Between a rock and a wet place

By Anne and Ed Damm

Ever wonder if the parking problems in downtown Bar Harbor might be that whale watching, bird, lighthouse and lobster fishing tours, etc., do not provide enough parking for their customers?

We lived and/or operated our Song of the Sea store on West Street from 1983 to 2009, close to the piers on the waterfront. We also have lived on Ledgelawn Avenue off and on since 1980 at the top and at the bottom of the street.

Parking on West Street and in the backyard lot on Lenox Place seemed to handle most residual parking needs in town with a few spaces left over in the early ‘80s. When the first whale excursion boat came to town in the mid 1980s, West Street got filled up fast and stayed that way all summer. I think that first whale boat only took 150 passengers, three times a day. I think the large whale boats now can take 350 and 500 passengers. There are the other excursion boats as well.

Let’s say it is great weather, and the sightings are good, and you only had two cruises a day on the whale boats plus other excursion boats. At possible full capacity on two large whale boats, 800 people would be going on or 800 people coming off the boats at roughly the same time. That would be a total of 1,600 people or more. What would be the number of cars needed for that many people to get there? Let’s be more realistic and look at half capacity – 400 people on and 400 queuing to get on just on whale boats. That is still a minimum transfer of 800 people going on and off boats. If there are just two people per car, that requires 400 parking spaces that will be used for three to four hours for people on the boats and another three to four hours for folks queuing up to go on the boats.

Looking at the advertising literature for cruise length and queuing up, if there are four people in a car, then it would be more than 200 parking spaces for all the excursion boats at a minimum. That is a lot of spaces that aren’t getting turned over quickly.

One could say that the theaters in town have more than 900 seats, but their events normally are over in two hours during their operating hours.

There are 167 parking spaces on West Street, according to the parking study census. If you add in the spaces around the town pier (81) and the West Street lot spaces (19), that makes 267 spaces. So on an average cruising day, all that amount of space could be needed just for cruising boats based downtown.

On a great cruising day with more than 1,600 people at a time, depending on the number of people per car, you could park up a lot of streets. Hopefully many people take the Island Explorer in to go through town and enjoy all of the possible things to do.

The Bar Harbor Land Use Zoning Ordinance requires marinas and nonresidential piers, docks and wharves to have a minimum of 30 parking spaces plus one parking space for each docking and mooring space.

So even 40 parking spaces that a marina might provide may not be able to handle the three hour-plus load with so many riders.

There is nothing quite as much fun as messing about in boats. Visitors coming to Bar Harbor will love the possibilities of boating adventures to be had. Unfortunately, parking-wise, our downtown is between a rock and a wet place, between mountains and ocean. There are only so many places where you can park. The study doesn’t seem to count all the cars that can be in all the outer neighborhood streets.

Many people for the past 10 years have been taking advantage of these areas which basically have no time restrictions that would cause a ticket if you parked there for a whole day. It doesn’t have to be July 4th to have many of these streets parked up. Ledgelawn quite often can be parked up from Mount Desert Street to Pleasant Street during the day, and in the evening, on down to Park Street or further. I don’t blame the folks, you won’t get a ticket.

We don’t think a parking garage of any size downtown is the answer. It will mean that we will need parking meters on most streets in order to pay for it. Many residential streets will get parked up with folks looking to save money. We also may lose visitors who do not want to pay for parking.

Having to pay for parking all over town and crowding many downtown residential streets just to create and keep this parking garage going will change the quaint character of our town for the worse. This is a bad long-term solution to a 3-5 month seasonal temporary problem.

We should require tour boats to furnish their own parking lots away from downtown and provide shuttle buses. A good model is the Acadian boat that has parking at Atlantic Oceanside.

Visitors should use the Acadia Gateway parking lot and Island Explorer buses that exist to bring folks downtown for shopping and boat rides.

We should support the acquisition and renovation of the Ferry terminal, have cruise ships dock there, and have tour buses depart from there. This will free up both inner harbor activity on the water and parking congestion that happens now with all the tour buses parking in town.

Instead of the cost of building a parking garage, use money for purchasing more out-of-town parking if needed. Spend money on more Island Explorer buses if needed. Perhaps there would be a mandatory bus ticket required to ride into town. Folks would be less upset about paying for a bus ride than for parking meters in a garage or on the street.

Require hotel owners to provide parking for their guests. The current plan proposes that one floor of the parking garage may be designated for one specific hotel on West Street, and we disagree with this.

What is the best way to keep residents and the visitors happy? Maybe take a bus.

Anne and Ed Damm are residents of Bar Harbor.


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