SOUTHWEST HARBOR — Parking meters, increased signage, eliminating parking spaces on Main Street and increasing use of under-utilized lots were all part of a 19-page preliminary parking report presented to the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday.
“Lydia [Goetze, chair of the Board of Selectmen] asked me to put out the parking plan, whether it was perfect or not,” said Town Manager Justin VanDongen. He has been working on the first draft of the plan with staff since the end of 2018.
The plan focused on ways to improve parking in and around, as well as pedestrian access to, downtown. But much of the board’s conversation centered on crosswalk safety.
“I had hoped we would have made more progress on this than we have been able to thus far,” said Selectman Kristin Hutchins about the plan. “Given recent events we should make any immediate, appropriate changes we can right away.”
She was referring to two accidents in the last month: a fatal accident involving a pedestrian and a tractor trailer truck on Village Green Way, and a pedestrian-car accident on a Main Street crosswalk. Hutchins, as well as the other selectmen, has heard several suggestions from members of the community on how things could be improved.
“The big one is eliminating parking spaces on one side or the other of Main Street,” said VanDongen, referencing the parking plan. “I know it’s the most controversial. But I think that’s the only way we’re going to open up both the line of sight and allow for traffic to pass without as much risk of injury.”
Although the blinking light had been activated at the crosswalk when the most recent accident occurred, selectmen agreed that may not be enough. Suggestions included brighter paint at the crosswalk, an extended curb on each side as well as eliminated at least one parking space near the crosswalk to avoid vehicles pulling out right into it.
Public Works Supervisor Scott Alley offered several suggestions for the crosswalks, including reflective epoxy with a bright red grid and sidewalk extensions that take up as much as a full parking space.
“I wouldn’t be a fan of it as far as snow removal,” said Alley. “But if that’s what it takes to make it safe, I’m all for it.”
VanDongen said more signs pointing visitors and residents to long-term parking behind the Town Office and on Village Green Way would help with the loss of the spaces on Main Street.
“As unpopular as I know it’s going to be, we should take a hard look at parking on one side of the street,” said Hutchins. “The visitors will be easier to train than locals.”
“The biggest thing we can do short-term on the traffic side of things would be to get that signage installed,” said VanDongen.
Installing informational, also known as wayfinding, signs around town could cost as much as $30,000 he told selectmen. One way to fund some of the necessary improvements would be to install parking meters that would be activated through the busier months of the year.
Selectmen voted unanimously in favor of VanDongen putting out a request for proposals for signage around town.
“We have enough parking if we can direct people to use it,” said Hutchins. “So let’s do it … It’s cheaper than buying another piece of property or having a lease.”