The Race for Space: Can smart parking solutions cut traffic?

In cities, up to 30 per cent of traffic is caused by drivers searching for a parking space. Two different approaches provide an outlook on how technology can help to decrease this number, writes Merle Schrör. In Berlin, a detection system for on-street parking spaces is currently being tested in a research project but, thanks to a Düsseldorf-based start-up, off-street parking also comes into the equation.
Like in many big cities, Berlin’s population will grow. Currently, Berlin has 3.56 million inhabitants; by 2030 it will probably have a population of around 4 million. This is not without consequences. Over the next few years, Berlin will not only have to build significantly more homes but also transport infrastructure. In competition between cities, quality of life and quality of location are particularly important and are determined not only by issues like housing and amenities but crucial by the quality of public streets and squares. In this context, it is important to deal with the scarce and finite commodity of “street space” carefully and in a way that ensures quality.
There are many and various demands of street space that have to be carefully considered. Moreover, when it comes to parking, Berlin has to deal with the competing needs of residents, customers, employees, delivery vehicles and private visitors. In addition to this, there are new needs, for example the demand for public space for the parking and charging of electric vehicles.
For these reasons, the management of on-street and public parking has been an important part of the Berlin Senate’s transport policy for years.
The management of parking spaces means that available parking spaces are used more efficiently. This, in turn, helps to create a greater sense of order in public spaces and to improve amenity value. In addition, it creates scope for developing infrastructure for other forms of transport, for example bicycle storage, and improves road safety (fewer pavements blocked by parked cars, and fewer “blind spots” at junctions).
In future, the management of parking spaces in Berlin could be supported by IT-based solutions.
As part of the research project “City2.e 2.0 – Smart Parking Solutions for On-Street Parking and at e-Charging Stations in the City of Tomorrow”, which is supported by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, , a lamppost-based technical system for detecting parking spaces is currently being tested. The aim of this project is to reduce the number of cars that are searching for parking spaces, in particular for reasons of road safety.
In a second technical development stage it will be possible to improve considerably the efficiency of monitoring of parking spaces, and in a third stage the effectiveness of parking charges. Currently, the legal requirements concerning these latter two stages are being examined with a view to making any changes that might be necessary.
In simplified terms, a radar-based system for detecting parked cars has been developed. The detector and the relevant communications technology can be installed in streetlights or attached to them as stand-alone solutions. With the help of an auto-adaptive forecasting algorithm, it is possible to predict at short notice where parking spaces will become vacant. A link with car navigation systems has already been established. This means that the Traffic Information Centre in Berlin can provide motorists who are looking for parking spaces and also the road transport authorities with valuable, high-quality information. Important in all of this are questions of data protection. The solution that we have developed ensures that no personal data like, for example, the car registration number, is recorded.
In a recent test, the first 10 streetlights were fitted with detectors. The area covered by the detectors also included two e-charging posts so that the functions of both parking and e-charging could be observed at the same time. The system could also be expanded to include an RFID reader, which would open up further uses. For example, parking spaces reserved for residents could be stored on an RFID card, which could then be read by the detection system.
The evopark parking app
Another solution regarding smart parking management is a smart phone application, called “evopark”. The company, from Düsseldorf, Germany, have developed a solution to detect and consolidate free space in parking garages. By providing information about free parking space to customers, car drivers can choose their parking space and then be navigated to it. When arriving at the parking garage, the barrier opens automati­cally. This feature is enabled by a parking card in which a radio chip communicates with the parking facilities, causing not only the opening of barriers, but also taking care of the payment processes. The evopark system mainly cooperates with local retailers. For customers, the parking fee is being refunded up to a certain degree by a credit system with those retailers [ INSERT relevant pic].
From a city’s perspective, this smart parking solution holds the chance to guide car drivers away from the street straight into parking garages which holds the opportunity to reduce search parking traffic in inner cities. Evidence in terms of effects of such solutions is being provided by quantitative and qualitative surveys evopark has conducted: Quantitative wise, the tracking numbers of evopark show a heavy usage of the information screen (“where can I find free parking space”) as well as of the navigation (“how do I get to my desired parking?”), indicating that customers choose a certain parking garage before starting the car journey and therefore renounce the search for on-road parking space. Moreover, a recent telephone survey of about 100 participants showed that more than 30 per cent of interviewees used the smart parking service for going directly to a parking garage (while another third was undecided).
Now, what does that mean for public parking space in cities? According to the founders of evopark, in future, cars themselves will provide multiple services when it comes to parking (like an integrated radio chip that communicates with parking garage barriers). These integrated parking features would automatically suggest intelligent parking possibilities whenever a customer chooses a destination in the car navigation system. For evopark’s Tobias Weiper, this does not mean that parking space on the street is being occupied more steadily, but rather that the “parking space behind barriers” (namely parking garages or company car parks) is used more efficiently. Along with reducing parking space in the streets (e.g. by parking-space management, parking fees, etc.), it can path the way to a more beautiful urban landscape, providing more space for pedestrians or cyclists.
Polis and EPA (box)
Parking is important for the redefinition of the role of cities, between the “motorway” culture and re-urbanisation. Centralized parking in cities has been proven to decrease the dependency on car trips and improve the urban public space. However, implementing integrated parking strategies is a challenging task, for both local authorities and parking operators.
To create a better understanding between the different actors in parking activities, the European Parking Association (EPA) and Polis have established a partnership to discuss the interaction of urban transport and parking activities. Both organisations regularly exchange information and expertise about making parking in cities better. As part of their creating an interchange of ideas, Polis and EPA organised a successful series of annual workshops and published a series of Position Paper.
Merle Schrör is Project Assistant at Polis