Niagara Falls, already Number One in so many categories – is now poised to take the top spot in a competition to see which American city has squandered the most valuable real estate for use as surface parking lots, which often sit empty for large parts of the year.
Streetsblog is an online daily news source connecting people to information about sustainable transportation and livable communities. Since 2006, Streetsblog has held a competition – called “Parking Madness” – set up in a similar fashion as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Starting off with 16 cities and using aerial photographs and maps, readers vote to decide which municipality has wasted the most space of surface parking lots. The winner of the competition receives the coveted Golden Crater Award, which would look swell on Mayor Paul Dyster’s mantelpiece.
And that is well within the realm of possibility. Last Friday, Niagara Falls won a blowout 149-21 vote over Rutland, Vermont, after having achieved a similarly impressive win over Ann Arbor Michigan a week earlier.
Downtown Niagara Falls has advanced into the Final Four, competing now against Federal Way in Washington D.C., and Fair Park in Dallas. Ongoing voting will decide whether Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, or Louisville, Kentucky, deserves the remaining spot in the Final Four.
“Mere blocks away from the scenic grandeur of the falls is a stupendous array of surface parking lots, interspersed with hotels, convention buildings, and a casino,” Streetsblog wrote of the situation here. “In a hopeful sign for Niagara Falls, however, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state will remove a two-mile stretch of highway that impedes access between downtown and the riverfront.”
Streetsblog has covered the movement to transform America’s cities by reducing dependence on private automobiles and improving conditions for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders. The website has broken important stories about transit funding, pedestrian safety, and bicycle policy for the past decade.
Arcane topics like parking, street resurfacing and zoning are Streetsblog’s bread and butter.
“This parking catastrophe can hardly be separated from Niagara Falls’ overall decline,” the blog explained. “In the early part of the 20th century, Niagara Falls was known as the ‘Honeymoon Capital. Many people would hop right off the train onto Falls Street.”
The majestic old train station, torn down during the infamous Urban Renewal program here in the 1970s, once stood where the Seneca Niagara Casino parking ramp is now located. Mayor Paul Dyster’s proposed new train station – which will be ready for use by June but still does not have a contract with Amtrak binding the railroad to service it – is located about two miles away, in one of the most desolate and blighted neighborhoods in the city.
Should Niagara Falls be able to beat out Dallas and Washington D.C. in Streetsblog’s Parking Madness competition, it will not be the first time the city has finished first.
According to the state Financial Restructuring Board for Local Governments, Niagara Falls is the most highly taxed municipality in all of New York in comparison with actual property value.
The city’s fiscal situation is so out of hand that the mayor has asked the city Council to approve asking the Restructuring Board for a bailout that will effectively place finances under adult supervision.
And a 2014 study by the popular website MyLife found the city to be the “most dangerous” in the state, based on a detailed analysis of violent and property crime.
The MyLife study also pointed out that the ratio of registered sex offenders to upright citizens in Niagara Falls was the highest in New York.
The number of sexual predators, many of whom target children, has grown exponentially in Niagara Falls since Mayor Paul Dyster took office. In 2007, the year he was sworn in, there were just 82 registered sex offenders living in the city. As of last week, that number had jumped to 183, according to the real estate website homefacts.com.
The results of the MyLife study were confirmed by an independent analysis conducted last year by the website RoadSnacks. Despite the use of different methodology, Niagara Falls placed first as the “most dangerous place in New York.”
And, in January of this year, the prestigious Insurance Journal reported that the city was the 38th most dangerous place in the entire United States.
Poor health is another area in which Niagara Falls can proudly claim a commanding position.
A report published by Kaleida Health in 2013 states that while the benchmark for cardiovascular disease mortality rate in the entire state is 289.2 per every 100,000 people, Erie County’s is 350.7 per 100,000 and Niagara County is 421.1 per 100,000.
That’s right, Niagara Falls is at the top of the heap when it comes to heart attack deaths in New York State.
The city is number two in teen pregnancy in the state, and also ranks at or close to the top in rates of lung cancer, diabetes and numerous other serious diseases.
The picture painted by the hard data is diametrically opposed to the rose colored statements of leaders like Dyster, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Charles Schumer, who often paint Niagara Falls as a garden spot on the move toward a better tomorrow (see related story).
If you’re reading this, it is likely you’re living in a shrinking city that bears the burden of being the most dangerous, most taxed and least healthy municipality in all of New York.
Ironically, the Streetsblog Parking Madness competition comes at a time when Dyster and the city Council are getting ready to squander nearly $1 million to further restrict on-street parking through the use of meters, a move that will undoubtedly drive even more cars into the waste of space surface lots.
Except between Labor Day and Memorial Day, the nine months of every year when tourist district parking is no problem whatsoever.
There is an old adage, that you should try to “See yourself as others see you.”
In Niagara Falls, doing so isn’t pretty or uplifting. It is grim and reflects the quality of leadership the city currently enjoys and has had for decades.