Parking in San Francisco, like any major city, is a serious challenge. So challenging that in the midst of circling, and circling, and circling to find a suitable spot, one can have plenty of time to wonder why they have a car at all, especially if that circling comes during high demand times like rush hours and lunch hours. Then, of course, there is the issue of overnight storage, and the issue of finding someone to vouch your parking pass, and the issue of running out of time on your meter…and the issue of parking on a hill when you drive a stick shift...but I digress on that one.
To address the parking beast, San Francisco is launching a $23 million pilot program, SFpark, that will allow it to dip its toes into changing demand for parking during high demand parking periods. The pilot program is funded primarily by the federal government, who is pitching in $18 million and will be helping fund a few more of these projects nationwide.
For one year, the city will experiment with smart meters that raise and lower the price of parking according to demand. It will utilize this on about 25% of curbside parking meters, and the nearly 12,000 spaces in lots and garages managed by the SF Municipal Transportation Agency. During off-peak times, parking is cheap, and during peak times, the prices are raised so that demand is lowered to equal the supply of spots. The idea is that if you’re going to drive, and you have some hefty pocket change, you’ll be able to find a spot and you won’t double park or slow up traffic by following someone who looks like they might be leaving their parking spot that ends up being located about three blocks down. The program will also include some tech-y additions, like being able to pay via cell phone, getting text messages when your meter is about to run out, and getting a little extra on the time limits during off-peak parking hours. Additionally, you won’t have to drive around to find a spot, because sensors embedded in the asphalt will track when parking spots are empty so that you can check the availability of spots via the Internet.
Should the program be a success, San Francisco will consider launching it city-wide. It does make driving seem more like a privilege of the elite, considering you have to pay some serious bucks to park during peak hours. But it could mean fewer cars on the city streets (equaling less toxic emissions), eased congestion thanks to drivers planning a little in advance to make it to off-peak rates (equaling a little money saved on gas), and I expect it will also greatly boost the use of public transportation, which is good news for the massive eco-friendly MUNI system San Francisco is installing. Perhaps we’ll even see bonus rates for hybrid owners and other perks for eco-conscious drivers. And perhaps tech additions will include finding empty spots via your car’s GPS so you’re not fiddling with your handheld while trying to drive. If smart meters work, SF could take a lead solving big city parking dilemmas – and meanwhile, pocket change-less me might be hoofing it next time I visit.
Via WorldChanging, SFGate