Smart parking spaces that chat with smartphones

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Like many cities, San Francisco has a parking problem. With so many cars on the road, spotting an open space can require many spins around the block. And the longer drivers hunt for parking, the longer they're clogging up traffic and spewing out emissions.

At any given time, up to 30 percent of city drivers are simply searching for a parking spot, according to Donald Shoup, an urban planning professor at UCLA. And, over the course of a year in one small Los Angeles business district, all that wandering wastes 47,000 gallons of gasoline.

To alleviate the issue, San Francisco will install small, wireless sensors that can tell if there's a car parked over it. When the space frees up, that information will beam to a central system. The meter will automatically stop running. Road signs will alert nearby drivers that the spot is vacant. And smartphones will be able to load real-time maps that reveal available parking spaces.

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By this fall, the city will embed 6,000 to 24,000 of these "bumps." Officials plan for every parking space in the city to get one by 2010.

"If the San Francisco experiment works, no one will have to murder anyone over a parking space," professor Shoup told the New York Times.

He wasn't exaggerating, by the way. Two years ago, a 19-year-old was stabbed to death during an argument over a parking space in San Francisco.

The city has tinkered with wireless-tech parking spaces before. Gadget Lab reports that earlier this year, San Francisco rolled out a pay-by-phone parking scheme. But months after installing the gear in 1,000 metered spots, only 200 people use the service on a regular basis.

[Via New York Times]

(Editor's note: The 47,000 gallons of wasted gasoline was for just one small LA business district, not the whole city. It's even worse than I thought.)

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