Bangor officials revisiting downtown parking policies

Posted June 18, 2009, at 10:41 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The city is considering a proposal to change the time limit for some downtown on-street parking from one hour to 90 minutes, but the idea is not likely to move forward without significant debate.

City Councilor Hal Wheeler said he initiated the proposed amendment to the downtown parking district at the request of a handful of business owners.

“In the last several years that I have been involved in city government, I’ve been approached about this topic numerous times,” he said this week. “Potential customers downtown simply need more time in some cases. I said I would bring this forward and now seemed like a good time.”

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The areas proposed are: Main Street, from Union Street to the intersection of Hammond Street; the small section of State Street from Hammond to Exchange Street; and all of Central Street, from Harlow back to Hammond. The number of spaces that would be affected totals approximately 135.

The idea was discussed briefly at a business and economic development committee meeting this week and will be referred to the city’s parking advisory committee for further debate.

Brad Ryder, owner of Epic Sports on Central Street and a former member of the parking advisory committee, said he would welcome the change.

“We’ve tried other things with mediocre results,” he said. “I think this could be beneficial.”

The problems, according to Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia and City Manager Edward Barrett, are twofold.

First, by increasing the time limit, the Police Department’s parking enforcers likely would write fewer tickets, meaning the city would generate less revenue. Second, the time limit change would not address the issue of downtown employees using downtown parking spots and then shuffling every hour. Instead, it would allow those employees to stay longer in spots.

“A majority of repeat [parking] offenders downtown are employees and employers,” Gastia said. “If we don’t get a handle on that, changing the time doesn’t make much sense.”

Barrett agreed and said the issue of employees parking in spots designated for visitors is one that likely will not go away.

“Changing to 90 minutes might make spots more appealing to some,” he said.

Gastia said parking enforcement employees work hard to address problems but have only so many resources. The city has considered electronic ticketing, which would streamline the process and better identify repeat offenders, but it would cost an estimated $45,000 for the hand-held devices and software.

Another potential solution is reinstalling parking meters, which lined downtown city streets until the early 1990s. Again, that would require a substantial initial investment by the city. And, Barrett said, people still always will gravitate first toward what is free and convenient.

Just in the last few weeks, several changes have been made to downtown parking. In late May, city councilors voted to increase the overtime parking fee from $10 to $12 and also agreed to reduce the number of courtesy, or free, tickets from four to three annually.

The city also raised the rates in all of its downtown parking lots between $3 and $10.

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