North Hills hopes new app is secret parking weapon

akenney@newsobserver.comJune 18, 2014 

— North Hills has an app.

After it’s been downloaded (for free) from the Apple or Android stores, the app needs a simple tap on the blue “NH” logo, and all the amenities of “Midtown” spring to the screen.

Users will find a schedule of the farmers markets, beach music and the rest of North Hills’ upcoming events, along with eateries’ hours.

Then, perhaps most importantly, there’s a mapping system that can take users to the best parking deck and guide them on foot to their destination.

In fact, the app’s raison d'être is to subtly address the parking problems that come with North Hills’ urban-style streets.

“It can get pretty jammed. In any urban environment, parking locations can be challenging” said Bonner Gaylord, general manager of North Hills and a city councilman.

The company already has been experimenting with pay parking for premium spaces.

For another answer, Gaylord and Kane Realty ended up looking about five miles south. Downtown Raleigh has long dealt with complaints about parking – despite a supposed surplus of spots in decks.

“In fact, there’s tons of parking,” Gaylord said of North Hills. “You just need to know where to look.”

Serendipitously, they met a few guys who call themselves the Parking Initiative Team.

J. King White, Eric Majewicz, Jim Belt and Leo Suarez had been using the city’s data about parking garages to build an app that would direct people toward a prime spot.

Thanks to a civic coding competition called NC DataPalooza, from which they’d won a few thousand dollars, the team had assembled a working prototype.

“The special sauce behind what this does: It not only takes you down to the deck – once you get there, in essence you park your car on the app, and then it’ll give you the walking directions to where you're really trying to get to,” said White, who’s something of a community organizer for the downtown set.

Kane Realty bit on the idea, hiring Majewicz to build a similar app for the shopping center, which the company calls a “district.”

At the core of the app is a categorized list of businesses, each one offering step-by-step directions to the nearest parking garage via Google Maps.

If the users on the North Hills property, the app automatically offers walking directions, a nod toward Kane’s efforts to unclog its streets.

The app also picked up extra features during development, such as a schedule of events that can be easily transcribed to the user’s personal calendar.

Now, with the North Hills app having launched, the parking improvement volunteers want to turn their attention back to the south.

“We’d still love to find a partner with downtown that could help us make this downtown Raleigh parking app a reality,” said Majewicz, who coded the popular R-Greenway app for Raleigh’s greenways.

White hopes North Hills’ new app will be a springboard for more tech-oriented problem-solving.

“Now that we've actually got a commercially viable app that works, that could be easily adapted to downtown, we're hopeful that it'll be a no-brainer,” he said.

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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