John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The solar-powered signs post different restrictions based on the time of day.
Many parking signs are so cluttered nowadays reading them can be like deciphering the runes of an ancient bureaucracy. But Sydney, Australia, might’ve found a solution with E-Ink screens, which project different parking restriction details based on the hour or day.
The state-run Roads and Maritime Services collaborated with Slovenian tech company Visionect to install about 100 of the signs around the city. They appear almost like regular, inert signs, except they’re solar-powered and at the bottom have matte-gray screens similar to those on e-book readers. They communicate on the cellular network with a central authority to display messages—telling motorists there’s no parking between 3 and 6 p.m., for instance, or warning of towing enforcement during special events.
In a press release, Visionect calls the signs a global “first” and lauds their supposed versatility and efficiency:
The capital of New South Wales can now boast 100% self-sustainable traffic signs powered by solar energy, a natural resource that Australia has in abundance. This is possible because electronic paper technology is extremely energy efficient, using very little power, with additional power optimizations making the e-paper signs even less dependent on traditional power sources….
In addition to saving energy, the fully customizable e-traffic signs help cities save on temporary road sign placement as well. It has been reported, for example, that the city Los Angeles puts up 558,000 temporary parking restrictions signs every year to the cost of $9.5 million—a strain on staff and resources that can be reduced by implementing permanent digital signs with content easily customizable via cellular networks.
(Note L.A.’s situation with temp signs is special in that about half are for filming purposes, but still, that’s a lot of moolah for ephemeral objects.)
The signs include tamper detectors should a car back into them or a Luddite go wild with a crowbar. And for folks who have trouble reading dull, iron-colored screens, they also feature little lights that illuminate the text at night.