Starting next month, if you plan to use public parking in downtown Bar Harbor, you will need one of two things: a permit or your wallet.
The town has set time limits on parking in much of the downtown village for many years, but in May it plans to start charging for the privilege. The town will make seasonal parking permits available to those who qualify — such as local residents, property owners, employees and others — and will require those who don’t to use sidewalk meters or parking lot kiosks.
The new summer parking rules will eliminate all-day, free parking on downtown side streets, which regular visitors have relied on for years to avoid time limits in town-owned parking lots and on Main, Cottage and West streets. Downtown side streets will be limited to permit parking only.
The move comes amid ever increasing seasonal traffic to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, which set a visitation record in 2018. The mounting congestion has boosted the local tourism economy but has spurred worries over how much traffic the town and national park can handle.
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Acadia National Park plans to roll out its new traffic management plan next summer, in 2020, when it will require drivers to make reservations to visit some popular park sites at certain times of the day during the busy summer tourist season.
Bar Harbor’s new parking meters and kiosks will be equipped to accept credit and debit cards, and a smartphone app can be downloaded for online payments, according to town officials. Anyone who has a pocket full of coins or a wad of bills can use those, too.
The paid parking system is scheduled to go into effect May 15 but in future years will be active from May 1 through Oct. 31, according to Lt. David Kerns of the Bar Harbor Police Department. Paid parking requirements will be in effect each day in the summer from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Parking permits will be required on downtown side streets every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., except for Sunday mornings and July 4.
Depending where someone may park in the downtown village, rates will range from $1.50 to $2 per hour, and time limits will range from a couple of hours to all day. The hourly rates are generally more expensive — and the time limits shorter — the closer someone parks to the downtown waterfront.
The meters and kiosks have yet to arrive in town, however, and the online systems for buying permits or for paying for hourly parking are not yet available, Kerns said. Because it likely will take people time to adjust to the new system, the town does not intend to take a strict stance right off the bat, he added.
“We’re going to work with the community to make the transition as easy as possible,” Kerns said. “There will be a learning curve for all of us, the police department included.”
The main goal of the new system is to alleviate summertime congestion downtown, said Gary Friedmann, chairman of the elected town council. The town expects that some people will choose to ride the seasonal Island Explorer bus system into downtown Bar Harbor instead of driving themselves, he said.
“We don’t want to penalize or punish anyone,” Friedmann said. “The primary reason for this is to get a handle on parking.”
The town anticipates the system will generate half a million dollars in annual revenue, Friedmann said.
For the first few years, half of that money will go toward paying off the bond of buying the meters and kiosks, and for covering the cost of enforcement, he said. Revenues that don’t go toward the cost of maintaining the system will be used to help make other traffic-related improvements, such as acquiring sites outside downtown for satellite parking or improving bicycle and pedestrian access.
Paul Paradis, a longtime council member, said the town has been looking at implementing a downtown-wide paid parking system for more than a decade. A committee has been working on recommendations for a couple of years, and last summer local voters gave town officials the green light to develop and implement a system.
For Paradis, the main appeal of implementing a comprehensive paid parking plan for downtown is to raise money for maintaining the town’s downtown infrastructure essentially through user fees. The untested system undoubtedly will require some tweaking — which the council can do simply by approving policy changes — and it won’t solve all the town’s summertime congestion problems, he said, but it will help.
“The hope is we can start doing some infrastructure improvements that aren’t borne [entirely] by property taxpayers,” Paradis said.
Related: A summertime ice cream tour of Bar Harbor