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There’s no Elmwood parking problem, but if there was here’s how to fix it.

The big, partially gravel covered parking lot, on Elmwood Avenue just south of Auburn Avenue, was recently closed in oder to start construction on a new high density mixed use building.  The new building will bring new residents and new businesses to the street.  It will also pay substantially more in property taxes, not to mention sales tax. This popular block of Elmwood will be substantially strengthened with completion of this building.  Some would have you think otherwise. Neighborhood parking-armageddonists pretty much predicted the end of the world as we know it if the parking lot was taken out of commission. To them, it was not the local  businesses, beautiful architecture, and walkable atmosphere that make this such a popular destination in Buffalo; it was the big ugly parking lot that drew in the crowds. The parking lot is now closed. So far, things seem pretty normal on the street. As with every other end of the world prediction so far, this one fizzled.

There is no parking problem on Elmwood. Parking density ebbs and flows on the street but it is not uncommon to find long swaths of empty parking spaces on the street. When driving to Elmwood, I literally have never  ever (ever, ever, ever) parked more than a half block from my destination.  Interestingly, that free, former parking lot was always full.  Is that why people think it is hard to park on Elmwood?

I do understand that people need to have a place to park their personal mobility machines.  Over the last 60 years we have systematically destroyed the convenience and functionality of public transit, leaving driving as the only viable way to get around in most cases.  We then justify the need to destroy the city in order to accommodate cars because of the poor public transit system. Of course, if you make neighborhoods walkable and invest in public transit, instead of highways and wider roads, parking problems will wither and disappear.  I also understand that this is not going to happen in America anytime soon.  So, I developed a few other easy ideas to solve the parking (non) problem in Buffalo. Even those who truly believe that Elmwood has a parking problem will admit that there is a tremendous amount of unused street space that could be used to store cars.  None of my ideas are new revelations.  For the most part these concepts have been discussed before.  But nothing ever seems to happen without discussing it to death so, its worth discussing some more.

Fixing the so-called parking Problem

1. Price the Parking Meters Correctly: Parking meters were originally conceived of as a means to open up parking for business customers.  In the days of rapid  auto ownership growth, at mid 20th century, the lack of parking availability on commercial streets became a big problem. Eventually, planners found that much of the available street parking was being hogged by all day parkers. This was often due to employees of local businesses parking while at work.  Ironically  those same businesses depended on that very same parking for the convenience of their customers.   Initial experiments with parking meters, which charged a fee as well as limited the amount of time you could park, were tremendously successful at opening up parking spaces, with immediate benefit to nearby business. Parking meters were soon installed throughout the country. However, studies have shown that meters that are priced too cheaply do not discourage all day parking.  Elmwood’s meters are priced at an outrageously low price of (I believe) just 50 cents an hour.  Could a moderate boost in meter fees open more spaces on Elmwood to customers? Donald Shoup, in his book The High Cost of Free Parking points to an example of a city business district which benefitted greatly by increased parking availability once parking meters were priced based on demand.  In oder to convince the local businesses of the merits of higher meter prices, the municipality pledged to use the increased meter revenue to pay for local enhancements to the street-scape.  The result, a more attractive street, less traffic due to fewer circling cars, and more parking available.

2. Get Rid of the Parking Striping:  Many parts of Elmwood still have pavement markings on the street that define the area within which you need to fit your car.  These markings are outrageously large leaving enough space between cars to fit a Smart Car, if not a Cooper Mini.  With the new “pay and display” type meters, now on the street,  there is no reason at all to dictate exactly where cars need to be placed.  Get rid of these parking box markings and you can gain one or two spaces per block.

3.  The Big One, Eliminate Alternate Side Parking: This alone would almost double the amount of parking in the neighborhood.  The city does not clean the streets every single week so why does the street need to be cleared of cars every week?  This alternate side parking leaves huge swaths of potential parking empty throughout the day.  It is a waste of a major neighborhood asset and is a royal pain in the ass to neighborhood residents, many who don’t have private parking on their property. Sure, there are times when the city needs the streets cleared for maintenance activity, such as cleaning and plowing. This can be done in a more efficient and sane way though. Why not use temporary signs on the 2 or 3 days a year that you actually clean a street or need to work on the trees or dig a hole?  Or, why not have just once a month alternate parking through summer months and more often in winter, which kick in when snow fall is over a certain amount?  These means of clearing a street of cars are used successfully in other cities;why not Buffalo?

Written by David Steele

David Steele

Architect ( a real one, not just the armchair type), author of "Buffalo, Architecture in the American Forgotten Land" ( ), lover of great spaces, hater of sprawl and waste,
advocate for a better way of doing things.

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