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Smart Parking in Milton Keynes
If you’re one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities, spending money on vanity projects is no longer in fashion. In an explosion of common sense, today’s planners have set their sights on more sensible stewardship of public funds. So it was that Milton Keynes Council together with the Open University and BT, and other partners, had the bright idea of forming MK:Smart to accelerate the development of Milton Keynes as a smart city.
Amongst a wide range of smart city projects, a successful pilot has deployed sensors from Deteq at the city’s railway station to prove the feasibility of city-wide parking space optimisation. Innovative wireless technologies are used to beam the sensors’ data to receivers on lampposts, and that information is then analysed in the central MK Data Hub, which is currently hosted by BT. The prize from full deployment will be a capital saving of at least £105 million, with reduced fuel use and vehicle emissions.
MK:Smart is part of our wider Future City Programme and aims to resolve growth constraints for the city and improve quality of life for our citizens. BT is a key member of the collaborative team and, for example, has played a vital part in the parking space optimisation pilot project.”
- Geoff Snelson, Director of Strategy, Milton Keynes Council
One of the fastest growing cities in the UK, Milton Keynes has to support that expansion within local infrastructure constraints, while meeting stretching expenditure and carbon reduction targets. Joining forces with The Open University, BT and other partners, Milton Keynes Council formed a Smart City collaboration to rise to those challenges.
The creation of a state-of-the-art hub for the acquisition and analysis of vast amounts of city data is central to the project. Information on energy and water consumption, transportation, and social and economic datasets – as well as satellite imagery and crowd-sourced data from social media – will reside and be processed there.
Geoff Snelson, director of strategy at Milton Keynes Council, says: “The MK Data Hub will help us innovate in transport, energy and water management, to sustainably tackle key demand issues and pave the way to a truly smart city.”
There are around 25,000 parking spaces in Milton Keynes and forecasts suggest that perhaps as many as 12,000 more may be needed by 2020. Brian Matthews, head of transport at Milton Keynes Council, says: “If we don’t act soon, parking in Milton Keynes will become a big problem. But we know that around 7,000 existing spaces are empty at any one time and, in some cases, this is because people don’t know where to find them.”
Identifying those free spaces and sending information to roadside displays and smartphone apps to guide vehicles towards available parking will help maximise use of existing infrastructure. It will also reduce fuel use and emissions from vehicles driving around in search of spaces.
A pilot was launched to manage the use of short-term parking spaces at Milton Keynes railway station. Designed by specialist technology provider Deteq working with BT, it involved installing sensors in each of the parking bays. Bonded to the tarmac, they’re powered by lithium-ion batteries with an over four-year lifespan.
Detecting the arrival and departure of a vehicle, the sensors send information wirelessly to lamppost mounted solar-powered repeaters. These aggregate the data and transmit it over the internet to the MK Data Hub, which is currently hosted by BT. There it’s processed and the resulting analysis made available on the Milton Keynes Council public information dashboard, as well as via a browser that displays bay status as red (occupied) or green (free) via an overlay to Google maps.
Brian Matthews explains: “As well as giving real time data on parking availability the sensors are providing us with valuable information about average parking duration. We can use that to adjust parking restrictions to meet majority customer needs.” For example, the sensors revealed that an average stay in the station drop-off zone is 16 minutes, enabling the Council to adjust the wait limit upwards to 20 minutes. In future the system could also be used to aid parking enforcement.
With the pilot a success, the Council is planning to extend the parking sensor network with the deployment of 250 sensors covering a sector of the city.
“It wouldn’t be cost effective to deploy sensors in all 25,000 parking bays, so we’re using this next phase to refine the deployment plan by assessing sample-based approaches,” says Brian Matthews. For example, validating whether sensors installed in one in five parking bays will provide statistically-valid data on parking availability.
Better utilisation of existing parking spaces will save the Council a substantial sum. “It costs around £15,000 to create a new parking bay,” says Brian Matthews. “If we built new ones when there are 7,000 unused we could be wasting truly significant amounts of money.”
Using MK Data Hub analysis to understand how factors such as weather and proximity to offices and shops influence parking habits will help the Council better predict parking availability and needs across the city. Equally, this data will be used to inform the optimum durations and charge bands for parking in different areas.
Currently using BT Wi-fi for data transfer, the project team aims to use other radio systems specifically designed to support machine-to-machine requirements, such as the recently announced low-power Weightless™ or Ultra Narrow Band technologies. The data generated will also help inform the planned MK:Smart Motion Map and Low Carbon Urban Transport Zone projects.
The smart parking project is just one MK:Smart example, but BT is involved in other strands of the programme like smart lighting, where sensors will relay visibility data to a luminaire segment controller. This will enable street lighting to be remotely dimmed or brightened to optimise illumination. Energy savings of between 20 and 60 per cent and maintenance cost reductions of 20 to 40 per cent are within reach.
Geoff Snelson sums up: “Overall the MK:Smart initiative is forecast to make savings of 20 per cent in water use and almost three per cent in energy use, with 50 per cent less traffic congestion and reduced fuel use and vehicle emissions. Smart parking will contribute significantly to that latter area.”