'Smart' technology could help drivers find empty parking spaces in Downtown CR

Park Cedar Rapids is testing surface and below-surface devices to broadcast which parking spots are available on a potentially future mobile app.

Over the years Park Cedar Rapids has made updates to their street parking system, by allowing people to pay by phone and use credit cards in some locations. Now they're working to make it easier for people who have to commute to the city to find parking.

"I just go to a parking ramp now," said Patrick Harms, who works downtown and has to deal with trying to find parking nearby his job.

While there are parking spots right in front of his job, by the time he gets to work at 10 a.m., none of those spots are available.

"It's constantly driving around the block and then you see a spot and just as you try to get to it someone else gets to it," said Harms.

Now, Harms parks at a parking garage that's a good walk from his job. If he does end up finding a spot nearby, he says it makes little sense for him to take it.

"Going out and feeding the meter every two hours gets annoying," said Harms.

It's for those reasons, Park Cedar Rapids has so far invested in a $10,000 dollar pilot project installing both below and on surface devices to several parking spots at the 4th Avenue Parking Ramp.

"Our goal is to be able to broadcast open and available spaces out to the general public," said Jon Rouse, the general manager of Park Cedar Rapids.

Rouse says these devices are the next step to making Cedar Rapids a "smart city".

"If you have one of those fancy smartphones, you would be able to look at your smartphone and it would way-find you to an open and available space into the downtown," said Rouse.

The sensor can pick up on if a car is in a space. When Park Cedar Rapids gets further in the pilot program, they'll be able to test out an app to see if it can show people where empty spaces are located and how to get to them.

Other information is relayed to a nearby transmitter. The device records information like how long a vehicle is in a spot and at what point during the day a spot is most often used. The Park Cedar Rapids team hopes to be able to use the data to find solutions to problems drivers may have.

"An example is that--if this space is highly utilized and it's turning over rapidly, would it be better to have the space designated as a one hour or two hour parking zone," explained Harms.

Park Cedar Rapids tells CBS2 News there isn't a timeline on when the pilot projects will be complete because the team wants to make sure the devices they use can handle different weather conditions. The underground devices will be tested in a few weeks.

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