Management & Operations

How 'smart parking' can help to ease traffic congestion

Posted on February 1, 2005 by By Joey Campbell, Managing Editor

If commuters stuck in traffic knew that parking was available at nearby public transit stations, would they consider abandoning the road in favor of trains or buses? That was the fundamental question asked by a San Francisco Bay Area partnership before it launched a “smart parking” pilot project aimed at thinning out highway congestion and increasing transit usage. On Dec. 7, 2004, a field trial was initiated at the Rockridge Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) station near a busy stretch of California Highway 24. Eight public and private entities came together to develop the pilot, which involves flashing road signs that display real-time updates of the number of parking spaces available at the station. The system also allows people to reserve spaces or track availability by Internet, phone, cell phone and PDA up to two weeks in advance of a trip. Project officials say early returns are positive, and plans for expansion may soon be underway. “Ultimately, the vision for this project is the possibility to expand and enhance, or replicate the successes in other locations,” says Susan Shaheen, the project’s principal investigator and research scientist for California Partners for Advanced Transit to Highways (PATH) at the University of California, Berkeley. Technology and cooperation
Along with researchers at PATH, officials from the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and BART are also supervising the pilot’s progress. Caltrans has contributed $500,000 to the project, while several private-sector businesses have also offered technology and financial backing. The project uses sensors that count the number of vehicles entering and exiting the Rockridge transit station. Information collected by these sensors is relayed to a central reservation system, which keeps a master tally of available parking spaces. The computer then relays this real-time information to the message signs on the road. Quixote Corp., a Chicago-based provider of transportation safety products, provided hardware, software, sensors and signs to the pilot. Intel, Microsoft and Verizon Wireless made technology contributions. Another private stakeholder, ParkingCarma in Emeryville, Calif., integrated all the various technologies and now operates the central reservation Website. Mike Yerly, public relations officer for Quixote, says businesses were eager to contribute expertise either for free or at reduced cost because everyone wanted to see if it could work. ’A learning experience’
Since the Dec. 7, 2004, launch, more than 400 commuters have used the smart parking service, and more than 100 have completed research surveys, with most of them offering positive feedback. Lester Yoshida, vice president of intelligent transportation systems for Quixote, says this type of program offers multiple benefits. “It has applicability to public transportation, especially along congested corridors, so that drivers can choose to have the flexibility to make decisions whether to drive or ride transit,” he says. The project also proves that public transit agencies and departments of transportation can work together to solve congestion problems, he adds. Despite the initial successes, Shaheen says it’s important to remember that the project is only a test, with much research and investigation remaining. “It’s definitely a learning experience,” she says. A complete evaluation of the pilot will document travel and economic effects through an advanced monitoring program that includes real-time data collection, observational analyses, online survey instruments, focus groups and interviews with users over a one-year period.

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