GObike News

March 15, 2019

Downtown Parking Access Plan—Not Accessible For All?


Last month, we interviewed Jalonda Hill, founder of Colored Girls Bike Too, a group seeking to normalize biking among women of color in marginalized communities. Jalonda outlined many points in her interview on existing transportation inequities and barriers to travel in communities of color, which are included below. 

At GObike Buffalo, we seek to support the development of an equitable transportation system in the City of Buffalo that meets all of our community members’ needs. We continue to support the Downtown Parking Access Plan, specifically pricing parking in accordance with demand and basic economic principles, which has been demonstrated to be best practice throughout the country. We also unequivocally believe our public right-of-ways should not be solely designed for motor vehicles at the sacrifice of the comfort and accessibility of the people who use them. Nonetheless, many of the points discussed below are frequently overlooked during transportation planning which allows our transportation network to continue to be divided. 

Creating a transportation network that equitably supports all of our community members while also supporting the health, economy and growth of our city is perhaps the most complex task we face as a city but by looking at all perspectives and reminding ourselves we are all in this together, we hope to uncover solutions that work for everyone.

“My ideal future for biking is to stay committed and ensure that I find creative ways to incorporate biking into my day to day activities, despite life changes. Additionally, I would like to advocate for underrepresented populations who are also a part of the bike community but are consistently left out of the conversation by lifting up:

  • The disparities in access to infrastructure, bikes, equipment, tools etc.;
  • How biking for many is a necessity while for others it is an option;
  • Making programs for free bikes more visible and accessible;
  • Biking should never be used as a tool to take poverty tours; and
  • Parking rate increases downtown may only encourage the use of alternative transport for those with disposable incomes.”

—Jalonda Hill

Downtown Parking Access Plan—Not Accessible For All?

Though it has been asserted the downtown parking access plan was well-researched and sensible, this report does not adequately consider how this plan hurts Buffalo's poor and poor communities of color.

Although Colored Girls Bike Too (CGBT) is supports encouraging alternative modes of transport, CGBT is keenly aware of the barriers to utilizing alternative modes of transportation in communities of color— barriers including stigmatization, disproportionate health complications, inconvenient and unreliable Metro schedules, and unaffordable Metro costs. Even more importantly, CGBT acknowledges the extensive history of people of color using alternatives modes of transportation, long before Gobike Buffalo was advocating for it, or before such modes were considered an alternative. This history goes as far back as the Montgomery bus boycotts and the reliance of the Underground Railroad to access freedom.

Despite the unaffordable costs of Metro transportation and employment obligations or opportunities extending beyond the convenient reach of a bike or public transportation, poor communities of color have been forced to rely upon on alternative modes of transport for decades. This is owed to years and years of over-policing, including excessive ticketing and wrongful driver license suspensions, vehicle unaffordability, predatory car loans, discrimination, racism, and plain old poverty. These trends, practices, and penalties have stripped poor communities of color of the freedoms that convenient and affordable travel provides. This—in direct contrast with the alternative transportation experience people with disposable incomes, or who qualify as middle class or higher—has made alternative modes of transport mandatory, not optional, within these communities.

In 2016, PPG reported that “…in the City of Buffalo, 21% of black, 15% of Hispanic, and 26% of Asian and Pacific Islander workers commute by transit, compared to only 5% of whites.” This indicates communities of color do not need to be encouraged to use alternative modes of transport—while it would appear white community members do. It is naive to believe that raising parking prices will encourage those from communities of color to use alternative modes of transportation for the simple reason that their use is already woven in the fabrics of their neighborhoods, culture, history, and daily lifestyle. Raising parking prices will only make it more difficult for those of low-income who do drive to access Buffalo's downtown, and will further penalize poor people of color for simply driving while poor. Read the full report here.

Drivers of color in present-day New York State are more likely to be ticketed, charged excessive fines and fees, arrested, incarcerated, and to have their cars impounded at traffic stops. Examples of these biased practices include the checkpoint system implemented on the east side of Buffalo over the past four years, a system which still quietly persists in the City of Buffalo. The 2018 lawsuit charging the City of Buffalo with excessively ticketing people of color provides these striking statistics: “drivers who live in majority Black neighborhoods in Buffalo are eight times more likely to receive multiple traffic tickets on a single stop than those living in majority white neighborhoods, and four times more likely to have their license suspended for not paying tickets.” Read more about this here.

Raising parking prices will just add to these hardships, by increasing the likelihood that these drivers will receive parking tickets—tickets that many low-income people of color will struggle to pay. Failure to pay for a parking ticket, or any citation for that matter, can negatively impact credit scores, result in the eventual loss of one's driver license or the booting of a vehicle, and can even lead to incarceration. There are many other pervasive effects to the threat of increased parking prices, or increased ticketing as a result as well such as: interference with folks' ability to access vital services downtown, such as food stamps, shelter, and other public assistance benefits, not to mention manifestations of Buffalo’s one-sided resurgence, like the ice-skating rink in the heart of downtown. Thus, it should be arranged that the parking rate increase only applies to those who can afford it.

CGBT supports increasing the number of parking spots available downtown, improving the digital and parking infrastructure, and encouraging alternative modes of transport in Buffalo. However, with these changes, the City of Buffalo and advocates for alternative transportation must prioritize the needs of Buffalo’s most vulnerable citizens, many of whom have lived in the City of Buffalo for decades before anyone was even speculating on its resurgence. This means that the revenue raised from the increase in downtown parking costs should not only pay for the expenses listed in the City of Buffalo Downtown Parking Access Plan but should be viewed as an opportunity to FINALLY provide those of low income, especially poor communities of color, with affordable transportation and parking options.

This includes exempting those of low income from the increase in parking downtown while also providing free or subsidized passes to those of low income to access downtown via the Metro. Right now, there is someone in the City of Buffalo being ticketed on an NFTA train because they cannot afford the fare; there is a mother somewhere in downtown Buffalo who is at risk of getting a parking ticket because she needs to access benefits at the Erie County Department of Social Services but can’t afford to park downtown. Experiences such as these do not represent access at all! Let us use the parking access plan as an opportunity to redress the harm done by transportation inequities in the City of Buffalo while also making downtown and the entire City of Buffalo, affordably accessible for all!

Downtown Parking Access Plan—Not Accessible For All?