Parking, meters, technology

Free parking for now

For some time the parking meter situation in Birmingham has been dysfunctional. First, rates have been among the lowest in the US for major cities, encouraging the use of on-street parking at the expense of half-empty, tax-payer-funded parking decks and lots. Second, the antiquated pole-mounted meters have been subject to recent vandalism, with the City losing large amounts of revenue (see the Weld article here). Third, the promised roll-out of new meters has taken quite some time, with loads of free parking still available a block east from us on 2nd Avenue North, for instance (seen above next to an art installation at Space One Eleven gallery).

New technology, better service

In many cities, a much more advanced technology has been used for some time to handle urban on-street parking. Electronic “pay and display” meters (such as the one above in New York City) typically cover 8 to 15 spaces rather than just one. Instead of digging for change, you’re able to swipe a credit card or tap an account from your cell phone. A screen gives you options for time amounts; a receipt is printed which you post in your windshield. They are wireless and are powered with solar panels; the City can seamlessly adjust rates, power them down on Sundays, and troubleshoot remotely. While considerably more expensive than the old-fashioned type, these advanced meters are both much more efficient, and less susceptible to vandalism.

End of an era, at least in other US cities

The New York Times has an interesting article on replacing the last of thousands of old-fashioned meters in Manhattan, with the rest of the boroughs to follow (meter graveyard shown above). Birmingham should weigh the cost/benefits of getting advanced meter technology–at least in certain districts–before spending a lot on older, inefficient meters that will still be prone to vandalism. It’s always a bit discouraging to visit other cities and see electronic route information on bus stops, well-designed way-finding systems, or well-designed street furniture that collectively say “we are looking to the future”. Seeing new parking technology like this here would be a step in the right direction.

[thanks to antydiluvian for the Muni-Meter pic, and the NYTimes for the graveyard pic]


An eagle-eyed reader alerted me to the fact that Birmingham DOES INDEED have a pilot program already set up with sophisticated, solar-powered pay-and-display units on 20th Street between Linn Park and City Hall:

Coming soon across the City?

Accepting both coins and credit cards, the units (above) are in place with ancillary signage denoting parking spots. Way to go Birmingham–we hope this pilot proves successful and it can be rolled out. A closer view:

The 21st century arrives

15 responses to “Parking, meters, technology

  1. Pennington Pribbeneaux

    Love the article, and the idea. I agree, it would be incredible to see these put in place.

  2. Have you been over by City Hall lately? They’ve recently installed a central electronic meter there where you enter in your parking space number and can either pay with cash, change, or a credit/debit card. It’s pretty fantastic.

  3. The city is testing a system similar to what you are talking about, don’t know too many details.

  4. Digital meters also better support market-rate pricing, should the city ever decide to be so progressive…

  5. Actually, there are several “test” sites between city hall and Lenn Park for a couple of different systems

    • Do you know the difference between the systems? It would be great if the City publicized this a bit more, encouraging the population through an interactive website to try out and comment upon the different choices, for instance. Thanks.

  6. Is there a market clearing price for parking spots in downtown Birmingham? It looks like they doubled the rate last year from 25c to 50c an hour. Which probably had virtually zero effect on anything other than city revenue. If you are going downtown to buy something or eat you have to drive, and the cost of the meter is trivial in the total trip cost. To get people to park in the garages would require street parking to be much more expensive than it is now and you’d just end up with more empty spots on the street. Birmingham’s population density is so low that tinkering with the street parking rates will hardly influence driver behavior.

    • In the broad picture you are correct–raising the price of meters alone from 25 to 50 cents per hour will not influence driver behavior much. I would argue that raising it to the psychological threshold of $1/hour may cause enough drivers to think twice about that space, and search alternatives. On some blocks there is also an issue with office workers grabbing on-street parking early in the morning, and feeding the meters since the slight inconvenience and cost outweigh the higher charges in a monthly deck or lot. This could discourage that as well.

      Again, though, in the broad picture you are still correct that without true alternatives–well-marked and designed decks; fast, dependable transit; park-and-ride programs, etc.–the lowly parking meter can only do so much alone. Thanks as always for reading.

  7. Pingback: No more digging for change while visiting the courthouse | The Terminal - Birmingham AL's hub

  8. Pingback: Parking, meters, technology (2) | Bhamarchitect's Blog

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