Smart, Wireless Parking: A Trojan Horse for Making Better Cities

Smart-parking seems to encourage car use. So why do mass-transit advocates love it?



Streetline is starting to gain speed, thanks to a successful trial of their smart-parking system in San Francisco. Basically, it’s a network of parking sensors, which are keyed into a centralized system that monitors open parking spaces. Using a smartphone, you can then find out where the open parking-spaces are. GOOD, partnering with IBM, has just produced an excellent video explaining the system:

All of which sounds really excellent: How awesome would it be to never waste time looking for a space?

But step back, and it would seem to create a real dilemma: By making parking spaces easier to find, Streetline would seem to encourage more driving. Meanwhile, the last thing any urban planner wants to do is create more traffic. But nonetheless, as I’ve reported before, many urban planners are forcefully advocating smart-parking systems. What gives?

The secret is that smart parking is really a kind of Trojan horse for capping the build-out of more parking–and creating disincentives for driving.

With respect to the former, the idea is that you don’t have to build as much parking if you better utilize what parking you have. With respect to the latter, smart parking meters really offer a trade-off to consumers: We’ll give you easier, better parking. But at the same time, those street meters will be able to institute a palatable form of congestion pricing, whereby parking spaces are more expensive at peak times.


The genius is that everyone wins: If the system works, everyone loves it, even as it introduces what’s effectively a tax on driving. If Bloomberg had been as been as clever about offering such an alluring trade-off in New York, then perhaps his attempts to introduce congestion pricing wouldn’t have died such an ignoble death. Progressive city planners around the world would do well to take note.

[Via GOOD]

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.