SFParkIntelligent cities projects are not just an idealized concept anymore; they’re actually happening all around us, whether or not we realize it.  New York City Mayor Bloomberg announced about a week ago that NYC’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority had partnered with the Federal Government to develop and implement a real-time traffic tracking system that enables their traffic operations office to make changes to signal timing right from their desktop computer.  In San Francisco, the USDOT’s Urban Partnership Program primarily funded the development and installation of a real-time parking supply and demand tracking system, which this week implemented its first round of demand-responsive parking price changes. The system in San Francisco has many implications for the future of transportation management.  The back-end data structure has been consciously designed to be flexible for future real-time data collection additions, like a feed of real-time boardings on Muni, the city’s public transit system.  In the words of project manager Jay Primus, “[Microsoft] Excel just won’t cut it anymore.”  And he’s right; leveraging relational database technology, which has actually existed for quite a while (the 1970s), is seen as a huge and innovative step for municipal government.  In one simple query, the city could understand how parking demand is related to public transit boardings.  Add real-time, automated automobile, bicycle and pedestrian volumes to the mix, and you’ve got a truly multi-modal management system.

New York’s system is offers the development of one piece of this as well.  They collect traffic volume information from microwave sensors, video cameras, and E-Z Pass readers throughout Manhattan.  They’re verifying the system’s data collection with GPS units installed in several taxicabs travelling throughout the city every day.

Without the financial backing of the federal government, it’s unlikely that either of these projects would have come to fruition.  This is one case where, gladly, money is power.

- Terra Curtis