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Norwalk, Conn. launches state's first 'smart' parking app

Kaomi Goetz

Norwalk, Conn. became the first city in the state Tuesday to launch a mobile app that aims to help drivers find available parking spaces. It's called Parker and officials hope it will reduce frustration over finding places to park. 

  Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling conceded it's often hard to find one of the city's 4,000 parking spaces open at a press conference Tuesday.

"You know how frustrating it can be when you go someplace and you only have half an hour for lunch or whatever. And you can't find that spot and you drive around and around. Eventually you might get frustrated and you leave. That's not good for business," he said.

So the city has launched a year-long pilot program with Streetline. It's a California-based company that started Parker. Here's how it works: Wireless sensors are deployed that can detect whether a parking space on the street is occupied or not. That data is transmitted to a cloud. Then it's pushed to athe mobile app. Streetline's Sarah Salpeter demonstrated on her iPad.

"I open up the Parker app even before I get in my car and I have it ready to go," she said. "Right now, I'm on North Water Street. I can see to the right in the North Water [parking] lot there are 22 spaces available out of 41. I can see a few blocks over, there's different on-street available parking," she scrolled on the screen.

Streetline said the Parker data is in real-time. But it isn't super precise. It gives probabilities. For example, a teardrop icon appears on the map with the number of open spaces in increments of two. If you see 2+, chances are good you'll find an open spot. Minus 2, and the space is probably already gone. Parker also receives wireless data from a third-party that has counters in parking garages in the city. That data will show how many spots are available in a specific garage but not exactly where. It's not an iron-clad guarantee -- especially if multiple drivers are looking at the same data. Kathryn Hebert of the Norwalk Parking Authority said the app will still be of help.

"Now this is not meant to be the silver bullet of parking. It's another tool in the toolbox," Hebert said.

Credit Kaomi Goetz
Streetline CEO Zia Yusuf speaks at the press conference Tuesday. To the right are Kathryn Hebert of the Norwalk Parking Authority and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling.

The Norwalk project cost $90,000 to install. More than half of that is being covered by the city's parking authority. Streetline paid for the rest. It will eventually charge the parking authority a fee to use the system. Authority board member Michael harden wouldn't divulge exactly how much.

"I'm not going to comment on the actual numbers right now 'cause it's too far in advance." He said. But when asked if it was within the authority's budget, he said: "Absolutely."

The technology has been around for about five years and is now being used in cities like Boston and The Bronx in New York City. Norwalk's test run includes 200 on-street parking spaces and three garages. The app will also let you pay for the space with credit card information. Streetline said future users will even be able to reserve an open spot ahead of time - but it's not clear when that will be. 

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