Parking app raises safety concerns in Cleveland

| January 31, 2014

Parker is an app that locates spots at open meters and parking lots. It’s been almost eighty days since the app was launched in Cleveland as part of a ninety-day pilot program, but the clock can’t tick down fast enough for safety advocates, who think customers are using the app while they’re behind the wheel.

cleveland bike lanes

Safety advocates are concerned that a parking app is keeping customers’ eyes off the road. From itdp.

Concerned citizen Joe Bauer organized a meeting two weeks ago to discuss the issue. “What can we do to make sure people in their motor vehicles are paying attention to what’s around them?” asked attendee Jacob VanSickle, executive director of Bike Cleveland.

Britanny Blasing, who represents Streetline, the company behind Parker, sounded a reassuring response in an email. “By no means do we encourage interacting with the app while driving,” she wrote, encouraging motorists to enter their destination into the app before driving anywhere. Once that information is entered, voice prompts guide drivers to open parking spaces.

But Bauer expressed skepticism: “We don’t have much faith that drivers are going to pull over in a busy city and then look at their app.”

Legal issues added fuel to the discussion: Texting while driving is illegal in Ohio, and many suburbs have gone one step further by cracking down on all hand-held devices behind the wheel. “How do we do it so we’re not encouraging people to break the law?” asked Joe Cimperman, a councilman overseeing the downtown ward, where the pilot program is limited.

Government statistics suggest their concerns are valid: In motor crashes involving distracted drivers, which encompass those who use phones or text while driving, among other possibilities, there was a nine percent increase between 2011 and 2012 in the number injured.

Experts believe that figure may be higher. Drivers are unlikely to cop to distracted driving, and police don’t have standardized procedures for coding and reporting such collisions. Adding one more app to the list of temptations that promote distracted driving only raises the number of dangers motorists fight.

“Most people are looking for parking spaces in places that have a lot of traffic and a lot of pedestrians,” Daniel Simons, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, where he studies the science of attention, has told the press.

Cars in Cleveland

People tend to want to park in areas with lots of pedestrians, making app use particularly dicey. From itdp.

But there are numerous places where municipally endorsed parking apps have been introduced. In 2011, Streetline worked with the city of Los Angeles, as well as smaller entities such as Ft. Worth, TX, and Roosevelt Island in New York City’s East River, on parking systems similar to what Cleveland is testing now.

Indeed, SFPark, another app that operates much like Parker, has netted the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the organization that spearheaded it, several accolades since its debut in 2011: a Public Managerial Excellence Award in 2012, a Sustainable Transport Award from ITDP in 2012, and Public Parking Program of the Year in 2013 from the California Public Parking Association.

Parker’s fate in Cleveland remains to be seen, but Cimperman vowed to bring the concerns raised at the recent public meeting to his colleagues and the city administration.

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Category: Parking, Parking management

About the Author ()

Cielo Lutino is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn, NY. She has written for such publications as the L Magazine and Portland Monthly, and her literary nonfiction has appeared in journals such as the Los Angeles Review and Cold Mountain Review.

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