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Chippewa is ground zero for Buffalo's parking police

The brisk business along Hertel Avenue has brought more than crowds and traffic. The onslaught of Day-Glo orange parking tickets makes the North Buffalo commercial strip among the most-ticketed stretches in the city.

Last year, Buffalo's parking enforcement officers wrote 1,441 parking tickets between Sterling Avenue and Admiral Road, and they issued 1,275 between Sterling and North Park Avenue.

"It seems like we're going to the most populated areas and unleashing the lions," said Pete Cimino, co-owner of Lloyd Taco Factory on Hertel Avenue.

Other stretches see a lot of orange, too.

More than 1,000 parking tickets were written on each of 21 stretches of city streets in 2016. Five other stretches brimming with clubs, restaurants, shops or hospitals had at least 900 tickets.

Most of the tickets were issued in Elmwood Village, downtown Buffalo, Allentown and on Hertel. Parking enforcement officers primarily cited expired meters, parking in no-parking or no-standing zones, and ignoring alternate parking rules.

Parking in the East Side and South Buffalo, on the other hand, doesn't hold as much risk for a parking ticket. Streets in those areas don't have parking meters.

How do parking tickets on your block compare with the rest of Buffalo?

And not everyone thinks parking anywhere in the city should be a problem.

"I haven't gotten a parking ticket since probably 1984," city resident Kenneth Stephens said. "My children get them all the time. I believe in the rules. You can find places to park in Buffalo without paying."

But in other parts of the city, some business owners and drivers fume over what they feel is over-aggressive ticketing.

"Parking is definitely our No. 1 hindrance, and the city doesn't make it easier, it makes it harder," said Zina Lapi, owner of the downtown Casa Azul Mexican Taqueria.

Chippewa: Ground zero

The most ticketed stretch of the city includes the three blocks of West Chippewa Street between Main Street and Delaware Avenue, with nine bars on both sides of the street and several more on side streets. Officers wrote 2,742 parking tickets in 2016.

In addition, they wrote 948 tickets on Chippewa between Delaware and Whitney Place. And they wrote 1,632 on Franklin Street, between West Huron and West Tupper streets.

Most of the tickets were for parking in no-parking zones. On Chippewa, cars start getting ticketed on both sides of the street beginning at midnight on weekends, even though bars stay open until 4 a.m.

That bothers downtown resident Michael Bly, who used to play in a band at a club on Chippewa and got ticketed while unloading his gear.

Bly said he's watched police officers ticketing at midnight on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with nightlife in full swing.

"People come down from the suburbs who are spending money, they get ticketed and guess what – they're not going to come down again," Bly said. "Is that really good for the city?

"It seems like a straight-up cash grab," he said.

Bly said he would like to see parking eliminated on Chippewa, or else allowing cars to park there until the bars close.

Buffalo's parking commissioner: 'Our job is to enforce the law'

Common Council President Darius Pridgen, whose Ellicott District includes most of downtown, said it is his understanding that ticketing on Chippewa at midnight was instituted years ago by the police to deal with large crowds on the street after midnight.

"The traffic was backing up because of the crowds and cars on both sides, and it was difficult to get emergency responders down the street," Pridgen said.

Aggressive ticketing makes it difficult for Raymond Rice, a sous chef at Local Kitchen & Beer Bar on Chippewa.

Parking downtown is a constant struggle, he said. Unless he can find a free parking space on or near Niagara Street, several blocks away, he tries to feed the meter throughout the day. But Rice said he still usually gets one or two tickets a week.

"I'm trying to be responsible, but parking tickets hinder my ability to pay for home needs, and there are no unmetered spots downtown," Rice said.

Elmwood: Matter of public safety

The stretch of Elmwood between West Ferry Street and Auburn Avenue had the second-most parking tickets with 2,640, mostly for parking at expired meters.

In addition, the Elmwood blocks from Auburn to West Delavan Avenue garnered 1,279 tickets, and Potomac Avenue to Forest Avenue had 1,510.

The shortage of public parking spaces on the commercial strip worsened in 2015 with the closing of a public lot south of Auburn that contained several dozen free spaces. To offset the loss of parking, the city changed alternate parking rules on neighboring streets between Elmwood and Richmond, making it easier to park there.

Ticketing in Elmwood Village dropped 10 percent in 2016, with alternate parking tickets dropping 28 percent. At the same time, ticketing for parking more than 12 inches from the curb increased 12 times more than the rest of the city, and violations for parking too close to fire hydrants increased twice as much as in other areas.

Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer said the ticketing is done for public safety.

"When you're 18 or 24 inches away, and there's parking on both sides of the street, that is a dangerous situation," he said.

Some Buffalo meters lack info about when motorists must pay to park

Mary Beth Murray, who lives on Auburn Avenue, was appalled by the numerous parking tickets she saw up and down both sides of her street during the Elmwood Arts Festival in late August. Cars in the past, she said, were allowed to park on both sides of the street to compensate for the loss of parking spaces on Elmwood.

"The city ticketed everyone parked on our street several times throughout the day," Murray said. "I thought that was lousy. There was no precedent for it."

Helfer defended the move, noting the Department of Public Works posted warnings.

"The community was very angry," he said. "We received numerous 911 complaints, 311 complaints, with people literally asking us to enforce the law because they were having a tough time getting out of their driveway."

Gordon Scherer, who co-owns Elmwood businesses Anna Grace and Fern + Arrow, said people who knowingly park illegally on the commercial strip have no one to blame but themselves.

"If the meters are pretty clearly marked and people violate them, they deserve to get a ticket," he said.

Scherer said people in Buffalo still have a mindset that they shouldn't have to walk more than a block or so for parking, when open spaces can be found a few blocks away.

"I've never had to walk farther than Richmond Avenue, which is about three blocks away," Scherer said.

Cleveland Avenue: Ticketing zone

The location of Spot Coffee at the corner of Elmwood and Cleveland Avenue, and Nardin Academy farther up Cleveland, are big reasons why the street had 2,291 tickets – mostly for alternate parking – last year.

Robbie Gianadda, a Cleveland Avenue homeowner, said the ticketing is needed.

"It's absolutely necessary," Gianadda said. "The street isn't wide enough to accommodate convenience parking. That's especially true if there is an emergency of any kind, a delivery, daily maintenance on the street or when they come to trim the trees.

"If there are people illegally parked or on both sides of the street, there just isn't enough room," he said.

The most confined area for parking tickets is on Oakland Place, in front of the first half-dozen or so houses south of Bryant Street, across from Women & Children's Hospital. That stretch –accounted for 1,892 parking tickets in 2016.  Three other streets near the hospital – stretches of Bryant and Hodge Streets, and Elmwood Avenue – had over 900 tickets.

Hertel: 'Cherry picked'

The ticketing on Hertel worries Cimino of Lloyd Taco Factory.

"I feel like we are being cherry-picked, and it's really causing an inconvenience for the day-to-day operation of the business," Cimino said. "Ticketing should be applied fairly and evenly across the city, and we know that's not happening.

"It's leaving a bad taste in the mouths of the people who are now experiencing North Buffalo in this mini-boom that's happening," Cimino said.

"They make it really difficult for people," said Julie Hallgren, co-owner of North Park Florist. The shop is in the same several-block area of Hertel where 1,275 tickets were issued last year, including one for Hallgren's clearly marked company van out front.

Allentown: "They make it hard"

Allen Street, with six bars located between Elmwood and Wadsworth Street, had 1,976 tickets last year.

Joe Rubino, owner of Nietzsche's, said aggressive ticketing on the street, where parking is at a premium and there aren't parking lots, discourages turnout.

"For years, I have watched the police on Fridays and Saturdays walk up and down the street ticketing cars before midnight," Rubino said. "If someone is blocking a driveway or parked in a hazardous manner, ticket them or even tow them away. But the way they do it is just a money-maker for the city.

"As a struggling businessman looking to get new people to support the live music scene, and keep the regulars, they make it hard. I want the police presence, but in a positive way, not a negative way," Rubino said.

News staffers Matt Hanson, Lexie Heinle and Dan Kirchberger contributed to this report.

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