Letter: Smart Parking in Norwalk

To the Editor,

May 26, 2029: Your 8:05 into Grand Central is a few minutes late and you are still a few minutes away. You won’t have time to park yourself and make the train. Thankfully, this city has the network your car needs to do the job. You slide into the southbound side of East Norwalk Railroad with about 90 seconds to spare and get aboard the train hassle free.

Your car reads your calendar and sees that you will be back before 5 p.m. for that Little League game and that there are a dozen charging spots left over on the northbound side parking deck. Calculating the time and distance, it soon recognizes that the offered rate will cost less than driving back to the home base, so it reserves a spot and drives itself over there to park and fill up the battery. A few hours and a successful meeting later and you tap your wrist watch to let your car know you are inbound on the train. Working with the train’s systems, your car gets notified that your train just left SoNo, so it starts up and pulls into the pickup area to scoot you home.

Fact or fiction? One of the founders of Google predicts that, by 2040, people will not need driver’s licenses. The California DMV has actually granted permits for them to start operating their driverless cars later this summer. Of course, there is a tremendous amount of testing to do and the initial permits still require a licensed human to be behind the wheel. Would Norwalk or a city not laid out as a grid be bleeding edge on this? Probably not. But, building our parking infrastructure for the future is a good idea to prepare us for the inevitable.

The Norwalk Parking Authority for a few years has been measurably implementing tomorrow’s technology that will help make this a reality some day. Right now, you can go online or put an app on your phone that tells you exactly how many spaces are left in the SoNo railroad garage. In the above scenario, you might need to think about taking that next train or possibly even parking over in the Webster lot and walking a few blocks if the garage and side streets are too full. In the next few months, Webster lot will come online with real time availability data. As well, occupancy detectors will be put in on a trial basis for some street parking. These sensors and detectors are not free, of course, but, when fully implemented, it will cost the parking authority less to monitor the system so that the NPA can continue to offer lower-than-market rates for its parking spaces.

Not only will smart parking technologies save the city and parkers money, it will reduce congestion and emissions from cars circling the blocks of SoNo unnecessarily on the hunt for parking spaces. Ford Motor is shipping cars this fall with inboard technology that will interface the NPA’s network to provide drivers with real time parking information. More automakers will follow.
I had the privilege and pleasure to serve on the NPA for the past five years and have seen the incremental benefits of our smart investments in technology without breaking our budgets and building for the future of this city. In fact, we were the only city agency with purely voluntary revenue streams that finished ahead of budget each of the last five years. This is due in part to the many other intelligent incremental investments in technology. I strongly encourage the future boards of the Authority to continue implementation of the tech plan we have in place, modify it as necessary, and to keep an eye towards the future.

Bryan Meek

Bryan Meek is a former NPA commissioner and chairman.


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