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Commuter Crunch

With Albany’s parking permit system coming soon, state OGS looks to accommodate an influx of new state workers downtown

by Darryl McGrath on June 21, 2012

 

Amid the discussions about Albany’s rapidly approaching residential permit parking system, one point keeps getting overlooked: By the time the plan goes into effect on Oct. 1, an additional 2,000 state employees will be working in downtown Albany—and most of them will be looking for a place to park.

The influx of state workers is already under way as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s consolidation of state agencies and services. As the state workforce has shrunk, the vacancy rate in buildings owned or leased by the state in the Capital Region has grown to an average of 25 percent, said Heather Groll, a spokeswoman for the New York State Office of General Services. Workers in buildings in outlying areas are being assigned to downtown state office space so the state can either give up leases or fill vacant space in its own buildings with new tenants.

If those relocated workers are looking for a parking space in a state-owned parking lot or garage, they should be able to find one, Groll said.

“We have a lot of available spaces that people have elected to not take,” she said. In an effort to encourage use of those vacant parking spaces, OGS has ramped up its education campaign about available parking and its Carpool Incentive Program. The agency is also working with the city to encourage greater use of state parking spaces as the start date approaches for the permit parking system—which passed its final hurdle Monday night when the Albany Common Council approved the list of streets to be included in the plan’s three parking zones.

State employees who register for the OGS Carpool Incentive Program receive an average 75-percent discount on their parking rates for state lots and garages. They’re also allowed a free ride home by cab up to four times a year or a total of $150 in cab fares, if they have to leave work early for an appointment or emergency. To register for the program, however, commuters have to be on what OGS considers a “direct route” to their jobs.

Despite the incentives to use state parking, spaces go begging. Common Council member Dominick Calsolaro, who represents the city’s 1st Ward and who served on the council’s ad hoc committee that devised the permit parking plan, said that human nature affects parking decisions in unpredictable ways. He recalled seven years ago when the city won a grant for a study of parking patterns in the Mansion Neighborhood, which is an easy walk from Empire State Plaza and has long been a de facto free parking lot for state workers.

The consultant found a large number of cars bearing state parking permit decals during the day on Mansion Neighborhood streets, even though a parking garage on Madison Avenue was far closer to state offices than the distance the drivers of those cars had to walk after they parked on the street. The consultant concluded that people prefer a “fast getaway” at the end of the day and figured they could walk to their cars faster than it would take for them to get out of a state parking garage or lot when everyone else is trying to leave.

The OGS Carpool Incentive Program is not a solution for many state workers, who need their cars to travel to appointments for their jobs during the day, said Sherry Halbrook, a spokeswoman for the Public Employees Federation. The union represents 54,000 members, most of them state employees in scientific, technical and professional jobs.

“The more of this [consolidation] that [the governor] does in downtown Albany, obviously the bigger the stress on downtown parking facilities,” Halbrook said. “I know that most people can relate to driving around forever looking for parking. It means you’re going to be late for work.”

Calsolaro and his council colleague Richard Conti—who represents the 6th Ward and chaired the Council’s ad hoc committee on the parking plan—said they are aware of the coming increase in state workers downtown. But the technicalities of dividing the allotted 2,750 residential parking spaces for the permit system among three parking zones has been so arduous, and involved so many last-minute adjustments, that the committee didn’t spend a lot of time discussing how those extra state workers would be accommodated. Although neither Conti nor Calsolaro exactly put it this way, both implied that the question of where additional state workers in downtown Albany will park, or how the state will convince them to use state parking lots and garages, is not exactly the city’s problem.

“OGS has always told us they have enough spots,” Calsolaro said.