It’s not the first time in recent years that Buffalo has confronted this problem and, if all goes well, it won’t be the last. The city’s economic growth is straining its parking capacity in some spots, to the point that residents have trouble competing with commuters for parking spaces. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s also one that needs to be resolved quickly.
The source of the stress once again is the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, which has been growing aggressively and isn’t done yet. That’s great news for a city that was on the skids for decades and is now in expansion mode. But with thousands of people working on the Medical Campus, conflict has arisen between nearby residents and employees on the hunt for free parking.
Previously the problem showed up to the east of the campus, in the Fruit Belt. Now it has migrated in the other direction, into the eastern edge of Allentown. There, especially on North Pearl Street, residents are having trouble finding spaces to park their cars legally. Some circle the block repeatedly, looking for a place to alight. Others end up parking illegally and getting tickets.
It can’t last.
As frustrating as this is to residents of those areas, this problem is a product of Buffalo’s revival and needs to be viewed in that encouraging context. A growth spurt can be accompanied by growing pains. That’s what this is.
But it’s going to get worse. As much as the area has already grown, with the Gates Vascular Institute, the Conventus Center For Collaborative Medicine and expansion of Roswell Park Cancer Institute, more is coming, and quickly.
This fall, the John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital will open on the Medical Campus followed early next year by the first classes at the University at Buffalo Medical School, which is moving from the South Campus on Main Street. Without planning, today’s parking problems are only prelude to a coming paralysis.
The good news is that this matter is already on the radar screen of planners. In the Fruit Belt, the problem was attacked by providing residents with parking permits, though it took an act of the State Legislature before it could happen.
Employers are also looking at ways to encourage workers to use mass transit. The Allen Street Metro Rail station has been upgraded and expanded for that purpose and efforts are underway to incentivize workers to use the bus and rail system.
Last month, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority extended two bus routes to serve riders going to or leaving from the Medical Campus. Earlier in the year, the NFTA launched a discount pass program aimed at corporations, including those on the Medical Campus.
Those are important efforts to deal with the coming crunch but, human nature being what it is, it won’t be surprising if a significant number of commuters turn to mass transit only after discovering for themselves how aggravating it will be to drive to work as the campus continues to grow.
In the meantime, Allentown residents deserve the same protection that was offered to their neighbors in the Fruit Belt. Commuters understandably want free parking, but they can’t be permitted to have it at the expense of local residents. Ultimately, they will need to leave their cars behind and jump on the discounted train.