WESTMINSTER — It might be the best idea that hardly anyone knows about.
On Sept. 1, the hours that parking meters are in force on Main Street were shortened by three hours, to 3 p.m. Meter hours were waived altogetheron Saturdays.
The City Council relaxed meter restrictions for a 60-day trial period in the hope that it would draw more shoppers downtown.
But dopeople know about it?
Westminster resident Sue Rouiller had just finished pumping some change into a Main Street meter Thursday afternoon -- after 3 -- when she learned of the relaxed parking rules.
"I didn't know," she said with a smile. "But I think it's a great idea. This certainly is a pretty city, but parking can be a problem. And it's a nuisance when you're going from shop to shop."
Several meters along a stretch of Main Street had time on them well after 3 p.m. Motorists up and down the street could be seen dropping coins in the meters.
The idea has been welcomed by Main Street merchants, but even the president of the downtown retailers association wondered aloud Monday whether word of the parking perk had gotten around.
"Everything's been positive," said Shane White, president of the Westminster Downtown Retail Merchants Association Inc., of reaction to the trial. "The only question might be, has there been enough publicity? Have we seen the full impact?"
The city will get more of a chance to spread the word because the council voted Monday to extend the test period, which had been scheduled to end Friday.
Council members voted to extend the program until their next meeting Nov. 11, when they will consider establishing the new parking rules indefinitely.
Before the trial period, the meters were in force from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays. A nickel buys 30 minutes and a dime gets an hour, with a two-hour limit. Violations draw a ticket and a $25 fine.
So far, the program has been a success, council members say, nomatter how many people know about it.
Observations on four Saturdays during the test period indicate people are taking advantage of Main Street parking on weekends, Councilman Kenneth A. Yowan told the council. About half of the spaces that were empty early in the day were occupied later, said Yowan, who chairs the council's public safety committee.
"We have considerable empty spaces, and they're being filled up by (downtown visitors)," Yowan said.
In conjunction with extending the program, Mayor W. Benjamin Brown called for stepped-up enforcement of the two-hour limit in metered spaces.
"We want to ensure a turnover," Brown said.
But some council members disagreed.
Yowan said the Saturday observations show that there are spaces aplenty and added that meter-monitoring duty is a nuisance for the police.
Aside from the logistical chore, Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein said increasing enforcement of the two-hour rule would send a message that is contrary to the idea of wooing shoppers downtown.
"We would be diluting the aura of hospitality," she said. "It seems a bit schizophrenic. It's self-defeating."
At the council's Nov. 11 meeting, City Finance Director Stephen V. Dutterer will present a report on how parking-meter revenue has been affected by the test period.