Parking and traffic flow in the smart city

Parking and traffic flow are hot topics for cities looking to be smarter and more sustainable. If you consider that it is estimated that 1 million barrels of oil are used per day by frustrated people circling the block looking for parking, it is understandable why fixing congestion and parking problems are high up on the agenda for most cities.

Smart parking involves low cost sensors, real time data collection, management software, analytics and mobile phone payment systems. These technologies work to allow people to reserve parking spots in advance and predict with a high degree of accuracy where parking is likely available.

In many cities these sensors are evolving from underground sensors, subject to damage by roadwork and snowplows, to sensors on light poles and in parking garages which provide more information to drivers and are less subject to damage. A happy byproduct of a digital parking system is less air pollution and traffic congestion as people spend less time hunting for the illusive spot.

Los Angeles is one of the many cities worldwide that has embraced smart parking technology. The city has implemented a demand-based pricing system based on three different components: underground sensors that monitor when a space is occupied, a data analytics system that analyzes occupancy rates and recommends price adjustments, and a notification system encompassing apps, websites and street signs that inform drivers of vacant parking spaces in real time. Users type in their desired location and are presented with real time occupancy levels and prices of nearby bays. Drivers can pre-book their space before arriving, while a GPS system guides them directly to the available space. Smart parking meters also allow drivers to pay via credit card or mobile application. This system was funded in part by $15 million in grants from the US department of Transportation and $3.5 million from the city. 

As people continue to move into cities, smart parking can help transform urban landscapes to make them more sustainable and better equipped to handle their growing populations.