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Smart Parking

In the winter of 2013, we launched a smart parking initiative in Boston's Innovation District with the Boston Transportation Department.

This effort was part of the Complete Streets initiative. The goal was to give potential drivers real-time parking information. This would allow them to find parking — or instead — take another form of transportation.

Why we did this

Lots of congestion and air pollution is tied to drivers circling neighborhoods to find parking, as researcher Donald Shoup notes. At the same time, more drivers are relying on real-time navigation from on-board systems or their smartphones. Similarly, we were looking to connect drivers with vacant spots by giving them real-time information on open spaces.

The experiment

Our hypothesis? Giving information to drivers about available parking spaces will help reduce congestion. We’ll do this by shortening the time it takes to find a space, or by encouraging a person to another way to travel.

In the winter of 2013, the City partnered with Streetline to put sensors in its first of two neighborhoods:

  • We sunk these hockey puck-sized sensors flush to the surface of the road to detect open parking spaces.
  • We then made that information available via the Parker App, Streetline’s custom websites, and its API.

The City first installed 330 sensors in the Innovation District, a fast-growing neighborhood. This area has put a special emphasis on being an urban lab for testing new technologies.

Results and lessons learned

Better data

The project gave the Boston Transportation Department a wealth of real-time data on parking data. Using this information, they experimented with adjusting policies to improve the parking experience in the pilot area.

Opening up our data

One of our main goals was giving researchers and other app developers access to the data. A start-up from MIT and a researcher from a local university are both exploring how best to use this data.

Building enthusiasm

There is excitement from drivers about the service, but it’s too early to know how effective it’s been.

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