When asked why he spent so long looking for a parking spot instead of going to a garage, noted philosopher George Costanza replied, "A garage. I can't even pull in there. It's like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay, when if I apply myself, maybe I could get it for free?"
There are few rituals of modern life less pleasant than driving around a congested area searching for a parking space. But what if you could get a text message from the city telling you where there was an open parking space? As this local TV report explains, San Francisco is beginning limited trials of just such a system, where sensors on meters detect open spaces, then communicate with a central database, which can send the information to your phone. At first it'll be only in a few places, and will only direct you to a block where there are some spots. But you can see where it's headed.
Once a system like this is complete, and it's linked up to the GPS system embedded in your car (they'll all have them eventually), it could really hum. So for instance, if two people are both headed to the 1200 block of Elm Street, the system could determine that person #1 will arrive sooner from the east, and guide them to a particular spot, while guiding person #2, coming a minute later from the west, to another spot.
"It's estimated that about 30 percent of cars on the road are simply circling, looking for parking," says an SF parking official quoted in the story. According to this piece about Rutgers researchers developing a system to achieve the same goal, one study found the figure in Manhattan to be an appalling 45 percent. With enough people working on this problem, one day you may tell your grandkids, "In my day, we had to drive around the streets until we found a parking spot! Just by looking!"
-- Paul Waldman