Online parking search tool launches today

If Cultural District visitors have an easier time snagging a parking place from now on, they can thank Bill Benter and his habit of running late.
Mr. Benter, a Strip District resident and president of the Benter Foundation, dislikes the pressure of trying to find a parking space with little time to spare before a show.

His angst led to ParkPGH, which, beginning today, will provide real-time information on space availability at eight parking garages in the Cultural District. The information may be accessed by iPhone application, a website for other mobile phones, a regular website, regular telephone and text message.

"The whole city needs this," Mr. Benter said.

In time, he may get his wish. If the pilot project led by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust goes well, the system could be expanded to the rest of Downtown, Oakland and other neighborhoods.

The Cultural Trust and its partners will launch the program at a news conference today.

When it debuts, ParkPGH will provide space availability and price for eight garages with a combined 4,800 spaces.

The garages are Theater Square; Sixth Street and Penn Avenue; David L. Lawrence Convention Center; Three PNC Plaza; Town Place; Grant Street Transportation Center; Fort Duquesne Boulevard and Sixth Street; and Smithfield Street and Liberty Avenue. The first five are operated by Alco Parking and the others by the Pittsburgh Parking Authority.

In January, ParkPGH will add a ninth location, the parking authority garage at Ninth Street and Penn Avenue. At that point, the system will encompass 5,300 spaces -- 25 percent of Downtown garage capacity.

Software will monitor arrivals and departures at each garage and transmit the information to a central server. From there, the data is disseminated by Web and phone, said Marc Fleming, Cultural Trust vice president for marketing and communications. The data will be updated every 30 seconds.

Other cities in America and abroad already provide real-time parking information, often on electronic road signs. ParkPGH's planners said their system is more comprehensive and technologically advanced than most.

The system will give not only the number of available of spaces for each garage but also a color indicator: red (no availability), yellow (limited availability) or green (wide availability).

ParkPGH began taking shape after Mr. Benter shared his parking-related frustrations with J. Kevin McMahon, president and CEO of the Cultural Trust. Not only do other patrons dislike the parking free-for-all, Mr. McMahon said, but some eventually give up searching for a space and go home.

Parking "can make or break an evening," Mr. McMahon said, noting the system will offer peace of mind to those running late or weighing a last-minute decision to grab a meal before a show. The Cultural Trust said the system also will cut down on pollution caused by motorists circling the block in search of a parking space, "decrease the number of latecomers to performances and further improve the overall visitor experience" Downtown.

Mr. Benter's foundation provided financial support for the $175,000 pilot project. Other assistance was provided by Hillman Foundation, Deeplocal Inc., Numeritics and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Traffic21, a research initiative of Carnegie Mellon University, will evaluate the pilot program. One day, planners said, motorists might be able to both locate and pay for a space online.

The system potentially benefits 2 million annual Cultural District visitors and about 150,000 daily Downtown commuters. The first big tests of the system include the First Night celebration Dec. 31 and the winter staging of "Mary Poppins" at the Benedum Center, a production expected to draw many first-time visitors to the Cultural District.

Mr. McMahon said he hopes use of the system will become as commonplace as "making sure you have your tickets" before leaving home.
The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust


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