If you want to find parking in Ellicott City, County Executive Ken Ulman told a small crowd standing outside the Howard County Welcome Center Thursday morning, “We now have an app for that.”
The app – mobile phone application -- is Streetline’s Parker. It allows people to look up real-time information about available parking spaces in the Historic District.
Ulman said it addresses a problem that was brought to light as the result of a parking study carried out when he came into office.
"One of the biggest challenges that we face … is parking,” Ulman said. “More importantly, it’s frankly the perception of parking.”
For visitors to the Historic District, particularly those from out of town, “How would you know that right behind the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, there are X number of spaces … you wouldn’t know that,” Ulman said.
The announcement that the parking system had gone online was a marked departure from previous discussions. Since the program was announced in August, some merchants have fought loudly against it – and the implementation of parking meters in the area.
Thursday’s announcement, however, was attended mostly by county officials and business owners, several of whom stepped up to the microphone to speak on behalf of the system.
Noting the difficulties that had befallen the Historic District in the past year – floods, power outages, an earthquake and the CSX train derailment – Ellicott City Business Association President and Wine Bin owner Dave Carne stressed the resilience of Main Street.
“In spite of all that this town is terrific,” he said. “As a business owner I am thrilled with the creative ingenuity that the county has but forward to make it a better and more attractive place to do business.”
Rumor Mill owner Matt Milani called Parker an “unbelievable tool,” that would “help guests come into town, spend more money, and enjoy their stay here.”
Ulman said the project wasn’t a “locked-in fixed plan written in stone,” and that its use as a data collecting tool would help the county determine when, if any, there really wasn’t available parking in the Historic District.
“So when people come to me and say ‘we need a free shuttle,’ or ‘we need a new garage,’ we’ll be able to look and say ‘you know what … absolutely’ or ‘no, there are spaces available.’”
Throughout the run-up to Parker going online, Director of Special Projects Steve Lafferty has been working closely with merchants and residents as a liaison to the administration.
“We have some terrific businesses here in Ellicott City that we hope will just grow and continue to thrive.”
Lafferty noted that there was still another phase in the parking program – paid parking on Main Street and Maryland Avenue.
Once the meters go online, after Jan. 1, people will be able to pay remotely for parking at the new, multi-space meters, which have already been installed.
Drivers will be able to pay for parking using a mobile device.
Anticipating a shift in parking rules, Lafferty said some merchants are finding ways to get “creative.”
“We’re going to pay for our customers’ parking,” Work.Play.Bark. owner Marc Lund said. Though he’s still working out the details, the ability to be able to pay remotely is one that he plans to take full advantage of on behalf of his customers.
In the meantime, Ulman also made an announcement that will come as no surprise to those who have been in town for holiday seasons past: parking will be free in the Historic District for the shopping season, from Nov. 22 – Jan. 1.
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