Searching for a parking spot in downtown Santa Monica can be both difficult and time consuming, but last week the city officially launched a new Web site in hopes of alleviating the problem — www.parking

The new Web site makes it possible for visitors to downtown Santa Monica and the city’s beaches to determine the best available areas to park before even getting into the car.

The site — a collaboration between the City of Santa Monica’s Transportation Management and Information Systems Divisions — is updated every five seconds and displays the number of available parking spaces in downtown structures and beach parking lots in Santa Monica, according to Jory Wolf, the city’s chief information officer.

“We’re really excited about it,” Wolf said. “We really think this is going to help those that are coming to downtown to do shopping find parking.”

Beth Rolandson, senior transportation planner for the Transportation Management Division of the City of Santa Monica, agrees.

“I think it’s a great resource and I know that the real-time information is valuable to people on the streets,” Rolandson said. “I think it will help people with their trip planning.”

The parking information on the Web site is currently displayed on an aerial view of downtown Santa Monica, but that may soon change, along with a few other minor modifications to the site in the future, Wolf said. Instead of an aerial photograph, the Web site will have something a bit more simple in look and design.

“And we also want to be able to accommodate a small screen, like a Blackberry, so people will be able to connect to it [the Web site] in a meaningful way,” Wolf said.

The launch of the Web site coincides with the holiday season, a time when downtown parking is at a premium, he said.

“We felt it was important to get it out now before the holiday season,” Wolf said. “With information about available parking, visitors may avoid crowded parking structures and lots and are able to spend more time enjoying downtown entertainment, shopping and dining venues, and beaches.”

There are approximately 11,000 parking spaces in Santa Monica’s downtown parking structures — not including the civic center — and at the beaches, Rolandson said.

For those not able to access the Web site to find open parking areas, electronic signs outside entrances to downtown parking structures and lots also display the number of available spaces.

These electronic signs have been up since the beginning of summer, Wolf said.

“The people in parking operations [for the city] installed detection loops in the pavement at the entrance and exit lanes of each of the structures and the beach lots, so we can count the number of vehicles coming in and leaving,” Wolf said.

The detection loops were initially installed for revenue control purposes, but their use was expanded, Wolf said.

There is also free WiFi access in the Promenade area and the city has 11 free Internet “hot zones” that people may use to access the parking Web site.

The city is just now starting to gather statistics on the new Web site and the “hits,” or visits it receives daily, since more people are becoming aware of the site and utilizing it, Wolf said.

“We think this [Web site] will go a long way,” Wolf said.