Parking Management Systems Aim to Aid Drivers, Reduce Urban Congestion

NEWS ANALYSIS: Parking management systems are leveraging mobile technology and the cloud to help motorists find a place to park, reducing congestion and emissions.

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Parking management has become a serious issue for cities that already are struggling with seemingly perpetual traffic congestion in their urban cores. Traffic tie-ups waste time, hurt commerce and produce air pollution. Most cities would welcome an efficient way to reduce that traffic congestion if they could.

And they can. Cities have been experimenting with traffic management solutions of one sort or another for decades. Potential solutions include smart parking meters, limits on available parking and, recently, networked parking management systems that give motorists a way to find open spaces so they don't have waste time and fuel cruising around looking for a place to park.

The problem with traffic caused by drivers cruising around an urban area looking for a place to park turns out to be more serious than you might think. Several companies that sell such parking systems put the level of added congestion at 30 percent; a few place it higher.

A study by Donald Shoup, professor of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, found the amount of traffic in an urban area attributable to the search for parking varied from city to city, with amounts ranging from 28 percent of all traffic in New York to 45 percent in Boston. Shoup's study contended that on-street parking in most cities is too inexpensive, but his results also demonstrated that making parking easier to find would reduce traffic.

In recent years parking facility operators, including shopping malls, cities, parking management companies, have looked for ways to direct visitors to open parking spots. The reasons differ. Operators of shopping malls are trying to make the mall experience better so people will go into the stores and spend money. Cities want to cut the costs of traffic management and reduce the side effects, including pollution.

A number of solutions have emerged, in some cases depending on the parking environment. Owners of parking garages tend to gravitate to sensors mounted on the garage ceiling that can detect when a car is in a space. Operators of parking lots and on-street parking want a system that uses sensors embedded in the pavement. How these sensors inform drivers varies considerably.

In many cases, the parking management system includes a smartphone app that shows connected drivers where open spots are located, while those without smartphones take their chances. Other systems post a number board next to a garage entrance or floor stating the number of open spaces. Some cities and parking facilities are taking the next step by allowing parking space prices to rise and fall according to demand.

While management systems are gaining popularity, one significant problem is the cost of installing the required sensors and network connections. Another issue is the limits where the sensors can be placed, in some cases. The costs of the sensors can vary from $200 to $400 for most systems, not counting the cost of providing power and data connections.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...