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Bills fans find new parking rules offensive 'Disney-style' system fails to amuse many

Buffalo Bills fans were discouraged on Saturday.

They were frustrated.

They were upset.

And that was before Saturday's preseason game at Ralph Wilson Stadium even started.

The latest fan backlash against the Bills had nothing to do with the team on the field, but rather had to do with what was happening outside in stadium parking lots.

The team introduced its new "Disney-style parking" at its two biggest lots on Saturday before the game with the Jacksonville Jaguars, which meant each vehicle was directed to park next to the one that entered the lot just before it.

The new rules are going to take some time to get used to -- and that's probably an understatement.

"I'm a season ticket holder for the worst team in the league," said Tamara King, 32, of Brantford, Ont. "I should be able to park where I want."

The problem is, drivers, like King, previously had been able to choose where to park. Fans had grown accustomed to rendezvousing with friends at their usual spots.

But now, if you're in stadium Lots 2 and 3, attendants will tell you where to park. And if you're not right on your friend's bumper, you may not be tailgating together. Or you'll be lugging your cooler to another part of the lot.

That's what happened with King and her husband, Rob.

They got separated from friends at the border, and didn't know about the new rules until they pulled into Lot 3 on Saturday afternoon.

"I will never park in a Bills parking lot again," said Rob King, 32. "Why don't they focus on putting a competitive team on the field instead of this?"

The experimental parking plan is part of this season's new driving rules designed to improve traffic flow and reduce conflicts between motorists and pedestrians.

Drivers often crossed paths with groups tossing a football around or setting up their tailgating parties in the lots, so the Bills organization wanted to diffuse some of that friction.

Presumably, the new system also will allow more vehicles into each lot, because there will be fewer large gaps between cars.

But based on interviews with nearly three dozen tailgaters, the Kings weren't the only frustrated fans in Lot 3.

"It's hard to meet up with your friends when they tell you where to park," said Ryan Smith, 31, of Buffalo.

"We're here for the tailgating and they're trying to take that away," added his friend, Chris Brown, 25, of Pendleton.

"It's causing more controversy because people are getting angry," said Brian Casillo, 28, of the Town of Tonawanda. "And this is a Kids Day crowd. Just wait."

The parking rule isn't the only change this season.

The stadium will become completely smoke-free this season. That obviously got approval from nonsmokers at the game on Saturday.

A short stretch west of Abbott Road, just outside the Orchard Park stadium, will be barricaded and closed off to vehicles starting five hours before every home game to reduce traffic congestion and improve pedestrian flow.

That change generally got a thumbs up from fans on Saturday, as well.

In June, the team announced that stadium parking lots will open four hours prior to kickoff, rather than five hours.

That got mixed reviews among the tailgaters.

But the new parking rules were obviously the biggest sore spot.

"What happens if you park next to people who smoke and you're not fans of that," said Fred Norris, 27, of South Buffalo. "Or what if you're next to fans from the other team?"

"We're going to go to a private lot where they'll let you park wherever -- and it's cheaper," said Jeff Urban, 29, of South Buffalo, referring to the $25 it cost to park in the Bills lot.

Some decided to withhold judgment.

It's an added inconvenience, but in the long run maybe it will work out, said Eleanor Garrett, of Welland, Ont.

"I got to be honest," added Garrett, a season ticket holder. "We went to New England three years ago and you parked where you were told to park and it worked fine."

Vaughn and Vivian Williams of Cheektowaga were among those tailgaters who didn't know about the change in parking rules until they arrived at the stadium on Saturday.

Vaughn Williams, 57, is hoping the Bills go back to the old parking rules once the organization sees how upset tailgaters were on Saturday.

Then again, Williams said, if the Bills have a good season, maybe fans won't really mind.