Village eyes illegal-parking sensors

The intersection of Park Boulevard and Clark Boulevard The intersection of Park Boulevard and Clark Boulevard in Massapequa Park. (Sept. 26, 2011) Photo Credit: Chris Ware

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Parking illegally in Massapequa Park? Even with no officers in sight, you will be watched -- from the pavement below.

And you could be fined.

Village trustees Monday approved a two-month, no-cost trial to embed electronic sensors in 50 spots near the Park Boulevard business center. The sensors notify code enforcement officers of illegally parked cars.

When a vehicle stops over a sensor, the wireless disc transmits a signal to officers' cellphones. With real-time notification, the officer can then go to the site to issue a warning or a $25 ticket. The village, without any meters, now relies on four patrolling officers, typically two per shift, to monitor parking problems.

"Right now, it's really based on being in the right place at the right time," Mayor James Altadonna Jr. said of parking enforcement efforts in the roughly 12-square-block downtown. "But we're going to know, from now on, where you're parking."

Georgia-based StreetSmart Technology Llc, the service provider for Massapequa Park, also is part of San Francisco's new system allowing drivers to locate available parking spaces via smart phones. Competitors have developed similar sensors and phone apps for dozens of other cities nationwide.

But Massapequa Park is the first Long Island municipality to use the system, and a nationwide leader in efforts to apply the technology to non-meter parking enforcement.

"They're among the early adopters," StreetSmart managing partner Kirby Andrews said. "Crosswalks, hydrants, loading zones: They're significantly important to manage."

One of the biggest parking issues in the village of 17,000 is motorists stopping in no-parking areas, officials said. One problem spot is at Park and Clark boulevards, near an Italian ice shop, where some of the 4-inch puck-like sensors will be placed -- one per parking spot.

"Most people think, 'I'll just be here for 10 minutes,' but it clogs the intersection," Village Administrator Peggy Caltabiano said. "It's dangerous."

In approving the test of the system Monday night, Altadonna said: "We're not doing this to generate revenue. We're doing this for safety."

Massapequa Park issues about 40 parking tickets a day, mostly in commuter lots, officials said.

Massapequa Park hopes to have the trial sensors installed by early November.

If the trial is successful, the village could contract with the company and pay about $25 per month per sensor, which officials expect to cover by the increase in tickets issued.

StreetSmart's system, which uses optical and magnetic field detectors to confirm the shadow is from a vehicle, is in use in about a dozen places in the U.S. -- none in New York. Easton, Penn., a city of 26,000, recently signed a five-year contract with the company. Officials there plan to use the sensors to ensure downtown business employees aren't using two-hour metered parking spots all day, Easton City Administrator Glenn Steckman said.

"And it makes sure our officers are properly enforcing rules," he said. "It provides oversight through electronic means."

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of Hofstra University's National Center for Suburban Studies, said the concept appears to be a creative way of bringing in new revenue, as long as it's not overdone.

"It's a balancing act," he said. "If they end up creating an image that this is a place where you don't want to leave your car on the street because there's no flexibility, it may cost them."

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