ST. PETE BEACH — This island city is going even more high-tech to control parking issues by installing sensors along the Corey Avenue business district, as well as 15th and 16th avenues, to compile data to determine how spaces are utilized.
Community Development Director Michelle Gonzalez told commissioners at their Jan. 24 meeting that the contract amendment under consideration will allow for the installation and maintenance of an additional 180 sensors with the current vendor, ParkSmart or Conure.
The 180-sensor expansion will break out as 123 in-ground sensors installed on Corey Avenue, 24 surface-mount sensors installed on 15th Avenue and 33 surface-mount sensors installed on 16th Avenue.
The city hasn’t charged parking fees on Corey Avenue, but there have been differences of opinions as to the availability of parking.
“Putting these sensors there is going to give us information as to times of day, days of the week, times of the year, that there may or may not be a problem on Corey Avenue,” City Manager Alex Rey said. “The other thing that’s going to be great is it’s going to provide data to us as to how those spaces are being utilized — are they being utilized by the regular shopping that’s going there for two three hours a day, or are people using these spaces for other reasons?”
He said the city has heard anecdotally that people using the SunRunner are parking on Corey Avenue for the entire day.
“If we have situations like that, or people are coming to work and staying on the spaces for eight hours a day, then we can begin having a discussion with the Corey Avenue Business Association about limiting the amount of time that people can be in those spaces,” Rey said. “Will it be two hours (or) three hours? We’ll find the right spot that allows those spaces to be used for the intended purpose.”
The sensors, he said, will provide information to make the right decisions with the right amount of data.
Gonzalez told commissioners that studies analyzing the flow of traffic in urban areas have found that during peak traffic times, up to 30% of roadway congestion is caused by drivers who are looking for parking.
She noted that in 2021, the city installed parking sensors at Pass-a-Grille to help with this problem, given the high volume of parking spaces and visitors in the area. Since then, the St. Pete Beach ParkSmart App was downloaded over 5,400 times, and the Beach Parking Availability page on the St. Pete Beach website was visited 31,340 times in 2022, she said.
“By launching a mobile app and integrating the technology with our other parking vendors, such as Parkmobile, the city made finding and paying for parking easier for visitors in Pass-A-Grille.”
Parking sensors also allow the city to collect valuable data, including utilization rates and parking session lengths. This makes it easier for parking enforcement to ensure that parking time restrictions, such as those on 9th Avenue, are being accurately enforced, she said.
“Additionally, making parking easier can help draw visitors to the downtown core and Corey Avenue areas, especially during busy tourist seasons,” she said.
The sensors cost $195 per space, which includes hardware and installation. In addition to the installation fee, there is a $2.50-per-month space fee for maintenance, web office reporting, and app platform hosting.
The one-time cost for the sensors in the new areas would come to $35,100, with a total monthly cost of $450, or $5,400 for the year, totaling $40,500. The original expenditure in fiscal year 2021 was $24,750 for the installation and maintenance of approximately 690 parking sensors in Pass-a-Grille. The requested authorization of expenditures includes the full term of the agreement through March 1, 2024 for a total $102,563.
Commissioners voted 4-1 to amend the contract with the sensor provider. Commissioner Mark Grill voted against the contract. He said he felt the city did not adequately utilize its procurement process when sensors were previously acquired, because taken separately each contract year’s cost did not trigger the need for commission approval.