Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ellicott City Meters Slated for Removal

I have been told by a reliable source that the parking meters on Main Street in Ellicott City are slated to be removed next month.  While County Executive Kittleman promised to get rid of these meters during the campaign, I am a little surprised to see him act on this so soon.  This is a complicated problem that will not be solved by the removal of meters with nothing in their place.

Let's start with the premise for the meters.  Contrary to the impression by some that this was a money grab, the County was trying to figure out a way to free up parking on Main Street.  In the absence of regulation, street-side parking would consistently be filled by residents and employees of Main Street vendors.  For all intents and purposes, there was no Main Street parking for visitors.  I have spent just about my entire life in Howard County and can probably count two instances in which I was able to park on Main Street before the implementation of the meters.  Since then, I've probably parked on Main Street over 50 times.

I think a lot of the parking issues in and around Main Street have to do with the physical exertion necessary to access most of the larger lots.  My friend Tony McGuffin, long-time Ellicott City resident and advocate, has a joke that when Ken Ulman was born he could probably hear people debating Main Street parking from Howard County General Hospital.  This is nothing new.  When you're dealing with a town on a steep incline, where you park can be dispositive on whether you're interested in whatever it was that brought you downtown.

And let's be frank, these meters had serious issues.  They were not what most people were used to and, thus, created a great deal of frustration.  There was an apparent zealotry in the enforcement of late payment (enabled by technology) that made people feel like they were being shaken down for money.  And if the sun was over your shoulder, paying that meter could take some time.

But I felt that a number of those problems were resolved by opening up additional free parking in some of the lots.  Parking on Main Street was a choice.  Sometimes you felt like it was worth the money, sometimes you didn't.  And while we all may be sympathetic to those who are flummoxed by new technology, I don't believe that imposes restraint on its use.

So in about a month's time, we'll see how things change.  I expect that it will be much more difficult to park on Main Street and that, yet again, we will become accustomed to the same car parked in the same spot for months at a time.  I hope, and anticipate, that the Administration will have a system to put in place of the meters, such as a two hour parking limit (with chalk sticks exchanged for ticket pads).  But one thing is certain, the debate about parking on Main Street will continue for years to come...and some baby at Howard County General Hospital will inherit the storm.

Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!