Sunday, May 8, 2011

San Francisco Parking App

San Francisco has a parking App. Last month the city launched an IPhone App that shows real time parking space availability. They installed almost 20,000 sensors around the city, 7000 sensors into metered parking spots and 12,250 into spots in city garages. NY Times article. The App shows when these spaces are vacated. I had heard Speaker Christine Quinn in February calling for such a system here but she was also announcing her reelection campaign, so I wasn’t sure she was serious. To begin with there were several obvious questions like could it even work here, how much would such a plan cost and how would it become available to everyone, even people who don’t have an IPhone. Anyway this ambitious $20 million system is born from the high hopes of the SF Dept of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration that it will ease traffic congestion and driver frustration, not to mention help them regulate pricing at meters and garages based on demand and competition.
Is it just the parking map competitor in me or does this way too casually spend very scarce tax dollars on a project that sounds as much like science as fiction. The obvious question I have is so what if a car pulls out of a space across town. I can’t get down the block in my neighborhood before one car leaves a space and another swoops in, or backs maniacally down the street or tries a sudden U-Turn, sometimes all at the same time for that space. Can SF really be much better? For $20 million I'd like to know the space will still be available when I get there. In fact, wouldn't this App alert thousands of people and make it more likely that the spaces you first headed for will not be available, but that, meanwhile, others will have become available? Kind of like musical chairs or parking in major urban centers.
There is all kinds of anecdotal thinking about how this App will lessen traffic, driver anxiety and car related pollution, but then something as obvious as an App that requires people to access their phones while negotiating traffic and pedestrians and, most importantly, while competing with other drivers using the same App seems to have left them unconcerned. When the App starts up there is a warning not to use the system when driving. That’ll do it, right?
Instead, I propose a parking map that shows at a glance how much legal parking is allowed in a particular neighborhood just by recognizing the time sweeps on a few clocks and the frequency and color of those of those clocks. This map could be available online and in print and through a Web Mobile App that downloads the book version to your smartphone. Been there. Done that.

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