San Diego

Smart Streetlight Program Puts Parking Help In Palm Of Your Hand

The City of San Diego is gearing up to upgrade its street lights making them “smart.”

New streetlights are expected to help save San Diego money while saving energy and making parking downtown a lot easier.

While there are a lot of positives about the program, there are also concerns it could cost residents some of their privacy.

Environmental, microphone and optical sensors will soon be part of the upgraded smart streetlight system installed in part of San Diego.

Some of these so-called smart streetlights, with energy efficient LED bulbs, are already in place as part of a pilot program in the East Village.

“All these streetlights are talking to each other and communicating that data to the wireless cloud," said City of San Diego Chief Operating Officer David Graham.

Standing on the corner of 7th and Market in the East Village, Graham pointed out how the lights are part of the city’s Internet of Things platform — a connected, digital network gathering information through sensors.

Pulling out his cell phone, Graham showed the beta version of the "Parkview App" being developed by the city.

The data from sensors in the streetlights will inform the app where parking is available.

Pointing to red dots on his phone, Graham noted how they’ll tell the user when someone has parked in a space.

“With the parking app we expect to deploy at the beginning of next year, you would know exactly where you could park, whether it’s a metered or unmetered spot and get to that spot and get to the ballpark eating that hotdog so much quicker,” said Graham.

Air quality and traffic patterns will also be monitored by the sensors.

Too many carbon emissions? Too many near-miss accidents? Traffic light changes could be made based on information gathered by the sensors, possibly saving lives.

“We can identify not just where areas are dangerous, but potentially make decisions to improve safety in those crosswalks," explained Graham.

Lifesaving information.  But for some, the lights' optical and audio abilities are raising privacy concerns.

“It's definitely a little eerie. Kind of like big brother is  watching you,” said San Diego resident Tyler Cotman.

Graham said sensors can't read numbers or see faces.

“No license plate readers here. It's about car-sized objects and human-sized objects. That’s the info it's collecting and storing," he said.

The "Electronic Frontier Foundation" in Northern California has voiced concern over smart streetlight programs saying, there's "An inherent risk of mission creep from smart cities programs to surveillance."

The San Diego City Council approved expanding its smart light program in December helping America's Finest City lead the way by building out the biggest city-based internet platform in the world.

“If you look at any of these other buildings you'll notice cameras on them left and right,” said San Diegan Nick Kulbida as he walked down Market. “So something like this that protects public safety, I  think that’s a step in the right direction."

The price tag for the project, $30 million. It's expected to be paid for in energy savings of about $2.5 million a year.

The rollout is expected to start this summer and roll into 2018.

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