Parking It

The NYTimes has a story today about the iPhone app from the San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency that helps drivers find a parking spot.

Picture 10The piece calls out the tension between (a) cutting down the time drivers spend circling city blocks, which is a hazard, and (b) looking at their iPhones while they are driving, which is a hazard.

Maps are fun and can be beautifully designed. Digital versions can pick up on the allure that maps always had in the analog era, and make maps even richer imaginative portals. Mapping movement and real time information to location is particularly compelling.

Also exciting are the beginnings of organizing crowdsourced intelligence via maps. Among the many implications are, I think, the eventual demise of advertising as a feature of commerce.

But simple intuition suggests that a map that requires a screen on a hand held device is not the optimum means to disseminate real time information about available parking spots.

The right solution might not be screen-based at all.

It probably makes more sense for a location aware radio to talk the information to the driver. And the system could alter the kind of information depending on the driver's familiarity with the area. Ideally, the driver and the parking radio could have a conversation. "Is there anything near that park a couple blocks," she might ask. "Not today. All packed up because of a concert across the street. You'd do better turning left and heading west." Something like that.

If screens are the intermediate solution, then a screen on the dash, or a projection on a lower, tinted portion of the windshield, might be less hazardous than manipulating a hand held device while driving.

Of course, the ultra-optimum solution might be to leave the car parked at home and take public transport. I don't do that as much as I should, but the One Bus Away iPhone app has significantly increased my use of buses in Seattle. That's because it lets me know what options I have with reference to my current location, and it tells me, within about one minute of accuracy, when the next bus will come. That's accurate enough that I can eliminate the frustration of heading to a bus stop too early or too late.

Also interesting (below): a tweet from @nytimesbits that appears to be looking for some last minute sources or quotes for today's NYT article.

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