A new study of parking on Main Street in historic Ellicott City has confirmed what local merchants and their customers have known for years: There are too few parking spaces at the eastern end of Main, where folks tend to congregate, but plenty of spaces at its hilly western end.
So, like Mohammed having to come to the mountain, visitors to Main Street might have to come to where there's parking. One way to bring this about, according to the report by FeinDesign Associates of Frederick, would be to build a cable car-style lift that would carry people back and forth between the east side of Main Street and the abundant parking area up on the hilltop where the Circuit Court is located.
In Pittsburgh, cable cars have transported people up and down the Steel City's steep inclines since the 1870s. One car takes riders to the Station Square Mall that has grown into a major tourist attraction. Another climbs to a popular visitors center that recounts the history of Pittsburgh and offers a spectacular view of downtown.
Ellicott City might not have hills like Pittsburgh's, but the two places are alike as tourist destinations. In the same way Pittsburgh's cable cars have played an important role in the city's tourism success, perhaps historic Ellicott City could derive a "lift" from this mode of transportation. For one, it could help ease the constant headache caused by the lack of Main Street parking. Also, as a FeinDesign official remarked, a cable car could become an attraction in itself. "[People] would park at the courthouse lot just to ride the lift," said the firm's Sharon Suarez.
Various questions would have to be answered before a lift could be up and running. For example, would local businesses and communities support the proposal? Would public or private money, or both, cover the estimated cost of up to $1 million? Where exactly would the lift's supporting structure and stations be built?
The cable car might be one of the lower priorities among the FeinDesign suggestions, and it might strike some folks as too offbeat. However, it could be the kind of unusual yet promising project that captures the public imagination. When local government, business and civic officials make recommendations from the FeinDesign report to Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, they would do well to note the "up" side of the cable car idea.