones, and other smart phone devices in other major cities.

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