Parking around the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus is the cause of serious contention for residents of Buffalo’s Fruit Belt neighborhood. On campus, only 70 percent of the current parking spaces are used by campus employees. With 30 percent of space available, the question remains, “Why are people still parking in the Fruit Belt?”
It’s about cost. Employees have to pay for parking on campus, whereas parking on city streets in the Fruit Belt is free.
“People are always going to look for free parking if it’s available. I don’t think it matters how much you charge on the campus. As long as it’s free here in the neighborhoods, people are going to seek the free option,” said Bill Smith, Director of Campus Access for the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
Smith plans and implements parking and transportation for BNMC, and is currently leading the survey of parking in the Fruit Belt.
In addition to offering online and mail-in survey options, Smith’s access team went door-to-door to at least 240 houses in the Fruit Belt. After speaking with nearly 80 residents, he said his team has been finding that quality of life is the issue for residents. As long as BNMC employees continue to park on their streets, access to mobile health care, regular trash removal, and the ability to park near home continues to be threatened. The corridor of streets spanning the three blocks east of Michigan Avenue appear to be seeing the most impact.
Lifelong Fruit Belt resident Ken Harkness hand-delivered his hard-copy survey at the Moot Community Center on High Street, Wednesday evening. His message was simple and direct.
“Be considerate,” said Harkness.
Harkness said he doesn’t mind medical campus personnel parking in the neighborhood, but thinks residents should have priority. He said it’s bad enough that parking spaces are being taken, but worse because it’s being done without concern for basic services.
For Florine Bradley, who has lived in the neighborhood for close to five decades, respect is the issue at hand. She came to speak with the BNMC planning team in person. She said it brings her to tears to think about how residents are being disrespected when a flood of cars from the medical campus infringes on the Fruit Belt each day.
“If I leave home at 8:30 to go to the post office, if I come back at 9, someone has my parking space and there’s no place for me to park. When I leave home, I volunteer at the Salvation Army. I leave at one o’clock and I can’t go home because there’s no place for me to park,” said Bradley.
Bradley said she often has to find other places to spend her afternoons until employees at the medical campus leave work for the day. Bradley said she never thought that at this time in her life, she and other residents wouldn’t have a place to park.
Both Harkness and Bradley are fans of the proposal to establish a parking permit system for Fruit Belt Residents. A bill to make it happen passed the state assembly, but didn’t make it through the Senate before the end of this year’s legislative session. BNMC supported the bill as well, according to BNMC Access project manager Jamie Hamann-Burney. He said the campus will work with State Senator Tim Kennedy and Assembly Member Crystal Peoples-Stokes to re-energize the bill in September.
The survey by BNMC is being conducted as part of a grant-funded study that began in May and aims to be completed by the end of the year. The survey portion is set to wrap up by the end of August, but Smith said input will still be accepted afterwards. In the meantime, the medical campus has been working with the City of Buffalo to create some short-term solutions.
“They’re going to up some of the enforcement on people who are blocking the driveways, even some partial blockage of the driveways,” said Smith.
Smith said as of Wednesday, mobile health care vehicles will be permitted to park illegally, if needed, so they can provide services to Fruit Belt residents.
For BNMC personnel, Smith said the goal is to create a multi-modal environment, where people are encouraged to carpool, take public transit, and walk or bike to work.
“We’re providing some incentives around all that stuff and some programs to really educate people about their options and get them to re-think how they get down here versus just driving alone,” Smith said.
BNMC employees are receptive to the multi-modal environment. According to Smith, from 2012 to 2014 the campus saw a drop from 88 percent to 83 percent of employees driving alone. After seeing that kind of decrease, Smith said the goal continues towards seeking better alternatives.