Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Gizmo will direct you to empty parking spots

Here's a story from this week's Bronx Press.

By Brendan McHugh 

DOT hopes the senors can withstand the
New York weather and traffic conditions.
Need a parking spot? There may soon be an app for that. 

If the technology proves durable, drivers in the Bronx will be the first to find parking spots by checking their smartphones. 

Hockey puck sized sensors were drilled into the streets near Arthur Avenue last week in 177 parking spaces on both sides of 187th Street in Belmont. If they can survive the harsh weather conditions of New York for the next three months, motorists will be able to download a free application on their phones to find vacant parking spots. 

"We are making it easier for drivers to park. We are actually piloting new technology that will bring parking information into the palm of your hand," said Janette Sadik-Khan, the NYC DOT Commissioner. 

“There are benefits, not only to drivers but to the surrounding community,” she said. “You’re relieving the congestion and pollution associated with those people who are cruising around looking for parking.” 

The app will tell drivers if there are a high number of open spaces, if it is beginning to fill up, or if there are virtually no spots available. 

Sadik-Khan said they haven’t figured out how drivers will use the app while driving; using a mobile device not physically connected to the car is illegal in New York. 

“Right now we’re just testing the equipment,” she said. “The parking app has worked in other cities that have done it.” 

A similar system has been successful in San Francisco, she added. The sensors, made in Holland by Needap, cost about $250 each, and two are needed for each spot. Sadik-Khan said this first batch of sensors was donated and cost taxpayers nothing. 

If the technology proves viable and the DOT moves forward with a citywide program, the cost of the sensors will go down because of the amount ordered. 

The United Kingdom and Singapore have used the parking app in recent years as well. 

City Councilman James Vacca, the chair of the transportation committee, said the new app will be great for local businesses. 

“In a place like Arthur Ave, finding a space is crucial,” he said. “You leave in frustration when you can’t find a spot.” The new technology will give drivers an easier time finding a place to park. 

When asked about the logistical problem about driving and using a phone, he said that’s something that’s going to have to be figured out, but drivers should never use their phone while driving. 

Local businesses weren’t exactly buying the idea. 
DOT workers drill the hockey sized pucks into E. 187th Street.

“I’m not sold,” said Carmela Lucciola, owner of Caffe Egidio, which now has the sensors in front of the shop.. “By the time you see a spot open up on your phone and get to the spot, someone else will have taken it.” 

Frank Spaziante, of New Image Contracting, said he liked the idea, but had the same concerns as Lucciola. “By the time you find an open space on your phone, the spot is gone seconds later.” 

Neither the parking regulations in the area nor parking enforcement will change, she said. However, she didn’t rule out that—if the sensors work correctly—they could be used to dynamically price on-street parking. 

“That’s not the intention right now,” Sadik-Khan said when asked about the idea. In a November 2010, she eluded to using sensors for dynamic pricing, enforcing meter violations and to crack down on placard abuse as well. 

She did say that if the city receives reliable parking data from the new technology, there will be “all sorts of opportunities” to explore.

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