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San Francisco is implementing a wireless network using transceivers on the ground that theoretically will help drivers find parking spaces in the congested city.

The technology, called Streetline from the company of the same name, uses wireless transceivers glued on the street in front of each parking space, which form a mesh network. Together, they offer the possibility of enabling drivers not only be able to find a vacant space, but also to change the time allowable to park in the space and pay for it using a smart phone, as well as monitor traffic flow in general.

Up to 30 percent of city traffic is said to be caused by people circling to find a parking spot.

Reportedly, 6,000 of the city's 24,000 metered parking spaces will be part of the test, and up to a dozen other cities are also considering the technology.

Lest there be privacy concerns, the company hastens to reassure people that "The sensing applications we build will never be able to deliver anything remotely like live audio, pictures or video."

After living in San Francisco for 20 years, though, I have some questions:

  • How long before people decide to pry up the transceiver off the street in front of their house in an attempt to remove "their" parking space from the system?
  • I thought we're trying to get people to stop using cell phones while driving? Do we really want a bunch of people staring at teeny maps on their cell phones and then racing off to a space they think is vacant?
  • How often does the network get refreshed? The half life of a parking space in my neighborhood, the Haight, was often ten seconds or less.
  • There were enough problems of two people arriving at a space at the same time using a manual search, and then fighting over the space. How many people are now going to come barreling around a corner -- all staring at their cell phones, remember -- in search of the elusive vacant space?
  • How well does the system detect motorcycles? Does a motorcycle rider need to park or drive over the spot in a particular way to be sensed? Similar systems using induction loop technology implemented in other cities for changing "smart" traffic signals have had problems detecting bicycles and motorcycles, particularly fancy expensive ones made of light composite materials.
  • If the city can start changing legal parking times around, how are people parked in those spaces supposed to be able to know this? If I park in a two-hour space and then the city changes it to a one-hour space while I'm in it, I'm hosed.
  • This will presumably only work on the metered parking spaces, which are defined to be of a certain standard length. However, San Franciscans can demonstrate remarkable ingenuity at wedging cars into smaller spaces. How well will the system work in the evenings, after the meters go off, and people aren't bound by the painted parking spaces on the street? If three cars are wedged into two spaces, and one of them leaves, will the system know? Or will people be limited to using the painted parking spaces, which do not make the most efficient use of the available space?
  • Will this encourage increased meter use, both by keeping meters in force later and by inspiring the city to install meters in the residential areas that don't have them now?
  • And finally, how many parking tickets will San Francisco's finest have to write to pay for it?
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