If you park on downtown streets, don't expect to pay only $1 an hour much longer. There's a good chance the rate will double early next year.
Free parking on Saturdays and at night may also become a thing of the past.
They're among the biggest parking changes proposed by city officials, who say their goal is to make more parking available to more people. The changes are now being considered by the Buffalo Common Council.
Instead of charging $1 an hour from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday on most streets, the city proposes a $2-an-hour rate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. And meters would go up on more streets.
The proposal would also eliminate the two-hour parking limit and allow parking on some streets — especially near KeyBank Center — that currently allow no parking.
The bottom line: Drivers used to finding free street parking in or near downtown would find that harder to accomplish.
"To create more access, our goal is to free up the core," Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer told council members Tuesday during a Finance Committee meeting." And those parkers who are price-sensitive and willing to walk can go to the periphery and get the more moderate rate."
The plan could still be modified, but overall support for overhauling downtown's street parking rates seems high. Helfer said he hopes the council will approve a final plan by early next year.
Among the plan's features:
- Some streets where no parking is currently permitted would allow parking. This includes stretches of Perry, Exchange, Washington and Church streets and South Park Avenue.
- Street blocks roughly eight to 10 blocks from City Hall that currently offer free, or free-with-restricted-hours parking would start charging a flat $2 for all-day parking. This would primarily affect parts of Oak and Elm streets and Michigan Avenue and other smaller stretches. Some of these streets offer free parking but ban any parking from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. That restriction would be lifted.
- Though street parking around the arena would be expanded, it wouldn't be free at night. Instead, the city would charge an "event parking rate" of $2 an hour for cars parked there between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m.
- Many downtown workers who currently pay a flat $2 or $3 for all-day parking on certain downtown streets will see their costs rise to a flat $4 for all-day parking.
The proposed plan would affect street parking from Goodell Street to the KeyBank Center area, extend west to South Elmwood Avenue and east to Michigan Avenue.
The parking rate proposal would create more than 700 new "revenue-generating" parking spaces in the downtown core, Helfer said. The goal of the plan is to make on-street parking accessible to more people and to generate a new revenue stream that can cover other infrastructure improvements like sidewalks, lighting and public safety, he said.
That means giving people an incentive to park farther away and walk to get to where they need to go.
"The days in the past where people could leave their house, come down and find reasonable or free parking by the front door are gone, and that's a good thing," Helfer said. "Buffalo is very different. Buffalo is vibrant. Downtown is vibrant."
Helfer declined to cite revenue targets, but there's no doubt that by doubling rates and creating more than 700 paid spaces, the city stands to generate significantly more money. Currently, the city collects $2.5 million in parking fees, an amount that extends through the entire city, not just the downtown area, Helfer said. That's not a lot of money when considering the related expenses the city must cover, he said.
Improving parking availability to those who drive downtown is bigger priority, he said. The parking plan is a response to the economic resurgence of Buffalo and the demand for more spaces.
"People who are saying this is about money, money, money — it’s the furthest thing in the world," he said. "Communities change over time. Parking has to change over time."
Some are already raising concerns, however, particularly about the Saturday and evening parking fees.
"We need to take a breath, take a pause and work with the city on this," said Michael T. Schmand, executive director of Buffalo Place, a nonprofit organization that represents downtown business and property owners.
While the organization's board members generally support raising the hourly rates, they were unaware of plans to charge downtown visitors after hours and on weekends, Schmand said.
He called that "a big negative" and said the move could hurt downtown retailers and those in the food and entertainment business who rely on free parking for patrons.
Marine Drive Apartments resident Joseph Mascia added the parking rate changes could make it difficult for those who live downtown to invite visitors to come see them or join them for downtown events.
Council members sounded more supportive overall, though they expressed concern about how residents would be informed about changes.
Finance Committee Chairman Richard Fontana compared Buffalo's rates to those in Niagara Falls, which overhauled its street parking fees and now charges "tourist-trap rates" that he considers unreasonably steep. Council Member Rasheed Wyatt pointed out that street parking would still be cheaper than what many lots charge.
Council President Darius Pridgen expressed concern that once the two-hour parking limit is lifted, wealthier drivers might be willing to shell out $16 and hog a spot for eight hours while those with less money would be shut out of nearby parking options.
Helfer said more people would likely find it cheaper to park in a ramp than pay $16 for eight hours on the curb.
He encouraged drivers to use the Buffalo Roam app, which allows people to pay for their parking through their phones and provides other useful tools.
In response to a request by Pridgen, Helfer said he would reach out to Buffalo Place and other stakeholders. The parking proposal was tabled Tuesday, but Helfer said he was optimistic a new plan would be in place by early next year.