Parking app

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman talks about the county's free smartphone parking app at a news conference Nov. 15. The app is expected to make finding available spaces easier in historic Ellicott City. Standing next to Ulman is David Carney, owner of The Wine Bin and president of the Ellicott City Business Association. (Photo by Blair Ames / November 12, 2012)

More free parking has come to historic Ellicott City.

All 234 spaces in Lot D, located off of Main Street next to the tourism center, are now free, County Executive Ken Ulman announced Aug. 28.

Previously, 58 of the parking spots had been metered. Lot D is the largest of historic Ellicott City’s six parking lots.

The additional free spaces increase raise the percentage of free parking in historic Ellicott City from 60 percent to almost 70 percent. There are 594 parking spots in total, free and metered, according to the county.

Ulman said the decision to add more free parking spaces is based on follows a study of usage data collected by an the county’s electronic parking management system , which was installed last year. 

Metered parking fees of $1 an hour for Main Street spaces and 50 cents an hour in metered lots took effect in February. The system, run by California-based company Streetline, uses sensors that can detect the presence of cars in parking spaces to provide real-time information to an application called Parker, which smartphone owners can download and use to find an open spot.   

Visitors parking in Ellicott City’s metered spots enter the number of their parking space into pay stations located along Main Street and in parking lots and then pay for the amount of time they plan to stay. There is a two-hour limit on Main Street parking spots.  

Some Ellicott City business owners and residents had complained that the new system was confusing and hurt business.

But Ulman said in a statement the county is using the new system “to make things better and easier for customers, residents and businesses.”

Ellicott City Business Association President Dave Carney, who owns The Wine Bin on Main Street, said he was glad the county was using the parking system data to make targeted changes.

“Now we have the real data so we know where is parking being used and when is it being used,” he said. “I'm really glad they looked at the information.”

Carney said despite some customer confusion about the metered parking on Main Street, business owners had seen an increase in sales since February. County officials said the meters from Lot D would be transferred to Main Street and instructional signs would be added to multi-space meters to address confusion about where to pay.

Main Street business owners offered different perspectives on whether the new parking system has helped or hurt business.

Randy Neely, who owns Randy + Steve’s general store next to Lot D, said he hadn’t heard many complaints from customers about the metered parking.

“A lot of our customers are from out of town, so they expect to pay,” he said.

He said adding the meters on Main Street opened up more street parking for quick-stop customers.

“It gives the person who’s just shopping for 15 minutes, who might not otherwise stop, the opportunity [to drop in],” he said. “It truly keeps the street moving.”

Tammy Beideman, who owns Sweet Elizabeth Jane’s women’s clothing and accessories shop down Main Street and farther from the big parking lots, agreed.

“I think meters are relatively standard in most places,” she said. “As far as business goes, we’re busier this summer. People seem to be shopping and coming out.”

But Gretchen Shuey, who owns the Bean Hollow coffee shop near the railroad train bridge over Main Street, said that while she did notice more available street parking, she still didn’t think the meters are in the town’s best interest.

“It’s a mixed bag,” she said. “Every time I step outside, I’m helping someone with parking.”

Still Life Gallery owner Sara Arditti said she saw the additional free parking in Lot D as an acknowledgment from the county that the parking system had its flaws.

“There has been a lot of ill will generated by this,” she said. “Our customers have had to put up with a lot of hassle and inconvenience and confusion and tickets. It leaves a bad taste in their mouth after a nice day of shopping and enjoying the historic district.”

The 23-space Lot B, next to the Patapsco River, reopened Aug. 31. The lot, which consists of all metered spaces, had been closed for repairs after a retaining wall was damaged by the August 2012 CSX train derailment that claimed the lives of two Ellicott City women. Officials said the improvements to Lot B include the addition of pervious surface to spaces close to the river in order to reduce stormwater runoff.