Tod Dykstra looks out from his downtown San Francisco office window every day and sees waste. While a parking garage next door sits empty, roads are clogged with cars in search of cheaper metered spots on the street. "Thirty percent of driving in cities is made up of people who have gotten where they want to go and are looking for parking," Dykstra says. "Think about all those carbon emissions. It just doesn't seem right."
Dykstra, founder of Streetline Networks, a San Francisco company that makes traffic-control technology, wants to make it tougher to park cheaply or get away with not feeding the meter. Streetline's system lets parking authorities identify crowded streets and jack up parking-meter rates block by block. The idea is to encourage drivers to stop circling and get off the streets—either paying for a municipal garage or heading to a less crowded neighborhood. San Francisco and Los Angeles are now installing Streetline technology.
Unlike anticongestion programs in London and Singapore, which rely on cameras and in-car devices called transponders to bill drivers as they enter crowded areas, Dykstra taps streets for data. Low-power magnetic sensors about the size of a palm are embedded in roads to detect cars in parking spots or driving. Those data are wirelessly transmitted to devices on top of streetlamps or traffic-signal boxes, which send the data to parking authorities. If a street has high traffic and no parking spots, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency's SFpark program plans to raise meter rates up to $6 an hour. The prices will show up on meters and the city's website.
The system also sends expired-meter data to smartphones carried by officers who can issue tickets. Each Streetline sensor costs $300 for installation plus a $120-per-year software license fee. San Francisco, where drivers feed meters only 55 percent of the time, says it's planning to buy 8,000 sensors. According to the city, an early test nailed so many scofflaws, the system paid for itself within two months. "The ultimate hammer will be the parking ticket," says Dykstra.
Streetline's technology grew out of a Pentagon-funded project awarded to the University of California-Berkeley. The research looked into sprinkling "smart dust"—millions of tiny sensors that measure temperature, pressure, sound, and other factors—over hundreds of square miles. Then a computer would gather the data and analyze it in real time. That project ended, and Dykstra joined Dust Networks, a Silicon Valley company created to further the work. Dykstra, 48, founded Streetline four years later.
An environmentalist who grew up in the Bay Area, Dykstra says he plans to sell sensors that monitor city water pipes for leaks. "Once you get things instrumented," he says, "you find you can do all sorts of interesting things to help save the planet."
"The ultimate hammer will be the parking ticket"
Worked on a Pentagon-funded "smart dust" project
Systems to monitor lighting usage and water-pipe leakage