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Parking messages confusingly mixed

Downtown parking meters display labels telling motorists that they must pay unless it's after 5 p.m. or it's a Sunday.

There's only one problem: Parking at most meters in downtown's central business district is also supposed to be free on Saturdays.

The Common Council has been authorizing the change on a street-by-street basis for about three years, heeding advice from downtown business leaders. But city officials acknowledged Thursday that they have not had enough personnel to install at least half of the new street signs. Until the signs go up, motorists must obey the old parking rules, public works officials said.

"To compete, you have to be as user-friendly as possible," said Buffalo Place Executive Director Michael T. Schmand. "Having free parking on Saturdays and Sundays will encourage more people to come into downtown Buffalo."

Downtown business leaders have complained that police are giving tickets to some motorists who visit the business district on weekends. Others say tickets have been issued for meters that expired between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Several years ago, the Council authorized free parking at meters after 5 p.m.

The controversy has surfaced in the wake of a citywide enforcement blitz by police officers.

Buffalo's new economic-development chief was surprised to learn about downtown's free Saturday parking provision. Richard M. Tobe said he would brief the mayor and expects the issue to be dealt with quickly. Meanwhile, public works officials vowed to speed up efforts to get new signs posted, even if it means paying to have an outside contractor finish the work. There are only two crews that install signs citywide, including stop signs, officials said.

The parking issue surfaced at a Buffalo Place meeting Wednesday that included Tobe and newly appointed Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson. Schmand said he is pleased the Public Works Department has pledged to move more quickly to install signs.

Schmand refrained from criticizing the city for delays, saying he prefers to "look forward instead of backward."

Tobe said the Law Department will be asked to review public works officials' contentions that until new signs are installed, the old regulations remain in effect.

Another parking flap erupted last weekend on the Elmwood business strip. Motorists and some merchants complained about confusing signs leading many people to think they can park free at meters on Saturdays.

The street signs say "Two Hour Parking 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Except Sat. and Sun." The little print inside the meters reads: "Hours of Operation 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. No Charge Sunday Except as Otherwise Posted."

But Public Works Commissioner Joseph N. Giambra argued that the curb signs do not conflict with the meter notices. He said they refer only to the two-hour limit not being in effect on weekends, and do not state that parking is free on Saturdays.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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