Bringing perennial parking offenders to justice doesn’t rise high on the to-do list for cities like Bangor. Yet if Bangor and other Maine towns and cities want to see their downtowns thrive with successful commercial districts, parking must be addressed in a comprehensive and consistent manner.
It’s an odd human psychology that rules when it comes to parking. Drivers will circle a downtown block looking for a spot rather than park in an off-street lot or garage, yet when visiting a shopping plaza or mall, they will think nothing of parking and walking 150 yards to a store. Off-street municipal lots and garages work best when they are clearly identified and when signs easily direct drivers to them. They must be free, they must be well-lighted, and they must appear safe.
In addition to making public parking more user-friendly, municipal policies must be less friendly to repeat parking offenders. In Bangor and many other Maine communities, parking tickets are shrugged off like the “Don’t run in the halls” admonitions of elementary schoolteachers. Bangor is considering creating a tiered system that would ratchet up the fines for those get ticketed repeatedly. It’s a good idea. Too often, regular visitors to downtowns are willing to accept the occasional $5 or $10 ticket as the cost of driving.
What is especially vexing to those who want to see downtown businesses survive and thrive is that many parking offenders are those who own or work in downtown stores and restaurants. They see parking tickets as part of the cost of doing business. The sting of a $25 ticket on the fifth offense might change those calculations.
Many towns and cities have a hard time justifying the often costly pursuit of those who don’t pay their fines for parking tickets. An officer must be prepared to go to District Court, sometimes waiting for hours for the matter to be heard, and some advance legal work is required. This effort must be made, though, for the system to work.
Municipal parking committees have for years struggled with these and other issues, but they really are part of larger questions. Those questions focus on how a community sees itself, how much it values its downtown and how willing it is to roll out the welcome mat of free, accessible, public, off-street parking.
Towns such as Bar Harbor, Camden, Rockland, Boothbay Harbor and the coastal towns south of Portland have experimented with free shuttles, satellite parking lots, different time limits and other fixes. In the end, solutions come down to carrots and sticks. In Bangor, the stick part of the equation may need to be emphasized.