IoT network delivers real-time data on parking availability
Data from low-power internet-of-things sensors buried under 4,500 on-street parking spaces will help Arlington County better understand the feasibility of demand-based pricing for metered curb space.
Arlington County, Virginia, is starting a pilot project to improve user experience with metered parking in two commercial and residential corridors.
The three-year Arlington Performance Parking Pilot project, which started this week, involves the placement of sensors buried under 4,500 on-street parking spaces, or stalls, that will transmit data the county can use to better understand and influence demand for metered curb space in the popular Rosslyn-Ballston and Richmond Highway/Pentagon City/Crystal City neighborhood corridors.
“The data that this pilot project is providing us is not data we’ve had before,” said Melissa McMahon, parking and curb space manager at Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services (DES).
Historically, the county has used transaction-based data to analyze parking, but that has limitations, she said. For instance, it shows that someone paid to use a parking space for a given amount of time, but it doesn’t show whether they actually parked there, left early or stayed late – or if they parked and never paid. The sensors will report in real time the presence of a vehicle, enabling the county to see dwell time, or how long the vehicle stayed there. No cameras are involved, and no personal information is collected.
The county partnered with eleven-x, an internet-of-things solutions provider, on the project. Its SPS-X sensors are battery-operated, last 10 years and have 99.5% accuracy, said Dan Mathers, eleven-x’s chief executive officer.
“We use a wireless technology called LoRaWan, a network built for low-power applications that run on batteries,” Mathers said. “We have gateways that go up on traffic signals—the poles—and those are plugged into power and then our sensors communicate to those gateways.”
The gateways then forward the data to the cellular network, which pushes it through the cloud to eleven-x’s eXactpark platform. “The [county] really provides the infrastructure for us to put these gateways up, but the rest of it, we’re running,” he added. “We operate the network. It’s a cellular-grade network that we operate.”
The company also provides a dashboard of information to the county about dwell time, turnover and time of data. The data will also feed variable messaging signs and a public-facing website so that drivers can see where open spots are, including those that are designed for accessibility and electronic vehicle charging.
A main driver of the project is the implementation of demand-based pricing, an on-street parking management tool dictated by the county’s master transportation plan to incentivize drivers to use less-popular parking areas by pricing them lower than stalls in high-demand ones. To that end, a subcontractor is developing a pricing engine that will make recommendations. The Arlington County Board must approve any price changes before they can be implemented.
“Revenue generation is not one of the objectives of this project,” McMahon said. “We’re hoping that our system, by improving transparency, availability of information on the parking availability, and the pricing transparency as well, we’ll let every parker be able to make a decision: ‘Do I want to be really close and pay more? Do I want to be a few blocks away, pay less? Which blocks do I turn on based on whether there’s likely to be a space there for me or not?’ That availability information will be about as real time as we can get.”
Additionally, the project will produce a publicly available application programming interface that third-party app developers can use. It’s also creating a digital twin for the website and for scenario analysis that will allow planners to see how increasing prices or reducing the number of stalls in a given area would affect parking.
Commercial loading zones and 15-minute parking areas are not part of this project, but McMahon said that she expects that lessons from the test, such as dwell time data, may inform future decisions on where the county could expand short-term parking access.
In 2020, DES won a $5.4 million grant from the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Innovation and Technology Transportation fund for the project, and it will work with VDOT on designing an evaluation of its performance.
The first deployment will be a demonstration in the Courthouse Plaza parking lot. Installation of the sensors will start in April and be complete and operational this summer.
A community kick-off meeting is scheduled for Feb. 23 to give area residents more information about what to expect from the project.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.
NEXT STORY: In search of better criminal justice data