One of Winchester's smart parking sensors (Photo: City of Winchester)
If you've ever tried to park in most any city's downtown, you've no doubt faced the prospect of circling around the block looking for a place to stow your car. It's more than a mere nuisance: all that extra driving around creates more traffic, consumes more gas and produces more tailpipe emissions. Indeed, one study of a 15-block business district in Los Angeles found that cruising for parking accounted for more than one million kilometres of car travel per year.
The City of Westminister, one of the inner boroughs of London, has a plan to curtail that extra driving: starting this week, it's installing 3,000 sensors under its visitor parking spots that will detect whether there's a car above them. The data from these sensors is then fed into a smartphone app, which drivers can use to find an empty spot (ideally before they start driving).
According to Quartz, drivers in the borough spend an average of 15 minutes searching for a parking spot — and it's little wonder, given that it's home to Mayfair, Soho and the theatre district. The Westminster council conducted a trial run of the scheme in 2012 with 189 sensors along five streets, with encouraging results. Should this deployment prove as successful, it plans to roll out the technology to a further 7,000 spots.
Winchester isn't the first city to deploy so-called "smart parking." In San Francisco, the city installed a parking management system called SFpark that provided citizens with real-time data on parking availability, and even altered parking rates in response to demand to ensure that there was always a certain number of free spots available (the price of street parking would go up during times of high demand, encouraging drivers to park further and walk). That system was just a pilot program, and was shut down last month. It's now being evaluated to see whether it will return.
In the future, Winchester council hopes to integrate the parking data into the central London transportation information network, so visitors and commuters will be able to estimate their total trip time when they're driving into the city — and plan their parking accordingly.