The people have spoken – more than 21,000 of them – and the city has listened, making adjustments to its new parking regulations. It’s an acknowledgement that the changes were too much too fast. Other changes should also be considered.
But good for Common Council President Darius Pridgen for authoring a resolution to amend the new rules. The plan to charge for parking on many downtown streets during evening hours is being changed to apply only on nights when there are major events downtown, at sports and culture venues.
The end of free parking after 5 p.m. was a major concern to city residents, as well as to businesses such as restaurants and bars. Reba Allen, a downtown restaurant worker, started an online petition protesting the rules. It has more than 21,000 signatures.
Publicity over the petition, as well as complaints made to city officials, caused Pridgen to respond and Mayor Byron W. Brown agreed to the changes. As Pridgen said in announcing his resolution in a Facebook post, “Listening is not a crime.” He's right.
The changes were not unreasonable, given the city’s economic reawakening, but the rollout of the new rules – officially the Downtown Parking Access Plan – was abrupt. Details about the changes, including ending free parking on weeknights and Saturdays, raising metered fees to up to $2 an hour and adding several hundred paid street parking spots, were made public in mid-December, then passed by the Common Council on Dec. 26.
That caused pushback in the city, including from some business owners. Dennis Lesniak, the owner of Quarter Deck Athletics on Washington Street, wrote an opinion piece for The News in which he objected to the new rules and said the Council voted on them “without an economic impact report or public input.”
The public has raised its voice and been heard.
Not everyone is happy, of course. One of the changes, made to certain streets near KeyBank Center in time for last Thursday night’s Sabres game, was the creation of paid parking zones where only the Buffalo Roam app could be used to pay. That’s disappointing for non-smartphone users and should be cause for reconsideration.
Yes, converting to digital channels is the way of the world. Sports teams like the Buffalo Bills, for example, have moved to mobile ticketing, which they encourage be done through their app.
Requiring use of the Buffalo Roam app in new parking zones saves the city money – parking meters cost $600 apiece and the pay-and-display machines are $12,000 each – and gives the city the ability to collect data from the app’s users. Few of us get to opt out of having our data tracked these days.
But if getting people to pay with an app saves the city money and gives it a data dividend, it doesn’t make sense for the Buffalo Roam app to add a 10-cent surcharge to each transaction. That’s an unnecessary annoyance. And, again to avoid being too abrupt, non-smartphone users should have an option, at least for now.
The new, higher parking rates will take getting used to, but they apply only to high-traffic blocks in the central business district. And motorists have many options available to them, including public and private surface lots, parking ramps, or farther-away streets where parking is more affordable.
There’s also the option for many to leave your car home and take public transportation. The new parking charges are not exactly a carbon tax, but they could have a similar effect if more commuters use Metro Rail trains and NFTA buses. That would mean less pollutants from fossil fuel combustion being released into the air.
The revival of the city’s business district means giving up or making adjustments to some aspects of the low-cost lifestyle that Buffalonians had enjoyed as the city struggled. But Brown, Pridgen and city Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer have shown their ability to compromise and soften the sting of adjusting to change. It was a wise decision.