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Bel Air weighs pros and cons of allowing parking on Williams Street near Ma & Pa Trail entrance

Bel Air residents packed the town’s hall Monday evening to make their voices heard on parking close to the Ma & Pa Trail entrance near downtown.

In response to the feedback, the city may decide to make the section of Williams Street near Ellendale Street a no-parking zone.

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Parking on Williams and Ellendale streets near the trail’s entrance needs to change, multiple citizens told the board.

Williams is narrow, even before cars are parked on both sides of the street, and the town anticipated a visibility issue for motorists and trail-walkers, director of planning Kevin Small said.

An additional worry is that trail-goers will take parking away from residents and businesses near the trailhead, though multiple people put forth solutions to the traffic conundrum Monday.

The town’s board of commissioners sought public comment on the parking close to the Ma & Pa Trail’s entrance on Williams Street as work on a connection between two disjointed sections of the trail inches closer to completion.

Constructed along the former railroad path that linked Baltimore to York, Pennsylvania, the Ma & Pa Trail consists of two sections, a 3.3-mile span in Bel Air and a 1.7-mile segment in Forest Hill.

Easements were obtained in 2016 to link the two sections and create a 7.5-mile continuous trail from Jarrettsville Road in Forest Hill to Annie’s Playground in Fallston.

A portion of the connection, which included a crossing on Main Street in front of Independent Brewing Company to the east side of Main Street, was finished in the fall. Harford County is hopeful the entire 2.5-mile connection will be complete sometime in 2022.

The crosswalk near the Ma & Pa Trail entrance on Williams Street in Bel Air is shown. The Town of Bel Air is considering limiting parking on Williams Street.
The crosswalk near the Ma & Pa Trail entrance on Williams Street in Bel Air is shown. The Town of Bel Air is considering limiting parking on Williams Street.(James Whitlow)

With the connection coming closer to reality and given the number of people already using the path, the Bel Air board is anticipating parking near the Williams Street trailhead becoming a problem.

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The town put up signs prohibiting street parking on both sides of Ellendale after dark in 2019, but it also mistakenly put those signs on Williams Street, which bisects the road.

The board is considering keeping those Williams Street signs up, but such a move would require more legislation and public meetings. The signs were up, uncovered, for two months before the town covered them.

Small said there are about eight spots on Ellendale that can be used anytime, and additional parking along the road closer to Main Street, which is restricted by the time of day.

Laura Bianca-Pruett, a parking planner with the City of Baltimore, attended Monday’s hearing. A self-described “transportation nerd,” she examined a map of the area and suggested more directions be added to a nearby parking lot at the Liriodendron Mansion, which can hold about 300 cars.

“They may not know where Liriodendron is and they may prefer to park in a larger lot,” she said of trail-walkers. “Just letting people know that it is there is one of the easiest fixes.”

Williams Street is too narrow for cars to drive opposite directions side-by-side when vehicles are parked on both sides of the street. That hindered businesses and concerned motorists, multiple people said.

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Thomas Wagner, who runs an accounting firm on the corner of Ellendale and Williams streets, said that turning left out of his parking lot was a tricky proposition because of the cars parked close to his driveway.

“We have a parking lot,” he said. “If you are an avid runner, why not park in a public parking lot and walk [to the trail].”

Area resident Shelby Stange said the trail-goers are taking residential parking and could be directed elsewhere.

A local housing complex for senior citizens also weighed in; they had concerns unique to their age group, such as accessibility of parking spaces for those with trouble walking and accessibility of emergency medical service vehicles for the mostly sexagenarian community.

Small estimated the board would make a decision on the no parking signs soon.

“Their status will be determined in the coming weeks,” he said.

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