May 8, 2011

The iPhone app that lets you find open parking spaces in a city that has embedded sensors at 1,000s of spaces.

What a great fact pattern for a torts exam!
“It could be really distracting,” said Daniel Simons, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, where he studies the science of attention. And, he said, it could also be dangerous: “Most people are looking for parking spaces in places that have a lot of traffic and a lot of pedestrians.”

City officials acknowledge the potential problem. They are urging drivers to pull over before they pull up the city’s iPhone app, or to do so before they leave home. 
Before they leave home! But the sensor sends out its signal seconds after the space opens up in an area where drivers are circling looking for spots to pounce on before the next car snags it. That's why installing the sensors seemed to make sense in the first place.
Nathaniel Ford, executive director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said safety could actually improve if drivers quickly found a spot instead of circling and getting frustrated. “I get you off the streets as quickly as possible,” he said.
San Francisco spent $20 million on this system, not counting the money they will spend on struck-pedestrian law suits. One way to get a person "off the streets as quickly as possible" is to... ugh! Sorry to go morbid on you. Technology is cool. San Francisco is cutting edge... cutting down traffic... and hopefully not pedestrians.


Triangle Man said...

Even better might be to use the sensor data to develop a prediction algorithm that guides drivers to blocks that are likely to have an open space soon. Thus avoiding the demolition derby potential of a dozen hipsters crashing their Priuses into each other when a spot opens up.

Kirk Parker said...

"...a dozen hipsters crashing their Priuses into each other..."

OK, fine, and what's the downside?

Joan said...

Stupid. The open parking spaces in a crowded lot do not go unnoticed. They are filled immediately by people using THEIR EYES, LOOKING OUTSIDE THE CAR!

The problem we encounter is that they get filled too someone else!

Just more elitist masturbation by people easily enticed by anything that keeps the less fortunate at a disadvantage, but this is a miss. While you are looking at your phone. I'm parking in the spot right in front of you.

EDH said...

They should develop one of these apps to help you avoid squeegee men and other aggressive panhandlers.

MadisonMan said...

This does seem like $20M wasted to me, for reasons noted by Joan.

A better app would be one that shows how long cars have been parked at a meter, so you -- or the parking police -- can arrive when time expires and they leave or get ticketed.

In fact, I'd be surprised if parking enforcement isn't using this technology.

BJM said...

Typical, first SF plans to tax cars entering the city to encourage non-residents to use mass transit, then wastes $20 mil to help them find parking spaces. Can we say cognitive dissonance or would that be an oxymoron in this case?

Anyone who has ever lived or worked in SF knows there are very few, if any, non-residential parking places in most neighborhoods. Period.

btw- The CHIPs are currently blitzing CA roads enforcing the texting while driving law. The tell? A cell phone in the driver's hand. Pick up your cell phone while driving and be prepared to pay a steep fine.

Oh and SF city and county footprints overlap, so yes, the CHIPs can and do ticket in SF...especially freeway exit and entry streets.

BJM said...

Here's another example of SF's brilliant governance.

wv: undrwatr. Seriously.

Jennifer said...

Seems like an exercise in frustration unless your phone happens to tell you about a space you're right next to.

The parking garages in cities here have electronic signs indicating how many open spots are available. Helpful, but often frustrating. There's nothing quite like sitting in relentless traffic, approaching a parking garage and watching the number tick down...

Coketown said...

How many times has it happened that you see a parking space one block away, or in the next aisle at the store, and within a half-minute it's taken? What good is finding a space two miles away?

Not to mention people are already tampering with the system to make empty spaces look occupied to increase their chances of it being open for them.

More and more technology is becoming the answer the the question nobody asked.

Richard said...

The next thing they are going to work on is an app that keeps other apps from working if they phone is moving.

Greg's Blog said...

@ Jennifer

Don't forget this is San Francisco. It is the illusion that they have the latest and the greatest ideas in the world. It doeen't have to work or be effective, so long as the city is perceived as a progressive and leader of new world ideas.

Robin said...

Its a really stupid app if you think bout it. How quickly is that space a few blocks away going to last while you drive there?

The most stupid ideas in the US start in San Francisco.

PJ said...

Only a government bureaucrat would blow $20 million on a system that produces no measurable value.

No wonder government budgets are black holes.

max's skunk works said...

Triangle Man's idea for a heat map is a better one.

As others have recognized, newly open spaces in highly trafficked areas are more likely to be picked up by nearby drivers using their 'visual sensors'. Though the system probably will be useful for locating spaces with low to moderate turnover, if they've implemented sensors in these areas.

There are actually a couple of parking spot 'sharing' apps available, though none has reached the uptake necessary to be very useful. These allow drivers to announce when they are leaving a space, along with the location of the space. You can schedule the announcement, or simply submit it when you're ready to leave. You can also allow other drivers to reserve the space. So they enable the reporting and discovery of open parking spaces with the possibility of developing a market for spaces.

Peter said...

As an SF resident, I take the muni system in to work. It is very reliable - 80% of the time. The other 20%, not so much.

So they could have spent that money improving the existing public transportation system. Or, I guess, not spent the money at all. But that last one was never really an option.

Ken Mitchell said...

It isn't an iPhone app telling where there is a parking place available; it is BAIT for the $159 "texting while driving" ticket that's in place here in California. What with the iPhone tracking bugs, and the fact that this is a City-developed app, I can't IMAGINE that the SFPD won't have a map of moving iphones that are running this app. Follow your GPS, write the ticket, repeat!

And just like that, the City is out of the red and can spend even MORE money on useless garbage.

I'm sorry; is that just a little TOO cynical?

Ken Mitchell said...

Richard said... "The next thing they are going to work on is an app that keeps other apps from working if they phone is moving."

It's already available; the idea is that you install this app on your KID'S phone, and you can download the results.

This will be better, because the City owns the network and wrote the app; I'd bet dollars to doughnuts (which USED to be pretty good odds, but is now barely 2-1) that the SFPD has a readout of moving app users anywhere in the city. Follow the track, pull the car over, write the $159 ticket, and repeat until the City is out of debt.

Micha Elyi said...

I'd bet... the SFPD has a readout of moving app users anywhere in the city. Follow the track, pull the car over, write the $159 ticket, and repeat until the City is out of debt. - Ken Mitchell

In California, most traffic fine revenue goes to the state general fund. After SF pays the cost of cop and court time, the city loses money on every one of those $159 tickets.

It adds up to yet another beautiful theory murdered by an ugly fact.

Largo said...

"A better app would be one that shows how long cars have been parked at a meter"


Or an app that tells where there are now empty spots with minutes left on the meter, and how many minutes are left. Killer app -- if only there was a simple way to get the data!

wellington said...

This stupid thing will make driving and smartphone fiddling even worse.

Instead, we need an application that dynamically pinpoints the locations of cars whose drivers are fiddling with their phones and not paying attention to traffic. That way the rest of us can be safer by watching them on our phones as we drive around.