Like many who visit Ellicott City's historic Main Street on weekends, Janet Kusterer has had her share of vehicular headaches.
If she's lucky enough to find a parking space in the lot behind the post office, the return trip presents another challenge. Because of the long line of cars on Main Street, Kusterer has to time her left turn onto the westbound lane of the crowded road very carefully.
Parking is at a premium.
"I've had people follow me in their cars while I'm walking to my car" to leave, said Kusterer, owner of a public relations firm.
With people like Kusterer in mind, the county has introduced a service that could make jaunts to downtown Ellicott City more pleasant: a free weekend shuttle that officials hope will encourage drivers to park in the nearby 265-space Howard County Circuit Court lot.
The shuttle -- which runs Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. -- arrives at the parking lot about every six minutes. It stops at Court Avenue and Main Street, and uphill from the Main Street post office. The last trip to the parking lot leaves the post office at 5: 55 p.m.
Though such shuttles have been used for special events, Howard County officials considered a regular service after completing a parking study several years ago.
With Main Street parking at a premium, it made sense to use a government lot that was empty on weekends and less than a half-mile away, said Marsha McLaughlin, deputy director of the Planning and Zoning Department.
"If you park in Ellicott City, there's always a space, but it's a question of how long you cruise before you luck out and someone is moving out of their space," McLaughlin said. "It's aggravating. Why put up with the hassle if you can find a quick way of getting into town from one of these lots?"
With the beginning of summer, even fewer parking spaces will be available. Karen Justice, executive director of the Howard County Tourism Council, estimates that 10,000 to 15,000 people a month visit Ellicott City, with the number usually increasing in warmer months as more tourists stop by.
Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons are particularly busy, she said.
"It's traditional vacation season in the summer," Justice said. "That's when we see a lot of the nonregular visitors to Ellicott City. They come all year -- we just see more of them in the summertime."
McLaughlin said the ideal route for the shuttle would be straight from one end of Main Street to the other. However, it would probably get trapped in the heavy weekend traffic, making it impossible to schedule frequent enough stops.
"If you had to hang around waiting 20 minutes while the shuttle is going up and down Main Street through heavy congestion, it's probably not going to be real popular," McLaughlin said. "It's a long, slow ride down Main Street."
The shuttle service began last month with little fanfare. McLaughlin said most people aren't aware of it in part because it is hard to see the court parking lot.
"Because of topography, you can't see it from Main Street, and it might as well be Siberia," McLaughlin conceded.
Kusterer has used the shuttle and recommends it.
"I think it's a wonderful idea," she said. "It opens up close to 300 parking spaces that are all free."
Once people discover the shuttle, McLaughlin predicts, they will become repeat passengers.
"People are always creatures of habit," McLaughlin said. "Now, we're trying to create a new habit."
Pub Date: 6/14/98