January 2, 2019
Downtown Buffalo has a parking problem—short-term, on-street parking demand in our dense downtown core often exceeds supply. Just outside the core, less than a 10-minute walk away, we have an abundant supply of both on-street and off-street parking, and low demand. As a recent editorial in the Buffalo News points out, this is a good problem to have as it suggests we have more people coming downtown for work and pleasure.
In order to balance this supply and demand problem, the City of Buffalo has announced an increase in parking prices from $1 per hour to $2 per hour in the highest trafficked, highest demand areas, while also adding more than 1,000 additional parking spaces downtown. They also announced the extension of paid parking from 5 pm to 10 pm on weekdays, and 8 am to 10 pm on Saturday. Additional revenue gained from proposed increases in on-street and off-street parking rates will be applied to the installation of pay stations and meter mechanisms and improving streetscape features to enhance walkability by improving sidewalks, lighting, and public safety. City officials also propose using the revenue to provide metro pass subsidies. View the full proposal here.
Though the plan will generate extra revenue, the purpose of changing the rate structure, according to the city, is to move cars from the dense inner core to the outer core of downtown, where people can still park for free or very inexpensively to increase the available number of turn-over spots, expand commuter options, and accommodate additional investment and job location downtown, as demonstrated in the below map.
Since the announcement, Buffalonians have united in calling for the plan’s repeal, with more than 21,000 signatures on a change.org petition as of this writing. The petition notes, “the intention is to force downtown workers to park in expensive, privately-owned lots and ramps, with the idea that more consumers would be able to find street parking during the day.”
Based on a recent parking analysis by Buffalo Place, it is true downtown employees are using these short-term spaces for all-day parking; the analysis found more than 60% of short-term spaces in the downtown core are being used by employees as all-day parking. Dedicating on-street parking to commuters is not sustainable in a growing, thriving city. On-street parking spaces are intended to be short-term, high-turnover spots for visitors and people making quick trips, and should be priced to encourage this use. The city’s proposed plan will free up short-term spaces for downtown visitors while making more effective use of existing all-day parking supply.
Commuter abuse of short-term parking limits is not the only driver of downtown's parking problem. Frequently, employer commuter benefits encourage employees to drive and actively discourage commuters to use additional transportation modes. In addition to cheap on-street public parking, off-street parking in private and public lots is often fully or significantly subsidized by employers. GO Buffalo Niagara, a transportation management association (TMA) under GObike Buffalo’s umbrella working to assist employers in developing policies and programs to support multi-modal access to the downtown core, surveyed downtown employers in 2016 to better understand commuter benefits offered. The survey revealed more than two-thirds of downtown employers subsidize employee parking in off-street parking lots while only 13% of surveyed employers provided transit subsidies. Only 4% provided carpool-only parking spaces and less than a third provided access to bicycle parking (most of which is not long-term, protected storage). The current commuter benefit structure creates an environment where driving to work is much easier and often cheaper than using public transit, and incentives for using alternative modes are minimal to non-existent.
GO Buffalo Niagara is a free resource for commuters, employers, and developers in the downtown core and across the region seeking better transportation options. In partnership with GObike Buffalo and the statewide program 511NY Rideshare, Go Buffalo Niagara provides commuter outreach and technical assistance to businesses that struggle with parking demand and other access issues. A comprehensive directory of transportation services is available at gobuffaloniagara.org. Go Buffalo Niagara Rideshare allows residents to find carpools, bike buddies, and transit options according to their schedules and preferences. Businesses can join Go Buffalo Niagara’s membership program to receive in-depth support in the design and implementation of a commuter program that includes benefits such as a guaranteed ride home, discounted individual memberships to GObike Buffalo and Reddy Bikeshare, and rewards for tracking commute trips by smart modes of transportation.
TMAs such as GO Buffalo Niagara have been effective in Buffalo and around the nation in encouraging and supporting initiatives to diversify access modes for employees in dense business districts and city centers. For example, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC) created a TMA, GOBNMC, in 2012. Through GOBNMC, BNMC works directly with employers to develop access plans for their businesses, provide metro pass subsidies through the NFTA’s corporate pass program, develop incentives for using additional access modes, including carpool-only spots and a carpool buddy matching program, and works one-on-one with employees to inform and educate individuals on additional modes to get to work other than driving alone. As a result, per BNMC’s recent employee survey, the percentage of employees driving alone has dropped to 80%, down significantly from 88% in 2012 and 84% in 2016. With an estimated 15,000 employees, this equates to approximately 1,200 fewer vehicles driven to the Medical Campus per day.
Per the above-cited Buffalo Place Downtown Access Study, 51,000 people work downtown. If just 2% of downtown employees switched their mode to transit, carpool, or bike, 1,200 additional spaces would become available in the downtown core. If 8% switched modes, as demonstrated possible on the Medical Campus, more than 4,000 parking spaces would be freed up in the downtown core. By using additional revenue gained from increased parking rates to support GO Buffalo Niagara and other programs to encourage alternative transportation, we can decrease our parking demand throughout the city, allowing us to create a healthier, cleaner, safer, and more vibrant city. There are many ways to get downtown—driving alone is just one.
GObike Buffalo's letter to the Common Council is here—if you support this plan, we suggest you send a letter to your councilperson, too.