New phone app lets you snag a parking spot near new Sacramento arena

Sacramento is launching a parking ‘app’ for arena goers and others downtown.
Sacramento is launching a parking ‘app’ for arena goers and others downtown. rpench@sacbee.com

Sacramento officials say they plan to launch a smartphone app next month that will allow people headed to the new downtown arena to reserve and pay for a parking spot in a downtown garage days or weeks in advance.

Hurrying to prepare for large crowds this fall at Golden 1 Center, the city this week announced it has signed a deal with an international parking technology firm, Parkeon, to design an app that will tell drivers which garages have spots available, at what price, and what’s the best route to get there.

The app, also usable by those not headed to the arena, ensures that parking will be available in the garage the driver chooses, although it does not reserve a specific spot. Garage gates will open automatically using license plate recognition technology.

City parking officials say they also hope to add a function later to the app that will let drivers know in real time which blocks downtown are most likely to have street parking spaces available. It will do that by using information from sensors the city is installing in parking meters. That element of the parking app will color-code blocks green, yellow or red, representing the likelihood that a parking spot is available on that block.

The app, to be called SacPark, is expected to be usable at five city parking garages downtown as well as some private garages. City officials say they plan to meet next month with owners of private parking lots and with the Sacramento Kings about cooperating on procedures to streamline parking, and determining what other garages will be included in the app program.

The Kings will control several thousand parking spots in the Downtown Plaza area next to the Golden 1 Center. Many of those spots likely will be sold as part of higher-end season ticket packages.

City officials say they also plan to launch a page on the city website that will help arena attendees plan their trips downtown ahead of time. It will show them how to take light rail and where to find secure bike parking areas. The app and website also will show people the best driving route into downtown and which garages are available on that route. People will be able to make reservations for garage spots on the website as well as the app.

City parking chief Matt Eierman said the goal is to avoid confusion and congestion downtown when 17,000 people descend on the city center for Kings games, concerts and other events at the arena at Fifth and L streets.

The arena is scheduled to debut Oct. 4 with a Paul McCartney concert.

“We are trying to allow people to plan ahead and make their experience convenient and pleasant,” Eierman said. “We get there by allowing people to make choices.”

Eierman said the city hopes to encourage as many people as possible to use parking garages during arena events rather than to park on city streets, and to park several blocks away from the arena to avoid traffic jams on streets adjacent to the facility.

The city is involved in a $5.5 million effort to modernize five city-owned downtown garages to handle peak flows before and after arena events. That includes license plate recognition technology that will automatically open gates for motorists who have already paid for parking. The city also is installing signs at garage entrances indicating how many parking spaces are currently available at each level in the garage.

Garage prices are expected to remain the same during events as they are now. The city, however, plans to raise the price for street parking near the arena during certain events, hoping that will encourage more arena-goers to use garages.

Eierman said the city has not yet decided what those street meter rates will be, where the event zones will be, and what events will trigger the higher rates.

The lack of specifics about parking rates is causing some concern among downtown business leaders, who see the clock ticking toward the arena’s fall opening. Michael Ault, head of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said his group’s business members support the city’s effort to put together an intelligent parking program downtown, but hope for more clarity soon.

“What constitutes a special event? What days? Where can you park, and what are the rates?” Ault asked. “The city is being very deliberative, but we are getting close. It’s going to be imperative that we have enough time to let people know.”

Eierman said he expects to be able to present a street parking pricing plan, including boundaries for designated event zones, to the City Council in about two months.

Sacramento city spokeswoman Linda Tucker said the city will conduct a public education campaign in the next few months, driving home the point that arena-goers should plan their route and their parking before they head to events downtown.

Tucker said the city will encourage people to consider taking light rail. The city trip planning website will allow people to punch in their starting point and get guidance on which light-rail station to use, whether that station has parking, how much the trip will cost and how long it will take, she said.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak