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Fighting Fires With Parking Management Systems: Public Safety

Say your city has a budget for Smart City projects - what problem do you solve first? Some tackle smart energy, some the automation of street lighting or water monitoring - all of which are great choices. Some cities, as we’ll look at today, have chosen to address unsafe streets with smart parking management.

Ask a firefighter what gets in the way of their work most; we guarantee that streets blocked by parked cars is one of their biggest hindrances. It’s not the only danger that parking infringements cause, but the thought of its potential consequences makes our blood run cold. This is where smart parking has an incredibly important role to play. Despite parking management systems often being a topic aimed at more banal topics like maintaining daily operations, they have the potential to tackle massive public safety concerns.

What is a parking management system?

A parking management system is a system designed to streamline, monetize, and/or improve parking asset usage for certain areas. This can include onsite personnel to monitor drivers and their parking behaviour, or it can be digital solutions such as various sensor types detecting occupancy or parking infringements, or online payment systems.

The parking industry has been accelerating the number of impressive new technological applications. Where cities struggled with over-filled car parks, for instance, some cities now provide citizens with live data online, allowing them to make informed decisions as to which car park they navigate to. Alternatively, this can encourage people to use public transport instead.

What does parking management have to do with safety?

The aforementioned use cases aren’t the only areas that the parking industry has developed. In fact, where parking sensors have been used to detect parking infringements, the use cases are often easily applicable to safety issues. On-street parking management of unmarked bays is one of these. 

How does on-street parking management work?

At SONAH, we developed a camera-based sensor which can detect several features important to parking and/or traffic management. For instance, in an on-street scenario the sensor is trained to detect when a marked parking spot is taken or free. For unmarked parking areas (perhaps within the same street), it detects how much space is occupied and whether the remaining space is big enough for a car. The sensors do this by monitoring a selected area or region of interest (ROI) and identifying objects like cars. The ROI, at least in our sensors, is actually the only area being monitored - thus going beyond even GDPR standards to ensure privacy.

Using parking management to clear bike lanes

However, if the sensor can identify parked cars in parking bays, it can also identify them in other areas. A bike lane is a great example of exactly where parked cars SHOULDN’T  be. In fact, blocked bike lanes are one of the biggest dangers to cyclists, forcing them to cycle into the road. With our sensors, the software can be calibrated to detect cars in a larger ROI and to provide a different signal for this detection.

This diagram shows how by widening the region of interest and updating the use cases covered by the sensor, you can easily detect free parking spaces as well as parking infringements at the same time.

With a high-tech parking sensor like ours combined with an alert system fit for purpose, the above scenario could be analysed and the data sent to local traffic patrols. From there, they can ensure the offending car is removed and/or fined. Even better than the financial deterrence and the inconvenience, however, is the possibility of prevention. A parking guidance system like the one we have installed in Wuppertal could have advised the offending driver of a free spot. Even if the driver was only stopping for a short stay, the danger to cyclists remains, and the speediness of simply checking for a free spot online could avoid this.

Clearing important streets effectively

The original use case we mentioned was to do with emergency services and blocked streets. The city of Lübeck has already implemented an exemplary system of this nature, using ground sensors. These work on individual areas - a particularly narrow street for instance, or a street corner with a no-parking zone - by detecting if the space above and around is currently occupied by a car. If this is the case, the city receives an alert and can send officials to clear the area in question.

Is it really such a fitting response? Lübeck’s Chief Digital Officer Dr Stefan Ivens certainly thought so. "Every minute often counts, especially in an emergency. This pilot project clearly shows how intelligently networked data in a smart city can increase the safety of urban society. The sense of security contributes to increasing the quality of life in the Hanseatic city and demonstrates the consistent implementation of the digital strategy.”

Got more ideas for how public safety can be supported through smart parking solutions? Or feeling inspired and want to talk about how these solutions could be used in your city? Get in touch today!


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