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Editorial: Medical Campus parking woes are about to balloon

Around 1,400 employees are set to relocate in November to the new John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. Add to that the 2,000 faculty, staff and students soon to be at the University at Buffalo’s new medical school. They will be jockeying for a limited number of parking spaces.

And those commuters are not the only ones anxious about parking. Residents in the area are also nervous about the prospect of their already parked-up streets getting jammed with more vehicles. In one sense, it’s a good problem to have as a sign of the growing importance of the Medical Campus to Buffalo’s future.

But that’s not much comfort to North Pearl Street residents, who have voiced concern about the growing number of drivers looking for every possible parking spot, edging out locals in the process. The residents hope to find a solution similar to that of Fruit Belt residents who won a residential parking permit program.

Both groups – the projected 15,000 expected on the Medical Campus and those living in the vicinity – have to cope with a new reality: All those new jobs in a small space means daily commutes are being muddled.

Things are being done to ease the problem.

Half of the new $40 million parking ramp next to Children’s Hospital is completed. That’s glass half full for 180 lucky workers. That’s the limit on the number of spots in the ramp available for hospital staff during the day until the ramp is finished next spring. The remaining spaces are designated for patients or other Medical Campus staff.

Even when all 1,825 parking spaces in the eight-story ramp are open there won’t be enough on-campus parking for everyone. Staff at Women & Children’s Hospital and the medical school now on UB’s South Campus will have to find new ways to commute to work. There are satellite parking lots with shuttle service to the Medical Campus.

Conveniently, Metro Rail stops right at the medical school building. Long term, a short extension of Metro Rail past the DL&W Terminal would put parking lots near the Buffalo River within an easy ride to the Medical Campus.

Carpooling is also a good option. During warm weather, those who live close enough could bicycle to work with help from the campus-provided Bike Sherpa, a buddy system designed to ease the anxiety beginners might feel about a bicycle commute.

William B. Smith, director of access for the Medical Campus, talked about “collaborative transportation efforts” to assist commuters: upgrades to the Allen Street/Medical Campus transit station, discounted transit passes, direct bus route extensions, “complete streets” infrastructure and car-sharing services.

However, as Smith recently said, “Will it be perfect for everyone on Day One? Absolutely not. Will everyone be able to park and get to work? Yes. We will ensure that.”

Better yet, employees and students should consider public transportation, along with the healthy benefits of bicycle commuting when possible. That will cut down on what is likely to be a futile search for on-street parking.

But if commuters prevent residents from parking near their homes, the city may need to step in with another permit program.

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