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).
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.
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.
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:
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: