City of Westminster

Sensors could alert drivers to empty spaces in advance, reducing traffic and fuel consumption.

The idea is simple. According to the council, motorists spend an average of 15 minutes searching for a space in Westminster—which with Parliament, the main shopping district, and dozens of tourist sites, has a legitimate claim to be the heart of London. If drivers know where the empty spaces are, they won’t have to cruise the streets looking for one. 

Other cities, most famously San Francisco, have experimented with "smart parking" and companies from France to America are developing the technology. But San Francisco turned off its sensors on December 30, 2013, and is now evaluating the results of its pilot program. Westminster is going full steam ahead, bashing in 50 sensors a day with a team of three men. Boroughs in Manchester and Birmingham are also trying out the system.

Each sensor in the ground detects when a car is parked on the street above it. The council releases the data to the public through a smartphone app. Results from a pilot program in 2012 were encouraging: The proportion of occupied parking spots that weren’t paid for dropped from 12 percent to under 10 percent, a sign that more people were paying for parking, says Kieran Fitsall, the parking services development manager for the council. (Some proportion of spots will always be unpaid for, because some vehicles are loading or unloading, dropping people off, or have exemptions.)

The first generation of sensors protruded on the surface; the next will be flatter. (City of Westminster)
 

Westminster has 10,000 parking bays that visitors can use (plus more for residents only). The first phase of the program will see 3,000 sensors, each with a battery life of five to seven years, installed in visitor bays in the most congested areas of Westminster, which include Mayfair, Soho and the theater district, at cost of £650,000 ($1.07 million). Based on the results, the council will probably expand the program to the other 7,000 bays that visitors can use.

The list of benefits is long: Apart from reducing traffic, fuel consumption, and emissions from cars, it boosts the local economy as people spend more time in shops, restaurants and offices rather than on the street. Though the app could be used to catch drivers who’ve overstayed their paid parking time, Fitsall says Westminster has no intention of doing so. Nor does it plan to use the data to change parking prices in higher-demand areas, as San Francisco did.

Fitsall says the data will ultimately be fed into London’s transport information network, so when commuters look up how to get into town, they’ll be able to see driving and parking times just as they can now get train journey times and walking distances to stations. That could make London a model for other cities.

Top image: Installing a parking sensor on London's Savile Row. (City of Westminster)

This post originally appeared on Quartz, an Atlantic partner site.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Two men plant a young tree in a lot in Detroit.
    Environment

    Why Detroit Residents Pushed Back Against Tree-Planting

    Detroiters were refusing city-sponsored “free trees.” A researcher found out the problem: She was the first person to ask them if they wanted them.

  2. Equity

    The Hidden Horror of Hudson Yards Is How It Was Financed

    Manhattan’s new luxury mega-project was partially bankrolled by an investor visa program called EB-5, which was meant to help poverty-stricken areas.

  3. Transportation

    Electric Scooters Aren’t a Transportation Revolution Yet

    New data show a staggering rise in shared dockless e-scooter use nationwide. But commuting habits have seen little change since the dawn of micromobility.

  4. Tech workers sit around a table on their laptops in San Francisco, California
    Life

    America’s Tech Hubs Still Dominate, But Some Smaller Cities Are Rising

    Despite established urban tech hubs, some smaller cities are attracting high-tech jobs with lower living costs, unique talent pools, and geographic diversity.

  5. a photo of a man surveying a home garage.
    Transportation

    How Single-Family Garages Can Ease California's Housing Crisis

    Given the affordable housing crisis, California cities should encourage single-family homeowners to convert garages into apartments and accessory dwelling units.