Does a City Need a Large Population to be Smart?

12 Oct 2017

Banff blog header

At this year’s International Parking Institute conference and expo (check out this recent blog post for a full debrief of our experience), we had the opportunity to chat about smart cities and parking with representatives from lots of communities: Seattle, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, and more. Something we didn’t touch on in any of those conversations though was whether the population is one of the determining factors of a smart city.

To dig into the topic, we recently sat down with Shawn Skrine from Banff, a resort town in Alberta, Canada which is hosting the upcoming 2017 Canadian Parking Association Conference & Trade Show. Banff is unique in that it’s located inside a national park and is a resort town, meaning its population fluctuates widely based on the seasons. Despite Banff’s small permanent population, they’ve embraced parking technology that allows them to easily flex to accommodate the annual influx of tourist traffic.

Can you describe for us what parking is like in Banff?

We have five full-time enforcement officers and in the summer, two to three seasonal officers. Our officers use two vehicles and two bikes to patrol roughly 2,000 spaces that we have downtown.

We have several surface lots, one four-story parking structure, and a good deal of street parking. All of our parking is time-limited, but free.

What business rules do you use for the time-limited parking in your busy areas?

It varies. Our zones range from 15-minute limits all the way to nine-hour limits. Streets usually have either two-hour or 15-minute limits, parking lots are all three hours, the parking structure has two-hour and eight-hour spaces, and there are some streets on the outskirts of downtown with nine-hour limits.

What devices do you use for ticketing?

We have Panasonic X1 handhelds that run on Android and Zebra printers. The reason we switched to handheld devices was so that we could accomplish stricter enforcement and penalize repeat parking violation offenders.

A first-time violator receives a 90% reduction of the usual fine, and any tickets after that are full-priced. The only way we would be able to track if a vehicle or plate had been ticketed before was by going to these handhelds.

How does Banff’s high volume of tourists affect the parking situation?

To be honest with you, it’s more of the locals that were affected when we started implementing time-limit parking than it was the tourists, because tourists seem to look for signs.

We started time-limiting the parking to change behavior, which seems to have happened. Now after three years, there’s been about a 30% increase in time-limit compliance. The number of tickets issued for time-limit offenses has been reduced and downtown parking turnover has improved, which is what we wanted.

How do you address the congestion issues you face in your busy tourism season?

The town’s been doing several things in the last few years to help address the congestion. People used to drive around parking lots and up and down the streets looking for a parking spot, but we had an engineer put in a display at the entrance of each lot indicating how many parking spots are available or if it’s full. It’s connected to a magnetic loop that detects vehicles that pull into the lots.

Even though Banff is a smaller town, do you think it qualifies as a smart city?

I guess we are a smart town. We have apps for parking availability, we have apps that tell us when the next bus is coming. A person can go on their smartphone, go to banff.com, go to “Available Parking Spots”, and drive to that place to find the spot.

We also have an engineer on staff who actually adjusts the timing for traffic lights depending on the traffic volume. If traffic is starting to back up, he uses the cameras to see where things are backing up and adjusts the timing of the street lights to hopefully clear traffic congestion quicker.

What role do you see parking is playing in smart cities in the near future?

I see technology continuing to grow and helping us determine where to place intercept lots that allow people to connect with public transit to get where they’re going. That would improve congestion and traffic flow and to keep vehicles off the road.

 

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