URBAN LEGEND: Wuppertal City
How Wuppertal City Supports Citizens and the Environment With Smart Parking Guidance Systems
Smart Cities, Green Cities - two concepts that are inextricably combined when it comes to building sustainable mobility concepts. Read on to hear how the city administration of Wuppertal is making pioneering use of smart city tech to reach climate goals - and how SONAH is helping.
Smart Parking in North Rhine-Westphalia
The German city of Wuppertal is running a green city project - and it's ambitious. Impressively so. In fact, the city is a role model when it comes to implementing new technology in pursuit of climate goals. Take its goal to clean up air pollution, for instance. The clean air task force from Wuppertal began eight projects in 2020, ranging from installing air quality monitors in the city to using environmentally sensitive traffic management tech. And, of course, one of these projects included our SONAH/SWARCO collaboration: a parking guidance system, designed to lower parking search traffic and the emissions they create.
Wuppertal City: on a mission for cleaner air
Urban air quality, or lack thereof, has long been on everyone’s minds. Despite a feeling of comparative cleanliness when reading about air pollution in, say, New Dehli, India (or, worse, New York City), there’s no denying that air pollution remains an issue in Europe too. The city of Wuppertal, like many other city authorities, were concerned about the quality of air in its streets and grabbed at the chance to rectify it.
It was a few years ago when time and funding came together at the right moment - but the topic only gets more urgent with time.
We’ll be looking at how (and how much) inefficient parking management contributes to low air quality in a future blog series, but for now here are some quick stats:
Studies suggest that between 8% and 78% of all inner city traffic worldwide is due to people searching for parking
In 2017, the average German spent 41 hours on parking per year
5% of all land in the US is dedicated to parking spaces
Extra congestion, more fuel burned, and less chance to maintain green spaces. So, if the city of Wuppertal wanted to make a difference, a smart parking guidance system was a great springboard.
Great Communication & The SWARCO Connection
Wuppertal chose to work with SONAH in 2020. We had been supporting them in the planning phases and, as a small start up, we could offer the city a closely-tailored development process. In fact, it was this aspect that swayed the Wuppertal team's decision towards us and SWARCO instead of a single, larger, more established company. While we were the flexible and on-the-ground part of the partnership, SWARCO had long been the biggest and most successful system integrator in the region. As technology provider for SWARCO, our partnership would allow Wuppertal to not only increase their oversight by collecting live parking data, but also to integrate the data into a parking app available for citizens.
An especially attractive reason to work with SONAH was the use of camera-based sensors that, even a few years ago, were slowly being recognized as the most effective form of sensors. Even more so, the fact that the parking spots requiring digitization were unmarked meant that the overhead sensors - a type of sensor that is genuinely hard to master in production and training - were the perfect solution for monitoring Wuppertal’s less regulated parking assets.
Most important to the team at Wuppertal was, over time, SONAH’s communicative style. ‘The communication from SONAH was frictionless,’ said Nils Kaiser, Team-leader from the city’s side. ‘We discussed in depth the best solutions, and were advised towards the most cost effective methods at all times.’
Meanwhile, the work with SWARCO gave the project an extremely progressive endpoint: The PARCO app. The idea of Wuppertal’s streets soon appearing in this Germany-wide mobility concept was a great goal. Once achieved, the city could focus on the real results: cleaner air.
"The communication from SONAH was frictionless. We discussed in depth the best solutions, and were advised towards the most cost effective methods at all times."
Project Technical Lead at Wuppertal City
Power, What Power?
Any implementation is going to have its stumbling block, and for Wuppertal, it was finding a power source. Ensuring a permanent supply of energy to the sensors is quite often a complicated matter, given that this application of a smart parking guidance system would need to process and transfer data 24/7.
The plan had originally been to avoid the use of batteries. While SONAH is often able to find solutions without batteries, this largely relies on the existing power set up at the site. In this case, the sensors would be set up on street lamps, which of course do have a power source. The issue with the lamps in question, however, was that the supply was limited to times when the lamp was on. But, unlike street lighting, sensors don't take a break when the sun is shining.
So, the implementation went ahead, now with batteries powering the sensor’s processing and transfer. Instead of the expected permanent energy supply, the batteries are able to charge overnight while both the sensor and the lamp are running on the mains. During the day, the battery performs its task, allowing the sensors to do theirs.
Citizens Onboard, Impact On The Way
Once the issues had been solved and the sensors installed, over 230 spots were digitized with just 23 sensors. SONAH’s next task was to begin configuring the sensor computer to work with the specific parking environment. The training process for the AI went well, and soon the live occupation data was rolling in. LCD wayfinding signs had also been installed during the process, which now showed the correct data. From there, the integration into the PARCO app ran smoothly.
What is the PARCO app exactly? In the past, one might have called it a parking app, but as SWARCO states: "In Wuppertal, the PARCO-app became a mobility app." The difference is crucial; this isn’t your run-of-the-mill parking payment app, but rather a more extensive approach to city parking that provides data on free spots as well as e-charging locations and availability status, navigation assistance, and payment options. It’s convenient, well-designed, and updates in real time". All in all, it essentially provides a service that will cut down the need to cruise for parking to an absolute minimum, allowing for a significant decrease in citizen frustration. The team from Wuppertal reports a steady uptake in usage in the digital parking parking guidance system.
Finally, what about the air pollution?
Of course, we’d love to say that due to our sensors, air quality has massively increased. But with a project as exhaustively passionate about achieving climate goals, it's hard to tell exactly which of Wuppertal's ambitious smart city installations caused what.
What can we say, though? Nitrogen Dioxide levels are down and sinking further, and, because of the air quality detectors that Wuppertal installed, we'll be kept up to date on the decrease!
The main takeaway? The results of Wuppertal's smart city revolution are: