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Editorial: Higher parking rates make sense in Buffalo's growing downtown

A shortage of parking spaces in downtown Buffalo is a good problem to have. It means our city’s core is economically viable, that people want to come downtown for business and pleasure.

It’s also true that we have enjoyed bargain parking rates for years. In what other comparable city can you find street parking for $1 per hour, and free after 5 p.m.? Parking from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on most streets in downtown Buffalo costs $9. Parking for the same amount of time on the street in one of Albany’s premier zones, near the state Capitol and other attractions, costs $30.25.

Doubling Buffalo’s rate to $2 per hour will bring that nine-hour total to $18, which will seem like a bargain to visitors from elsewhere. That increase is part of the proposal by the city to overhaul some of its parking rules and prices.

Naturally no one wants to pay more to park, but the city’s plan makes sense. It would create 700 new “revenue-generating” parking spaces downtown, according to city officials. We’d be happy to see a major portion of the revenue go to fixing some of the pothole-pocked roads in Buffalo. Officials say it will also fund improvements to sidewalks, lighting and public safety.

City officials insist the plan isn’t about the extra money it would raise, but rather about making on-street parking accessible to more people. And part of that would be accomplished by allowing parking on some streets where it has been prohibited, particularly near KeyBank Center.

When the price of parking rises, more motorists have decisions to make about whether to drive downtown, where they will park, or whether to use public transportation. To save money, some will use Metro Rail or bus, others will park farther from the city’s core and walk from their free or low-cost spots. If more people choose to walk, or get around by bicycle or other environmentally friendly mode, that’s a good thing.

It’s similar in theory to congestion pricing in New York City, where motorists are charged more to drive into the city during high-traffic times. Making it more expensive helps to thin out the herd on the roads.

That’s what will happen here – more parking spaces will be available more often – if the Common Council approves the new plan.

Part of the revenue uptick will be from extending hours when parking meters are in effect. Instead of charging $1 an hour from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday on most streets, the city would charge $2 an hour from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. And meters would be added to more streets.

Taking away free parking in the evenings and on Saturdays will come as a shock at first to motorists who have gotten used to finding spots on the street while enjoying Buffalo nightlife. That initial pain will fade, and more spaces will be freed up at different times in the evening.

If Buffalo were a ghost town, down on its luck and with population fleeing, there would be no concern with opening up more parking spots. Fortunately, the opposite is true. Feeding parking meters a few extra dollars is a small price to pay for an energized downtown.

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