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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Campus

Vehicle counters to show on-campus parking lot availability


Graphic by Erin Davis

The University of Houston’s parking woes may soon be relieved with the fall implementation of vehicle counters to show space availability in various on-campus parking lots.

Student Government Association President Shane Smith said he and his administration have been working to implement measures that would make the parking experience better for students. The digital vehicle counters will keep track of cars entering and leaving the lot, offering an estimate of available spaces at its entrance.

“Since (students) are already paying several hundred dollars a year for (parking), they should be able to have something that makes it a little bit easier,” Smith said. “I made a commitment to the students when I ran. I would like them to see results.” 

Smith said the planned counters will be similar to those used to show the number of available parking spaces on each level of airport parking garages.

With the help of University Information Technology, a prototype of the counter went into effect at Energy Research Park in February. Though data from the prototype has not been published, Smith said the latest updates reveal the project is going very well. Three more counters are expected to be implemented on campus in the fall.

Smith said UH faces two problems with the current parking: a lack of space to accommodate all the drivers and inefficiency in the existing parking lots. Because there are so many drivers and a limited amount of parking available on campus, students often report spending a lot of time circling the parking lot.

Creative solutions

The idea to ease parking difficulties by implementing vehicle counters came to UH during last year’s election cycle. Smith’s party, Project Red: Better Food, Better Parking, Better Wi-Fi, featured the counters on its platform.

In the founding stages of the initiative, SGA proposed various types of technology for tracking the number of open parking spaces, including weight-sensitive strips for each parking space and drones. In the end, Project Red settled on utilizing the preexisting license plate cameras in the parking lots.

“These cameras already track license plates with nearly 100 percent accuracy, and are already implemented in parts of campus,” said SGA Chief of Staff Robert Comer. “They can be easily configured to keep count of cars.”

These cameras will track cars as they enter and exit the parking lot, providing data for a close estimate of the number of available parking spaces. That amount will be digitally displayed at the entrance of the parking lot, allowing students to know space availability without circling the lot.

Student grievances heard

The next stage of the project will be to implement vehicle counters in main campus parking lots.  The complete implementation plan has not been developed, said University Services Assistant Vice President Esmeralda Valdez.

The collaborating project teams are working to figure out the details of how to continue forward.

“I would like to see three by Fall 2017,” Smith said. “Now, that depends on a lot of things so that’s not a hard number at all. My guess is that, realistically, it will probably be one or two this fall because, again, (it’s) a kind of test.”

Students will have an opportunity to influence which parking lots will receive the first batch of vehicle counters via a survey developed by SGA Director of Research Dean Suchy. Smith said the survey is expected to go out sometime in the next few weeks.

“I think it’s a great idea that would make parking much less of a hassle for students,” said business freshman Hannah Wolfe. “A lot of times, I’m late to class or wherever I’m going on campus because of parking.”

Wolfe was not the only student whose experience at the University has suffered as a result of not being able to find parking in a timely manner.

“Sometimes I’ve been here at 6:30 or 7 just because I know how crazy parking is going to get,” said psychology junior Denisse Aranda. “I would spend probably 20 to 30 minutes circling the lot. Last semester, I had a class that started at 10 on a Tuesday, and for Tuesday and Thursday it’s terrible to find parking, so I came around 8.”

Passing the torch

While many details are still in the developmental stage, Smith confirmed students will not have to foot the bill for this new project. Parking permit prices will not be affected by the vehicle counters until at least three have been put into place on campus, according to an agreement between SGA and the administration and finance department.

“The solution that IT and Parking came up with was very intuitive and cost effective,” Comer said.

Since SGA’s 53rd Administration will soon leave office to usher in new student representatives, Smith is working to make sure the project will continue without any hiccups. In order to do so, he has developed drafts of the project to pass on to the next administration.

“I am the type of person who doesn’t want to rely on an unknown future administration to carry through the work that we’ve spent so much time on,” Smith said.

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