Four reasons to put smart parking on your city's traffic roadmap

A lot of transportation planning involves figuring out how to get cars off the road. Typically, that’s about getting cars off the road for good by moving commuters into transit or other forms of shared transportation.

But cities shouldn’t overlook parking. There’s some debate over the true impact, but there’s no question that when parking is in short supply, congestion and frustrated citizens are the result.

This is by no means the norm, but studies have found that in certain New York City neighborhoods at certain times of the day, nearly half the drivers are looking for a parking space. Drivers who are on the road only because they can’t find a place to park are causing congestion and unnecessary carbon emissions.

From helping the disabled to boosting the economy, here are a few good reasons to embrace smart parking. — Kevin Ebi

1. Dynamic pricing helps match supply and demand
Nobody likes to pay more for anything, but it’s a matter of basic economics. If there are many more drivers looking for a place to park than there are available spaces, raising the price can help you achieve a balance.

In Los Angeles, more than 6,000 parking spaces on the street and in some city-owned lots are now equipped with sensors. Analytics tell the city where parking is scarce and where it’s abundant, allowing them to adjust prices up and down accordingly.

The result is that drivers who need a spot get one — and some who are willing to adapt get a bargain!

2. Smart parking helps the disabled
Cary, North Carolina, one of our 2018 Smart Cities Readiness Challenge winners, deployed smart parking as a way to improve its livability even as it goes through rapid population growth.

One interesting part of its approach: It’s not just tracking the availability of parking overall, it’s also tracking the usage of spaces for the handicapped. It’s doing this work through a project involving Council Lead Partner Cisco. If the city finds that all of its disabled parking spaces are constantly full, it’s an important piece of data that helps it adapt to meet that need.

3. It helps pay for city services
While street parking is often the cheapest source of parking for drivers, for many cities, it is a significant source of revenue. Seattle, for example, collected $37 million in fees for its street parking over the course of a year.

The primary goal, of course, is to make sure parking is available for those who need it and to turn over the parking spaces on regular intervals to give retailers and restaurants a steady stream of customers.

By optimizing strategies for that goal, however, some cities have been able to boost their parking revenue by 20% or so. Real-time data can also help you optimize parking enforcement.

4. Parking is about to become even smarter
One of the reasons parking is such a struggle is that there’s only so much land available for parking, while city populations continue to swell. There are new technologies just around the corner that will make better use of available space, but they begin with a smart parking infrastructure today.

Self-parking car trials are in progress. We’re not anywhere close to this point yet, but some day, self-parking technology could fit 60% more cars into garages. Among other things, they park much closer together and don’t need stairs or pedestrian walkways. But they do need a basic infrastructure that tells them where they can park.