Pottsville to monitor parking spots via underground sensors

In an effort to free up parking in front of downtown businesses, Pottsville is using sensors to gauge parking patterns in the business district in a study that will last up to 90 days.
StreetSmart Technology LLC, based in Kennesaw, Ga., with an office in Reading, on Monday began installing the infrastructure for about 100 sensors at metered and one-hour spaces in the 100 and 200 blocks of West Market Street and the first and 100 blocks of North Centre Street.

The initial work should be completed by Wednesday with the study to begin by year's end, officials said.

"The purpose is to alleviate parking congestion in the central business district so that people can access their retailer, library or restaurant," Amy S. Burkhart, executive director of the Pottsville Area Development Corp., said Monday.

John Miskell, StreetSmart Technology account manager, said the first parking meter was installed in Oklahoma City in 1935.

"Everything has changed around us, but we still do parking the 1935 way," he said.

Miskell said in most cities with metered parking, the driver drops coins into the meter and someone checks to make sure time on the meter hasn't expired.

"Since they can't be everywhere at once. Sometimes a car at an expired meter is missed, or coin jam is missed or tickets aren't written," Miskell said. "You can't go on with that model and expect to be efficient."

Burkhart has previously said it is important to maintain at least a 15-percent vacancy of spaces on the street so businesses have parking available to customers. She said if spaces are not available, would-be patrons may go somewhere else.

The sensors' wiring is being installed underground and, Miskell said, when a car parks on top of the sensor, the metal in the car sends an electrical impulse signal that will be sent via the Internet to the city parking authority.

"It is almost the same concept of a sensor for a traffic light," Miskell said.

The sensors can report problems with maintenance, including coin jams, as well as when a vehicle is parked at an expired meter, and give managers an on-the-street view through a web-based management console that provides dashboard views of the city's entire parking grid, according to the StreetSmart website.

The sensors will work regardless of weather conditions, including snow cover.

Miskell said the program has been effective in Easton, Northampton County, where revenue from parking has increased 25 percent. He also said studies in other communities have shown that business profits have gone up because patrons have better access to businesses.

Easton City Administrator Glenn Steckman confirmed the increase in revenue since the technology was installed this summer.

"Since the meters reset when a car leaves a space, it has generated additional revenue," Steckman said. "Also with the sensors, they notified the parking enforcement officer that a car is parked at an expired meter after five or 10 minutes. This way our PEOs can concentrate on high abuse areas."

Steckman said the objective for Easton is not to ticket vehicles, but rather to get people to pay the meters.

"Since the meters have been in place, meter payments have gone up 20 percent or so," he said.

Steckman also said business owners have noted an increase in business since the sensors have been in place.

"Businesses that were in financial trouble have said there is an increase in foot traffic and profits have increased," Steckman said.

Burkhart said the program is being considered to maximize business parking potential downtown and that there would be no lost jobs in the parking authority because of the sensors.

Steckman said Easton has not seen a decrease in personnel, but the system enables the city to use its workers more efficiently because they better understand the parking needs.

He also said that since the parking information is online, the city is able to tell if a meter was fed and parking ticket challenges have become less.

"When people find out we have this level of technology, they are more likely to pay the ticket without challenge," Steckman said.

The Pottsville study is expected to last 60 to 90 days.

The first 30 days will create a baseline as to the whereabouts of the parking problems.

If purchased, each sensor will cost about $30. Burkhart was unsure if all of the estimated 800 downtown spaces would eventually be fitted with a sensor. There will also be a maintenance fee based on increased utilization of spaces, she said.

Burkhart said the data will be maintained by StreetSmart Technology with the city having access.

City Administrator Thomas Palamar has previously said that in 2009, a total of 9,102 parking tickets were given out in the city. That represented a potential revenue of $105,626. Of those, the city police took back 2,077. Of the other 7,025 tickets, 6,072 were paid, giving the city a total of $92,796 in revenue.
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