Drumroll Please —– Downtown Parking!

14 Jan

No one comes downtown anymore, because all the parking spots are taken.

There’s a study out there that apparently rips downtown Buffalo’s parking situation a new orifice. There can be no doubt that parking in downtown is a disjointed cluster of surface lots, disasterously out-of-date ramps replete with reserved spots, and on-street parking. Literally the only smart thing that the city has done lately with parking has been the installation of pay & display meters, which enable you to use a debit or credit card instead of coins, take dimes and nickels, and reduce the collection and maintenance duties for City Hall.

Municipal lots are hard to find, oftentimes full come 9:00, and the surface lots are expensive and sometimes inconvenient, requiring tandem parking and similar.

Quite literally, there is neither rhyme nor reason to any of it. There is no plan, no coordination, no effort to make it simple and user-friendly.

I’ve posted about this before, so as with many things I’m repeating myself, but there is another way to do this stuff. Here’s an excerpt from 2007:

As for the parking issue – it’s no longer a question of capacity (there’s plenty), it’s a question of planning (there isn’t any), or even technology (we’re years behind). Smart parking, coupled with a comprehensive parking plan that would enable the city to maintain a well-designed, properly spread out network of municipal garages that are not ugly, but are convenient would be a great start. Parking downtown is generally ugly and haphazard, but as long as we have what amounts to a bus-only transit grid in this region, parking does need to be addressed as a genuine issue.

Let me invite you to visit the lovely city of Bern, Switzerland. The Swiss capital has a population of 130,000, and 644,000 in its metropolitan area. Driving a motor vehicle is prohibited in much of its downtown core, so parking spots are important, and Bern has implemented a user-friendly system.

If you go to the Bern tourism info site, you can scroll down – pausing to snicker at the “Wankdorf” department center’s name – to the link to Bern’s parking garage system.

When you reach that website, you are shown a map of the city center. (Shown at left, click to enlarge) More specifically, it’s a Google map mashup/overlay, showing the location of each parking ramp (a blue box with the letter P and, if covered, a little upside-down V over it). Next to each parking ramp is a number. Some may be red, some may be green – the number represents the exact number of available parking spots in that ramp. If spots are non-existent or low, the number is represented in red. If plentiful, in green. Mouse over each garage, and it tells you its name. Click on it, and you’re linked to detailed information about the garage location, rates, and whether Euros are accepted for payment in addition to Swiss Francs.

The whole operation is simple, user-friendly, and updated in real time.

And you don’t have to go that far afield to find a well-organized parking entity. In White Plains, several municipally-owned lots require you to remember the number of the spot in which you parked, and you then pay a single meter for as much time as you need. The number of available spots is thereby updated in real time and accurate. In some ramps, red and green lights show you where there are free spots from far away.

The study of Buffalo’s non-system system recommends:

Hire a parking czar at a salary of up to $140,000 a year, then transfer duties currently performed by several offices to one consolidated department.

The report also urges the city to scour the nation for a parking expert who will help engineer a top-to-bottom overhaul.

“The fragmentation of oversight, reliance on the private sector and abrogation of traditional responsibilities has created an overly competitive, shortsighted and dysfunctional parking system,” said Desman Associates, a nationally recognized consulting firm that was hired by the city to perform the study.

Harsh words by any yardstick.

“The truth hurts,” replied Ellicott Common Council Member Brian C. Davis, who represents much of downtown and is a frequent critic of Buffalo’s parking policies.

“The study speaks volumes about the problems we’ve been talking about for at least six years,” Davis continued. “We definitely need to overhaul our parking system.”

Whether we need a $140,000 per year position is questionable, but the notion that there ought to be a singular, unified plan is dead-on. It should also be lurched out of the mid-1970s and brought squarely into the modern era.

Carl Paladino, who runs the private, non-profit Buffalo Civic Auto Ramps disagreed strenuously with the study’s conclusions. Interesting to note is that the city and BCAR jointly commissioned a similar study in 2006. This year, the city alone commissioned the study.

At a bare minimum, it’d be swell if the city could consolidate multiple surface lots into well-designed and well-planned and positioned parking garages, thus freeing up prime real estate for actual development upwards.

Is that something that would be nice or must be done?

21 Responses to “Drumroll Please —– Downtown Parking!”

  1. Mike in WNY January 14, 2009 at 9:57 am #

    Overly competitive? Does that mean consumers are getting too good of a deal?

    Personally, I don’t see a parking problem downtown. Even if you could conjure up one, it would be very low priority compared to all the other problems provided by the government. The biggest possible problem I see with parking is that most people want to park 10 feet or less from the entrance to the building they are visiting.

  2. indabuff January 14, 2009 at 10:44 am #

    There are parking problems downtown? Though I have also argued about coordination and planning, I don’t see it worthy of a $140,000 parking czar…(can we stop using the word czar too) How big of a problem it is is debatable?

    With so many other things wrong with the city, this should be on the bottom of the pile in terms of urgency.

    Problems with or perceived problems with parking downtown are things that are not preventing Buffalo from becoming a super duper place to do biz, work and play.

  3. Buffalopundit January 14, 2009 at 11:10 am #

    Many people outside the city really think it’s an impossible hassle. Make the parking infrastructure user-friendly and planned properly, and that publicize it so that perception is diminished. Then, there will be less resistance to coming downtown and locating things downtown.

    Of course there are “other things wrong with the city”, but this wasn’t a competition as to which problem was most important. I was, however, commenting on a front-page News story.

  4. hank January 14, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    So the 2006 study and the 2008 study will be examined in the 2010 survey, which will be the precursor to the 2012 study.

    Pitiful—jest Pitiful…J.D. Clampett

  5. Fess Parker January 14, 2009 at 11:26 am #

    Parking is a problem? Parking is about the only use of downtown real estate that makes money. What part of downtown do you have trouble parking in? If you’re unafraid to walk a block or two you’ll have no trouble parking. Or is the statement, that parking is hard to find adjacent to the courts core area?

  6. mike January 14, 2009 at 11:48 am #

    Fess is right, buffalo is a ghost town its never an issue finding a parking space. Unless your just too fat and lazy(hank) to walk a block or two. Even for hockey games, plenty of free parking at the perry projects.

  7. Terry January 14, 2009 at 11:56 am #

    Uhhh…once I park the car, then what am I supposed to do downtown?

  8. indabuff January 14, 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    “Many people outside the city really think it’s an impossible hassle.”

    There are many people who don’t find it a hassle at all. I think regardless of what is done some people will complain about parking downtown…even for people who live inside of the city. I know many people from outside the city who hate visiting people in the city because of the parking hassles in residential neighborhods. Maybe we should have two or three parking czars…one to handle downtown…one to handle commercial districts…one to handle residential…we could put big parking garages everywhere…one on every block of the city to ensure that people can easily park everywhere.

    Seriously though, I do agree more coordination and planning should be part of the mix, but stand by my thoughts on how actually big the problem is and the merits of hiring a parking czar.

  9. reflip January 14, 2009 at 12:16 pm #

    Since I don’t live or work downtown, I can’t speak to “full day” parking. I can only speak to “Event Parking.”

    There’s a parking garage on Eagle Street near the courts and City Hall. It’s free for BAC users, which is nice.

    I went to Shea’s last night and parked for free, on Pearl Street directly in front of a parking garage, 20 minutes before the show started. I passed at least 5 guys with flags waving cars into lots that cost up to $10. Nobody had a problem finding parking.

    I’ve also had pretty good luck finding free street spots on Washington Street. If they’re all full, the lot at Genesee/Chippewa is cheap and I’ve never seen it full, even for popular Thursday at the Square acts. In fact I parked on Washington Street for the World’s Largest Disco and ended up leaving my car there overnight without a problem.

    Tens of thousands of people manage to park easily for Sabres games and other HSBC events. I went on a Buffalo River cruise once and I parked for free in a giant, empty parking lot on the waterfront.

    I’m not from Buffalo. I didn’t grow up with this information. I won’t go so far as to say you can find a spot “with a little effort.” Zero effort is required to find a spot for event parking. This is actually one of the things that I like about Buffalo – going out is cheap and easy. I would gladly give it up if it meant a more thriving city, though. I’d just take the train downtown if parking were either expensive or difficult. It is neither, unless you make it expensive or difficult for yourself – for event parking, at least. I have more trouble finding parking at UB, and usually have to walk farther to get to my destination.

    I’m not saying there isn’t a problem – I just haven’t seen it and that article most definitely does not define the problem in any certain terms, which makes me more skeptical.

    To sum up my experiences with downtown parking: Always easy, usually free.

    And I’m certain that if I needed to go downtown RIGHT NOW (noon on a Wednesday), I’d find a parking spot with no problem. Anyone disagree (except the consultants, of course)?

  10. Christopher Smith January 14, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    “Many people outside the city really think it’s an impossible hassle.”

    There are many people who don’t find it a hassle at all.

    Was there anything in the study which alluded to solving this anecdotal quandary? Has anyone measured public opinion via polls/survey as to regional perception of parking in the downtown core? The impact that perception has on traffic downtown?

    Also, I don’t think the issue is lack of parking, it’s the lack of coordination, planning and monitoring. There is an overabundance of private surface lots in the areas immediately north of of downtown resulting in a lack of parking spot availability during busy times. I think this gets lumped into the issue as well as the general societal impulse that parking should be free, right in front of the destination and available at all hours.

  11. reflip January 14, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    From the Executive Summary of the report:

    DESMAN A S S O C I A T E S
    ______________________________________________________________________________
    _____________________________________________________________________________________________
    City of Buffalo ii
    November 2008 Final Report

    “Overall, 74% of all parking in downtown Buffalo is occupied during its peak period. This suggests that there is an adequate supply of parking both on and off-street to meet the current parking demand. The core study area in downtown Buffalo, as a system, has a practical parking surplus of 5,217 spaces, with only the Office District experiencing a practical deficit of 4 spaces.”

  12. 1776 January 14, 2009 at 2:01 pm #

    I agree that the pay meters with the tickets are an improvement over the old meters, but they are not well-spaced–sometimes you have to walk a block to get to one, and you have to make an effort to look for them. It’s a pain. Also, with snow plows dumping all the street snow on the sidewalks, it is hard sometimes to physically GET to one of the pay stations. SO I give them a mixed review.

    I hate parking downtown. It seems weirdly spaced and sometimes you can get a spot with no problems while other times it takes half an hour of circling to find something.

  13. lefty January 14, 2009 at 2:10 pm #

    The biggest problem with parking in Buffalo is surface lots make so much damn money. The taxes are low because of the lack of structure and require next to no maintenance cost to run. Can you say cash cow.

    I would have taken the $94,000 to get a number of spaces that Buffalo will need for the next 15 years. Say that number is 10,000 spots for the downtown core. Minus the number of existing spots in parking decks or anything that is not a surface lot. Say that number is 7,000.

    I would then change the tax code for surface lots and for the downtown core to a Land Value Tax. This way, the burden of taxation, would be equally shared by all, not just those in invest in building. Set the new tax rate to take effect in 5 years.

    Then offer parking space licenses, 7,000 total, as tax credits. So if someone owns a surface lot and they build a 4 level parking deck with 300 spots on a site that used to hold 100, they would get tax break to help, if not cover, the cost of constructing said lot.

    Once the 7,000 spot licenses are gone, tax every other surface lot on comparable plots of land in the city. End the gravy train of surface lot owners AND prevent future surface lots from being created.

  14. Christopher Smith January 14, 2009 at 2:24 pm #

    reflip, I saw that in the executive summary but I was more interested in the results of a public opinion survey that would address that data found in the report. If the public perception is that there is a lack of available parking, then the city has a marketing problem. If public perception is that parking isn’t a problem, the city has a different problem to address. It’s what we do with the data in the report that matters

  15. hank jr January 14, 2009 at 2:26 pm #

    lefty, dont you know, those lot’s have to pay union wages thats why they are so high, the flag waving union’s have ruined downtown.

  16. BuffaloBloviator January 14, 2009 at 3:45 pm #

    Perhaps if the city got out of the parking business the market would find a solution. I take issue with the report’s statement that the private market can’t be responsive. What private market exists when a player is subsidized by a government?

    Presently, the parking spot cost in city garages are subsidized 50% by the taxpayers. $100.00 in parking actually costs $200.00, and $200 does not even allow for a profit or return on investment.

    This is why private developers can’t build parking ramps other than to support their own tenant requirements.

    Stop subsidizing public parking and the market competition will set the appropriate price and everyone willing to park will find a convenient spot. You can’t micro-manage an economy as complex as a city. Let the market do the work for you.

    And I agree with Indabuff. I thought we used to kill czars? Why are we now creating them?

  17. Adam K. January 14, 2009 at 5:42 pm #

    At the Easton Center in Columbus there are signs all over the place telling you how many spaces are free in what lots. As soon as you pull up you know where your best bet is.

  18. Ben McD January 14, 2009 at 8:12 pm #

    I don’t know that I agree with the premise that people don’t come downtown due to the parking situation. I’m a lifelong Cheektowagan. Many of my friends live in Cheektowaga. When we go out, I say,”Hey, let’s go downtown.” The response is usually, “I don’t want to go all the way downtown, let’s go to Maccaroon’s instead.” We live 10 minutes from downtown. As short as that may seem, the trip downtown is seen as an inconvenience, not the parking situation.

  19. mike January 14, 2009 at 10:04 pm #

    around western ny, downtown is 15 minutes from anywhere. I liked it because it had live music 7 days a week and old taverns with lots of character, never had a problem with parking. oh yeh lots of the old taverns are now parking lots ie ray flynns

  20. BuffaloBloviator January 15, 2009 at 11:50 am #

    Hey guess what? I’m a finalist in Pimp That Parking Garage.

    http://howardgoldman.com/2009/01/downtown-where-liven-is-easy.html

  21. Jay January 16, 2009 at 9:37 am #

    First, if you know anything about Buffalo City Hall you hire a consulting firm to confirm the result that you want. This was a wonderful study of statistical garbage. It reminds me of what intelligent people did to our financial system. Super bright people with lots of numbers had all the financial answers and it all sounded plausible if they spoke fast and loud but it lacked common sense. The problems of downtown will not be solved by the same cadre of politicians who created the problem.
    When I look through the study and then I walk downtown, ( I will not drive to pay for parking), I spent some time looking for the retail district. I am not sure how the consultants define retail but I could not find any real stores downtown. It isn’t like I remember it from only twenty years ago.
    I am not going to use a word counter but in this study I think I saw the word “price” or its synonym only twice. Does cost of parking ever factor into its use. In a study like this shouldn’t parking be considered a product that people are buying?
    As we look for the different conceptual rates of growth downtown did anyone factor in the financial calamity that the “free market theorists” under Bush gave this country. When I read any paper from around the country, they are all talking about a crash of commercial/retail property values. These articles are available on the internet. I would argue that we are not going to be immune from the crisis in this country.
    This “study” looks like another attempt of the city to grab some money and spend it on some pet projects. It would be far cheaper to build a few more $200k homes.

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