How Cities in the U.S. Can Learn from Smart City Innovations in Europe


How Cities in the U.S. Can Learn from Smart City Innovations in Europe

Europe leads in many areas of smart city innovation and many of the lessons we’ve learned in Europe can be brought to the U.S. to accelerate smart city deployment here. In this article, I will first suggest how smart city projects can be prioritized to work on areas that will have the most impact first, and then deep-dive on smart parking, including two real-life examples, one from Europe and another from the U.S.

The best place to start prioritizing is to understand the benefits
of smart city that are
most important for your city.

Specific to smart parking, we have learned that when effectively deployed, smart parking solutions can grow revenue while reducing vehicle minutes traveled (time in cars), thereby improving quality of life and traffic congestion while reducing carbon emissions and realizing a positive financial ROI.

Smart City Benefits & Priorities: Choosing the right projects, at the right scale

The best place to start prioritizing is to understand the benefits of smart city that are most important for your city. For instance, increased safety, reduced traffic congestion, cleaner air, reduced noise pollution, etc. However, no matter what your city’s goals are, generating revenue must be one of the essential topics. 

Next, should you pilot? In our years of experience collaborating with cities, we have noticed a trend of doing small-scale pilots for already-proven technology, thereby delaying the achievement of the city’s goals. Reflecting on this, we realized cities could benefit greatly by learning from the experiences of others. 

Solving Parking Search: Why & How

What impacts are possible to realize and how to realize them

There is a lot of focus in the transportation world today on Vehicle Miles Traveled. However, we have found that Vehicle Minutes Traveled is even more important. In an hour-long journey, sometimes the last 15 minutes of your travel are spent only going 1 mile, driving in circles looking for a parking space. During that time, the vehicle is still creating traffic congestion, and still generating emissions. This is why Cleverciti focuses on solving parking search: it can have the greatest positive impact of all the elements of the total journey.

But what can be achieved by solving parking search? We gathered results from our European clients with comprehensive, turn-by-turn parking guidance solutions and present them here:

20+ percent increase in revenue is possible through the following – and this enables a return on investment in only two years:

15 percent increase in payment compliance – without additional enforcement. This is the result of (a) drivers arriving happier with more time, having just received great service, and so they are more likely to pay, and (b) awareness that there is a system monitoring the occupancy of the spaces.

8 percent increase in occupancy – every city has a natural rate of maximum occupancy of 90-95 percent. When parking is “full,” there are nearly always 5-10 percent of spaces that are hard to find and still available. Parking guidance allows cities to fill in those gaps, maximizing utilization of their existing assets.

40-55 percent reduction in parking search time – meaning half of parking-related traffic is gone. In many cities, 30 percent of traffic congestion is parking search traffic, so this means a roughly 15 percent reduction in total congestion.

77 percent of shoppers declare the smooth parking experience highly influences their shopping experience. Shoppers arriving happier with more free time leads to more time spent in stores and restaurants, and more dollars landing in the local economy.

But how exactly is parking search solved? First, you must have accurate, real-time status of each individual parking space. This data layer (or real-time “digital twin”) of the city’s parking can then be used to guide drivers to an available space. 

EU Example: Cologne

Large district-wide project with transformational impact

Cleverciti deployed a comprehensive, turn-by-turn guidance system across the district of Cologne Nippes. The solution was deployed in one of Cologne’s liveliest districts, with approximately 800 on-street parking spaces.

First, Cologne and its electric utility leading the project, Rheinenergie, established the following goals: Find parking fast, Reduce stress for the drivers, Up to 30 percent less traffic, Less emission, Less noise, Increase parking revenue, and Increased quality of life for the residents. By deploying Cleverciti turn-by-turn guidance system, Cologne was able to achieve all these goals.

To provide drivers with a reliable overview of available parking spaces, 89 overhead IOT Sensors were installed under the supervision of Cleverciti, providing accurate real-time information on the number, location, and direction of free spaces based on AI and deep learning algorithms. The information is relayed to 27 Cleverciti Circ® LED guidance displays located at each relevant intersection, helping to guide drivers to the most convenient parking spaces.

The ClevercitiCockpit allows the city to watch the actual occupancy status per parking space, the duration of parking events, the technical status of each device, and the real-time view of each of the Circ guidance displays. This way, valuable data can be analyzed to form the basis for future infrastructure decisions.

U.S. Example: Redwood City

Importing a solution from Europe to help local businesses recover from the pandemic

Redwood City, California, at the heart of Silicon Valley, has a vibrant downtown. However, because of the pandemic, shopping and dining downtown had suffered, with parking demand dropping by as much as 90 percent. Pre-pandemic, an overwhelming number of visitors frequently brought traffic to a standstill. Redwood City established the following goals for the project:

• Support pandemic recovery of downtown businesses

• Reduce traffic congestion + emissions

• Provide an unprecedented arrival experience = service to citizens

• Improve efficiency of city’s existing parking facilities

Taking these goals into consideration and building upon Cleverciti’s learnings from European projects, the city deployed a comprehensive, turn-by-turn parking guidance solution, including 400 on-street spaces in the downtown core, 7 surface lots, and 11 parking garages (3 city garages, and 8 private ones). 23 Circ® LED signs are deployed at most intersections throughout the downtown core, and 6 all-digital gateway signs are deployed at all major approaches to the downtown. Payment data from IPS and PayByPhone are integrated as well. Arriving drivers are now guided turn-by-turn to the best available space, rather than circling. 

Best Practices for Parking Guidance

Lessons we have learned and how you can implement them in your own parking operation

The guiding principle should be: reduce vehicle minutes traveled. Through all our research we have concluded parking guidance is the fastest way to achieve this.

Cover all publicly-accessible parking (even privately-owned spaces) to provide a truly comprehensive guidance experience to drivers. If the driver has confidence, they will find a space by following the guidance, they will do so.

Use local guidance (physical digital signage), rather than simply relying on an app. This ensures 100 percent of drivers can utilize the guidance, and the full impact on traffic congestion and all the other goals can be realized.

Local retailers will benefit greatly, and it is important to involve them as stakeholders.

Focusing on providing a good service to residents will help them to save time and reduce traffic, pollution, and noise.

Increasing parking revenues can be achieved through providing great service – maximizing utilization of the available parking, increasing payment compliance, and reducing enforcement costs.

Integrating data from across your parking environment is crucial. A hotel wouldn’t run without knowing which rooms were occupied, which were paid, and who just departed – and yet this is how we have been running our parking operations for over 100 years.

By effectively prioritizing smart city projects by the factors that really matter, investing in projects that will return a positive ROI, and deploying large-scale, comprehensive solutions, U.S. cities can finally realize their Smart City visions.

David Parker is COO of Cleverciti. He can be reached at

Article contributed by:
David Parker
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