New gizmos and gadgets are popping up all over town as officials from the parking authority, schools, the library and City Hall try and incorporate new technologies into the services they provide.
Perhaps the best example of a new gadget that has been employed that affects almost every resident’s life is the parking meters which have been installed over the last several years along Washington Street and in other business areas downtown and along 14th Street. The new meters, which parking authority officials say are far less likely to break down, have no moving parts and run on a small battery. A small computer chip, rather than a timer, keeps track of the time, which is displayed on an LED readout on the meter’s face.
The new meters, however, are not the pinnacle of the technological parking pyramid.
Down the road, parking authority officials say that the new meters may be replaced by a single parking meter that will be placed in the center of a block.
“Someday we may see something like that,” said Don Pellicano, the chairman of the parking authority board, last week. “You’d go and punch in where your car is along the block. It would be a lot more efficient.”
In the meantime parking authority officials have been aggressively incorporating new technologies into their everyday practices. New handheld ticket printing devices are standard now, making the old days when parking enforcers used to hand write tickets obsolete.
Long gone are the arguments that used to pop up in court over a word that was written on a ticket that could not quite be read. “That used to be a big issue,” said Parking Authority Executive Director Joanne Serrano with a laugh. “There is also no question about time. It’s just printed right there. No question about it.”
New technologies also ought to make getting in and out of the city’s municipal garages easier. The parking authority just inked a deal to install an E-Z pass-like system in garages B, D and G along Hudson Street. Once the system is installed monthly customers won’t have to wait in line to enter or exit the garage. A computer chip that they can mount on their windshield will simply signal the gate to rise.
In the schools and library
The parking authority is not the only place that new technologies are changing the way city services are provided. The school systems have recently dropped two T-1 lines into every classroom, making it possible to put a computer on every student’s desk with an Internet link that is faster than most local businesses have. T-1 lines run through fiber optic cables at a speed faster than a so-called DSL.
The lines were placed for free by Cablevision and the school will not be charged to use them for the next two years.
Right now, school officials say that only two hurdles stand in the way of making their dream of putting a computer on every child’s desk a reality. First, there are infrastructure issues, since some of the schools such as Demarest Middle School were constructed in the early 20th century.
“That’s where Frank Sinatra used to go to high school, that’s how old it is” said School Board President David Anthony Wednesday. “So we have to upgrade the power capabilities. In almost all of the schools we have to completely rip the wiring out and redo it.”
Help is on the way in the form of the long fought-over Abbott school monies, which go to the state’s poorer districts. Like other urban school districts in New Jersey, Hoboken has been pressing the state to release money the State Supreme Court ruled it is owed. The court opined that more funds needed to be spent in so-called special needs districts to provide an education that is comparable to wealthier, suburban public schools. For years school districts and the state have wrangled over how to meet the court’s mandate.
But according to Anthony, the first of $55 million in Abbott funds will be spent in Hoboken this spring. While the initial phase of spending will focus on infrastructure improvements – including an enlargement of the Demarest school gym – the second phase will focus on other issues including upgrading the school’s wiring. Anthony said that he hoped that phase might be completed during the 2001-2002 school year.
Then it would be a question of finding the money necessary to buy every student a computer. The school board president estimated that it would take $1 million. “There are a lot of foundations out there with that goal,” said Anthony. “It’s more a question of timing then anything else. We don’t want to buy computers now and then have them be obsolete when we need them.”
One place where new computers have been installed is the Hoboken Public Library. Ten new terminals are up and running on a T-1 line there, also installed by Cablevision. The computers are available for the free use of the city’s residents.
The new terminals are part of a general technological face-lift that the library has undergone over the last year. The cumbersome card catalogues have been junked in favor of a computerized catalogue. Every library book is now tracked by bar code.
The switch has enabled the library to join the Bergen County Cooperative Library System, a consortium of dozens of local libraries. Patrons interested in ordering a book can now look it up and order it from any of the member libraries on line.
“The library has been transformed from a place that used to have dusty shelves into a place where the latest technology is at your fingertips,” said the city’s Public Information Director Michael Korman on Tuesday. Korman also serves as a trustee at the library.
As a result of the technological advances, Faith Fitzsimmons, a library spokesperson, estimated that three times more people had visited the library this year.
In City Hall, ground zero for the technological revolution is Korman’s L-shaped desk at the back of the environmental services department on the second floor.
When he was first hired five years ago, Korman set to building the city’s first web site. It now can be found at www.ci.hoboken.nj.us. While the jumble of letters may not be so easy to commit to memory, Korman points out that it is logical.
“I’ve researched this,” he said. “This is the proper way to do it. ‘Ci’ for city. And then Hoboken followed by the state and the country. If you do it any other way, what if there is another Hoboken? It would get confusing.” On the corner of his desk is a pile of discount computer and technology catalogues. When the Construction Code Office recently converted from a manual processing system to a computerized system, Korman helped them build their network. But the Public Information Officer wants to go further.
He envisions a time when wireless Palm Pilots will make it possible for every city director to have an electronic copy of the other directors’ schedules and contact information.
Currently, City Hall has a T-1 connection that sits idle. RCN, another cable company that hopes to provide cable services in town soon, dropped the T-1 line for free as a part of its licensing agreement, but security concerns make it a risky proposition to connect since it could make the city’s system vulnerable to hackers.
“If that gets sorted out down the road, this could maybe be used for video conferencing,” said Korman. “That way if the mayor wanted to speak to someone all he would have to do is press a button. It would just make things more efficient.”
In the meantime, Korman is happy to have made a small technological contribution to the way the city is run. He says that approximately 25 people ask questions of him either by e-mail or through the city’s web site each day. “We are constantly looking for ways to improve hardware and make things work more efficiently,” he said. “That’s the trick. We don’t want just gadgets. It’s got to save time and money.”