When the City of Buffalo announced it was lifting alternate-side parking restrictions on more than a dozen streets in Elmwood Village last summer, Janice Kyle was relieved.
Being able to park on both sides of Ashland Avenue meant not having to walk entire blocks to and from her car for half the year. The change seemed especially promising to her husband, Bennie Kyle, 60, and their two tenants. All three have health issues and make frequent car trips to doctors and physical therapists outside the neighborhood, she said.
“It’s very difficult for them,” said Janice Kyle, 53, a teacher in the Buffalo schools. “They’ll circle and circle, and a lot of times they end up eating at Pano’s until a spot opens up.”
But Kyle’s excitement at the prospect of being able to park next to her home on the corner of Ashland and Auburn avenues didn’t last long. In the year and a half since the change, she and her two tenants have received a combined 20 tickets for parking too close to the stop sign outside their house, far more than any of them received in previous years.
They aren’t the only ones.
Tickets for parking less than 20 feet from a crosswalk more than doubled in Elmwood Village last year, nearly five times the growth rate for the rest of Buffalo, a Buffalo News analysis of parking data found. The city wrote one additional ticket for parking too close to a crosswalk for every three alternate parking tickets not written last year that had been given in 2015.
On most streets, there is no sign or other indication of the stretch that falls within 20 feet of a crosswalk.
Parking Commissioner Kevin J. Helfer said the state’s vehicle and traffic law bans parking within 20 feet of a crosswalk. The city is not required to post signs indicating where that area begins, he said.
“It is no different than parking within 15 feet of a hydrant,” he said. “That is not required to have signage, either, under law.”
The increases in tickets for parking too close to a crosswalk and other violations have dampened some residents’ support for lifting alternate parking restrictions part of the year. For Kyle, the changes now feel bittersweet. More crosswalk tickets were written on her street, Ashland, than on any other street in Buffalo in 2016 – three times more, in fact, than any other street.
“I do like the April to November parking but I do wish they could extend it year-round, or at least let us park in front,” she said. “I mean we live here – where else can we go?”
Alternate parking changes praised
To many who work and live in Elmwood Village, the new parking rules seemed long overdue. The neighborhood’s resurgence in the past decade, combined with a reduction in the number of public lots on Elmwood Avenue and a shift from single-family homes to subdivided apartments in the area, created a shortage of parking, residents said.
From the front porch of the house on Ashland where they have lived for 50 years, Joseph and MaryAnne Carriero have witnessed the evolution of Elmwood Village as closely as anyone.
“The whole area is different than it was,” said Joseph, 81. “Take that house across the street. There used to be three cars and one family in that house. Now there are three apartments and six cars there. So demand has gone up, space is the same and when you have alternate parking, I don’t know where people are going to park at all.”
Sitting next to him on their porch, Joseph’s wife of more than five decades nodded in agreement.
“Alternate parking was there for a long time,” said MaryAnne, 79. “I think it’s a good thing they changed it. We had family and friends who would visit when there was alternate parking and they could not find a parking place.”
According to Common Council Member Joel P. Feroleto, it was concerns like these that led the Council to lift the alternate parking restrictions last summer.
“There were a lot of residents who were concerned about the lack of parking in Elmwood Village,” said Feroleto, who represents part of Elmwood Village in the Delaware District. “We wanted people to have access to businesses and homes and this was a way of doing that.”
With the Common Council’s support, the Public Works Department measured streets in Elmwood Village to determine which ones were wide enough to have cars on both sides of the street and still get emergency vehicles through. Seventeen streets met the department’s standards in part or all of their stretches within Elmwood Village, according to Public Works traffic engineer Eric Schmarder. But only those portions that met the criteria were granted parking on both sides.
“Generally these seasonal parking rules only work on one-way streets,” Schmarder said. “They also have to be wide enough for emergency vehicles and other city services to get through with cars on both sides.”
When the city finally lifted alternate parking from April 2 to Nov. 14, 2016, many Elmwood residents celebrated the move.
“People were generally pleased when they first announced it,” said Ashley Smith, executive director of the Elmwood Village Association, one of the groups who advocated for the changes. “It seemed like a no-brainer to get rid of alternate parking in those busy summer months.”
Complaints over increase in tickets for proximity to crosswalk
Parking data suggest the new rules did what officials intended. The new rules opened up hundreds of parking spots in Elmwood Village, and total tickets dropped 10 percent from 2015 to 2016.
But that came at a cost. While many residents remain grateful for the additional parking, some have soured on the changes in the year and a half since they were introduced.
With their 20 tickets for parking too close to a crosswalk, Kyle and her tenants have learned the downside of the new rules the hard way. So has Arriana Murphy, 19, of Amherst, who had just started working at the Globe Market on Elmwood Avenue when she received her first ticket for the same offense in July.
“I was angry,” Murphy said. “My car was like a foot over the sign for no parking from here to the corner and it was on the other side of the street, not my side.”
Just as Kyle and Murphy feel unfairly ticketed on streets with parking on both sides, other residents say too many cars are able to park illegally on the same streets. Kyle’s neighbor, 25-year-old Morgan Silver, has to call the city every few months to have cars blocking her driveway towed.
“I called a tow truck and they were like, ‘Do you really want to have them moved?’” Silver said. “You can clearly see it’s a driveway but they still park there all time and I have to drive over the grass to get out.”
Complaints like Silver’s are the reason parking enforcement officers have cracked down on offenses like blocking driveways and fire hydrants, parking too far from the curb and parking less than 20 feet from a crosswalk, Helfer said.
“People want the laws enforced as it relates to parking,” Helfer said. “If someone’s blocking your driveway or the crosswalk by your house, that’s a quality of life issue. So of course I tell my guys to crack down on those things.”
Ensuring that crosswalks are clear is important for public safety, he added.
“Handicap ramps are at the crosswalk,” he said. “Children cross there, as well. When cars pull up so close or even block the crosswalk, it is extremely dangerous.”
And so they have.
Crosswalk parking violations weren’t the only offense that saw out-sized growth in Elmwood Village last year, above and beyond that seen elsewhere in Buffalo. Even as alternate parking tickets in Elmwood Village fell 28 percent from 2015 to 2016, tickets for other parking offenses grew substantially.
Tickets for parking more than 12 inches from the curb increased 12 times more than the rest of the city. Violations for parking on the sidewalk were up seven times than elsewhere in Buffalo. And citations for blocking fire hydrants increased twice more in Elmwood than in other areas.
As the Kyles and their tenants struggle to see why they can’t park next to their house, advocates of the new rules say increases in certain violations aren’t necessarily a bad thing.
“People regularly call 311 about illegally parked cars,” Feroleto said. “If you think about it, it makes sense: If you can’t see around a car to make a turn, that’s dangerous. It makes sense that crosswalk tickets have gone up, because cars can now park on both sides of the street. So now there’s more blocking intersections and more complaints about that.”
City looks at easing alternate parking elsewhere
Some in Elmwood Village would like to see alternate parking restrictions removed year-round. Having grown accustomed to parking on both sides of Ashland for half the year, Kyle would like to be able to do the same for the other half, if possible.
“Please extend it,” she said. “At least after 12 p.m. when [snow plows] are done clearing the street. By noon we should be able to park on both sides.”
But officials said alternate parking rules are necessary in winter to allow snow plows to get through.
No concrete plans exist to permanently alter the current parking restrictions in Elmwood Village, Helfer said. But the city can extend summer parking rules, depending on weather conditions each year. This year, the city started the summer parking period in March, after forecasts predicted no more snow for the rest of the season, according to Feroleto.
“If weather permits, we can extend that later in the year,” he said. “I think it’s good for the neighborhood.”
The success of seasonal parking in Elmwood prompted the city to look at other areas where similar policies could be put in place, officials said.
Public Works is considering seasonal parking for Potomac Avenue west of Richmond Avenue, just outside Elmwood Village, Schmarder said. Streets near the business district surrounding Grant Street on the West Side also could become candidates for seasonal parking, he said.
“There are several one-ways in that area we could look at if there was an appetite for it from residents there,” Schmarder said. “We’re doing a lot more innovative stuff than we ever did in the past – anything we can to improve quality of life in Buffalo.”