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SLC will begin pilot test of solar-powered parking stations

SLC will begin pilot test of solar-powered parking stations

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SALT LAKE CITY — With an optional swipe of a credit or debit card, downtown visitors can test the efficiency and likeability of 50 new solar- powered parking stations being rolled out Monday for six weeks as part of a test phase.

The city wants to see how well these state-of-the-art stations are received and if they ultimately accomplish the objective of making it easier to park downtown to shop, dine and conduct business.

"The perception is that it's hard to park downtown," said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. "The perception is the reality in this case."

The stations eliminate the need to go digging for coins, Becker said, although motorists can still pay for parking with change or with merchant tokens. The appeal, he added, is that downtown visitors can chose to pay for an hour's worth of parking for a $1 with the swipe of a credit card or debit card and won't have to dash back to car the to beat the meter readers.

"We really do want people to avoid tickets," Becker said.

The 50 stations cover about a six-block area in the core of downtown in the vicinity of 300 South and 200 East. They will provide a parking option for 245 spots of the 2,100 available parking spots that are metered on the streets of Salt Lake City. For the test period, the city will deploy parking ambassadors — one or two people per block — to observe how the system is working and to troubleshoot any questions by new users.

For motorists to use the new stations, they simply have to note the number on the back of new signs that have been installed in place of parking meters and enter that number at the station. The stations eliminate the need to have a meter per stall and will reduce the number of hours dedicated by parking meter readers to troll city streets for violators, Becker said.

Ultimately, the city could choose to add a variety of bells and whistles to the program that include smart phone applications that could tell motorists of available parking spots, or when they become available, and the ability to plug in more time from a remote location.

Salt Lake City joins other metropolitan areas around the country in exploring or adopting new technology to counter downtown parking woes.

This year, San Francisco — touted as having the country's most comprehensive approach to managing parking — rolled out a smart phone application that has already been downloaded by 25,000 users. The real-time application includes information on the availability of 8,000 parking-metered spaces and is updated every 60 seconds via remote sensors scattered throughout the city.

Our recent survey shows parking is the No. 1 issue people are concerned about when they come downtown. This is not a silver bullet, but it is certainly a step in the right direction.

–-Jasin Mathis

Funded with a $20 million federal grant, the program includes built-in demand pricing where spots in high- traffic areas cost more in an attempt to steer motorists to other, cheaper and available parking areas close by. Los Angeles and Fort Worth have rolled out smart phone parking as well.

The impetus for such embraces of parking technology stems not only from the desire to making parking less of a headache for motorists — thus stimulating local economies — but to capture lost parking revenue and decrease carbon emissions.

A new survey that among other things measured a city's parking pain index found that more than 30 percent of a city's traffic is caused by drivers looking for a parking spot.

In the United States alone, people drove an extra million miles in one month just to look for a parking spot — equating to 38 trips around the Earth, according to IBM.

The survey drew responses from 8,042 commuters in 20 cities in six countries, with half of those commuters saying they had given up at least once when looking for a parking space in the last year and a fourth of them admitting they'd argued with someone over a parking spot.

Recent studies by UCLA urban planners examined the amount of environmental damage that can result from circling the block looking for a parking spot. The studies say that over the course of a year, searching for curb parking in a 15-block business district produced 730 tons of carbon dioxide.

Such parking technology isn't cheap however. For Salt Lake City to adopt a city-wide solar-powered pay station, the cost would be $4.5 million — an investment that has raised some criticism of the city pondering such an option in tough economic times.

Ease of parking, though, throws dollars into the city's checkbook via sales tax paid by motorists more willing to visit Salt Lake City to shop and dine, said Jason Mathis, executive director of the Downtown Alliance.

"Our recent survey shows parking is the No. 1 issue people are concerned about when they come downtown," Mathis said. "This is not a silver bullet, but it is certainly a step in the right direction."


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