A growing number of drivers are turning to a high-tech solution for a low-tech problem: finding a parking spot in the nation's congested cities.
From Pittsburgh to Los Angeles, and dozens of cities in between, mobile applications are becoming available to ease drivers' search for a place to park.
Parker, an integrated smartphone parking application, feeds users real-time data of parking availability, options for pay-by-phone systems and alerts for remaining meter times in more than 20 cities, including Hollywood and Reno, says Kelly Schwager, chief marketing officer for Streetline, which produces the application.
Parker uses low-power wireless sensors embedded in parking spaces to detect when and where a spot opens, Schwager says.
It is so far the only application to provide real-time, street-parking availability on a national scale, but there are several other systems in place, some of which work with Streetline.
--In San Francisco, the SFpark program, operated by sensors from a company called StreetSmart, covers about 7,000 of the city's 28,000 metered spots, in addition to 12,250 spaces in 14 of the 20 parking garages owned by San Francisco Municipal Transportation, says SFpark's program manager, Jay Primus.
--In Pittsburgh, the ParkPGH program uses data from the city's public and private garages, combining real-time information and predictive algorithms developed by Carnegie Mellon University to provide current and future parking availability downtown, said Stan Caldwell, deputy director of Technology for Safe and Efficient Transportation at Carnegie Mellon.
--In Indianapolis, the ParkIndy program tracks availability in all metered spaces of the 3,600 spots in the Indianapolis downtown and surrounding areas, said Chris Gilligan, a corporate communications manager for Xerox, a part of the operating team that partnered with the city and integrated with parking providers, including Streetline and ParkMobile.
--In Los Angeles, the federally funded program LA Express Park, introduced last May and developed by Xerox, offers two mobile apps that track downtown parking availability via Streetline sensors in 6,000 metered spots and 7,500 city-owned spaces.
Scott Wise, of Indianapolis, says he loves the idea of mobile parking applications.
But Wise questions whether it might be easier to just circle the block, given that in the time spent to track a space, another car could "beat you to the spot."
Sensor technology to detect parking availability builds on older mobile payment parking options.
ParkMobile, launched in Michigan in 2009, allows users to pay for parking by phone in 32 cities, including Seattle, Los Angeles and Houston, among the nation's most congested, according to a 2011 Texas A&M Transportation Institute Urban Mobility report.
"Over the next several years, you'll see parking managers through North America taking this innovative technology and figuring out ways to be better stewards of the people's public curbside," said Damon Harvey, the District of Columbia's Department of Transportation deputy citywide program manager.
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