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Even before you enter the mall, airport, post office or store, the stress and frustration of parking can kill your holiday cheer.

Maybe it’s the parking hog who takes up two spaces or the creeper who circles like a vulture looking for an open parking spot.

Don’t be freaked out by holiday parking.

There are ways for drivers to avoid parking fines, towing bills and the parking lot fender benders that AAA said make up 14 percent of collisions resulting in insurance claims.

“By nature, we want to park close, so we’re sort of rolling the dice so that we get a close space,” explained Casey Jones of the International Parking Institute. “So we do that perching. We do that crazy irrational behavior. What we suggest is to park in the first place you find, most probably in peripheral locations, but you will save time and stress in the long run.”

About 30 percent of the cars circling a city at any given time are drivers looking for parking, according to a survey conducted in 2012 by the IPI, an organization that provides educational and technical services to parking managers. The traffic congestion these circling vehicles create is the single most significant societal change affecting the parking industry, survey respondents said.

And from an environmental standpoint, that translates into wasted fuel and increased carbon emissions.

“We are concerned with why people are parking in the first place, and if they are circling the lot, that means they are not shopping or eating,” Jones said. “We would hope that a mall management company would make use of more than parking to help people get to the mall. Using shuttle buses for their employees may open up spaces for their shoppers.”

Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga has more than 7,000 parking spots, said General Manager Matthew Bader, who offered shoppers a tip.

“If you are looking for parking, generally the top levels of the decks are somewhat open as opposed to circling the lots,” Bader said. “The nice thing is that they are covered. We have also enclosed the outer stairways of the decks in glass to protect shoppers in inclement weather.”

Four more tips

Here are four other tips, culled from shoppers and traffic and mall officials:

1. When looking for a place to park at the mall, you might want to skip the main entrance. Consider a secondary entrance instead, but make sure the parking area is well lighted.

2. Outlying areas generally have more open spots, lighter traffic and a lower risk of collision, but the width of the parking spot may be a foot narrower, which could lead to a dinged door or difficulty pulling in and out, said Steven Pacer, public affairs specialist for AAA Western and Central New York.

3. When opting for the park-and-hike approach, it is important to be able to find your car after you’ve finished shopping. Smart parkers take note of the designated number and color stationed on light poles scattered throughout the parking field.

4. Smartphones may be used to snap a photo of your parking spot – and then lead you to it.

“Find My Car,” an application that uses GPS location services to help find your car, offers walking directions as well as a parking timer and other updated features.

Avoid the tow

Finding your car in a crowded lot may be difficult, but what happens if it is towed away?

That is more likely to happen in congested city areas.

Last weekend, Elmwood Avenue was bustling with shoppers taking advantage of National Small Business Saturday. The overflow crowd filled the shops, while cars lined nearby streets and filled lots.

About a dozen drivers opted to park their vehicles in a bank branch lot and surrounding driveways. At least eight of those cars were towed, according to one of the illegally parked drivers who paid $195 to retrieve her vehicle the next day.

“When I picked up my car, there was a firefighter picking up his car,” said the woman, who did not want to be identified. “He’d been parked at the bank, too, and was livid. A big ticket is one thing, but a tow?”

Many businesses along Elmwood – Lexington Co-operative Market, First Niagara Bank, M&T Bank – station a guard weekdays in their lots to ensure safety and parking for patrons only, noted attorney Michael Dwan.

What about weekends when the banks are closed?

Their lots are posted with “No Parking” signs, but there is no guard in sight.

“They’re thinking about liability,” Dwan said. “If you slip and fall, what are you going to do but sue the bank? There’s also probably some kind of financial incentive. Usually when a car gets towed, someone is benefiting other than the tow truck company.”

On-street parking on Elmwood is free after 5 p.m. on weekdays and all day on Saturdays and Sundays, said Carly Battin, executive director of the Elmwood Village Association.

“There are a couple of residential sections where green signs indicate free parking,” Battin said. “Otherwise, look for a meter or pay station. If you don’t see a meter or pay station, parking is free. And if you are not comfortable with parallel parking on Elmwood, try the side streets or public parking lots.”

Or take the No. 20 Metro Bus that runs every 10 minutes along the strip with stops on nearly every corner.

“Just keep your eyes peeled,” Battin added. “Be conscious of where you’re parking. If you do park in a lot that’s not a public lot, you are parking at your own risk.”

Amnesty tickets

Some municipalities are adopting a creative approach to parking control called citation forgiveness or amnesty.

“The philosophy at the heart is that people make mistakes,” said Jones of the International Parking Institute, “and the issue of parking fines makes people feel bad. Citations are about creating the right kind of behavior, especially in constrained environments where we have to maximize turnover.”

Another option is to issue a warning in the form of a parking citation (under the windshield wiper) without a involving a monetary fine, Jones said.

In St. Petersburg, Fla., out-of-town drivers who parked illegally were issued a $25 parking ticket and a 3-by-6-inch card with the drawing of a key welcoming them to St. Petersburg.

“Unfortunately, your meter expired and you were issued a parking citation,” it began. “Realizing that new visitors may not be familiar with the city’s parking regulations, if this is your first parking ticket you have received in St. Petersburg, you can remit this key and as a gesture of goodwill the city will void the citation.”

Such a system, Jones said, should be used judiciously for out-of-state plates or during the week before Christmas.

To successfully navigate the holiday parking labyrinth, Jones offered this simple advice:

“Take a breath and realize what’s happening is not a life-and-death situation. It’s parking. We get so emotional that we really need to take a step back to gain perspective.”

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com