Denis Agar Archives

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Could technology be the answer to our parking woes?

Impossible as it might seem, the price of parking can have massive repercussions on the vitality of a city’s downtown. In Part 1, I talked about how finding the right price can reduce congestion and boost business, but that’s not all it can do. The effort to provide parkers with “perfect information” can have a number of positive repercussions.

How, for example, can cities maximize the use of downtown parking spaces? What if a computer program could change the parking rate based on the amount of spaces currently available? That way, drivers could receive the best possible information about availability and parking managers could ensure that the perfect proportion of spaces are used. As long as the system were programmed properly, there would always be spaces available. In addition, the rate would always be low enough to ensure that downtown businesses thrive.

This is part of the doctrine of respected guru Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, but so far, most cities have been reluctant. The notable exception is San Francisco, which boldly moved forward in May 2009 with the SFPark pilot program. 18,250 spaces across the city are currently priced variably according to demand. The system is calibrated to ensure that 10% of parking spaces are free at all times to reduce the need for drivers to cruise around looking for a spot. Because this is a pilot, the system is constantly adjusted based on data collected from sensors built into the pavement. Prices can fluctuate between $0.25 and $6 for a curbside spot or between $1 and $10 for a garage spot, but they can only change $0.50 per hour, so drivers don’t return to find a much higher bill than they expected.

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