|July 15, 2014 - By next week, 12 new City of Knoxville parking meters will be installed on Market Street that will give motorists the option of either paying by plugging in coins or swiping a credit card.
City engineers believe the new solar-powered meters will prove to be more reliable than the existing meters throughout downtown, many of which are well-worn and require frequent maintenance and repairs.
If the Market Street machines perform well over a three-month test period, then the City will proceed with plans, in three phases, to replace 1,390 parking meters throughout downtown, in the Old City, near World's Fair Park, in the University of Tennessee area and elsewhere.
The new meters near Krutch Park and Market Square offer parkers the option of paying by credit card instead of fumbling for pocket or car console change. The 12 Market Street meters will continue to offer short-term parking for up to one hour.
Reliability is a primary benefit that parkers will appreciate - fewer broken or malfunctioning meters. But for Traffic Engineer Jeff Branham, the switchover means more efficiency and flexibility for his crews.
"The real power will be in the software in the meters," Branham said. "It gives us great flexibility. For example, we'll be able to make software adjustments to these meters in the field. Now, we have to bring components back to the shop to be adjusted.
"With credit card payments, we won't be emptying coin boxes as often. And we'll have more financial accountability with the new data that'll be available."
The new meters will use more energy, but they'll be solar-powered, and the batteries are projected to last more than two years before requiring replacement. Current more traditional meters require new batteries roughly every six months.
"But beyond that, we'll have access to data we don't have now," Branham said. "We'll be able to track the availability of parking space vacancies, monitor trends, know which spaces get turnover, and at what times during the day.
"These new features will make us more efficient and help us to better position our resources."
Jim Hagerman, the City's Director of Engineering, said the three-month testing phase "is really a live test of the software."
After the evaluation period, if the meters are deemed to have been high performing, then about 450 more meters will be installed throughout downtown and the Old City, Hagerman said. The first of three phases of installation could be completed by next spring if everything goes well.
"We'll be evaluating this summer, beginning installation in the fall, and hopefully completing the first phase in spring 2015," Branham said.
However, the Market Street parking meter change-over coincides with maintenance work being done on the Krutch Park water feature, and that may mean that not all 12 new meters will be immediately available for use by public parkers. No-parking bags may be placed over about four of the meters through Aug. 1, because those parking spaces are being used by contractors doing the park improvements.