City's parking chief says there's plenty to go around, just be prepared to walk

Apr 22, 2019

The continuing bureaucratic pathway for a giant affordable housing complex at 201 Ellicott St. in Buffalo is again exposing the struggle over whether there is enough parking downtown, as more and more people live and work in the Central Business District.

Several speakers at the latest Zoning Board of Appeals public hearing on the project attacked the Ciminelli Real Estate plan as making the parking situation downtown worse.

The complex would replace a 370-space surface lot between Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority headquarters and the Central Library and there would be no parking space for complex residents. The city's Green Code does not directly require parking spaces.

Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer said there is plenty of parking space, just not next to the front door, and he is adding more street parking.

The yellow represents where the 201 Ellicott project is planned.
Credit Mike Desmond / WBFO News

"At least, 150 spots on the street in the near vicinity, within a two- or three-block walking area," Helfer said. "The ramp adjacent to it, right now, Adam Ramp, does not have a waiting list. So if we have this huge parking problem that everybody's talking about, how come Adam Ramp has no waiting list? I was up on the Adam Ramp every day for the last two weeks on the top floor. I could put in 50-75 cars in that ramp, in a heartbeat."

He said people want parking at their front door, but that often isn't realistic. Just adding parking ramps would take years and require up to $40 million for construction.

"One Seneca, our underground ramp that we have over 200 spaces available," Helfer said. "Some of these alternatives I talk about, subsidizing the Park and Ride so that it's more reasonable to get a monthly on the NFTA, subsidizing and putting people in for $25 a month for parking in KeyBank Center and having them take the rapid transit. We're going to do all these initiatives."

Helfer acknowledged parking is only part of the issue.

"There's a lot of people out there saying the NFTA doesn't work. Buses don't work. Light rail rapid transit doesn't work. And I'll tell you why they don't have a lot of ridership," he said. "If you do a $75 monthly at the Adam Ramp or a $75 bus pass, what do you think people are going to do? They're going to go park at the ramp because it's convenient, right?"

The project is before the city Planning Board Monday afternoon and the parking situation revolving around the complex will undoubtedly come up.

When this project was first announced, it was very upscale housing with underground parking. As it shifted to affordable housing, the underground space went away.