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iPhone app can help find parking spots in Hollywood

The 'Parker' application gives drivers real-time information about which streets have open spots, as well as blocks that are closest to them with the most vacant spaces and other information.

December 23, 2010|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times

The often tedious hunt for a parking place soon might become less irritating in at least one part of Los Angeles.

At City Hall on Wednesday, officials unveiled an iPhone application — the first of its type — to help motorists find vacant parking spots in Hollywood, one of the most-visited places in the world.

For an introductory price of $1.99, drivers will be able see which streets have open spots, as well as blocks that are closest to them with the most vacant spaces.

The "Parker" application delivers information about parking-space time limits, pricing and whether meters take credit cards or coins. It also directs motorists to the nearest public or private parking lots and garages as an alternative to street parking.

"Instead of driving around Hollywood getting frustrated, motorists can now use this application to get a space," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "It's a real innovation."

By providing real-time information, officials say, the service might even reduce traffic congestion caused by motorists hunting for parking places. It could benefit businesses as well by informing shoppers of nearby parking, and help cities get better use out of their parking places.

It has been estimated that during peak travel times in some areas, motorists looking for curbside parking represent about a quarter to a third of all traffic.

Studies by UCLA students of a 15-block area of Westwood Village determined that the search for parking resulted in motorists traveling 950,000 extra miles per year. The average hunt took about 3.3 minutes, but in the late afternoon and evening the effort took up to 12 minutes.

"This was just in little Westwood Village," said UCLA professor Donald Shoup, a leading expert on parking policy. "But parking is a global concern. That is why this [application] is an important step in solving the problem."

Villaraigosa, City Council President Eric Garcetti and officials from the city Department of Transportation announced the "Parker for iPhone" application at a news conference. They were joined by representatives from Streetline, a San Francisco firm that partnered with the city to develop the system.

The technology creates a kind of wireless network by combining information from global positioning satellites and sensors embedded in about 700 curbside parking spots and their meters. On an iPhone, the application displays an image of streets and open parking places in relation to a driver's vehicle.

The device is available from the Apple iTunes App Store or online at http://www.itunes.com/appstore. A city transportation website also offers information.

The application is one of a number of tools that have been developed to better manage parking in urban areas. The measures include high-tech meters that accept credit cards, raising prices for parking spaces, setting time restrictions and other systems that inform motorists about available spots.

If successful, the city and Streetline plan to expand the application into downtown Los Angeles in the next eight to nine months.

"This is the direction we should be moving in," said Martin Wachs, a transportation expert at Rand Corp., the Santa Monica-based think tank. "We won't be building many streets and highways in the future, so we need to use information to get more out of our transportation system."

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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