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Quick, where’s the toughest place to find a parking space in Buffalo?

You might think Elmwood Village or downtown Buffalo. But try getting a space in the Fruit Belt, near the Medical Campus.

It’s not easy – especially for Fruit Belt residents, who are finding Medical Campus employees parked in front of their homes. And since many Fruit Belt houses don’t have driveways, residents say they often are forced to park their cars blocks away or even illegally – resulting in them being ticketed on their own streets.

The situation is leading some to call for a residential permit parking district in the Fruit Belt.

“They start coming at 6 a.m.,” Mulberry Street resident Dawn McCarley said of Medical Campus workers. “If I come home from work early, before 5 p.m., there’s nowhere to park.”

“When people get home, they can’t stop in front of their house to get their groceries out,” said Carlton Street resident Benjamin Cashaw.

Fruit Belt residents seem generally sympathetic to the Medical Campus workers, who sometimes explain to residents that they can’t afford the parking lot and garage rates – as much as $89 a month – on the campus.

One of the Medical Campus workers who parks near Cashaw’s house is saving money for a down payment on a house, Cashaw said.

“I feel bad for residents and employees,” McCarley said. “If you are not a doctor, a working person can’t afford to park in the lots.”

But the sympathy fades as residents talk of being ticketed for parking too close to a corner because the spots near their houses are occupied or when they don’t get up early enough to move a car they were forced to park blocks away on a street with alternate side parking.

The situation is further exacerbated, some residents said, by sidewalk reconstruction and infrastructure improvements that temporarily restrict parking on parts of Carlton Street, which runs through the Fruit Belt.

Buffalo Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer said the city is aggressively enforcing parking rules at the request of Fruit Belt residents frustrated by Medical Campus workers parking in front of their homes. Helfer said he’s sympathetic to residents who are ticketed but that the city cannot selectively enforce parking rules.

Some Fruit Belt residents suggested Medical Campus employers should provide less expensive parking for their workers. However, that idea seems unlikely, given that campus administrators are encouraging employees to find alternative ways to get to work – such as walking, bicycling or using mass transit.

One idea, though, has picked up traction since being proposed two years ago by Ellicott Council Member Darius G. Pridgen, who is now Council president. Pridgen is pushing for residential parking permits in the Fruit Belt. The idea won Common Council approval in 2012, but it requires state approval as well.

Legislation introduced by state Sen. Timothy Kennedy and Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, both D-Buffalo, would create a pilot residential parking program covering parts of Maple, Mulberry, Locust, Lemon, Carlton and High streets. At least 20 percent of Fruit Belt parking spots in the permit area would be set aside for non-residents. Commercial and retail areas would not be subject to the permit process.

The bill has not yet come up for a Senate or Assembly vote, but Kennedy’s office is hoping it will be considered before the legislative session ends next month.

If the bill is adopted, the city and Fruit Belt residents would work out the details of the program, Pridgen said. Among those details is whether non-residents would be required to pay to park in the Fruit Belt.

The Brown administration has not yet taken a public position on the proposed parking district, but the Fruit Belt Coalition, a neighborhood organization that Cashaw heads, supports the residential parking plan, as does Roswell Park Cancer Institute and Kaleida Health, the largest employers on the Medical Campus.

“We think it’s a good approach for making sure our residential neighbors have adequate street parking around their properties,” said Harvey Strassburg, Roswell Park’s public safety director.

Kaleida Health, in a letter backing the plan, suggested it would support Medical Campus workers’ paying to park in the Fruit Belt.

A permit program that’s free for residents and at a fee for non-residents “offers a viable compromise for our Fruit Belt neighbors,” Kaleida president Jody L. Lomeo wrote.

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the corporation coordinating Medical Campus development, also supports a residential parking permit program.

“That is where people live. We want to be supportive of what people in the community want to have happen there,” said Medical Campus President Matthew K. Enstice. “The people in the community are working with the Council member to come up with a plan, and we will be supportive of that plan.”

There currently is adequate parking on the Medical Campus to accommodate all Roswell Park and Kaleida employees, according to officials from both hospitals, who said all of their employees pay to park at campus lots and garages except Kaleida’s attending physicians and residents. Kaleida has a parking lot for its residents and attending physicians, said spokesman Michael Hughes.

The cost of the parking varies, with lots and garages costing from $55 to $89 a month, the officials said. There’s also some free and metered parking on some campus streets, they said.

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus plans to build another parking garage to accommodate the next phase of medical campus expansion, Enstice said. The campus will always have parking available for all patients and visitors, but not for all employees, he said.

The campus has encouraged employees to find alternatives to driving to work.

“We are trying to offer options – getting more people to ride the Metro to work, to walk to work, to car pool to work,” Enstice said. “It’s starting to work.”

email: sschulman@buffnews.com