For years it’s been an urban-planning riddle: The reason many drivers would love to see more parking spaces in downtown Boston is the same reason why many environmentalists don’t. Increasing the number of available spots would ease one of the most stressful parts of driving in the city - motorists circling block after block in search of elusive spaces, snarling traffic in the process. But making parking easier could entice more commuters to forgo public transportation, which would also increase congestion.

Now, new technology is offering city officials a way out of this parking paradox. For the past few months, Boston has been testing Parker, a free app for smartphones and other GPS navigation devices that helps drivers find empty spaces around the city. The program uses data collected from hockey-puck-sized sensors - composed of magnetometers that detect the metal from cars and computer chips that send out the information - to point drivers to zones where they are most likely to find a spot. The Boston Transportation Department says that as long as the chips can survive a New England winter, and drivers can use the app without getting distracted, the city will consider installing them city-wide next year.


The department estimates that 30 percent of traffic downtown is associated with drivers searching for parking spaces. If Parker can help thin out those crowds, the app will simultaneously make driving easier, reduce needless congestion and pollution, and provide the city with real-time parking data. In other words, riddle solved.