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City of Walnut Creek: Moving Toward a Smart City Vision

The City of Walnut Creek is a beautiful suburban community situated in Northern California. Like many communities with an attractive downtown, Walnut Creek had a “parking problem” - parking was often hard to find during busy hours in the downtown core, whereas plenty of available spaces remained unused in the peripheral areas.

To resolve this imbalance of parking demand and supply in a data-driven fashion, the City adopted the goal of managing parking to “make it reasonably available when and where needed” and established “a target on-street occupancy rate of eighty-five percent (85%)” (§8, Ord. 2121, eff. 1/16/14).

By partnering with Smarking, the City has not only successfully implemented parking demand management programs, but also has built the foundation for a holistic urban mobility solution. Through the “Purple Pole” program (discussed below), the City rebalanced parking demand between the Downtown Core and the Periphery, bringing both areas closer to the 85% occupancy target while creating more convenient parking options for employees of downtown businesses.

With a wealth of parking data at their fingertips at all times, the City is now able to understand parking behavior with greater time sensitivity and granularity, which has led to a more effective and efficient parking management program. By leveraging data visualization from the Smarking dashboard and the dynamic on-street occupancy map, Walnut Creek is now able to effectively communicate progress toward policy targets and goals with interested stakeholders. Leveraging Smarking’s data infrastructure, the City has built a first of its kind public-private partnership to facilitate data sharing and communication, enabling real progress towards its Smart City vision.

Results at a Glance

The City engaged Smarking in order to track and manage parking policy and operations more effectively and also to create a holistic urban mobility platform. Utilizing Smarking, Walnut Creek attained the following results:

• From 2017 to 2018, Walnut Creek increased the number of weekdays achieving peak occupancy goal - from 39% to 79% in the downtown, and from 51% to 87% in the periphery

• Increased average occupancy in the periphery by 13%, and decreased occupancy in the downtown by 6%

• Over utilization in the downtown decreased from 59% to 18%, while underutilization in the periphery decreased from 49% to 13%

• An additional 298 people daily (on average) have utilized the purple pole program – long term parking in the periphery – a major goal for the city

• Established the cities first public-private partnership to facilitate data sharing and communication

"We are proud that, now in Walnut Creek, parking is one of the most data-driven components of our urban mobility policies. As we look more broadly at mobility issues, we will leverage the Smarking data infrastructure to integrate, manage, and analyze all sorts of data to support our decision-making." - Carla Hansen, Assistant to the City Manager of Walnut Creek

Achievement of Three Core Goals Through Smarking

To address the imbalance between parking demand and supply in different areas of downtown, Walnut Creek Assistant to the City Manager Carla Hansen worked with the City’s Transportation Commission to create and deploy a “Purple Pole” program (the name originates from the purple color of the poles identifying ‘periphery’ parking), which, starting in September 15, 2017, eliminated a 2-hour parking time limit in the peripheral zones.

With this program, the City encourages long-term parkers, typically employees, to park in the periphery, reducing congestion in the downtown core and freeing up spaces for visitors and customers. Using Smarking’s data analytics and visualizations, Carla quickly and effectively tracks and measures the status and impact of the Purple Pole program on a daily basis. In short, below are several of the program’s goals and results:

Goal: Manage parking against the 85% occupancy target

Results: Both the Periphery and Downtown Core have moved closer to the “ideal” occupancy range (50%-85%). During the first half of 2018, in the Periphery, 87% of the weekdays achieved ideal peak occupancies, an increase from 51% in 2017 (Fig. 1); in Downtown Core, the percentage of weekdays with ideal peak occupancies increased from 39% to 79%.

Fig 1. Percentages of days by peak occupancy level (Jan - Jun, 2018 vs. 2017, weekdays only)

Goal: Increase parking utilization in Periphery and reducing congestion in Downtown Core.

Results: The average occupancy over the first half of 2018 increased by 13% YoY in the Periphery and decreased by 6% in Downtown Core (Fig. 2). Measured by daily peak occupancy, the percentage of weekdays with low parking utilization (peak occupancy below 50%) in the Periphery dropped from 49% to 13%, while the percentage of weekdays with congestion (peak occupancy exceeding 85%) in Downtown Core dropped from 59% to 18% (Fig. 1).

Fig 2. Average hourly occupancy in Periphery (left) and Downtown (right) (Jan - Jun, 2018 vs. 2017)

Goal: Encouraging long-term parkers to park in the Periphery

Results: During the first 6 months of 2018, on average every weekday 434 parkers parked in the Periphery for longer than 2 hours, 298 more than over the same period in 2017. In other words, every workday 298 parkers, most of which likely are full-time employees, are benefiting from the Purple Pole program as they no longer need to move their cars every two hours. The average weekend day increase is 236 (Fig. 3).

Fig 3. Periphery Parking Transactions by Parking Duration (Jan - Jun, 2018 vs. 2017)

Having achieved success with the Purple Pole program, Walnut Creek is taking the data-driven approach to the next level. Recently the City integrated data from its off-street garages and on-street parking sensors into Smarking, with the goal of refining parking policies based on a holistic view of on-street and off-street parking dynamics, as well as after-hour parking demand.

Using Data to Facilitate Forward-looking Parking and Land Use Policies

Prior to collaborating with Smarking, Walnut Creek had experience managing parking based on data. The City used to commission a consultant once a year for parking data collection and analysis. However, the process was time-consuming and labor-intensive, and only captured two weeks’ worth of parking data. Additionally, the findings and recommendations embedded in the written report were often abstract numbers and concepts, not easily digestible for a broad audience.

By leveraging Smarking, Walnut Creek has transformed the process, making it more efficient, effective, transparent, and visually interesting:

• Instead of making decisions based on two weeks’ of parking data that was collected once a year, the City now has access to year-round data with a greater granularity. As a result, the City is targeting parking problems more accurately, monitoring parking performance in realtime, and evaluating policy results proactively.

• Smarking visualizes parking patterns in a series of customizable charts and a dynamic map that is open to the public, making it easier for Carla and her team to understand and communicate with interested parties about parking goals and policies.

• No longer needing to go through the lengthy procurement process once a year to commission an expensive and incomplete set of parking data, Carla and her team can focus their time and resource on identifying parking issues and finding solutions.

"The Smarking dashboard and the map are very intuitive, easier to digest for the members of the City Council and Transportation Commission than the traditional parking study reports.” - Carla Hansen

Building the Data-hub to Drive Holistic Smart City Solutions

As a part of its Smart City vision, Walnut Creek launched a dynamic parking guidance system program three years ago. The program called for integrating the cities on and off street parking assets, along with privately owned parking assets, into a single database. The database and associated API would provide price and availability information across all parking inventory in Walnut Creek, regardless of public or private ownership.

Walnut Creek’s Smart City vision calls for the parking API to be combined with a traffic API – enabling connected vehicles to access parking and traffic information digitally in order to make more informed routing decisions: reducing congestion and greenhouse gasses. The digital routing would also give priority to emergency services including firetrucks, police, and ambulances.

Working with Smarking, the city has achieved the first milestone of this vision – integrating real time public and private parking data for on and off-street parking facilities. Currently, real-time occupancy and price information for over two thirds of the paid parking spaces in Downtown Walnut Creek can be communicated digitally through the Smarking API.

"Three years ago when we started this project, we realized that we would have to build a data cloud to collect, manage, and analyze our parking operations. Now Smarking has become that cloud and we are hoping to integrate all types of data into the Smarking platform. We also have a better understanding of how to handle data by working with Smarking. “ - Carla Hansen

Beyond the digital wayfinding project, the public-private partnership enables Walnut Creek policy makers to access a more complete picture of downtown parking demand: by streamlining information sharing between public and private entities, Smarking is helping the City work more closely and make better, more holistic, parking management decisions.

Moving forward, Smarking’s robust and versatile data infrastructure supports broader and more in-depth public-private partnership around the Walnut Creek’s Smart City initiatives:

• The City plans to directly integrate other types of data: the remaining private parking facilities, on-street parking sensors, traffic and TNC pick-up and drop-off data into Smarking rather than building a data platform from scratch.

• Smarking made it more convenient to test new equipment and data sources. For example, Carla and her team are piloting different sensor technologies on the Smarking platform.

• In addition to using Smarking to manage and analyze data, the City plans to leverage the the Smarking API to stream real-time data into in-vehicle navigation systems, public-facing websites, and mobile applications.

For additional information on Smarking, or to see a demo, please email us at or request a consultation.


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