Parking meters are being installed over the next few weeks in Bar Harbor. Being asked to pay for parking for part of the year in prime spots and in town parking lots, even if you live or work here, will be a big change. But it’s one that’s been a long time coming.
The purchase of the meters was defeated by four votes at Town Meeting in 2017 and approved by 140 votes — a margin of nearly 9 percent — at Town Meeting a year later.
Town officials did not feel they had good, immediately available options for increasing the supply of parking. So the Parking Solutions Task Force was asked to make the existing parking supply more efficient. A resident at the 2017 Town Meeting, when parking meters were narrowly defeated, offered an insight. Regulating the market for an economic good — public parking spaces — has, to date, been accomplished by rationing access to that supply in the form of time limits. This plan puts a price on that supply in an attempt to reduce demand.
It’s likely that the town will still need to increase the parking supply. According to the task force, future purchase and/or development of satellite parking facilities are a primary purpose of the parking fund, as is “shuttle service and improvements to our streets, sidewalks, making Bar Harbor more walkable, ‘bike-able’ and pleasant for all,” according to a 2017 Frequently Asked Questions document.
The hope has always been to encourage visitors to leave their personal vehicles at hotels, campgrounds and rentals and walk or bus into town. This is in line with the overall direction of the Acadia National Park transportation plan, which emphasizes leaving personal vehicles at one of a few large parking areas and exploring the park primarily by bus.
Yes, the Island Explorer buses do not begin running until a month after the meters begin ticking. It’s not a town service, so the town cannot require Downeast Transportation to extend its season. But expanded service is likely in the cards anyway, though it’s a ways off yet.
And yes, the change also affects those who are not on vacation, including Mount Desert Island residents who come to Bar Harbor to eat, shop, visit friends, etc. They, too, can make use of what satellite parking is available, such as at the schools, and ride, bike or walk the rest of the way. Or residents can make off-street parking in driveways available to visitors, and move their own vehicles into permit-parking spots.
Interestingly, in the week since the parking policy was adopted, the idea of a parking garage seems to be gaining favor.
In June 2017, zoning changes to allow parking garages in several districts, including downtown, came to voters. All but two were rejected, but the garage questions in the two Downtown Village districts failed by thin margins: 23 votes and 50 votes.
Garages were added as an allowed use in the Bar Harbor Gateway district, an area adjacent to Eden Street that includes the Bluenose Inn and the Acadia Inn, and the district where The Jackson Laboratory is located.
Town staff has emphasized that the parking policy is a work in progress. Tweaks can and will be made. But the policy was not a wild hair or a money grab. It represents the efforts of many dedicated volunteers who have been at work on this for years.