Berlin Signs Off On Parking Limits

BERLIN – The suggested two-hour Berlin downtown parking limit is now mandatory, after the Berlin Mayor and Council voted unanimously to restrict on-street parking on and near downtown Main Street.

Vehicles on Main Street between Donoway Furniture and Town Center Antiques, and on roughly the first block of Jefferson, Pitt and Commerce streets, may only remain parked for two hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Merchants asked for the limitations in November, hoping to stimulate lagging sales by increasing customer turnover with more available and convenient parking.

Berlin once had a parking limit, but took the signs down a decade ago for the filming of Runaway Bride and they were never placed back.

In meetings earlier this fall, the town council expressed concern about the aesthetics of standard road signs, which some members felt would not fit the historic image important to the town’s economy. The merchants then researched and suggested alternately styled signs. The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) quashed that idea.

“Bottom line is, they have to provide the signs, they have to meet federal standards for traffic safety devices,” said Mayor Gee Williams, who once served as a SHA spokesman. “We don’t have the option of using any signage we like to make it appropriate in a historical setting.”

The signs will also not be installed on existing lampposts to avoid more signposts. SHA told the mayor that the signs must be installed on the standard signposts.

Originally, SHA officials saw no problem with town-chosen signs, but changed its stance after more research.

“All they originally said we could do, we can’t do,” said Williams.

SHA officials did tell him, Williams said, that they would survey the signs in that area of town and look at signs to take down or reduce in size to decrease visual clutter.

The new limits will force parking turnover in roughly 60 spaces on Main Street and side streets during the day, including Sundays.

Councilwoman Lisa Hall wondered about omitting the limit on Sundays, but merchant Gail Lewis asked that Sunday be part of the traffic limit schedule.

“It’s one of our bigger days,” said Lewis, who is one of the original requestors of the two-hour parking restriction. Most Berlin stores are open on Sundays in the summer, she said.

Williams said that the town could always change the two-hour parking schedule in the future if problems arose.

Overall, parking is not at a crisis point in Berlin.

The mayor said that he spent two days after Thanksgiving walking around town and eyeballing parking usage. Black Friday and the Saturday after Thanksgiving are some of the busiest days for Berlin visitors, outside of big festivals.

“We don’t have a parking capacity problem, not yet,” Williams said. “None of the free parking lots were full. They were maybe at the most two-thirds.”

Berlin’s five public and private lots offer 235 parking spaces.

“There is plenty of parking available if you’re willing to walk,” Williams said.

Signs showing the way to the public parking should be installed, said Planning and Zoning Superintendent Chuck Ward.

“It’s important to inform people where they can park,” he said.

The town is planning its own in-house parking study to consider parking needs and availability, Ward said, considering the likelihood of future development.