Tag Archives: parking meters

Parking, meters, technology (2)

The 21st century gives way to the 20th

Late last year we discussed parking technologies and the pilot program of smart metering that was implemented around Linn Park downtown. Those high-tech meters–solar powered, accepting credit cards, remotely programmable for different times of day and week, etc.–are now gone. Instead, above we see standard old-fashioned meters once again lining Park Place, and a blank sign post which used to say “pay here” standing next to the empty concrete pad which held the machine.

Does anyone know if the pilot program was deemed successful, and whether this is a temporary regression before rolling out new technology across the city? Or is this an indication of something else? While this is just one piece of upgrading our urban parking system, it’s a vital one.

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

Art of the Urbane

So THAT'S what we can do with the broken meters

Directly east of Space One Eleven Gallery, a new contemporary art gallery has opened downtown. It’s called Beta Pictoris and it’s the brainchild of Guido Maus (you can view the gallery website here). The shot above shows the storefront on the 2400 block of Second Avenue North.

Guido moved to Birmingham 5-1/2 years ago from New York City (he is Belgian). He ran furniture galleries in Tribeca before his wife, an expert in antique furniture restoration, was lured to Birmingham to help the Museum of Art with their collection. After a furniture venture here, Guido decided to follow one of his dreams and open up a fine art gallery, showing both local and national artists. His first show exhibited both Birmingham and New York artists, and according to Guido, “visitors couldn’t tell the difference.” He is interested in upending this notion of “local” vs. “national” art, to establish dialogs through visual art.

Dressed to kill

This interest in dialog is why his current show is so spot on. Entitled “Dazzling”, it exhibits photography by local artist Sonja Rieger (the example here is “Kitti Smoking” and the image is courtesy Sonja Rieger and beta pictoris gallery). Sonja photographed drag queens while they were gathered at a large, African-American drag event in Birmingham’s west side. Close to 500 people turned out for the opening night of this show, and, according to Guido, provocative discussion was everywhere.

“Art should provoke discussion, not just look pleasing.”–Guido Maus

Guido feels there is a vibrant art scene in Birmingham, but no vibrant art market. This is why so many galleries are forced to sell art that “looks pretty” and is acceptable to interior decorators–and that’s fine; there’s a place for that. But Guido feels there’s also room to support other artists who are stretching the boundaries beyond what is just pretty, towards what is provocative.

I have long felt that urban areas must have artists and art in order to be truly vibrant. This city could do a much better job of offering incentives for artists to relocate here, for galleries to open and flourish, for public art programs. In the meantime, kudos to Guido for sticking with the Magic City and choosing to take a risk that a provocative, intellectual approach to art can work here. His small gallery is just a start; he’d like to open a much larger space suitable for large exhibitions, artists-in-residence, etc. Mark your calendars for his next opening Friday May 28!

Passionate about the power of art

Finally, a brief note about the pic at the top of the post: Space One Eleven, the neighboring gallery, has put together a great piece of urban “public” art, utilizing street trees, storefront windows, and yes, broken parking meters. I’m only half-joking when I suggest we may have finally found a solution to repairing the vast number of broken meters across this city!