Mountain View Voice

News - May 23, 2014

City eyes new technology for downtown parking

System would aid search for parking, upgrade enforcement

by Daniel DeBolt

As the number of cars being parked downtown reaches unprecedented levels, on Tuesday, City Council members considered the use of electronic signs to alleviate traffic caused by drivers hunting for parking.

Downtown garages may soon get electronic signs so drivers can see whether parking is available in either of the downtown's garages, saving drivers the hassles of driving into the garages to find a spot during busy lunch and dinner hours, and coming up short.

Environmental Planning Commission chair Robert Cox said he had studied the issue and found that such a system was "one of the most significant public benefits we could provide to people" as it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions and and reduce downtown traffic.

City Council members voted 6-1 at the May 20 meeting, with member John Inks opposed, to request bids for such a system. The city would also create an online service for people to buy and keep track of parking permits and develop a plan to use sensors to help enforce time limits, which police began to do for the first time earlier this year.

The signs would be placed near the main entrance to each garage and use sensors to track space availability. The sign would also show parking availability at the other downtown garage, as well as directions to it. The data would also be available on a city web page.

An engineer at Google, Evan Krosky, urged the council ensure that parking space data is made available to to the public so it can be integrated into various parking apps for smart phone users.

"If someone is trying to sell you a website or app for helping residents or visitors find parking, you need to make sure they have a mechanism for others to access that data," he said. "Make this data available to apps your residents and visitors are already using."

As for enforcing time limits with the new sensors, city officials say they hope it will equal higher turnover in city parking lots, allowing more people to visit downtown.

Enforcement efforts "can cover so much more ground with vehicle detection" than the old tire chalk method, said council member Mike Kasperzak. "We are still getting complaints from people, despite enhanced enforcement. Too many people are staying."

Funding for the system would come from $185,000 the city has already budgeted towards parking technologies. According to a city report, costs for the wayfinding signs "can range from $75,000 per occupancy sign showing total spaces available at the entrance of a parking facility with the vehicle detection technology, to over $200,000 for a more integrated system consisting of a sign at the garage's entrance, a sign at each level, and vehicle detection technology in each individual parking space." The website for buying parking permits and tracking space availability could cost as much as $36,000.

There are some privacy concerns, however, as the city decides between types of sensors for enforcing parking time limits and tracking space availability. There are cameras that record license plate numbers (a $60,000 system) and sensors that simply record a car's size and color (a $100,000 system). License plate cameras, while perhaps raising privacy concerns, would save parking permit users from printing permits to place on their car's dashboard, as the permit would simply be associated with their license plate number.

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