The city wants to install new parking technology to ease traffic congestion as seen here. (Courtesy of SFMTA/SFpark)

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Even as Muni riders await sharp cut cutbacks in service, transit officials unveiled new parking meter technology  Thursday that promises to give drivers real-time information on that rare San Francisco sighting: an empty parking spot.

SFpark, which will begin as a pilot program in the Mission District and elsewhere in late spring, uses road sensors to send real-time information that can be accessed online, via text message or at posted electronic signs to help drivers locate vacant spots, according to the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency.

It would also help the city identify parking demand to adjust pricing every four to six weeks to redistribute that demand.

Drivers will be able to feed the new meters with coins, credit cards or the SFMTA Smart Card.

Summarized in the tagline, “Circle Less, Live More,” the main goal of the program is to reduce the number of drivers circling or double-parking while looking for an open spot.

“This is all-around a win-win situation for drivers and even for people who don’t drive,” said  SFpark manager Jay Primus who added that meter technology has changed little since 1947.

At Thursday’s downtown forum, he blamed circling and congestion from parking issues for “why Muni isn’t as fast or reliable as it could be.”

Bicyclists and pedestrians, he said, will also find the streets safer.

“We’re really changing the perception that San Francisco is a place you can park,” said Primus.

Nik Kaestner, who has lived on the edge of the Mission since 2006, said the message would have to be available in Spanish for the Mission.   He also wondered whether anyone would check on-line for parking. “Most people will just use the cues of the open parking spots to make their decision, so I’m not sure how important the electronic part of it will be.”

Kaestner, who has not driven since 2007, thinks the program could still use some rethinking.

“By itself, it’s probably not going to be this great carbon reduction tool, because in a way it will encourage more people to drive,” Kaestner said. “Of course once that happens, they’ll raise the prices, so that might then discourage the same people from driving. So it’s a very fine balance.”

Glen Park resident Sean McGinn liked the idea of no longer having to rely on coins or single-use prepaid cards, but he still had doubts about easing congestion.

“I don’t know how it’ll work in an area like the Mission,” said McGinn, who drives to the Mission several times a week to perform theater. “I’m always going back and forth, and if I can find a spot, I’ll grab a burger — if not, I can’t. But there’s hardly ever an empty meter.”

The Mission will be one of the pilot areas, covering an area between 15th and 24th Streets. The eastern border runs along South Van Ness Avenue, while the western border runs along Valencia Street until 16th Street, where the boundary is extended westward toward Guerrero Street. (A map can be found here.)

Other pilot areas include the Marina, Civic Center, Fillmore, Fisherman’s Wharf, Downtown, SoMa and the Port of San Francisco. There will also be three control areas — Union Street, the Outer Richmond and West Portal — where data will be collected without making any actual changes to these meters.

The pilot program will officially launch in late spring of this year and run until 2012 and will begin by replacing existing meters with new meters.

Some 80 percent of the $24.75 million price tag is being federally funded through the Department of Transportation. The remaining 20 percent will come from SFMTA salary savings and will not cost the city or taxpayers any additional money, according to Primus.

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Kimberly is currently a journalism major and business minor at San Francisco State University. Come May 2010, she will be moving on to bigger and better things, i.e. living and breathing journalism, not just studying it. But for now you can usually find her at City Hall every Tuesday at the Board of Supervisors meetings. Having lived her entire life in San Francisco, she itches to travel far and wide, most likely to be convinced that every other city and town pales in comparison.

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  1. The project is a cool concept, but filing it under the “good for the environment” category is just weak. I hope it really does some good – but I’m skeptical. I’d like to see some reliable data showing just how much of this planet’s carbon emissions come from cars circling to find parking in San Francisco. My guess? Not much… We can’t save the environment by cutting back public transit and making it easier to find parking.

    Are there plans for an iPhone/BlackBerry/Droid app? That would be really handy…

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