Bangor to try 90-minute free parking

Posted Sept. 30, 2009, at 10:05 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Want to finish that casual weekday lunch date without worrying about getting a parking ticket? Want to avoid interrupting or cutting short a necessary appointment to move your vehicle?

The city of Bangor has made it little easier to visit downtown.

In a 6-3 vote on Wednesday, city councilors agreed to change the time limit on more than 100 downtown parking spaces from one hour to 90 minutes, effective Nov. 15. It’s the biggest change in downtown parking policy since the city did away with parking meters in the early 1990s.

“The purpose of this is step one in an effort to make more parking available for shoppers and other downtown visitors,” said Councilor Hal Wheeler, who drafted the ordinance change. “It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start.”

The areas 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 affected totals approximately 135.

Wednesday’s vote came after significant debate among councilors and members of the public who were divided on the issue. Supporters believe that the change would make the downtown more attractive to visitors who might want to have lunch or shop without rushing to move their vehicles. But there also was some concern expressed that increasing the time limit would simply make it easier for habitual rogue parking violators because they wouldn’t have to move vehicles as often.

When the idea was brought up earlier this year, Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia didn’t oppose it but didn’t endorse it either and he spoke about the issue of habitual offenders.

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

Gastia also has said in the past that the change would result in lost parking ticket revenue to the city. He did not speak about the ordinance change at Wednesday’s meeting.

Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick, who opposed the ordinance, said the change would not deter habitual offenders. He was more concerned, however, that the city was going against the recommendation of its parking advisory committee, which voted unanimously at a recent meeting to oppose extending time limits.

“It’s a bad precedent,” Gratwick said.

Another potential concern was confusion among motorists, since some one-hour spots would change while others would not.

Brad Ryder, a downtown business owner and member of the parking advisory committee, said the change seems good at first glance, but he wondered how the city would measure whether it succeeds or fails.

“If we don’t try it, we don’t know if it will work, but at least we’re doing something,” countered Councilor Susan Hawes.

The council set an implementation date of Nov. 15 to allow time to install new signs and to print new parking tickets.

In the last few months, 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 has raised the rates in all of its downtown parking lots between $3 and $10.

erussell@bangordailynews.net

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