“Smart Parking’ – More Than Just a “Smart Car’


“Smart Parking’ – More Than Just a “Smart Car’

We assume “smart parking” isn’t the ingenious way that a “smart car” can maneuver into a parking space, such as seen in the photo nearby.
In the industry, “smart parking” usually refers to access technology that uses a “smart card.” It resembles a credit card in size and shape, but inside is an embedded microprocessor that stores information as to the user’s credentials to allow access to a parking facility.
However, smart parking also can apply to a variety of issues within the provision of parking, including policy, management, operations and design.
Smart Parking Policy
Smart parking policy is the practice of minimizing the provision of excess parking spaces that are often unused, creating opportunities for higher and better use of the additional land that results from that policy. Reduction of parking space needs is accomplished by encouraging alternative transportation modes, developing walkable/bikeable communities, encouraging transit-oriented developments, and encouraging mixed-use developments with shared parking facilities.
In dense urban areas, shared parking is a particularly effective strategy at minimizing parking needs. Non-competing land uses have different parking accumulation characteristics.
Office uses typically peak during the day, while cinemas, theaters, concert venues, hotels, residential uses and restaurants typically peak at night. Further, patrons may visit multiple businesses on a single trip without moving their vehicle.
Office users will walk to, say, a restaurant, post office or dry cleaner during their lunch break without moving their vehicle. Employees who take public transportation, bike, walk or carpool reduce parking needs.
Parking needs also change by day of week and time of year. Office parking is nearly vacant on weekends. Seasonal tourist activity or retail may affect parking demand as well. These characteristics require fewer spaces than if the parking demand for each individual use is added together.
Smart Parking Management
Smart parking management often refers to the way technology is used to direct people to parking spaces.
Parking guidance systems are becoming more popular as a means of directing parkers to the nearest available space, resulting in the elimination of excessive searching for a space, a reduction in vehicle emissions, and more efficient utilization of the parking supply. These systems can be implemented for a single multi-level parking structure or on an area-wide basis in an urban area.
Such systems use sensors at individual parking spaces, or at a group of parking spaces, to determine how many spaces are empty in a given area. Changeable message signs are then coordinated with the count system to direct parkers to the nearest available space.
Parking guidance systems can be implemented in a metropolitan area on major streets accessing downtown, where a kiosk identifies the public parking facilities with arrows directing patrons to those locations, as well as indicating the parking space availability at each facility.
When one arrives at the desired parking facility, kiosks also are located at the entrances to indicate the available spaces on each floor of the parking facility. As one arrives at the desired floor, sensors in each space activate a red light over the space if occupied or a green light if the space is empty. The patron can then readily determine where to find the closest available space.
Smart Parking Operations
Smart parking operations use technology to expedite fee payment in the most convenient and secure process – multispace and single-space meters that can accept multiple forms of payment, including coins, credit cards and smart cards. The meters also can be connected wirelessly to a central computer system, which logs all activity and provides an audit trail for all revenue collected.
Fraud and theft are greatly minimized or eliminated with this technology, compared with the old manual collection of coins from the meters. Revenue is often increased, as the fee paid by coin may be limited to what the patron has on hand; whereas, credit card, debit card or smart card payments are not limited.
The multi-space pay stations also can accept validations, if such a program is initiated in a retail or restaurant district, for example.
One also can install video cameras or sensors in each parking space that are connected to a computer that determines if someone is parked in the space and has not paid a fee. Parking enforcement personnel can then be dispatched to that location to issue a ticket.
Smart Parking Design
Smart Parking also can apply to the use of technology to improve the design of multilevel parking structures.
Above-ground, stand-alone, multi-level parking structures that use internally sloping ramps for both parking and circulation are generally the most economical to construct and operate, if the size of the site is adequate to accomplish such a system with reasonable efficiency. A reasonable efficiency is generally less than 350 square foot per stall. A minimum size site would be approximately 120 feet by 150 feet.
If the site is smaller and/or the efficiency is much greater than indicated, then it may be advantageous to consider automated vehicle storage (AVS) systems. They use computer-controlled electric motors on a shallow platform to pick up and transport vehicles from an entry compartment to a vertical lift for storage in a compartment on an upper level.
AVS systems utilize much less site area and much less height per level than a conventional garage. They also can accommodate twice the number of vehicles in the same volume as a conventional, ramp-access garage, or the same number of vehicles can be accommodated in half the volume.
When constructing parking underground and/or under a building, it may be less expensive to design an AVS system, as the loss in efficiency to park around building columns and/or the savings in volume at the high unit cost of underground construction may offset the cost of providing the automated parking machinery.
AVS systems also have other advantages in that the vehicle is stored in an unoccupied storage vault so it is more secure. Mechanical ventilation is not required, as the vehicles are stored without the engines running. Pedestrian stairs and elevators are not required. Minimal lighting is required.
Additionally, AVS systems do not require on-site staff, so labor costs are greatly minimized. And user convenience is enhanced as using them is analogous to automated valet parking.
So, you can see that one can apply “smart parking” to the full gamut of policy, management, operations and design to optimize any parking program.
Donald R. Monahan, P.E., a Walker Parking Consultants Vice President, can be reached at don.monahan@walkerparking.com.

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Donald R. Monahan
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