Historic Ellicott City is now the first town in Maryland to offer a free smartphone parking app, making it easier for visitors to find available spaces.
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman announced the app's launch last week in front of the Howard County Visitor Center.
"Everything that we're doing with this application is to get more people excited to come down here, to shop and enjoy the great, great merchants and business owners here in the historic district of Ellicott City," Ulman said to a crowd of about 30 people gathered outside the visitor center.
Ulman also announced Thursday, Nov. 15 that parking fees in downtown Ellicott City will be waived from Nov. 22 through Jan. 1. The two-hour time limit for parking on Main Street will remain in effect.
Business owners who attended Thursday's launch said they were excited about the new technology.
"Anything that helps people find parking in Ellicott City is a good thing," said Karen Besson, owner of Art & Artisan on Main Street.
David Carney, owner of The Wine Bin and president of the Ellicott City Business Association, said he was thrilled with the county's creative ingenuity to help the downtown business community.
"I think everyone will truly find it the most amazing system," he said.
The app and installation of the sensors in downtown Ellicott City cost about $150,000, according to Steve Lafferty, county director of special projects.
Sensors have been installed in each of Ellicott City's nearly 600 parking spaces, and the app serves as a GPS system leading visitors to the nearest open parking space.
Annual maintenance and repairs will cost $170,000 a year through a contract with California-based Streetline, Inc., Lafferty said.
The county also spent about $125,000 to install new parking meters throughout the downtown area, Lafferty said, in advance of new parking regulations that will increase the number of metered spots to 240 and raise rates in lots D and E from 25 cents an hour to 50 cents.
The new rates and parking changes, which some business owners have said will discourage visitors, will go into effect Jan. 1.
The Parker app can be downloaded through Google Play or the iTunes Store. The Howard County Government website, http://www.howardcountymd.gov has a video on using the Parker app.