January 3, 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.
Much like a vegetable, parking is a perishable good—it cannot be stored and sold later. As parking demand and availability vary by location, time of day, or time of week, parking price should vary accordingly. High demand parking spots must cost more than low demand parking spots. Across the nation, thriving, dense cities with high parking demands in their downtown cores and dense neighborhoods have embraced variable parking rates in order to appropriately manage their on- and off-street parking demand.
For example, in San Francisco, a demand-responsive parking pricing model, SFpark, was piloted in 2011, with the city now using the program in 28,000 on-street and off-street parking spaces due to pilot project success. Under the program, as demand increases, prices increase, much like an airline ticket, which encourages drivers to park further outside the demand zones. Rates may vary by block, time of day and day of week to open up parking spaces on each block and reduce circling and double-parking. Similar to Buffalo, the intention of the program was not to raise revenue but to better manage parking and reduce congestion in high-demand areas. Officials estimate their new system will be revenue neutral as rates on many streets and in garages will decrease in response to low demand.
Portland’s parking policy has been called one of the smartest in the nation, using a combination of variable, demand-based parking pricing for on-street parking and parking districts throughout the city. The city reinvests half of all revenue from the meters into the districts in which they reside through public transit discounts, sidewalk improvements, bike infrastructure and improving walkability. This best practice policy is referred to as a Parking Benefit District, using better pricing to reduce parking demand while reinvesting the revenue into the areas in which it was created—this is an opportunity for Buffalo and was identified as a next step in the downtown parking access plan.
Forward-thinking Seattle has even gone as far as to create a curbside management plan, recognizing the curb as the most valuable space on the street. As our transportation ecosystem evolves as new options are introduced to the market, such as self-driving vehicles, ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, bikeshare, and electronic scooters and bikes, our use of the curb is rapidly changing. In an effort to serve its citizens rather than the cars they may or may not drive, Seattle has created a curbside management plan to allow more flexible use of the curb, prioritizing the flex zone (curb) based on surrounding land use and prioritizing mobility, access for people, and access for commerce higher than personal vehicle storage (i.e., on-street parking).
Washington, DC, also piloted a similar project last year, dedicating a four-block nightlife hotspot as a drop-off/pick-up zone for ride-hailing services from 10 pm to 7 am on Thursday to Sunday—imagine how much safer Allen Street could be after 10 pm on a Friday without the through traffic!
Parking benefit districts such as those in Portland may be coupled with residential parking zones to manage commuter parking demands while ensuring residents have access to on-street vehicle storage. For example, in Madison, WI, a residential parking permit program covers most neighborhoods in the city’s core and sets differential rates for residents. Residents pay $42 per year for a permit that allows street parking within their neighborhood zone beyond posted one-to-two-hour restrictions enforced for vehicles without permits during the day, or in locations designated for resident parking only overnight. This system provides residents the opportunity for extended storage of their vehicles on public streets while excluding commuter vehicles. A similar program is currently in effect in Buffalo’s Fruit Belt district, located adjacent to the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
In our region, the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is developing a Main Street Smart Corridor Plan to include smart parking meters on Main Street between Goodell Street and Humboldt Parkway. Smart parking meters use sensors to determine occupancy and could adjust price accordingly to manage demand.
Smart parking policies such as these in growing cities are exciting as they open up possibilities for access that are not possible on streets designed only for cars. At GObike Buffalo, we see the changes to the downtown parking policy as the first step towards a smart, future-forward, evidence-based parking management policy that not only enhances parking access but also creates opportunity, space, and resources for Buffalonians to use additional modes of transportation to get where they need to go.
Yesterday, we sent a letter to the Common Council thanking them for their forward-thinking parking policy which will create increased access to the downtown core. If you agree we need smarter parking policies, we encourage you to do the same.