When the city of Bangor began to consider how to remake Pickering Square early last year, it set out four goals to guide this work for the downtown spot that is home to the city’s bus depot, parking garage and a small open space.
Those goals were improving the experience for bus users, improving it for those who park in the Pickering Square Garage, strengthening the pedestrian connection between downtown Bangor and the waterfront, and ensuring that Pickering Square is used as a public space for events and recreation.
These are the right goals for this project, and they should guide the discussion and decisions about changes to the downtown square.
Staff at City Hall developed three proposals to separate bus and garage traffic. City councilors started to consider a fourth alternative at last month’s business and economic development committee meeting after a few downtown business owners complained about a lack of parking for their customers. This alternative calls for paving over Pickering Square and turning it into a metered parking lot.
This proposal fails to fulfill at least two of the Pickering Square redevelopment goals, and probably falls short of all four of them. On a more fundamental level, it is ludicrous to suggest that a parking lot directly in front of a parking garage — that has plenty of available spaces — will somehow solve a downtown parking problem that may not even exist.
Some business owners told the business and economic development committee last month that they need more parking close to the restaurants and stores they run. But a parking lot located the same distance away from these establishments as the city’s parking garage wouldn’t even satisfy this criterion.
This ridiculous plan, which would also displace the city’s bus depot with no thought to its new home, should be scrapped immediately. This will allow city staff and councilors to focus on proposals that will meet the goals for Pickering Square.
“To enhance Bangor’s safety and vibrancy, let’s first agree on the problem we’re trying to solve and connect our proposed solutions to our goals,” downtown residents Amy and Lance Blackstone wrote in a Jan. 3 BDN OpEd. “Only then can we identify the solution that best makes our wonderful downtown Bangor even better and more welcoming than it already is.”
Here’s what we do know. Having drivers headed for the parking garage pass between buses and passengers crossing a narrow traffic lane is unsafe. Rerouting the vehicle traffic or moving the bus depot are straightforward solutions to this problem. City staff should focus on the best way to achieve this separation.
Something else we know is that open spaces and walkable downtowns are proven to enhance communities, for both residents and visitors. Bangor has put a lot of time, money and energy into improving its downtown. The result is a more vibrant community with more downtown residents and a greater diversity of businesses and events.
Pickering Square has potential for even more public use. City staff have already trimmed brush and installed additional lighting to make the square more inviting. Regular police patrols also help ease concerns some have about people hanging out in the square.
We don’t know if Bangor has a downtown parking problem. Local merchants have complained for decades about the lack of parking in front of their stores and restaurants. However, these same businesses owners are sometimes seen parking on the street near their businesses and allowing their employees to do the same.
The Pickering Square parking garage has parking spaces available for downtown visitors, employees and residents. It is inexpensive, and it’s a short walk to the heart of downtown.
Used wisely, Pickering Square can be an asset to Bangor. It is not paradise, but it shouldn’t be paved over to make way for a parking lot.