Tools Can Improve Space Efficiency and Traffic Flow in Changing Environments
- By Michael Bradner
- May 23, 2022
Road traffic in campus communities has increased significantly over the past few years as more people are driving to campus. At the same time, parking spaces have become more limited or restricted. It’s common for campuses to earmark parking spaces for new uses or to replace entire parking lots with more profitable buildings. Put simply, there are more drivers and fewer parking options, which can lead to commuter frustration and potential safety issues.
Campus facilities, security and parking managers need to adapt to today’s changes and be prepared for what’s to come. There are different transportation methods to consider, like cars, buses, scooters, bicycles, service trucks and rideshare services. Parking spots should be available for different uses, such as electric charging stations, disabled parking close to buildings, pick-up and drop-off spots, bike-sharing stations, employee parking and so on. Equal access to various spots is also important to ensure that workers and visitors feel treated fairly and equitably. Some campuses also deal with hybrid schedules that further complicate parking needs.
With the right tools and policies in place, traffic managers can improve space efficiency, traffic and pedestrian flow to meet compliance and changing demands. But what’s the best way to address these issues? While every campus has its unique characteristics, a “measure, inform and enforce” framework provides a straightforward approach to evaluate and update traffic and parking operations to create more seamless experiences.
Measure, Monitor and Analyze Operations
To make good decisions, traffic managers need helpful, specific data. They must identify pain points and understand supply and demand. This requires insights into usage patterns such as lot occupancy, compliance, and traffic flow. Basic measurement includes fluctuating occupancy rates on specific days or at specific times. How many electric vehicles are coming into the lot? How many people with disabilities need parking services close to the door? Is there a pattern to drop-offs and pick-ups? There may be high demand for drop-offs first thing on weekday mornings, but little demand in the early afternoon. The most granular data can deliver the most actionable insights.
In the past, answers to these questions might require manual physical traffic counters. Now, it’s easier to get answers to those questions with more accurate, real-time data. Roadside traffic sensors, light detection and ranging (LiDAR) sensors, and automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) sensors are among the tools that can track information about everything from traffic incidents to parking violations. Cameras and video analytics can monitor traffic flow, detect stopped objects and classify traffic.
Parking pass purchases and safety or speeding infractions can also be important data-based indicators of parking demand. Have parking pass purchases increased significantly or have safety infractions risen? The combination of the two can send up a red flag. If a parking lot is full, it can lead to drivers circling the campus, looking for spaces. This increases the risk of pedestrian and vehicle accidents as stressed drivers make unsafe decisions to grab spots quickly to avoid being late.
When gathering data, special attention should be given to events, conferences, or other large meetings that require different approaches to traffic flows and parking. Higher-than-normal traffic volume and restricted access to certain buildings may be a consideration. Based on historical trends and real-time data, parking policies and traffic flows can be adapted for these larger events.
Once data is gathered, a detailed picture of traffic and parking needs emerges. Large amounts of data from various sources can be aggregated into a unified digital solution that acts as an operations control center with easy-to-use dashboards for visualization and analysis.
Make the public your partner
Communicating with the public about traffic flows and parking options can reduce infractions and alleviate frustrations. Drivers appreciate information on how to get to a campus location easily and find the parking they need. Likewise, service providers, bicycle riders and pedestrians can benefit from information targeted for them. Clear communications can reduce speeding incidents and constricted traffic flows while improving safety.
The good news is mobile apps can help. Data integration with traffic, map and road alert apps can deliver information to the public to help guide them through a campus efficiently or to find the parking they need. Data can include traffic status, incident alerts and parking occupancy rates in different lots.
Digital signage can also be used to share information on occupancy rates or traffic incidents. Traffic managers can place digital signs in strategic locations and activate or deactivate messages based on schedule or event. A message library with customized messages makes it easy to display relevant messages quickly. Dynamic data with ETAs and traffic directions can also respond to evolving conditions in real-time.
Use carrots and a few sticks
Campus traffic rules were created to ensure everyone’s safety and improve the traffic flow. Traditionally, enforcement has been delivered by a parking officer who had to walk to the vehicle in question, manually key in the information into a handheld device, and then print and place a ticket on a car’s windshield. This approach is time-consuming and can even disrupt traffic flow while people are distracted by this activity or forced to drive around a double-parked enforcement car. It can also leave an officer vulnerable to disrespectful encounters.
Today, traditional parking enforcement methods such as physical permits, pay and display meters, and paper tickets are being replaced by more efficient ALPR systems. These systems provide virtual permits and digital enforcement based on license plate identification, removing physical and manual activities. They help identify more violations in less time while leading to better compliance and effective safety controls. Once an infraction is verified, a ticket is mailed to a driver. Integration with a payment system allows for efficient payment processing.
Another tactic for lightening enforcement duties is to lessen the demand for parking. Parking demand can be curbed by making the cost of parking passes roughly equivalent to the cost of public transportation. This encourages people to change their behavior and park elsewhere. It can be an effective way to reduce both traffic and occupancy rates and increase vehicular and pedestrian safety. Some flexibility in parking payments can also be established with higher fines for late payments. For example, if a driver doesn’t pay within 48 hours, they pay a higher price. This can encourage prompt payment and compliance as well.
Try some untraditional methods
Many traffic managers have had time to rethink operations over the last few years and explore new methods to improve traffic flow and parking. For example, some campuses are rolling out systems that give drivers the option to pay for event parking in advance, on entry, or after an event. Paying for parking after an event is a newer approach. ALPR systems can identify vehicles that have not yet paid for parking. Post-event parking invoices can then be sent to drivers. By giving drivers the option to pay when they want, the experience is tailored to their needs. Post-event parking may even put people inside a venue sooner and lead to more revenue from concessions. It can be advertised in a variety of ways, including through digital signage and event apps.
Apps are also evolving beyond road alerts and mapping to enable drivers to reserve parking spots in advance based on current occupancy rates. These commuter apps help reduce parking demand and congestion by taking advantage of open parking or even encouraging people to park off-campus at times of high demand. These apps can be tied to commuter benefit perks offered by organizations.
Some campuses are instituting discounted parking based on the number of people in a vehicle. This increases the density of people per parking space and frees more slots. Prime parking spots may be reserved for these vehicles. This approach encourages sustainable choices that can be attractive for commuters and organizations.
Innovative parking and traffic flow options will continue to emerge as traffic and parking managers gain a holistic approach to gathering and measuring data and sharing it with the public. A unified digital portfolio that can facilitate the ongoing integration of new technology to “measure, inform, and enforce” is a key consideration. A flexible, scalable technology platform helps organizations expand their operations easily and respond to evolving demands while creating a safer, more frictionless environment for campus visitors and employees.
This article originally appeared in the May / June 2022 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.